Quick Facts

  • Pronunciation: e-pē-sko-pā’
  • Strongs Concordance: #G1984
    • investigation, inspection, visitation
      • that act by which God looks into and searches out the ways, deeds character, of men, in order to adjudge them their lot accordingly, whether joyous or sad
    • oversight
    • overseership, office, charge, the office of an elder
    • the overseer or presiding officers of a Christian church
  • Appears 5 times in 4 verses in the New Testament
  • Common translations:
    • “office” (1x)
    • “office of overseer” (1x)
    • “visitation” (2x)


How and where episkopē is used in the New Testament

  1. Luke 19:44 – “and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.””

  2. Acts 1:20 – “”For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE, AND LET NO ONE DWELL IN IT’; and, ‘LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.'”

  3. 1 Timothy 3:1 – “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.”

  4. 1 Peter 2:12  – “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

My Perspective

Out of the five uses of the word episkopē in the New Testament, two appear in a context involving the local church.

The two instances occur in one verse – 1 Timothy 3:1. It might be important to remind the reader here of the context of Hellenization.

There in 1 Timothy we find Paul informing Timothy, that if any man desires to do the work of an overseer, he desires a good thing.

Paul then goes on to outline some qualities and attributes that should accompany such persons – those that are watching over the flock.

Those qualities include:

  1. Above reproach (not one who can be held to account for wrongdoing)
  2. The husband of one wife
  3. Temperate (moderate, sober)
  4. Prudent (sound-minded, self-controlled)
  5. Respectable (well-arranged, seemly, modest)
  6. Hospitable (generous to guests)
  7. Able to teach ( apt and skillful in teaching )
  8. Not addicted to wine
  9. Not pugnacious (a bruiser, ready for blows)
  10. Gentle (equitable, fair, mild, gentle)
  11. Peaceable (not contentious, abstaining from fighting)
  12. Free from the love of money
  13. One who manages his own house well
  14. Keeping his children under control with all dignity
  15. Not a new convert
  16. Good reputation with those outside/external (the church is not literally present in the Greek)

So here we have Paul informing Timothy that those who would aspire to watching over the flock should have sixteen qualities.

The word overseers are those who oversee. As mentioned in the section on Shepherds, Acts 20:28 links those overseeing with shepherding.

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” – Acts 20:28

This demonstrates that those who are overseers are those that are charged with shepherding. All that applies to shepherds applies to overseers and vice versa. The aforementioned sixteen characteristics should accompany every shepherd.

This further demonstrates that the scriptures teach that oversight of the local church is synonymous to watching over it. As was shown with shepherding and once again with overseeing, there appear to be no scriptures that indicate these roles involve governing or ruling.

1 Timothy is no exception. Every qualification for overseers that Paul mentions is related to character or relational qualities. None deal with ruling or governing or are managerial unless one views relating to their family as being a managerial quality.

In fact, Paul compares the single management-like task to the role to a father, indicating that how a man cares for his children is a good indication of how well he can care for the local assemblies. Pitied is the man whom sees his fatherly role as a ruling, governing, or managerial task. That is not the heart of Abba, nor anything like the shepherding described in scripture.

Unfortunately, the phrase “manages his own household” is lends itself to such business-like and sterile conclusions about this role. This phrase is the transliteration of the Greek word proïstēmi which means preside over, and to be a protector or guardian and to care for, give attention to. Sound familiar? It should because it’s the same concepts described in the concepts of shepherding.

Take note; the word episkopē is nowhere translated as elder, pastor or shepherd in the NASB. Neither are the Greek words for shepherd. Insisting on such, is in my opinion, allowing presuppositions and cultural bias to dictate the meaning of scripture rather than allowing scripture to shape our understanding of these roles.

There are elders and there are overseers in the local church. Both are necessary. Perhaps both are similar. However, there does not appear to exist any way to equate the two in scripture with an incontrovertible outcome.

In summary, Paul has very clear instructions for what is necessary to be present in anyone who seeks to oversee the flock. Whatever one believes about the relationship between elders and overseers – anyone seeking to be the latter must posses these characteristics.


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