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Where within biblical Scripture does it mention anything similar to the official Catholic and/or Orthodox church's hierarchy of church officials?

Catholic and/or Orthodox church's may point to (2 Tim. 2:2)"[W]hat you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).

However, (2 Tim. 2:2) could be interpreted as simply pastors/preachers passing on teachings to other pastors/preachers.

(Just thinking out loud, even though Biblical Scripture might Not mention anything similar to the official Catholic and/or Orthodox church's hierarchy of church officials, Biblical Scripture does Not condemn/contradict the official Catholic and/or Orthodox church's hierarchy of church officials.) Please comment so that there is more clarification on this said topic.

  • I haven't got time to write a proper answer to this, but you can find lots of interesting stuff in chapter III of Lumen Gentium. – lonesomeday May 31 '14 at 10:51
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I won't be able to give a complete answer as I'm not that familiar with the Catholic and Orthodox church structure, but Biblical church structure is something I've been looking into recently so here is what I've found out.

The Pope I believe the argument for having one man overseeing the entire church comes from Jesus statement to Peter in Matthew 16:18 "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church ... " (ESV). Since Peter means rock or stone, Jesus' statement is taken to mean that Peter was the foundation of the church and would lead it. He was the first Pope.

The argument against this is that the rock/foundation Jesus was referring to was not Peter himself, but Peter's statement that Jesus was the Messiah in verse 16.

The Cardinals Or any small group of men appointed to oversee the church originates from the concept of the 12 Apostles. I would reference Acts 1:12-26 where the remaining 11 Apostles found it necessary to choose a man "...to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." Also, Acts 15 where "The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter [of circumcision]." It would seem biblical that a small select group of Church officials meet together to decide how to apply doctrine to life.

Bishops These are comparable to the Elders/Overseers in the Bible. The key passages detailing what an Elder should be like are 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Focusing more on church structure, Acts 14:23 indicates that it was important (maybe even necessary) to Paul and Barnabas to appoint Elders in the churches where they went.

Priests Here, we get to the references about Deacons in the Bible. The Greek word simply means 'servant', but considering the stipulations in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and the selection of 7 men with the laying on of hands in Acts 6:1-7, we can assume that they were appointed to serve in a role that differentiated them somehow from other Christians, though all Christians should be serving.

And so, in the New Testament, we begin to see a structure of Authority loosely take shape. Apostles appointing another Apostle to replace Judas. Apostles sending Paul and Barnabas to plant churches. Paul and Barnabas appointing Elders. Elders (Timothy) encouraged to appoint other Elders and Deacons. Etc. The Catholic and Orthodox church structures use different titles for the different positions of authority, but they have quite a few similarities to the structure seen emerging in the early church.

Lastly, if we take a look back at the Old Testament, we see an example where Moses arranges an authoritarian structure simply to help facilitate the proper workings of a community. In Exodus 18:13-27 Moses heeds the advice of his father-in-law and appoints men "out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And they judged the people at all times." This is an indication (not a proof) that even authoritarian structure that is arranged by man is Biblical and "endorsed" by God (supported by Romans 13:1-7, Hebrews 13:17). I won't expand more on that thought here as it goes beyond the scope of the question, but my point is that regardless of the specifics of these church structures, Authoritarian Structure in itself and as a concept is Biblical.

Hope that helps to answer your question. I'm no scholar and I've never been to Seminary, but I guess like C.S.Lewis, even a lay-person can do their own study and pass on what they've learned. I'd love to hear what other people have to say on the topic. Good question.

  • Good attempt I would say The Cardinals no biblical basis and and deacons that have biblical basis. – user13992 Jul 24 '14 at 5:34
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    Priests did not originate as deacons (diakonoi). They originated as "elders" (presbyteroi). Overseers and elders were not the same thing (the former were episkopoi), but there was much overlap at the time of Acts. The two offices became more distinct as the Church grew. This can be seen in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, a late 1st century Church Father. – guest37 Nov 23 '17 at 13:50
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Presbyters, Bishops, and Deacons in the New Testament

The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles make frequent mention of presbyteroi - literally "elders", sometimes also translated as "presbyters". These were often appointed directly by Apostles, as was, for example, the case in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch:

Acts 14:22-23

Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

In other cases, they were appointed by those assigned to do so by the Apostles, as was the case with Timothy and Titus:

1 Timothy 4:14 (KJV)

Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

Titus 1:5

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:

We know from James that there could often be multiple presbyters in one city:

James 5:14

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord

The Greek word presbyter was carried over into Latin and eventually contracted to form the Old English word "preost" and German "Priester", leading eventually to the Modern English word "priest".

Certain presbyters (or elders, if one prefers that term) were appointed to oversee others, sometimes distinguished with the special title of episkopos, which was adopted in Old English as "biscop" or "biscoep" and has since found a place in English as the word "bishop". The word "bishop" is sometimes used to translate episkopos, but often the term "overseer" is preferred. When Paul instructed the presbyters of the Church from Ephesus (Acts 20:17,28), he said:

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers [episkopoi], to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

A third Church office discussed in the New Testament is that of diakonos, usually translated as "deacons". These were assigned to assist the Apostles and the faithful in general. The role of deacons in the time of the New Testament is described in Michael Pomazanksi's Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (3rd ed.):

From the pastoral epistles it is apparent that the deacons were appointed by bishops (I Tim. 3: 8– 13). According to the book of Acts, for the ministry of deacon there were chosen people “filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6: 3). They took part in preaching, as did St. Stephen, who sealed his preaching of Christ with his martyr’s blood; and like St. Philip, who performed the Baptism of the eunuch (Acts 8: 5 and 38). In the Epistle to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul sends greetings to “the bishops and deacons” (1: 1), as bearers of the Grace-given hierarchical ministry, helpers of the bishops.1

In the Greek-speaking Churches of today, these three offices are known by precisely the same Greek terms found in the New Testament: episkopos, presbyteros, and diakonos. In English, as discussed above, they have been largely replaced by "bishop", "priest", and "deacon" (although the term "presbyter" is still often used in the Orthodox Church).

Developments in the 1st and 2nd Centuries

As is clear from the above, although the three offices of Presbyter, Bishop, and Deacon are mentioned in some form in the New Testament, the hierarchy was not nearly as structured as it appears today in those Christian confessions that attempt to maintain it. As you rightly point out, one - in the absence of any other context - could extrapolate all sorts of structures from what we read about in the New Testament, and perhaps make arguments for or against them based on various doctrinal positions.

As a practical matter, though, the fairly informal structure outlined in Acts and the Epistles would have become (and did become) unmanageable as Christianity spread both in geography and population. We see even by the sixth chapter in Acts that the Apostles were already struggling to practically minister to the relatively small flock at the time.

As a result, the offices of bishop and presbyter came into sharper focus sometime during the end of the Apostolic era and at the very beginning of the post-Apostolic era, when a bishop became clearly responsible for a particular city, overseeing a number of presbyters, with deacons assisting overall. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes:

Within an astonishingly short time small Christian communities had sprung up in all the main centres of the Roman Empire and even in places beyond the Roman frontiers.

The Empire through which these first Christian missionaries travelled was, particularly in its eastern part, an empire of cities. This determined the administrative structure of the primitive Church. The basic unit was the community in each city, governed by its own bishop; to assist the bishop there were presbyters or priests, and deacons. The surrounding countryside depended on the Church of the city. This pattern, with the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons, was already established in some places by the end of the first century. We can see it in the seven short letters which St Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote about the year 107 as he travelled to Rome to be martyred. Ignatius laid emphasis upon two things in particular, the bishop and the Eucharist; he saw the Church as both hierarchical and sacramental. ‘The bishop in each Church,’ he wrote, ‘presides in place of God.’ ‘Let no one do any of the things which concern the Church without the bishop… Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.’

As the Church grew even further, it became necessary to put some sort of structure in place to further organize the bishops. In the east, the bishops of very large cities came to be known as "Metropolitans". By the 4th century, Christendom came to be divided into five administrative "mega-centers" called "Sees": Rome (the old capitol of Rome), Constantinople (the new capitol of Rome), Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Bishops appointed over these very large regions were known as "patriarchs" (patriarchoi), with the Patriarchs of Rome (and Alexandria) sometimes referred to with the term of affection, pappas - the origin of the word "Pope".


1. p.255
2. The Orthodox Church, p.12

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