Monday, December 10, 2012

Bishops in Chronicles

The English word bishop derives from Greek ἐπίσκοπος which means overseer. The Greek term is so associated with the Christian office of bishop that it is sometimes difficult to remember that the term was used outside of Christianity. Such is the case in Chronicles as it discusses Josiah's repairs to the temple:
And the men were faithful over their work, and over them were the bishops Jeth and Abdiah, the Levites of the sons of Merari, and Zachariah and Meshullam of the sons of Kohath, to oversee (lit. to bishop) (2 Chronicles 34:12 LXX).
The Hebrew term translated as ἐπίσκοπος is mupqādîm, a hophal participle meaning one who has been appointed over. This is largely what a bishop is. Someone from the priesthood appointed to oversee the holy work for a period of time. The early Christian usage followed that of the Septuagint. Only later, after some time, did it come to mean something else.

Note also that the overseers/bishops oversaw men who were faithful doing their work, and that there were a large number of people working. Only four overseers are needed for more than that many types of workers. Faithful worker need little oversight. The multiplication of overseers may mean a lack of faithfulness in the work. What does one make of an overseer with no one to oversee?