the weblog of Alan Knox

What does a non-bishop oversee?

Posted by on Apr 17, 2009 in edification, elders, members, office | 6 comments

I wrote a post about two years ago called “What does a non-bishop oversee?” I was surprised to find the verb “to oversee” (which, I thought, was used only for elders / pastors / bishops / overseers) applied to all believers in Hebrews 12:15. Last week, I had another discussion about this same verb and verse with a friend of mine. So, I thought this would be a good opportunity to re-run this post.


What does a non-bishop oversee?

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog called “What does a bishop oversee?” In this post, I suggested that the επίσκοπος (episkopos) / επισκοπέω (episkopeo) word group, when used in Scripture for Christian leaders, should be translated “looking after people” or “being concerned about people” as opposed to “overseeing an organization”. I followed this blog with an example (a negative example, from my point of view) in a post called “The Church or the Organization?” I was surprised at the response to this blog post (three times the page views and comments of the next most viewed/commented post). I did not originally intend to discuss the church / organization dichotomy. Instead, I was heading in another direction, which began in a post called “Leadership, Obedience, and Authority…” I will continue in the original direction in this post, which is looking at Christian leaders and their function and operation among the church.

In this post, I would like to continue to examine the επίσκοπος (episkopos) / επισκοπέω (episkopeo) word group. Specifically, what does this word group mean for those who are not elders/bishops? Or, does it apply to non-elders/non-bishops at all?

Apparently, the author of Hebrews believes that this function does apply to all believers. For example, consider this passage:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it [from επισκοπέω] that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (Hebrews 12:14-16 ESV)

If you need to check the context, read from Hebrews 12:1. It is clear from this context that all believers are in view, and all believers should be “looking carefully” (as the NKJV translates the participle επισκοπέω in 12:15).

Commenting on the word επισκοπέω in 12:15, William Lane says in the Word Biblical Commentary:

The call to vigilance expressed in επισκοπουντες [that is, the participle of επισκοπέω] refers not to some official expression of ministry but rather to the engagement of the community as a whole in the extension of mutual care (cf. 3:12-13; 4:1; 10:24-25). Christian vigilance is the proper response to a peril that poses an imminent threat to the entire community… In view of this very real danger, the members of the house church are urged to vigilant concern for one another. [451-52]

Thus, Lane understands the verb επισκοπέω to mean “to show vigilant concern”. This is very similar to the definitions that I suggested in my previous post (“What does a bishop oversee?“): “to look after” or “be concerned about”. In this case, it is clear that the object of concern is not an organization, but the people (that is, the church) themselves. Believers are to show concern for other believers so that they do not fail to obtain the grace of God, so that no root of bitterness springs up, and so that they are not sexually immoral or unholy.

If all believers are “to show vigilant concern” for other people, could it not also be that bishops and elders are “to show vigilant concern” for other people (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-2)? Once again, I suggest that this is quite different than “overseeing an organization”; yet, this is the way the verb επισκοπέω is often presented when it comes to Christian leaders. Perhaps, elders are supposed “to show vigilant concern” for other people not because they are elders, but because they are believers. In fact, they should be more likely “to show vigilant concern” for others because they are supposed to be good examples of what it means to follow Christ and obey Him.

The important thing to realize in Hebrews 12:14-15 is that it is our responsibility to be concerned about one another. This is not only the responsibility of Christian leaders. However, we all realize that there are occasionally hindrances and obstacles that prevent us from showing proper concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes, those hindrances and obstacles are in our lives; sometimes, they are in the lives of others.

What are some of the hindrances or obstacles to showing vigilant concern for other believers? How can we overcome some of these hindrances and obstacles?


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

  1. 4-17-2009

    Thanks for bringing this out Alan. I had not seen this before and will definitely study it out.

    I think the greatest hindrance for those still entrenched in the Christian religion is the clergy/laity divide. For them it is the clergyman’s responsibility to deal with such matters seeing as they have abdicated their priesthood status.

    For those who have come out I believe it is the residual effect of the system. I have known saints who abandoned the system years ago who still carry the vocabulary and fundamental idealism of clergy/laity. So then seeing Christ and His body is essential.

    Lastly, I think the consumer mentality must be addressed. As long as we walk together for what we can get rather than what we can give, we fail to fully see our responsibility to one another. How can I guard my brothers and sisters if my attention is still on me?

    Overcome? Walk in the new man who has been created according to righteousness. Put on the mind of Christ and bear one another’s burdens. Allow the Father to realign our thinking to match His – even if it challenges most of what we thought “church” should be.

  2. 4-17-2009

    Two things come to mind:

    1. Fear of exposure (not “living in the light.”) When we have begun walking in the light, we become used to our sin being exposed and no longer fear someone “finding out.” We become quick to acknowledge sin, and quick to turn from it/return to Him. We learn this is an ongoing process and are glad when others can help us see blindspots or falls.

    If we are afraid of light, we are afraid to hold it for others when they step into the dark lest others do the same for us. The whole idea is a threat.

    2. Fear of rejection/abandonment (not accepting others and/or not being accepted–lacking the esnse of being “members one of another.” Lacking the sense of Jesus never leaving us or forsaking us.)

    We don’t want everyone around us looking at us closely, because we don’t see that as a help but as a way we might be rejected if known for what we are. Instead, we all walk around without pants on, making nice comments about each others well made pants. We fool no one, but everyone pretends they have no desire for pride, power, or position, never have moments of attack over desiring sexual lusts, never are envious or angry or selfish or unthankful…

    But these are things we all experience and struggle with, all find ourselves under attack, all are taught by Him–like the layers of an onion peeled off one by one–to have more of our treasured sin exposed and healed. To this process God calls on us all to help the other.

  3. 4-17-2009

    Douglas and Art,

    You have both brought up some good points. It seems that most of the hindrances can be placed in two categories: 1) We don’t want people looking into our own lives, and 2) we don’t want to spend the time / energy / etc. to look into other people’s lives.


  4. 4-18-2009

    One obstacle I frequently find to showing vigilant concern for other believers is the “plank in my own eye”(Matthew 7:1-5). I just find it hard to judge other believers. In my view the line between vigilant concern and pronouncing judgment is easily blurred.

    It would seem that the key is showing genuine concern without passing judgment. I just find that hard to do in practice. To further complicate the issue, I have seen others pass judgment without any evidence of genuine concern. So in the back of my mind I ask myself something like “am I acting with total concern for somebody or are my actions tinged with judgment?”.

  5. 4-18-2009


    I agree that we should not be judgment, and there can be a thin line between judging others and helping others. However, I think we should seek to help others anyway.


  6. 4-20-2009


    I find this very interesting. The concepts resonate very well with my spirit and they also line up very well with Frank Viola’s discussions in Reimagining Church, which I’ve recently finished reading.

    Thanks for doing the hard yards in the Greek for the benefit of us who will probably never venture that way!