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Sketch of the History of Modern Controversy About the Office-bearers in the Primitive Christian Churches
The history of modern discussions about the nature of the government and the office-bearers in the earliest Christian Churches begins with Dr. Lightfoot’s Essay on the Christian Ministry, published in 1868, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians. This essay has been recently republished, but unfortunately the valuable dissertation on the terms bishop and presbyter has not been appended to the republished essay.
In his dissertation on the words bishop and presbyter, Dr. Lightfoot begins by examining the previous history of the words.
Episcopus in classical Greek was used to denote the Athenian commissioners appointed to take over and regulate a new territorial acquisition, the inspectors appointed by Indian kings, the commissioner appointed by Mithridates to settle the affairs of Ephesus, magistrates who regulated the sales of provisions, certain officers in Rhodes whose occupation is unknown, and perhaps the officials of a club or confraternity. In the Septuagint the word was used to mean inspectors or taskmasters, captains or presidents, the commissioners appointed by king Antiochus when he resolved to destroy the Jewish religion. From this survey Dr. Lightfoot argued that the primary meaning in the word was inspection, and that it contained two subsidiary thoughts, responsibility to a superior power, and the introduction of a new order of things.
Presbyter or elder, both name and office, was distinctly Jewish, Dr. Lightfoot thought. It was a common practice certainly to call the governing body the aged (senate, gerousia, aldermen), but all through Jewish history there are elders; these elders were mainly civil officials, but the synagogues of the Dispersion had religious elders belonging to them. It was not unnatural, therefore, that when the Christian synagogue took its place by the side of the Jewish; 366a similar organization should be carried over from the old dispensation into the new.
These two names, episcopus, with its Greek, and elder, with its Jewish history, mean in the primitive Christian Church absolutely the same thing; this can be proved from Scriptural and patristic evidence. The “elders” of Ephesus were also “bishops” (Acts xx. 17, 28), and the identity of the names is shown in 1 Peter v. 1, 2; in 1 Tim. iii. 1-7 and v. 17-19; and in Tit. i. 5-7. The same identity is observed in the First Epistle of Clement (42, 44). With the beginning of the second century a new phraseology began and the words took their modern significations; by the close of that century the original meanings seem to have been forgotten. But in the fourth century, when the fathers of the Church began to examine the records of the primitive times, they perceived the original meanings, and Jerome, Chrysostom, Pelagius, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret all recognized the original identity of episcopus and presbyter.
The question then arises, how it came to pass that in the end of the second century everywhere the original college of presbyters or bishops had given place to a different organization, in which we find one president called generally the bishop, and frequently the pastor, and under him a college of elders or presbyters and a band of deacons? This is the question which Dr. Lightfoot set himself to answer in his essay on the Christian Ministry. He first collects his facts, which are these. That the change from a Church government where the rulers were a college of presbyter-bishops to the type in which there is one president with a college of presbyters under him is first apparent in Asia Minor. We get the information from Ignatius, who was himself at the head of the Church in Antioch, and who gives us the name of two other presidents in that region—Polycarp at Smyrna and Onesimus at Ephesus. The change came later in Macedonia and Greece; for the Church at Philippi was ruled by a college of presbyter-bishops during the time of Polycarp. Corinth had the new constitution before 170, and from some various considerations we may fix the date of the introduction of the new organization into Greece about the time of Hadrian. The same date may be assigned to the new organization of the churches in Crete. The early history of a single presidency in the Roman Church presents a perplexing problem. Neither Clement nor Ignatius allow us to see the presidency of one man in the early Roman Church, and the evidence to be gathered from Hermas is too uncertain to be relied upon. There are lists of so-called bishops of Rome from St. Peter and Linus, but these belong at the earliest to the end of the 367second century; and the names they give may only be those of men known to strangers to be prominent in the Church of the Capital. We know absolutely nothing of the Church in Africa before the time of Tertullian, but the institution of the single ruler was established in strength in his time. In Alexandria there is evidence to show that up to the middle of the third century the bishop was not only nominated but apparently ordained by the twelve presbyters out of their own number. In Gaul the earliest bishop recorded was Pothinus, the immediate predecessor of Irenaeus. It is to be observed, however, that it is scarcely reasonable to suppose that the three-fold ministry only began to exist when we can prove that a “bishop” is actually mentioned, for there are many things which witness that the three-fold ministry was not regarded as a novelty at the close of the second century.
Having stated his facts, Dr. Lightfoot proceeded to construct a theory of the origin of this three-fold ministry, or, to put it otherwise, to give an explanation how the two-fold ministry of the primitive Church became a three-fold ministry in the third century.
He notes the gradual and uneven development of the three-fold order. He accepts the statements of Jerome, “that one presbyter was elected that he might be placed over the rest as a remedy against schism, and that each man might not, draw to himself and thus break up the Church of Christ.” The dissensions between Jew and Gentile, the disputes occasioned by the Gnostic teachers, the necessity for preserving a united front in times of trial and persecution, were the causes for the gradual change which gave a single and permanent head to the college of presbyter-bishops which had ruled the Christian communities in the earliest times.
This statement, facts and theory, was generally accepted by all save certain Anglicans, who were too much in love with a theory to care to look closely at historical facts. It may be said to have represented the ideas of competent scholars in England and in Germany until the late Dr. Hatch published his celebrated Bampton Lectures in 1881.
Dr. Hatch was one of the most original and erudite students of early Church History that England has produced. These lectures and his articles in the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, were the result of extensive reading, with the view of constructing a scientific history of the beginnings of Canon law—a work which the author’s premature death prevented him from accomplishing.
Dr. Hatch set himself to investigate the origins of ecclesiastical organization from a comparative review of the political, social and religious assemblies and confraternities in society contemporary 368with the beginnings of Christianity. He was not the first to do this. Renan had directed attention to the confraternities of pagan times and instituted a parallel between them and the organization of the early Christian societies. Heinrici had carried on the same kind of investigation in two learned articles published in the Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie, in 1876-7, and in his Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, published in 1879. But Dr. Hatch brought to the work a wealth of material more abundant than had been collected by any of his predecessors, and grouped it in a much more skilful way. His idea was that the term episcopus came into the Christian Church from the heathen confraternities, and was used for the leaders in the Gentile, as the term presbyter was used in the Jewish, Christian societies. If the Gentile Christian churches are to be alone considered, Dr. Hatch thought that the presbyters whom we find in them had an origin quite spontaneous and independent of the example of the Jewish communities. He derived the Christian presbyters from the common practice of a council of elderly men which superintended most of the confraternities which abounded in the early centuries of our era.
Dr. Hatch seems to have thought that the office as well as the name episcopus was distinct from that of presbyter from the beginning, but he did not make this opinion very emphatic. His idea was that the episcopus filled an administrative and financial office, and its duties in both respects came from the position of the episcopus as the leader of the worship, and therefore the receiver of the “gifts” of the people, who gave them after the service to the officiating minister, by whom they were distributed to those to whom they were due. Dr. Hatch thus disputed the identity of presbyter and episcopus, at least in Gentile Christian societies. He agreed with Dr. Lightfoot, however, in declaring that all the Christian churches were originally governed by a plurality of office-bearers, none of whom had a pre-eminence over his fellows. In attempting to account for the fact that in course of time we find this government by a plurality of office-bearers of equal rank superseded by a three-fold ministry, in which the local Church was governed by one episcopus, a college of presbyters and several deacons, Dr. Hatch followed Dr. Lightfoot’s argument. He adduced the general tendency in all societies to have a president at their head, and the natural tendency when once a single president had been appointed for power to grow in his hands; the specific tendency in the Christian societies of the second century to believe that the coming of the Lord was at hand, and the consequent endeavour to represent each society as having at its head one who would represent the Lord until 369He came; and lastly the need felt in times of danger, whether from persecution or from speculation, to have one head who could be obeyed by all. He declared that his explanation of the change was exactly that made by Jerome.
Dr. Hatch’s Lectures, at once original and erudite, attracted a great deal of attention both in this country and abroad. They were the object of some grossly unfair and almost virulent attacks on the part of High Church Anglicans, and these attacks continue. In Germany the Lectures made a very great impression, all the more so that the distinguished Church historian, Dr. Adolf Harnack, then a professor at Giessen, now at Berlin, was so struck with the book that he translated it into German and published it with elaborate notes of his own. With this translation modern German critical research into the organization of the primitive Church may be said to have begun.
While Dr. Hatch had denied Dr. Lightfoot’s starting point, the identity of episcopi and presbyters, he had done so mainly by insisting on a difference in origin and perhaps in work; but he had not made very clear the real relation between the episcopus and the presbyter, nor had he explained why it was that when the three-fold ministry emerged the superior officer was called episcopus and not presbyter. Dr. Harnack, in his “analecta” to his translation set himself to supply these defects. He insisted in a much more thoroughgoing way than Dr. Hatch that the two offices of episcopus and presbyter were distinct in their origin, and represented two distinct types of organization which could never throughout their whole history be completely identified. The former, along with the deacons, were administrative officers, and had mainly to do with the distribution and reception of the offerings of the worshippers, and through these with the worship of the congregation, while the presbyters were from the first and always men who had charge of the discipline and morals of their fellow Christians. In his “analecta,” Dr. Harnack attempts to trace this clear distinction down through sub-apostolic literature. This translation was published in 1883. In the same year appeared the Didache, issued by Bishop Bryennios—a venerable relic from primitive times, which shed a light on many things hitherto obscure in primitive Christianity. The appearance of the Didache was the occasion of a very thorough-going resifting of the earliest literature bearing on the organization and worship of the primitive Church. As a result of this we have now the completed hypothesis of Dr. Harnack about the beginnings and growth of the Christian organization, which is as follows. While we have traces of at least four separate roots of organization in the 370primitive Church, which may be called the “religious,” the “patriarchal,” the “administrative” and the “aristocratic,” it may be said that a completely organized congregation possessed at the end of the apostolic age: (1) “prophets and teachers,” who were awakened and taught by the Spirit, and who spoke the “Word of God”; (2) a circle of “presbyters” or “elders,” select old men, but perhaps not yet elected “old men,” who in all emergencies which affected the congregation could guide them, and whose special duty it was to watch over the life and behaviour of the members of the community, and who therefore comforted, admonished and punished; they also formed the court of .arbiters before whom all cases of dispute between members of the Christian society were brought and judged; (3) the administrative officers—“episcopi” and deacons who possessed the “gifts” of government and public service, and who had to act especially in public worship and in the care of the poor; the “episcopi” were also members of the circle of “presbyters.” But besides these there were also in the congregations many varied “gifts” (1 Cor. xii.); and each individual “gift” or talent which was useful to edify, in the widest sense of the word, the members of the society, was considered a “gift” of the Spirit; but only those who possessed in peculiar measure the “gift” of speaking the “Word of God,” the apostles, prophets and teachers, held a special rank in the congregation. That was the first stage in the organization.
The second stage arose during the second century, when the basis of organization was thoroughly altered and the alteration was mainly due to the gradual dying out of the “charismatic” element. It shows three elements. (1) The “prophets and teachers” either gradually died out or probably the calling led to so many abuses that these men lost their original pre-eminence, and their places were taken by the “episcopi.” (2) The worship and other things made it more and more necessary for one man to be at the head of the administration—the “episcopi” coalesced into one “episcopus” or “pastor.” (3) The college of “presbyters” lost much of its earlier standing and became more an advising college supporting the “episcopus” or “pastor.” Thus the organization became a three-fold order of ministry—“episcopus” or “pastor,” presbyters or “elders,” and deacons—and these officials formed a consecrated body of men set over the laity. This change came with varying degrees of rapidity in the various parts of the empire, and we find transitional forms. One of the most important parts of the change was that the duty of edifying the people by sermon and hortatory address passed for the most part to the “episcopus” or “pastor,” 371and in a lesser degree to the “elders”; but on into the third century there were, surrounding the “pastor,” laymen who not merely edified the congregation by exhortations, but who instructed it in the faith. Such gifted individuals, along with members who bore eminent testimony to the faith in peculiar holiness of life or in suffering, such as the confessors, virgins and widows, held a place of special honour within the congregation alongside of the clergy.
The first half of the third century saw the final form of organization adopted, and it is characterized by attributing a sacerdotal character to the clergy, who had this character fixed upon them by a solemn service, by a comprehensive adoption of the complicated forms of heathen worship, of the temple service, and of the priesthood, with a corresponding idea of the magical power of priestly actions, by strictly and thoroughly including within the clerical order everything of ancient dignity and rule, and by the complete extinction of the old “charismatic” gifts of edification, or their relegation to a very subordinate place.
These views of Dr. Harnack will be found stated at length with his proofs in his second volume of the Didache, in his Sources of the Apostolic Canons (Texte und Untersuchungen, II. i. ii. v.), and in an article contributed to the Expositor, 1887, January-June, p. 321. In the same number, on pp. 1 and 97, will be found two articles by Dr. Sanday summarizing and criticising Dr. Harnack’s positions.
Dr. Harnack’s theory was at once adopted by many distinguished students of early Church History in Germany, such as Weizsäcker and Sohm, and has been assented to by many Americans, such as Dr. Allen in his Christian Institutions (1898); but it has also met with a good deal of opposition. The hypothesis is marked by all Dr. Harnack’s originality of view, and is illustrated by a wealth of references which perhaps he alone could give. It fascinated me at first, and it was only after reading and re-reading the evidence that I was obliged to come to the conclusion that it was untenable. Its leading opponents are Seyerlen (Zeitschrift für praktische Theologie, 1887, pp. 97 ff. 201 ff., 297 ff.), Loening, Loofs and lastly Schmiedel.
Dr. Loening (Die Gemeindeverfassung des Urchristenthums, 1889) is Professor of Law in the University of Halle, and the author of a valuable work on Church Law. He has a lawyer’s demand for exact evidence and a lawyer’s love of precedents. He holds that there was little or no organization in the Christian communities during strictly apostolic times.818818Dr. Loening belongs to that school of New Testament critics who are furthest removed from the traditional ideas about the date and authorship of the New Testament writings. He does not believe that we can accept the account given in the Acts of the Apostles as trustworthy history for apostolic times. Therefore while he accepts the account of the election and setting apart of the Seven, he refuses to admit that Paul and Barnabas saw “presbyters” appointed in the Churches founded during their first mission journey, and to accept the fact of the existence of “presbyters” in the primitive Christian Church in Jerusalem. He holds that Rom. xvi. 3-15 is not part of the Epistle to the Romans, but a letter to the Church at Ephesus, and to be taken as evidence for the organization of the Churches in further Asia and in Greece. He does not believe in the Pauline origin of the Epistle to the Ephesians or of the Pastoral Epistles. He dates the former at 70-90 A.D. and the latter at sometime during the first quarter of the second century; while he relegates the date of the Acts of the Apostles to the beginning of the second century. He makes up for this incredulity by accepting with unquestioning faith the gossip of Hegesippus and such writers. What we find are little societies of Christians 372meeting and worshipping together in house churches; we see no traces of office-bearers in the proper sense of the word; we have various terms applied to men because of the work they do, but no word of office. In the last genuine Epistle of St. Paul, that written to the Philippians, we meet for the first time with real office-bearers who are called “bishops and deacons.” This epistle and these names must be the starting point of investigation into the origins of primitive Christian organization. After a rapid criticism of the statements of Dr. Hatch and Professor Harnack, he comes to the conclusion that no real proof has been brought forward to enable us to explain these names from the titles of the officials of heathen confraternities; as little have they any connexion with the organization of the synagogue. We can learn nothing about “bishops and deacons” save from the ordinary uses of the Greek words and their special use in Christian literature. It would almost seem, thinks Dr. Loening, that the Apostle Paul used these special words to show that the organization of the Christian societies founded by him had no connection with Judaism on the one hand, nor with heathenism on the other. When we examine patristic and sub-apostolic literature there is a much closer connexion between the function of teaching and these office-bearers than Harnack allows; indeed, Dr. Loening is inclined to question Dr. Harnack’s opinion that the “bishops and deacons” of the Didache were the officials who had specially to do with the worship as distinct from the instruction. He finds that the Poimenes of the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Hegoumenoi of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Episcopi of the Didache, meant the same kind of officials, and that there was a 373close union between teaching and oversight in the last quarter of the first century. But what of the “presbyters”? Dr. Loening asserts strongly that the “presbyters” in the Gentile Christian communities had no connexion whatever with officials in Greek city life, social or political. The name comes from Judaism; but the Christian presbyters have nothing in common with the Jewish presbyters but the name. Although he does not accept the Acts of the Apostles as a testimony for the organization of the churches in the earliest days of Christianity, yet it is a trustworthy witness for the organization which prevailed in the beginning of the second century. That book, the First Epistle of St. Peter, and the Apocalypse, all show that there were “presbyters” in the Gentile Christian communities in Palestine, in Syria, and in Asia Minor, and that that office had been established in these parts for some time. Where did it come from? From Judaism, says Dr. Loening; and his proof is that it, he thinks, brought with it “ordination,” which was a distinctly Jewish institution. He finds this in the Pastoral Epistles, and further declares that in these epistles we see the Jewish term “presbyter” and the Gentile term “bishop” applied to one and the same set of office-bearers. Thus Dr. Loening arrives at the conclusion of the identity of “presbyter” and “episcopus,” with which Dr. Lightfoot started. But he has a difficulty to encounter from his rejection of the authority of the Acts of the Apostles, and from his placing the Pastoral Epistles at such a late date. Dr. Harnack had said, standing on the same critical ground as Dr. Loening, that if the Gentile Christian organization had taken elders from the Jewish, these officials would surely have appeared earlier than the last years of the first century, which is the earliest date which the critical theories about certain New Testament writings permit. Dr. Loening gets round this objection by supposing, on the authority, or at least on what he calls the authority, of Hegesippus, that there was no organization at all in Jewish Christian communities until after the death of James, and that the Jewish Christian Church was first thoroughly detached from Judaism and furnished with an organization of its own when Symeon became its head. His refusal to accept the trustworthiness of the Acts of the Apostles, and his full credence of all the gossip of Hegesippus, justifies Loofs’ sarcasm that Loening is an ideal “modern critic,” because the only sources of information that are not to be accepted uncritically are the canonical Scriptures. Coming to the question of how the single president of a Church emerged from the college of “presbyter-bishops,” Dr. Loening has a theory which is all his own. The thick veil which covers the change from the two-fold to the three-fold 374order of the ministry can be lifted, he thinks, by the aid of the Epistles of Ignatius. With these to guide us we can gather that while in Rome and Macedonia there was still a collegiate constitution, there was in Antioch and Asia Minor a three-fold ministry; but the “bishop” was not considered a successor of the apostles but a representative of Jesus Christ and of God. The change did not come from the colleges of “presbyter-bishops” taking to themselves a permanent president, for there is no evidence of any such movement, nor did it follow any analogy of heathen gilds or civic constitutions, for no such analogies present themselves. It came from an imitation of the position of Symeon at the head of the Jewish-Christian community at Pella. Symeon, of the natural family line of our Lord, was the representative of Jesus; and Ignatius got the “ecclesiastical precedent” required there, and that is why he considers the “bishop” or permanent president of the college of “ presbyter-bishops” the successor of the Lord. Ignatius seized on this idea, and his enthusiastic support of it made the conception widely known. Besides, it was useful in the circumstances of the second century, and so the practice spread throughout the Church. Only the main thought of Ignatius—that the permanent president represented Christ—was departed from, and the “bishop” was looked upon as the successor of the apostles. Then came Cyprian with his sacerdotal ideas, and the simple president changed into the hierarchical bishop through the idea of an ordination which gave a “charismatic” character to an office held for life.
The theory of Professor Loofs of Halle is given in an elaborate article published in the Studien und Kritiken for 1890 (pp. 619-658). Professor Loofs is the most distinguished of the younger Church historians of Germany, and is an eminently sane and scientific worker and thinker.
Professor Loofs agrees with all our authorities that there was in apostolic and in sub-apostolic times a “charismatic ministry” of “apostles, prophets and teachers,” and that they were in no sense the office-bearers in local Churches; but he thinks that some authorities have drawn too hard and fast a line between the two classes of ministry. As to the office-bearers in local Churches, the controversy concerns these points : Whence comes the name “episcopus,” and what were the original functions of the men so called? What was the origin of the “presbyteri,” and what was their relation to the “episcopi”? At what time did the guidance of the community fall into the hands of one episcopus, and how did it come about? These questions exhaust the points in dispute.
He has not much belief in the relation of the name “episcopus” 375to the officials of heathen confraternities or to civil officials; the references given by Dr. Hatch and Dr. Harnack do not prove their contention. He does not think that the word is a direct term of distinct office in the New Testament writings any more than poimen (pastor) or hegoumenos; in the address to the Epistle to the Philippians episcopi are merely those members of the brethren who take an active oversight, and diakoni are those who render active assistance. When we get beyond the New Testament writings and come to the Didache, the episcopi are undoubtedly the officials of the congregation who preside over the public worship, but the question is whether they did this and nothing else, and whether this was their original work. He thinks that they were more than merely the presiding officers at public worship and what that included, for they are continually called poimenes, and “to shepherd” surely means more than to preside at worship and distribute the offerings. And he is of opinion that originally they were simply prohistamenoi, and gradually became the presidents of the public worship. It is difficult to say whether they taught, but 1 Thess. v. 12 seems to imply that teaching was from the first associated with leading the congregation.
Then as to the “presbyters”—excluding for the sake of argument the Acts of the Apostles, the Apocalypse and the Epistle of James—the first fairly debatable places where they are mentioned are in the First Epistle of St. Peter and the First Epistle of Clement. The presbyters or elders mentioned in these epistles are undoubtedly office-bearers; and it is impossible to prove that the “presbyters” in the Gentile Christian Churches were not the same as in, and taken from, the Jewish Christian Churches, unless it can be shown that the office they held in the one was different from what they held in the other, or that there was a period when there were no “presbyters” in the Gentile Churches, and to prove this more is needed than the argument of silence from St. Paul’s epistles. If “presbyters” were in Gentile Christian Churches then they were exactly the same as “episcopi”; and “presbyter” is the name of the office, while “episcopus” tells us that this official exercised the function of “oversight.” This can be proved without reference to the presence of the word “presbyter” in writings disputed on critical grounds. The testimony of Jerome is not to be set aside lightly; it is unquestionable that Clement calls “episcopi” “presbyters”; even if the word “episkopountes “ be rejected in 1 Peter v. 2, “presbyters” are called “pastors” in that epistle, and “pastor” is a common equivalent for “episcopus”; the “presbyters” of Ephesus are called “episcopi” (Acts xx. 17, 28), and this evidence is quite independent of the date or historicity of the book; and there is finally the witness 376of Tertullian (Apol. 39) and of Irenaeus. All this is much stronger evidence for the identity of the words than anything that Hatch or Harnack has brought forward against the conception. But this does not settle the question whether the “presbyter” and the “episcopus” were identical from the first, or when the term “presbyter” came into the Christian organization. All the probabilities are that it came from the Jewish Church; Christianity came out of Judaism, and that gives an antecedent probability. This does not mean that they got the word from Palestine; Jewish synagogues abounded all throughout the Roman Empire, and converts must have come from them into the Christian Churches. But there is no need to suppose that all Christian congregations got hold of the word in the same way; some may have got it from others, and some may have taken the idea and the function from the civil and social organizations around them; we need not suppose any monotonous uniformity of derivation. At all events, the word and the function were within the Christian congregations, and if St. Paul says nothing about “presbyters,” he recognizes “prohistamenoi,” who were much the same. But of course it is quite unnecessary to suppose that the organization of Christian congregations took from the very first the form it afterwards assumed in apostolic and post-apostolic times. There is a growth which takes time. It is much more credible to believe that the terms “presbyteri,” “prohistamenoi” and “episcopi” all mean the same thing than to accept any of the more recent reconstructions. Thus it will be seen that Professor Loofs reaches exactly the same position as Dr. Lightfoot. In all that has been said, it is presupposed that there was at the head of each local Church a number of “presbyter-bishops,” and the next question is, How did the three-fold ministry arise? Dr. Loofs answers that we really do not know. We are in absolute ignorance about two things which might give us light on the question if we could learn something about them—the relation of the “House Churches” to the body of Christians in the town to which they belonged, and what provision was made for the instruction of candidates for baptism, and by whom this instruction was given. But while we can give no certain answer to the question, something can be said both negatively and positively. We can say negatively that the change from the one to the other did not come by any sudden alteration which gave rise to contentions; there is no word of such contention in the whole round of primitive Christian literature; the change came naturally, so naturally as to make it seem that there was no change. We can say positively that there is great likelihood that the channel of the change was the relation of the 377officials to the conduct of public worship, and more especially in their relation to the Eucharist. What happened there while a college of “presbyter-bishops” was at the head of the congregation we do not know; but it is manifest that there could not be a collegiate superintendence of the Lord’s Supper. Did the “presbyter-bishops” take it in turn to officiate, or was one of their number appointed to undertake this service usually? We do not know. But it did become the duty of one man to superintend the ad-ministration of the Eucharist; we see this in Justin Martyr; and the man whom Justin calls the προεστὼς is plainly the forerunner of the single episcopus. This, however, is not all that is needed to account for the change which did come about; and probably something has yet to be done in the line of following up Harnack’s idea that the single president was supposed to inherit the spiritual gifts of the charismatic ministry. Once, however, the single bishop became the rule, the growth and the importance of the higher order can easily be traced.
The theory of Professor Schmiedel on the origin and growth of the ministry in the primitive Christian congregations is to be found in the article on Ministry in the Encyclopaedia Biblica. It is easily accessible. I have recently described and criticised it in an article contributed to the first number of the Hibbert Journal. It may be sufficient to say that the whole of the recent discussions in Germany on the origin of the Christian Ministry are condensed in the article.
The article Church, contributed by the Rev. S. C. Gayford to Hastings’ Bible Dictionary, is one of exceptional interest. It is a very exhaustive account of the Churches of the New Testament, based on a searching analysis of the documents of the New Testament. Unfortunately the author confines himself almost exclusively to the canonical writings. The article is marked by two things which are treated in a fresh clear way—a description of the gradual growth of organization to be seen within the Churches during apostolic times, and a clear account of the prophetic ministry. The article is in every way worthy of attention and of study.378
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