The word episkopos comes from the Greek roots epi and skopos, meaning “over” and “one who looks.” It refers to someone who looks after other people. The word supervisor is similar, because it comes from Latin words for looking over. “Overseer” is the English-root equivalent. Episkopos was eventually shortened to piskop, and then became bishop, and that is the traditional translation.
The New Testament uses several words for church leaders—overseer (or bishop), elder (presbyter) and shepherd (pastor). The terms seem to be interchangeable. Peter wrote to the elders and told them to be shepherds (pastors) watching over (like a bishop) the believers (1 Peter 5:1-2). Paul gave Timothy qualities of an episkopos (1 Tim. 3:2) but not for an elder, even though Ephesus had elders (1 Tim. 5:17). In Titus, the description of elders blends right into that of bishops (Titus 1:6-9).
The Bible does not describe exactly what these leaders were to do—that may depend on local circumstances.
Dr. Michael Morrison teaches classes in the New Testament at Grace Communion Seminary. More information about the seminary can be found at: www.gcs.edu .