This is a short infobyte for those who are wondering whether the Scripture says whether Elders and Overseers (i.e. Bishops) are one of the same AND whether each city had several Bishops.
In Titus 1:5-9 it states:
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer [Bishop] must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
What can we gather from this passage?
- There are multiple Elders appointed to each city.
- These Elders must be “any man above reproach, the husband of one wife,” etcetera.
- The reason Elders must meet this criteria is because they must be above reproach as a steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, etcetera.
The word “if” necessarily connects the Elders to be appointed with requirements for them. The word “for” connects the requirements with the characteristics of a man that meets those requirements.
Some of us may notice that in verse seven, that an Elder is called a “Bishop”–exactly those Titus is commanded to appoint several of in every town.
Catholics and Orthodox may argue that Paul is giving Titus some requirements for an Elder and then, inexplicably, suddenly speaks about the office of the Bishop even though this defies the conventions of logical, understandable writing.
In response to this more convoluted interpretation, I can only offer the following suggestive evidence. In 1 Tim 3:2-5 Paul gives the requirements for Bishops:
An overseer [Bishop], then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable,hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)
In bold are requirements explicitly identical with that of Elders in Titus 1:5-6. It appears that Paul viewed their requirements as one of the same and in no specific order of importance.This makes sense if the offices are identical.
The person who rejects that there are a plural of Bishops per city would have to argue that the way Paul writes is simply confusing. Paul does not clearly differentiate between the office of Elder and Bishop, and when he gives requirements for the offices, he conflates them. Further, it would mean that Paul takes more time defining the requirements for Deacons then he would Elders.
Concerning Deacons in 1 Tim 3:8-13 Paul writes:
Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
It would appear, by a Catholic or Orthodox interpretation, that they have more in common with the Bishop tha even the Elder! Of course, this on incongruity disappears the moment we let Titus 1:5-7 speak for itself and conflate the office of Bishop and Elder.