Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 31, 2012

Episkopos as Guardian

I’m working my way through the Greek text of the Pastoral Epistles, and I referenced BDAG to see how it handled episkopos as both a person and an office.  Now, I know that the translation “bishop” (KJV) is poor, given its latter ecclesiastical baggage, but I have for some time glossed the word as “overseer” or “office of an overseer” depending on the context.  This translation, to my thinking, connotes a sort of managerial oversight, the sort of thing suggested by EDNT: “it almost always relates to oversight or administration” (2:36).  Imagine my surprise when I found that as much as anything else, BDAG emphasizes the notion of guardianship as it defines the word.  So in reference to episkopos as a person, BDAG gives

one who has the responsibility of safeguarding or seeing to it that someth. is done in the correct way, guardian. (379c)

And in reference to the office,

In the Gr-Rom. world e. freq. refers to one who has a definite function or fixed office of guardianship and related activity within a group. . . . The term was taken over in Christian communities in ref. to one who served as overseer or supervisor, with special interest in guarding the apostolic tradition. (379d)

BDAG translates the pertinent phrase in 1 Peter 2:25 as “guardian of the souls.”  One of the references given by BDAG in early Christian writings is 1 Clement 59:3, where Michael Holmes translates the pertinent phrase ton pantos pneumatos ktisthn kai episkopon as “the Creator and Guardian of every spirit.”

The word is at times connected with fulax (“guard, sentinel”) in certain classical references roughly contemporary with the NT:

“…he was made one of the priests called Augurs, whom the Romans appoint as guardians and overseers of the art of divination from the flight of birds and from omens in the sky…” (Plut. Aem. 3, not listed in BDAG)

“…he made the upper council a general overseer in the state, and guardian of the laws…” (Plut. Sol. 19, not listed in BDAG)

“…on the boundary-stones he had formally installed Terminus as overseer and guardian of friendship and peace…” (Plut. Quaes. Rom. 15)

And as a side note, it was interesting in light of the Pastorals’ frequent reference to “sobriety” or “sober-mindedness” (swfrosunh) to note in Plutarch a reference to one Servius Tullius, who “first established a good order for the giving of suffrages and for the good discipline of the militia, who was the first censor and overseer (episkopos) of men’s lives and sobriety (swfrosunh).” (Plut. De Fort. Rom. 10)

All in all, “guardian” has (for me at least) a bit of a different connotation than “overseer”, and I’m glad to have discovered that nuance in episkopos.


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