I'm familiar with what "bishop" typically means in mainline, churches. It specifically points to an overseer of several other pastors and/or their congregations.

Some African-American Christian religious figures, or leaders of "historically black churches", use the title "Bishop", but in my estimation, they may be leaders of a congregation, but not overseers of other congregations.

Q: What does the term mean in these contexts, and how is the term derived?

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    In the NT bishop was equivalent to elder, according to my understanding of the texts. For an organization without a major hierarchical structure, I think they tend to use "Bishop" as either "Elder" or "Chief Elder" if they have multiple elders for the congregation. Generally other groups would use the term "Pastor" instead. I am familiar with common use of the term "Bishop" in some denominations, but don't know specific s of use in Afro-American groups. Other groups I know of who use the term "Bishop" include Pentecostals and Mennonites.
    – Bit Chaser
    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:11
  • Do you have an example? Apr 23, 2015 at 13:28

1 Answer 1


Well, as you point out, the term Bishop—which is ultimately derived from the Greek episkopos > biscop [Old English] > bishop—literally just means "overseer." While it came to mean a leader over several parishes in many traditions, its more general meaning could just as easily be applied to someone who oversees a single congregation, which these historically black churches seem to have done. I don't think there's much more to it than that.

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