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Was Timothy the Bishop of Ephesus?

Posted by on Dec 1, 2008 in church history, elders, office, scripture | 48 comments

According to tradition, Timothy was the first bishop of Ephesus. In the article on “Ephesus” in Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), David E. Aune writes, “Timothy is remembered as the first bishop of Ephesus ([Eusebius] HE 3.4.6), a tradition probably based on 1 Tim. 1:3″. (415)

Notice that Aune gives Eusebius of Caesaria as the source of this early tradition. In fact, he references Eusebius’ Church History (Ecclesiastical History) 3.4.6. What exactly does Eusebius say about Timothy?

Timothy, so it is recorded, was the first to receive the episcopate of the parish in Ephesus, Titus of the churches in Crete. (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.4.6)

In fact, Eusebius does not cite his source for this information concerning Timothy. In many other instances, Eusebius specifically indicates which sources he used for his history. In fact, Eusebius’ writings contain quotations or references to many sources that no longer exist in another form. We know this because he tells us these sources.

But, when it comes to Timothy being the first bishop of Ephesus, Eusebius does not give us a source. He simply says, “So it is recorded”. Where was it recorded? We don’t know because he doesn’t tell us.

Aune suggests that Eusebius bases this tradition on 1 Timothy 1:3. What does that text say?

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine… (1 Timothy 1:3 ESV)

1 Timothy 1:3 does not say that Timothy was the bishop of Ephesus. In fact, Timothy is never called a bishop or a pastor or an elder. (The same could be said of Titus as well.)

However, Paul may have called Timothy an apostle (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6), and he encourages Timothy to be a good deacon (1 Timothy 4:6).

In fact, while Paul leaves Timothy in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), we do not know that Timothy was still in Ephesus when Paul wrote his second letter to him. Whether Timothy received Paul’s second letter at Ephesus or not, Paul did not expect Timothy to remain there (2 Timothy 4:13).

Why does it matter whether or not Timothy was a bishop in Ephesus?

Whenever there is a discussion concerning senior or solo pastors, those in favor tend to point to Timothy as the scriptural example. Whenever there is a discussion of “calling” pastors from outside the local body, those in favor tend to point to Timothy as the scriptural example.

But, we must remember, that the evidence for Timothy being a pastor/bishop/elder, much less THE pastor/bishop/elder, of Ephesus is based on one line that Eusebius wrote almost 300 years later without citing his source.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-1-2008

    I think what is important was that Timothy was a servant of God. There is enough in Paul’s epistles that one should not doubt that.

    Beyond that, i would not want to get hung up on titles.

  2. 12-1-2008

    Brother Alan,

    Thank you for contributing to the discussion!

    Brother Andy,


    Peace to you brothers,
    From the Middle East

  3. 12-1-2008


    This is interesting. Thanks for digging up this information.

    You are correct about people using Timothy as the primary example of the single pastor.

  4. 12-1-2008


    Very interesting as always. This strikes me as one of those surface level traditions that is rarely looked at more closely. Oh, Timothy was the senior pastor at Epehsus? OK! But no one digs deeper to see if that is true or tradition. Thanks for the info, I pray that more of us will go beyond the pat answers and traditions when we look at the church.

  5. 12-1-2008


    Exactly! Timothy was a servant of God… just like we all are.

    From the Middle East,

    Thank you!


    Yes, without Timothy and Titus as single elders, there’s is no evidence for a single elder. Of course, even if Timothy and Titus were elders, they were both instructed to recognize other elders, so they were not expected to remain single elders.


    We let tradition control our interpretation of Scripture more than we want to admit.


  6. 2-15-2009

    1 Tim 4:14 may be a prayer of blessing accompanying by the imposition of hands to signify the conferral or transmission of authority. So even though the title of Bishop may have been awarded posthumously, I could accept that he held the ‘office’ at the time.

  7. 7-4-2011

    Nice work Alan! I’ve heard it stated that Timothy was, but never looked it up myself. I don’t see that he was the elder of Ephesus from Scripture, but only from church history. Thanks for posting!

  8. 10-13-2011

    2 Timothy 2:15 Study to show thyself approved unto GOD….rather than accepting preconceived ideas or thinking of any “reputable” teacher, for this is how we go astray and become misguided.
    The challenge in that is that rather than reconciliation around truth you may receive retribution instead as man attempts to guard and hold to preconceived ideas passed down.

    As an example…just one preposition in the teachings of Jehovah Witness….Jesus as “a” GOD and look where that took them.

    Question what you read and hear then do what the Bereans did…they checked to see if those things were so.

  9. 1-28-2012

    Mr. Knox,

    Respectfully, it is from Tradition, and it comes down to us from the ancient Roman martyrology ( You are not going to find it explicitly taught in Scripture that S, Timothy was bishop of Antioch accept for see it more or less reflected there (possibly in Rev. 2: 1-17.) (Ibid.) But neither will you find the authors of the Gospels or what Books belong in the Bible for that matter.

  10. 1-28-2012

    *bishop of Ephesus I mean.

  11. 1-29-2012

    Also Mr. Knox,

    I don’t think you should be dismissive of Eusebius’ testimony. I believe those churches who traced their founder back to an Apostle had records; these wouldn’t have had a single author but would be an ongoing roll. Those churches who can trace their founder back to an Apostle still have the records of Apostolic Succession. The Church at Rome has one; the Antiochian succession can be found online at the Antiochian Archdiocese of N. America’s website here:

    To further prove my point I will give you the testimony of Tertullian:

    “‘”But if there be any [heresies] which are bold enough to plant [their origin] in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter’…”


  12. 1-30-2012


    I can see that you are passionate about this point, and I can understand why. From my perspective, traditions can be rooted in reality or not. This is one that does not seem to be rooted in reality to me. While I’m usually not concerned with Roman tradition, this one has spilled over into the realm of general church leadership.

    When providing historical evidence, Eusebius often offers corroborating proof, usually by quoting someone else. In this case, he simply states that Timothy was the bishop and Ephesus and Titus was the bishop of Crete, without any other evidence. If you choose to believe him, fine. I don’t see any reason to believe him on this point, especially since there is no other evidence to support his position.


  13. 1-30-2012

    Hi Alan,

    This is not just a Roman tradition though…

    My point about the rolls of bishops was to point out why Eusebius doesn’t quote it as he does other authors as I believe they are succession lists; i.e. there may be no 1 author, they are ongoing, like the Antiochian list I gave you the link of.

    Besides Eusebius there is the Roman martyrology as I stated and there is Polycrates:

    “The Bollandists (24 Jan.) give two lives of St. Timothy, one ascribed to Polycrates (an early Bishop of Ephesus, and a contemporary of St. Irenæus) and the other by Metaphrastes, which is merely an expansion of the former. The first states that during the Neronian persecution St. John arrived at Ephesus, where he lived with St. Timothy until he was exiled to Patmos under Domitian. Timothy, who was unmarried, continued Bishop of Ephesus until, when he was over eighty years of age, he was mortally beaten by the pagans. ”


    We shall have to agree to disagree I guess.



  14. 1-30-2012


    Are you referring to the Roman Martyrology that was first published in the 1500’s? I’m not sure that I would count that as a primary source.


  15. 1-30-2012

    My source was the “Catholic Encyclopedia” which refers to “the ancient Roman martyrology” so I don’t think so.


    If you click to the link on the word “martyrology”, there is a reference to “the martyrology, or ferial, of the Roman Church of the middle of the fourth century, comprising two distinct lists, the ‘Depositio martyrum’ and the ‘Depositio episcoporum’…)


    Like I said though, I believe Eusebius’ testimony is solid. The “so it is recorded” could be referring to a list of succession or the tradition comes from such a list.

    Finally, there is evidence in Scripture that Timothy was ordained a Bishop by St. Paul. In 2 Timothy 1:6 St. Paul admonishes him to “…stir up the grace of God which is in thee, by the imposition of my hands.” A similar passage is 1 Timothy 4:14 where St. Paul write to St. Timothy: “Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophesy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood.” St. John Chrysostom comments on this passage that: “He [i.e. St. Paul] speaks not here of Presbyters, but of Bishops. For Presbyters cannot be supposed to have ordained a Bishop.”

    source: (

    Chrysostom’s commentary here brings us to 1 Timothy 5:22, where St. Paul instructs Timothy to, “Impose not hands lightly upon any man…” Here he speaks of ordination and, as Chrysostom implies, only a Bishop can ordain a Bishop. That this succession is to continue can be seen in the words of St. Paul to Timothy here: “And the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

    Anyways, I digress..


    *All Scripture citations taken from the Douay -Rheims translation online

  16. 1-30-2012


    While your site claims that the Roman Martyrology is based on “ancient lists,” it was actually published in 1583. You can find that publication date in the article.

    All of the other early evidences that you list come from Eusebius or after. So, they can’t be used to support Eusebius’ claim.

    Most Roman Catholic biblical scholars that I’ve read admit that the New Testament usage of the terms “elders/presbyters” and “bishops/overseers” does not match the hierarchy that developed later. Chrysostom tries to support that later development.

    Sorry… still can’t agree with you that Timothy and Titus were bishops.


  17. 1-30-2012


    Perhaps in the sense that there was more fluidity to those terms in the first 50 or so years of the Church than there was by the time St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote his 7 Epistles ca. A.D. 110 Regarding the fluidity of those terms in the NT era, Jimmy Akin writes:

    “Although the terms “bishop,” “priest,” and “deacon” were somewhat fluid in the apostolic age, by the beginning of the second century they had achieved the fixed form in which they are used today to designate the three offices whose functions are clearly distinct in the New Testament. ”


    Thus, as I sated, in St. Ignatius of Antioch’s 7 Epistles (ca. AD. 110) , one can clearly see the monarchical Bishop and the tree tiered hierarchy.

    None of this denies that the 3 separate offices existed in the 1st century; it only shows that the terms were more fluid. Are you saying that the Catholic scholars you have read deny that these offices existed from the beginning? Or do they deny that only a Bishop can ordain , as Chrysostom stated (as the Catholic Church teaches)?

    If so, I can try and dig up some citations from my copies of: Van Noort, Ott, Denzinger, Catechism of the Council of Trent, etc. here.



  18. 1-30-2012

    *three tiered hierarchy, I’m not quite sure what a “tree tiered hierarchy” would look like 😉

  19. 1-31-2012

    Also re: the Roman martyrology,

    the article gives you the sources (‘ancient lists’) used in the 16th century composition:

    They are the ‘Depositio martyrum’ and the ‘Depositio episcoporum’ , which comprise the mid 4th century martyrology. I don’t believe there is just one martyrology.


    Why are you supposing that when the “Catholic Encyclopedia” states that ,”According to the ancient Roman martyrology he [St. Timothy] died Bishop of Ephesus.”, that the “ancient Roman martyrology” referenced here is the one from 1583? This does not make sense to me as 1583 does wouldn’t seem to me to be ancient.

    What makes more sense is that the “ancient Roman martyrology” which states that St. Timiothy “died Bishop of Ephesus” would refer to the martyrology that that “Catholic Encyclopedia references here:

    “We still possess the martyrology, or ferial, of the Roman Church of the middle of the fourth century, comprising two distinct lists, the ‘Depositio martyrum’ and the ‘Depositio episcoporum’…”


  20. 1-31-2012


    perhaps ‘Depositio martyrum’ and the ‘Depositio episcoporum’ are not necessarily the lists used in the martyrology you reference (16th century):

    This citation will show that and that there are multiple editions of the 16th century one:

    “The present Roman Martyrology is directly derived from the historical martyrologies. It is in sum the martyrology of Usuard completed by the “Dialogues” of St. Gregory and the works of some of the Fathers, and for the Greek saints by the catalogue which is known as the “Menologion” of Sirlet (in H. Canisius, “Lectiones Antiquæ”, III, Pt. ii, 412, Amsterdam, 1725). The editio princeps appeared at Rome in 1583, under the title: “Martyrologium romanum ad novam kalendarii rationem et ecclesiasticæ historiæ veritatem restitutum, Gregorii XIII pont. max. iussu editum”. It bears no approbation. A second edition also appeared at Rome in the same year. This was soon replaced by the edition of 1584, which was approved and imposed on the entire Church by Gregory XIII. Baronius revised and corrected this work and republished it in 1586, with the “Notationes” and the “Tractatio de Martyrologio Romano”. The Antwerp edition of 1589 was corrected in some places by Baronius himself. A new edition of the text and the notes took place under Urban VIII and was published in 1630.”


    As the “Catholic Encyclopedia” referenced here is a bit dated (early 20th century I believe) there may be a new Martyrology or newer edition in use today.

    Still, I don’t believe there was just 1 Roman martyrology ever compiled, as you seem to suggest.



  21. 1-31-2012


    You obviously care passionately about this point. Why? I mean, why do you care whether or not Eusebius was right in everything he said? Why do you care about whether or not those earliest Christians stopped in the midst of persecutions to keep a list of members and bishops? Why do you care whether or not they wrote down a list of people who were killed for their faith? Why do you accept Ignatius’ exhortation of the monoepiscopacy but not the leadership exhorted by Clement or Polycarp? Why? I honestly don’t care if you answer these questions or not. But, I hope you think about them.


  22. 1-31-2012

    Hi Alan,

    The short answer would be that I care about those things which vindicate the Catholic Faith. (I never claimed Eusebius was right in everything he said, we were specifically discussing whether or not St. Timothy was a Bishop of Ephesus)

    Also, I do not believe that Clement and Ignatius help your case in arguing against the Monarchical Bishop. To start with, they were both Monarchical Bishops.

    Regarding Clement, St. Irenaeus puts him in the list of singular Bishops going all the way back to the Apostles Peter and Paul:

    “The blessed apostles [i.e. Peter and Paul], then, having founded and built up the Church [i.e. the Church at Rome], committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate…To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric… To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate.” (“Against Heresies” Book III Ch.3:3)


    St. Ignatius, in his letter to the Smyrneans points to a singular Bishop there:

    “I salute your most worthy bishop, and your very venerable presbytery, and your deacons…”


    We know that Ignatius also writes a letter specifically to Polycarp where he identifies him as this Bishop:

    “Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnæans…”


    Now, if there was something wrong with this or with St. Igantius’ “exhortation of the monoepiscopacy”, as you put it, shouldn’t one expect to find Polycarp rejecting this view of the Monarchical Bishop as a novelty since he was a disciple of none other than St. John the Apostle? Quite the contrary, we find an endorsement of St. Ignatius’ writings (at least those which Polycarp had read) at the end of Polycarp’s letter to the Philadelphians:

    “The Epistles of Ignatius written by him to us, and all the rest [of his Epistles] which we have by us, we have sent to you, as you requested. They are subjoined to this Epistle, and by them you may be greatly profited; for they treat of faith and patience, and all things that tend to edification in our Lord.”


    I realize that we are going to end up agreeing to disagree, but hopefully I have given you and your readers something to ponder yourselves.

    Take care!


  23. 1-31-2012


    I hope you understand that I’m not interested in the “Catholic Faith” like you are.

    I find it interesting that among 2nd century writers, Ignatius is the only one who mentions the three level hierarchy of single bishop, multiple presbyters, and multiple deacons. In fact, Polycarp did not mention these hierarchy in his letter to the church in Philippi even though Ignatius told him to teach this.

    Of course, the single bishop hierarchy became common place and required by the 4th century – when Eusebius wrote – and was then projected back onto the earlier writers.


  24. 1-31-2012


    By the way, Ignatius tells us in one of his letters where he got the idea of the hierarchy of the single bishop, multiple presbyters, and multiple deacons in every city. And, he did not get it from the apostles or from the bishop before him… at least, if we believe what he says.


  25. 1-31-2012


    While I realize that you may not be interested in upholding the Catholic Faith, I would say that as a Baptist you definitely “have a dog in this race.” I personally used to be of a Baptist/Calvinist p.o.v. but it was my reading of early Christian writers who (from the human side) led me on the path to Rome.

    I’m not sure where you are getting that “Ignatius told [Polycarp] to teach [the three tiered hierarchy]”, this seems totally unwarranted as I see no command to do such thing in any of the 7 Ignatian Epistles. Rather, he speaks of it as a “given.”

    Nobody has to project the three tiered hierarchy back on historical writings; it is explicit in the Ignatian corpus in A.D. 110. You must then explain where this teaching came from if you think it is a novelty. Did Ignatius invent it? If so, why doesn’t Polycarp cry “shenanigans” instead of endorsing his writing?

    Clement of Alexandria, in his “The Instructor of Children” (ca. A.D. 191), would also qualify as a 2nd century witness:

    “‘A multitude of other pieces of advice to particular persons is written in the holy books: some for presbyters, some for bishops and deacons; and others for widows, of whom we shall have opportunity to speak elsewhere’ (The Instructor of Children 3:12:97:2 [A.D. 191]).”


    Lest there be any doubt where Clement stands on this issue, we have another citation from the early 3rd century:

    “‘Even here in the Church the gradations of bishops, presbyters, and deacons happen to be imitations, in my opinion, of the angelic glory and of that arrangement which, the scriptures say, awaits those who have followed in the footsteps of the apostles and who have lived in complete righteousness according to the gospel” (Miscellanies 6:13:107:2 [A.D. 208]).'”


    Then we have Hippolytus just 7 years later:

    “‘When a deacon is to be ordained, he is chosen after the fashion of those things said above, the bishop alone in like manner imposing his hands upon him as we have prescribed. In the ordaining of a deacon, this is the reason why the bishop alone is to impose his hands upon him: he is not ordained to the priesthood, but to serve the bishop and to fulfill the bishop’s command. He has no part in the council of the clergy, but is to attend to his own duties and is to acquaint the bishop with such matters as are needful. . . .’

    ‘On a presbyter, however, let the presbyters impose their hands because of the common and like Spirit of the clergy. Even so, the presbyter has only the power to receive [the Spirit], and not the power to give [the Spirit]. That is why a presbyter does not ordain the clergy; for at the ordaining of a presbyter, he but seals while the bishop ordains.”


  26. 1-31-2012


    Regarding Ignatius, I would like to see that citation where you claim: “Ignatius tells us in one of his letters where he got the idea of the hierarchy of the single bishop, multiple presbyters, and multiple deacons in every city. And, he did not get it from the apostles or from the bishop before him… at least, if we believe what he says.”

    Thank you,


  27. 1-31-2012


    I’m following Ignatius’ commands to Polycarp in Ign. Poly. 6:1ff., which is a plural command, not just to Polycarp but to those with him.

    In Ign. Phil. 7:2, he tells his readers that it was directly from the Holy Spirit (and specifically not from any man) that he was told that people should submit to the bishop.

    Polycarp does respect Ignatius, and I think he should. But, when Polycarp writes to the Philippians, he never mentions the bishop, either of himself or the Philippians. He does talk about presbyters and deacons. Similarly, the Didache talks about appointing bishops and deacons… bishops plural. Where is THE bishop? I think Clement is similar. These are much similar to the usage we find in the New Testament.

    Yes, Ignatius certainly specifies a single bishop, multiple presbyters, and multiple deacons among each church (city). The other early writers do not follow this same pattern.


  28. 1-31-2012


    Thank you.

    Regarding Ignatius to Polycarp, (Ign. Poly. 6:1ff.) which you cited:

    the beginning of ch. 6 verse 1 reads:

    “Give heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God!”


    I agree that this is a plural command, perhaps directed to the clergy which I take from the words that follow: “Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God.” (Ibid.) {Here I refer to “the stewards, and associates, and servants of God.” as the clergy.]

    I am not sure what you are trying to prove with this. Are you saying that this chapter contradicts a Monarchical Bishop at Smyrna? If so I cannot agree for we have in clear language in the greating, as I have mentioned, “Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnæans…” (Ibid.)

    Your second reference I will ask you to clarify please as I am not sure what that reference is. It appears that it is a letter to the Philippians but I am not aware of a letter to the Philippians in the Ignatian corpus.

    The 7 letters were to: the Ephesians, the Magnesians, the Trallians, the Romans, the Philadelphians, the Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp.

    Your link seems to say “Philippians.” Is this one of the spurious epistles? Please clarify.



  29. 1-31-2012


    Your second reference is indeed to one of the “spurious epistles:

    see here:

  30. 1-31-2012

    Re: Apostolic origin of the Monarchical Bishop-

    As Msgr. Van Noort, after citing various Patristic evidence, argues:

    “Moreover, the first traces of a monarchical episcopate are already discernible in the books of the New Testament. Several passages in the Acts of the Apostles favor the view that James, the brother of the Lord, was the bishop of the church at Jerusalem. [26] The pastoral Epistles (those to Timothy and Titus) seem to leave little doubt that Timothy exercised the office of bishop at Ephesus and Titus in Crete. The ‘angels’ of the churches, to whom St. John sends letters (Apoc. 1-3), can hardly be other than the bishops of those churches. Therefore it is certain that the monarchical episcopate takes its origin from the apostles. Furthermore, if it had not been started by the Apostles, it would be hard to understand how it could have been foisted on all the churches before the middle of the second century (i.e. before synods were held, and at a time when the primacy of the Roman pontiff made its authority felt quite sparingly). [27]”

    “Dogmatic Theology Volume II: Christ’s Church”, Van Noort, Msgr. G., Mercier Press Limited, Cork, Ireland, 1961. Pgs. 43-44.

    Now, this next part is very important to our conversation as it relates to the fluidity of the terms bishop, presbyter, and deacon we I have discussed:

    “Once the apostolic origin of the monarchical episcopate, it makes little difference whether the apostles put a bishop in charge of each of the newly founded churches right from the beginning; or whether they sometimes placed these latter in the care-for the time being- of a college of ‘presbyters’ (priests of the first or, according to others, of the second class), who would rule the faithful as a sort of common council, as delegates of and under the watchful eyes of the apostles, until the proper time arrived for bishops to be appointed. [28] And so we can leave to historians and exegetes those questions which concern the precise meaning of the names episkopos and presbyteros in first century documents; as well as questions concerning the primitive organization of the churches while the apostles were still alive. [29]”


    I believe that the latter is a far better explanation of harmonizing the first and second century documents than the explanation that you seem to give Alan that it was invented and that Polycarp, disciple of St. John let it fly (even letting Ignatius refer to him as “the Bishop.” There can, as I believe I have showed from witnesses such as Ignatius, Hippolytus and Clement of Alexandria (only from the 2nd & rd centuries and not beyond) that the early Church is clear that there is a Monarchical Bishop in various churches.

  31. 1-31-2012

    “Once the apostolic origin of the monarchical episcopate *has been established*…” the second quote should read.

  32. 1-31-2012

    Furthermore, regarding Msgr. Van Noort’s second quote, it is evident from the writings of Clement (i.e. the 1st century Roman Bishop) that the Apostles were succeeded by Bishops:

    “Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.”


    Sorry to bombard with posts here…


  33. 2-1-2012


    I’ll try again step-by-step. This time, I’ll stick the topic of Polycarp and Ignatius having differing views of leadership among the church.

    1.) Ignatius identifies himself to Polycarp and to the church in Smyrna as THE bishop of the church in Antioch – although, former bishop at this time. (Ign. Pol. 1:1)

    2.) Ignatius identifies Polycarp as THE bishop of the church in Smyrna (Ign. Pol. 1:1)

    3.) Ignatius commands Polycarp (and the church through him, since the command is plural) to “give heed to” (i.e. follow) the bishop (which he had already identified as Polycarp). (Ign. Pol. 6:1)

    4.) Ignatius says that his soul is united only with those who are submissive to the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons. (Ign. Pol 6:1) (And, from other parts of the letter, we know that Ignatius expects them to submit to the bishop as if they were submitting to God.)

    5.) Ignatius specifically tells the church in Smyrna to “follow the bishop even as Jesus Christ followed God.” He says, “Let no man do anything connected with the church without the bishop.”(Ign. Smyr. 8:1)

    However, when Polycarp write a letter to the church in Philippi:

    6.) Polycarp does not identify Ignatius as a bishop, past or present. (Pol. Phil. 9:1, 13:1-2)

    7.) Polycarp does not identify himself as a bishop much less THE bishop. (Pol. Phil. 1:1)

    8.) Instead, Polycarp identifies himself as part of the presbyters – and seemingly equal with them. (Pol. Phil. 1:1)

    9.) Polycarp does not address or mention a bishop in Philippi, but he does mention presbyters several times. (Pol. Phil. 5:3, 6:1, 11:1)

    10.) Polycarp does not follow Ignatius’ command by telling the Philippians to “follow the bishop.” (No reference, since it’s not in the letter.)

    11.) However, Polycarp does tell the Philippians to submit to the presbyters, and he instructs the presbyters in their conduct. (Pol. Phil. 5:3, 6:1)

    From this evidence, it seems that Ignatius and Polycarp had different views of church leadership. Ignatius saw a three part structure with a single bishop above the presbyters and deacons, while Polycarp saw only two levels of presbyters and deacons.

    Feel free to respond, but it doesn’t help your case to quote the Catholic encyclopedia or any other later Roman Catholic source. I know that any source that you quote must stick with Roman Catholic doctrine and tradition, because if a Roman Catholic questions or disagrees that person is immediately labeled and dismissed (Kung, for example). Note that I’ve stuck with the primary sources, and I’d prefer that you respond with the primary sources (Ignatius and Polycarp specifically, since that is the point here).


  34. 2-1-2012


    I will follow your points and respond:

    1) I don’t see him explicitly referring to himself as the Bishop of Antioch here; but I don’t disagree w/ the fact that he is– I think it is a given. No need to really take this point further as it is incidental and would probably be like splitting hairs or arguing for arguments sake–we agree Ignatius is the Bishop of Antioch (or at least he was before being taken away by the Roman government)

    2) I agree

    3) I agree just a couple tweaks; I don’t think he is commanding Polycarp here (this would make no sense) but the clergy through his letter and possibly the church as a whole. Again; incidental – no big deal..

    4) I agree

    5) I agree

    * It seems your points 1-5 establish that St. Ignatius gives evidence in his writing of a 3 tired hierarchy of Bishop, Presbyters, and Deacons (and by implication his would be his view of church government.) We are agreed if this is so.

    Now we come to Polycarp’s “Epistle to the Philippians.” *I would like to note here that the Philippian church was not one of those addressed by St. Ignatius–at least from the 7 extant genuine epistles we have of his.

    6) I agree, but why should he? It seems out of place for him to do so as he only mentions the offices of two others (correct me if I’m wrong); that of the Philippians fellow presbyter Valens and that of the Apostle Paul. He does mention other individuals (Zosimus, Rufus.) Also, your argument may prove too much. Since he doesn’t list Ignatius’ office at all does that mean that according to Polycarp that he had none?

    7) Perhaps not explicitly, although I do believe that the fact that he is bishop is implicit in his greeting: “Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi…” I would like to refer you back to the small disagreement I had with you over point #1 as it now becomes relevant. I argue that St. Ignatius does not refer to himself as the Bishop of Antioch in that letter. If you still claim he does can you please quote him to that effect? Also, if you are going to argue that Polycarp is just one of the Presbyters this begs the question of why then he is writing the letter?

    If you are asserting that Polycarp was not the monarchical Bishop of Ephesus then I would argue that not only are you overlooking the internal evidence which is in the greeting, you are rejecting the external evidence too. One example is St. Ignatius as we have been discussing. Another is St. Irenaeus:

    “But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth…” (“Against Heresies”, Book 3 ch. 3:4)


    8.) I disagree. See point # 7

    9.) This is where Msgr. Van Noort’s argument which I cited before comes in to play. It may have been that Philippi did not have a Bishop at this time. There may have been a group of elders/presbyters placed over the church there originally. If this was the case, this does not deny that other churches had a monarchical Bishop instated by an Apostle; the other historical and Scriptural evidence I gave for this should be clear.

    10) See point #9

    11) See point # 9

    I disagree wholeheartedly with your conclusion and with some of the points by which you have reached it. Your conclusion makes Ignatius either the originator of or a spreader of a “false view” of church governance. Not only that, but it has Polycarp, disciple of St. John sit by idly and let this occur. What is more it has him take part in spreading this “false view” by having his letters forwarded with his approbation (“Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians”, ch. 13.)

    While I can see why you, as a Baptist, would be skeptical of my Catholic sources (although I am sure that Eastern Orthodox sources and “High Church” Anglican as well as perhaps Episcopalian sources would agree with them on the matters we’ve discussed), I would like to point out that the arguments made therein stand on their own merit. Catholic sources do stick to Catholic Doctrine and Tradition otherwise they are not Catholic- or at the very least are not espousing the Catholic view. Like I said, though, it is not just Catholics who would agree with many if not all of the points I have made in our discussion.


  35. 2-1-2012


    I realize this is a pointless discussion. You cannot disagree with the Roman Catholic dogma or tradition even if you wanted to. But, I will respond briefly to your points.

    1.) You are correct. Ignatius does not specifically identify himself as bishop of Antioch.

    3.) The verb is a command. You’re arguing with grammar. That would be like saying, “I don’t agree that ‘am’ is a being verb.”

    6.) So, why does Polycarp, Clement of Rome, and the Didcache and so many other early sources only mention two “offices”?

    7.) By the way, no, I do not believe there were any “monarchical bishops” at this time. However, Ignatius was encouraging that kind of hierarchy, and it was later picked up by other writers.

    8.) Fine.

    9.) Or it may have been that Polycarp did not expect any church to have a “monarchical bishop” because he did not agree with Ignatius on that point.

    You presuppose a “monarchical bishop” and so you make adjustments for it. I do not presuppose a “monarchical bishop” and so I do not see it where you do.


  36. 2-2-2012


    I can disagree with Roman Catholic Dogma & Tradition if I wanted to (for I have been given by God the free), but then I would cease to be Catholic. However, I believe I have shown by my past my willingness to change my point of view as I am a Catholic convert from Protestantism. It was my reading of the Early Church Father’s that really had a large influence in changing my p.o.v.

    Regarding point:

    3) Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, I agree that there is a command here but I was just slightly disagreeing as to whom it was being given.

    6) I am not sure they do upon deeper investigation. First of all, as I stated, the three Greek terms were used interchangeably in the NT era and in the NT itself (cf. Bishops & Presbyter used interchangeably in 1 Titus 1:5-7.) This seems plain also to the Greek Father John Chrysostom as I cited him before on his commentary on 1 Timothy 4:14.

    In Clements letter one can see the 3 tiered hierarchy reflected in the following passage:

    “…it behooves us to do all things in [their proper] order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times. He has enjoined offerings [to be presented] and service to be performed [to Him], and that not thoughtlessly or irregularly, but at the appointed times and hours. Where and by whom He desires these things to be done, He Himself has fixed by His own supreme will, in order that all things, being piously done according to His good pleasure, may be acceptable unto Him. Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they sin not. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen.” (Ch. 40)


    As Catholic Apologist Mark Bonocore has pointed out, this is a parallel of the government of the churches; using the term Levites as Deacons is still common in Greek & Russian Orthodox communions today.


    Regarding the Didache, Patristics scholar William A. Jurgens points out that:

    “It is frequently pointed out by modern authors that the Didache reflects a duplex hierarchy: bishops and deacons on the one hand, and apostles, prophets and teachers on the other. We question whether or not apostles, prophets and teachers really represent three distinct classes, or whether perhaps the terms are vaguely synonymous with each other.” (Jurgens, William A. “Faith of the Early Fathers Vol. 1”, The Liturgical Press. Collegeville, MN: 1970. Pg. 5.

    (I realize that you are not fond of my citing Catholic sources but again, I believe the arguments stand on their own merit.)

    7) I disagree. As I have also brought up there is evidence in the NT. There is evidence of Timothy as Bishop (2 Timothy 1:6, 1 Timothy 4:14, 5:22, Apocalypse 2:1), references to Titus as Bishop (1 Titus 1:5-7), evidence of James as Bishop (Acts 15, 21:18) and evidence of other monarchical Bishops (referred to as ‘angels’) in Apocalypse ch.’s 1-3.

    Like I said, your thesis has us making Ignatius out to be an inventor of a new teaching or spreader of one), Polycarp taking a part in this, and the whole Church accepting it without a peep.

    9) This would seem odd that he not only doesn’t object to it but has Ignatius’ letters forwarded on thus partaking of his “crime” like I just mentioned. Not a peep from anyone as Ignatius (or someone) reorganized the Church with this novelty. (side note: I may be completely wrong as Philippi may very well have had a monarchical bishop placed by an Apostle at some point. I believe the monarchical Bishop is of Apostolic origin.)

    I did not presuppose a monarchical Bishop when I began reading the Early Church Fathers; I found one. It then help me to shed light on various NT passages as their writings did elsewhere.

    We will have to agree to disagree here Alan. But I wish you well and hope we can keep each other in our prayers. I’ll give you the last word here.

    All the best,


  37. 2-2-2012

    *I can disagree with Roman Catholic Dogma & Tradition if I wanted to (for I have been given by God free will)…

  38. 2-3-2012


    And it was reading the early church “fathers” that has further convinced me that Roman Catholicism has changed the message of the New Testament and those early writers.


  39. 6-3-2012


    You may think that after reading the early fathers that Roman Catholicism has changed the message of the New Testament, but after reading the early fathers, it lead me away from the Baptist faith tradition. No one from the Baptist Church today would say the things that the early church fathers said.

  40. 6-4-2012


    Thanks for the comment. I would suggest that very few today among any Christian “Tradition” would say things that those early Christians writers said. Of course, reading them, it also seems some of them said things that the authors of Scripture wouldn’t say.


  41. 6-18-2012


    When referring to certain things mentioned by early Christian writers, I’m not referring to any off-handed remark that any particular one may have made. Rather, I’m referring to statements that were repeatedly and consistently mentioned by various early Christian writers that would not be uttered by many, if not all, Christians of the evangelical stripe.

    I merely said this because you had stated to Nick that reading the early church ‘fathers’ further convinced you that the Catholic Church had changed the message of the NT and that of the early writers. Of course, now you’re saying that the early writers themselves departed from the NT authors. Can you give me an example?

  42. 6-24-2012


    I’ll start with an example from Ignatius. His division of church leadership into bishop/presbyters/deacons departed from what had been described by the NT authors. By the way, Ignatius himself admitted that he did not learn that from any human – and he stressed that no man taught him that. Instead, he said he learned it direction from the Holy Spirit.

    By the way, Ignatius 3-part leadership structure also differs from Clement, the Didache, and Polycarp.


  43. 1-23-2013

    Hi Alan,

    While I would agree with the comments you have made here,particularly as it relates to the role of single Bishop rule, I often wonder if there isn’t a sort of reversed bias in the other direction. In researching ecclesiology in general I have come across a number of websites that outright reject any form of leadership model in the Church. Yet, when I read the NT, it is clear to me that there were indeed leaders. We can argue about terms and roles, I suppose (Though I would again say that the NT clearly teaches the roles of Elders and Deacons) but not, in my opinion, whether or not Timothy or James (I believe an even stronger case) were leaders in the NT church. Do we have some sort of fear of leadership in today’s church? Do we reject ANY form of leadership because we don’t see it in the Bible or because we aren’t very good at being led? I’m not saying this is what you believe Alan — just throwing it out there. I would argue that the NT explains the roles of two offices (I hate that word but it’s all I can think of): Elder or Presbyter, and Deacon. The only difference that I can see between the two is that an Elder must be able to teach while a Deacon may or may not but doesn’t have to. Thoughts?

  44. 1-23-2013


    I agree that the NT demonstrates that some among the church were recognized for their ability to lead others by example, and that these people were primarily called elders (or overseers) and deacons. I’m interested in one statement that you made: “I would argue that the NT explains the roles of two offices.” One thing that I haven’t found in my studies is that kind of explanation. Where do think the NT “explains the roles of two offices”?


  45. 8-24-2013


    I came across your blog researching Timothy’s status in the church (elder/deacon/apostle/song-and-dance-man) and appreciated your discussion with nicholas.

    After many, many years, I have yet to come to a settled place, academically, on the dispute between single/plural eldership in church government. It takes so many different forms as to make my head spin, i.e., a congregation can effectively be governed by a single pastor/elder (called the “senior” pastor or elder), while still professing plural eldership, often with additional elders who are only wadding.

    Spurgeon makes a salient point, when criticized as being a “one-man” movement, that God seems to favor one-man movements. The instances are too numerous to mention; it is just the nature of things that “a” man responds to his calling, shoulders the responsibility and finds that others rise up to support him, but he remains the one with whom the buck stops; he bears responsibility of leadership, vision, and authority.

    Let us not forget that leadership of God’s people in the local assembly is likened unto shepherding or heading up a household. In both instances, it is simply not the usual practice, for clearly practical reasons, to have multiple heads. One shepherd cares for one flock, one husband cares for one family.

    Families and flocks may cooperate or coexist peaceably, but that does not dissolve their nuclear nature; the essential identity of these organisms, regardless of how they may combine, is one-headed.

    But, a point that occurs to me recently is that much is made over Paul’s mention of elderS in the church, and other instances that seem to describe situations where more than one MAN is addressed. What should be noted, though, is not what Paul is indicating, but what he universally does NOT indicate, and that is that nowhere does he, or any other writer, CONDEMN the practice of single leadership, which would seem an obvious need since it is the normal course of human relations. That is, in all circumstances of men relating, some, or some one, will rise to the top. It is not only natural, but efficient. Christ is our HEAD, alone; man is the head of woman, alone. Since, to paraphrase Paul, “the very nature of things” tells you that this is the default, if it were NOT according to God’s governmental order for the church Paul would have warned AGAINST it, but he does no such thing. He does not even intimate a criticism.

    On the other hand, like so many other things in the church, the particulars seem to be secondary to the main thing, which is Jesus Christ. If a given matter, according to our own situation, temperament, or tastes, is more favorable to us, we are free to practice it, keeping attention on the main thing. But, if that practice does not conflict with the fundamental purpose of the organism, there is not reason to condemn it.

    If men can work together, amicably (like a government committee-and we all know how beneficial that is!), that so be it. If the body is better served, grows, and is strong under one clear head, so be it. But it must be recognized that a single head is only intended to direct only so much activity. Men are not realistically intended to preside over a household of dozens of wives and hundreds of children; all historical examples show the folly of it. Neither is a single shepherd intended to oversee thousands of sheep. When a flock grows to large, it is divided. This would be a sobering admonition against mega-sized corporation-type assemblies where it would be impossible for the shepherd to respond to the cries of any particular sheep, or the father to know his children’s needs. If God is blessing a ministry to unwieldy size then that is when new leadership must separate into another household.

    As parents, we know this same dynamic with our own children. Long before they grow to big to remain, and need to begin a household of their own, they show that this separation is inevitable by straining at the confines of the order they grew up in. What sufficed for a cooperative and dependent child will not work for a growing young adult; they are bound to depart. But their departure is not, or should be, a rending of relationship, only a progression. We still relate to them lovingly even when they go on to marry and have their flocks.

    Forgive my going on at such length; nonetheless, I would appreciate your comments.


  46. 8-24-2013


    The more I think about “church government” in this context and the more I consider what the authors of Scripture wrote about elders and the relationships between all believers, the more I’m convinced that neither the “one man” government or the “many men” government is healthy for the church. As you said, Jesus Christ is head of the church, and all others are equal under him. Elders in Scripture do not form a type of government (either one or many). And, when we place them in a position of governing others, we hinder the work of the Spirit in his children.


  47. 8-26-2013

    Thank you for your correction about Timothy. Please continue to challenge common ideas like this with Scripture. I have been re-reading the New Testament trying to be careful with principles of interpretation and am alarmed at how many verses are applied out of context.

    Have you done a study of the direct commands that apply to all Christians? I have found quite interesting.


  48. 8-26-2013


    There are alot of imperatives in the New Testament. I’ve never tried to separate them from their context, meaning, each one was giving to a specific group/person for a specific purpose. I think we can learn from all of those commands/imperatives, as long as we don’t try to make them a new set of rules.