Episcopal refers to a form of church government in which the office of Bishop is a key authoritative role. The word episcopal is from the Greek word for bishop. In this system, the local church is
part of a hierarchy of clergy who oversee and govern the church denomination. This usually involves regional (diocese) bishops headed up by an Archbishop. Denominations which operate with this form of polity include
Eastern Orthodoxy, the
Roman Catholic Church,
Timothy and Titus
In his manuscript
Captains and Courts: A Biblical Defense of Episcopal Government, the Rt. Rev. Ray Sutton writes:
First, apart from the Melchizedekkal priesthood's structure itself, undoubtedly the strongest argument for Bishops is the fact that the Apostle Paul at the end of his ministry tells individuals, Timothy and Titus, to appoint Presbyters (Titus 1:6)
Why doesn't he give this directive to the Presbytery? Instead, he uses Jethro-type language to describe their function. He says, "I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice,
doing nothing with partiality" (1 Timothy 5:21). With this solemn charge, the Apostle sounds a note quite similar to the Melchizedekkal-Jethro advice to Moses,
Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, "Hear the cases between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid
in any man's presence, for the judgement is God's" (Deuteronomy 1:16-17).
According to this, the Apostle Paul gives almost identical instructions to Timothy, making him a captain over Presbyters since he as an inidividual is given specific authority to oversee regular Presbyters. More importantly, this would have been the
perfect opportunity at the end of Paul's ministry for him to call in a Presbytery (synod) if the Presbyterian system had been the government of the early Church. But he didn't.
This indeed would be a key Scriptural argument for the episcopal system.
James and the Jerusalem Council
Other arguments would be the role of James at the
Jerusalem Council. James clearly functioned as a captain, not just a moderator, for the Council. He was a secondary Apostle, a
Acts 21:8 states "and he [Paul] went into James and all the elders were present". Episcopalians would point out that this shows that James was in charge. Paul didn't go to the
Presbytery, but to James. Church history also testifies to James as the "bishop of Jerusalem".
The Seven Angels of the Seven Churches in Asia-Minor
A third argument, that coming out of John's
Book of Revelation, states that the seven angels of the seven Churches symbolize the bishop of each Church. It's been historically defended on the grounds that Scripture repeatedly uses "messengers" (the
literal translation of the word "angel") and "stars" to symbolize people -and almost always as ecclesiastical officers.
This was notably the view of the French reformer
Theodore Beza, as well as the