AskDefine | Define bishop

Dictionary Definition



1 a clergyman having spiritual and administrative authority; appointed in Christian churches to oversee priests or ministers; considered in some churches to be successors of the twelve apostles of Christ
2 port wine mulled with oranges and cloves
3 (chess) a piece that can be moved diagonally over unoccupied squares of the same color

User Contributed Dictionary



biscop, from biscopus, from episcopus, from ἐπίσκοπος, from ἐπί + σκοπέω.


  • /ˈbɪʃəp/


  1. A high ranking official in the Catholic church who governs a diocese, or a similar official in other denominations and religions.
  2. A piece that may be moved only diagonally.
  3. penis (see bash the bishop).


church official
chess piece

Extensive Definition

portal Christianity A bishop is an ordained member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. The office of bishop is one of the three ordained offices within Christianity, the other two being those of priest and deacon. Within the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Anglican churches, bishops claim Apostolic Succession, a direct historical lineage dating back to the original Twelve Apostles. Within these churches, bishops can ordain clergy including other bishops. Some Protestant churches including the Lutheran and Methodist churches have bishops as well, although their duties are usually only oversight as Protestants generally reject the sacramental theology of Catholicism. The non-Protestant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints church also has bishops, who serve as spiritual leaders of local congregations (wards). Bishops are of a higher rank than priests.


Bishop comes from the Greek word episkopos (επίσκοπος, from επι "over" and σκοπος "seeing") which can be translated bishop, overseer, superintendent, supervisor, the first, leader or foreman. From the word episkopos are derived the English words episcopacy, episcopate and episcopal. The system of church government by bishops is called episcopacy.

Bishops in the New Testament

The New Testament uses the word episkopos five times. Words related to episkopos are used in two other verses. Some English Bibles transliterate this word as bishop (KJV, RSV, NRSV, etc.), while others use a more basic translation such as "overseer" (NIV, ESV, etc.). Biblical scholars differ on which, if any, of these verses refer specifically to ordained bishops as we understand them, and which simply refer to a generic "overseer" capacity.
The ministry of these New Testament episkopoi, according to some writers, was not explicitly commissioned by Jesus Christ as far as the Gospels tell, but appears to be a natural, practical development of the church of the apostles during the first and second centuries AD. Others maintain that the episcopal structure of the Church was present from the beginning, being a direct institution by Jesus, referring to the apostles who clearly led the first local churches, governed and laid hands on the clergy and faithful. Supporting this latter view, the portions of the New Testament that mention episkopoi do not appear to be ordering a new type of ministry, but giving instructions for an already existing position within the early Church. In places (particularly in the verses from the Epistle to Titus) it appears that the position of episkopos is often similar or the same as that of presbyter (πρεσβυτερος), or elder and (or) priest. The Epistle to Timothy mentions deacons (διακονοι) in a manner that suggests that the office of deacon differs from the office of the bishop, and is subordinate to it, though it carries similar qualifications. Some references indicate that a congregation might have multiple episkopoi, which is different than the bishop's role as it came to be established in the 2nd century.
In the Acts of the Apostles, episkopoi are mentioned as being shepherds of the flock, imagery that is still in use today. The other passages from the New Testament describe them as stewards, leaders or administrators, and teachers. In 1 Timothy episkopoi are required to be 'the husband of but one wife'. Thus, it is clear that the New Testament has no prohibition against bishops being married and already having children. The most famous example of this is the Apostle Peter himself, who was married and had children. It remains unclear however, whether a kind of celibacy or abstinence had to be practiced by these first bishops and apostles after their appointment or episcopal consecration (see also clerical celibacy).
It is interesting to note that in the second chapter of 1 Peter, Jesus is described as 'the Shepherd and Episkopos of your souls' (τον ποιμενα και επισκοπον των ψυχων υμων).

Bishops in the Apostolic Fathers

Around the end of the first century AD, the church's organization becomes clearer in historical documents. In the works of the Apostolic Fathers, and Ignatius of Antioch in particular, the role of the episkopos, or bishop, became more important or, rather, already was very important and being clearly defined.
"Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 6:1. "your godly bishop" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 2:1. "the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 6:1. "Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, [being united with Him], either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and the presbyters." — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 7:1. "Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was to the Father [according to the flesh], and as the Apostles were to Christ and to the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and of spirit." — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 13:2. ''"In like manner let all men respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as they should respect the bishop as being a type of the Father and the presbyters as the council of God and as the college of Apostles. Apart from these there is not even the name of a church." — Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallesians 3:1. "follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God's commandment" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnans 8:1. "He that honoureth the bishop is honoured of God; he that doeth aught without the knowledge of the bishop rendereth service to the devil"'' — Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnans 9:1. — Lightfoot translation.
It is clear that, by this period, a single bishop was expected to lead the church in each centre of Christian mission, supported by a council of presbyters (a distinct and subordinate position at least by this time) with a pool of deacons. As the Church continued to expand, new churches in important cities gained their own bishop, but churches in the regions around an important city were served by presbyters and deacons from the bishop's city church. Thus, in time, the bishop changed from being the leader of a single church confined to an urban area to being the leader of the churches of a given geographical area.
Clement of Alexandria (end of the 2nd century) writes about the ordination of a certain Zachæus as bishop by the imposition of Simon Peter Bar-Jonah's hands. The words bishop and ordination are used in their technical meaning by the same Clement of Alexandria. The bishops in the 2nd century are defined also as the only clergy to whom the ordination to priesthood (presbyterate) and diaconate is entrusted: "a priest (presbyter) lays on hands, but does not ordain." (cheirothetei ou cheirotonei)
At the end of the 2nd century and the beginning of the 3rd century, we have Hippolytus of Rome describing another feature of the ministry of a bishop, which is that of the "Spiritum primatus sacerdotii habere potestatem dimittere peccata": the primate of sacrificial priesthood and the power to forgive sins.

Bishops and civil government

The efficient infrastructure of the Roman Empire became the template for the organization of the church in the fourth century, particularly after the Edict of Milan. As the church moved from the shadows of privacy into the public forum it acquired land for churches, burials and clergy. In 391, Theodosius I decreed that any land that had been confiscated from the church by Roman authorities be returned.
The most usual term for the geographic area of a bishop's authority and ministry, the diocese, began as part of the structure of the Roman Empire under Diocletian. As Roman authority began to fail in the western portion of the empire, the church took over much of the civil administration. This can be clearly seen in the ministry of two popes: Pope Leo I in the fifth century, and Pope Gregory I in the sixth century. Both of these men were statesmen and public administrators in addition to their role as Christian pastors, teachers and leaders. In the Eastern churches, latifundia entailed to a bishop's see were much less common, the state power did not collapse the way it did in the West, and thus the tendency of bishops acquiring secular power was much weaker than in the West. However, the role of Western bishops as civil authorities, often called prince bishops, continued throughout much of the Middle Ages.

Bishops ruling temporal states

The most important of these prince bishops was the Pope, who ruled as monarch of the Papal States by virtue of his title as Bishop of Rome. His claim to this fief rested on the forged Donation of Constantine, but in fact his authority over this kingdom in central Italy grew slowly after the collapse of Roman and Byzantine authority in the area. The Papal States were abolished when King Victor Emmanuel II took possession of Rome in 1870 and completed the reunification of Italy. This became a perennial source of tension between the Papacy and the government of Italy. In 1929, a representative of Pope Pius XI signed a concordat with the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini and the Pope became the independent sovereign of the Vatican, while giving up any rights to the rest of the former Papal States. He was recognised as an independent, non-hereditary, elected monarch by the Lateran Treaties, a position the current Pope continues to hold. The only other bishop who currently is a head of state is the Bishop of Urgell, a Co-Prince of Andorra.
Three senior bishops served as Electors in the Holy Roman Empire. By the terms of the Golden Bull of 1356, the Archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne were made permanent electors, who chose the next Holy Roman Emperor upon the death of his predecessor. The Archbishop of Mainz was President of the Electors and Archchancellor of Germany. Likewise, the Archbishop of Cologne was Archchancellor of Italy, and the Archbishop of Trier was Archchancellor of Burgundy. A number of other bishops within the Holy Roman Empire, although not being Electors, were sovereign prince-bishops in their own lands.

Bishops holding political office

As well as the Archchancellors of the Holy Roman Empire, bishops generally served as chancellors to medieval monarchs, serving as head of the justiciary and chief chaplain. The Lord Chancellor of England was almost always a bishop up until the dismissal of Thomas Cardinal Wolsey by Henry VIII. Likewise, the position of Kanclerz in the Polish kingdom was always a bishop until the sixteenth century.
In France before the French Revolution, representatives of the clergy — in practice, bishops and abbots of the largest monasteries — comprised the First Estate of the Estates-General, until their role was abolished during the French Revolution.
The more senior bishops of the Church of England continue to sit in the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, as representatives of the established church, and are known as Lords Spiritual. The Bishop of Sodor and Man, whose diocese lies outside of the United Kingdom, is ex officio a member of the Legislative Council of the Isle of Man. In the past, the Bishop of Durham, known as a prince bishop, had extensive viceregal powers within his northern diocese — the power to mint money, collect taxes and raise an army to defend against the Scots.
Eastern Orthodox bishops, along with all other members of the clergy, are canonically forbidden to hold political office. Occasional exceptions to this rule are tolerated when the alternative is political chaos. In the Ottoman Empire, the Patriarch of Constantinople, for example, had de facto administrative, fiscal, cultural and legal jurisdiction, as well as spiritual, over all the Christians of the empire. A recent prominent example of this was Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus, who served as President of the Republic of Cyprus from 1960 to 1977.

Episcopacy during the English Civil War

During the period of the English Civil War, the role of bishops as wielders of political power and as upholders of the established church became a matter of heated political controversy. John Calvin formulated a doctrine of Presbyterianism, which held that in the New Testament the offices of presbyter and episkopos were identical; he rejected the doctrine of apostolic succession. Calvin's follower John Knox brought Presbyterianism to Scotland when the Scottish church was reformed in 1560. In practice, Presbyterianism meant that committees of lay elders had a substantial voice in church government, as opposed to merely being subjects to a ruling hierarchy. This vision of at least partial democracy in ecclesiology paralleled the struggles between Parliament and the King. A body within the Puritan movement in the Church of England sought to abolish the office of bishop and remake the Church of England along Presbyterian lines. The Martin Marprelate tracts, applying the pejorative name of prelacy to the church hierarchy, attacked the office of bishop with satire that deeply offended Elizabeth I and her Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift. The vestments controversy also related to this movement, seeking further reductions in church ceremony, and labelling the use of elaborate vestments as "unedifying" and even idolatrous.
King James I, reacting against the perceived contumacy of his Presbyterian Scottish subjects, adopted "No Bishop, no King" as a slogan; he tied the hierarchical authority of the bishop to the absolute authority he sought as king, and viewed attacks on the authority of the bishops as attacks on his own authority. Matters came to a head when King Charles I appointed William Laud as the Archbishop of Canterbury; Laud aggressively attacked the Presbyterian movement and sought to impose the full Anglican liturgy. The controversy eventually lead to Laud's impeachment for treason by a bill of attainder in 1645, and subsequent execution. Charles also attempted to impose episcopacy on Scotland; the Scots' violent rejection of bishops and liturgical worship sparked the Bishops' Wars in 1639-1640.
During the height of Puritan power in the Commonwealth and the Protectorate, episcopacy was abolished in the Church of England in 1649. The Church of England remained Presbyterian until the Restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in 1660.


Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches

Main article Bishop (Catholic Church)
Bishops form the leadership in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion, the larger branches of the Lutheran Church, the Independent Catholic Churches, the Independent Anglican Churches, and certain other, smaller, denominations.
The traditional role of a bishop is as pastor of a diocese (also called a bishopric, synod, eparchy or see), and so to serve as a "diocesan bishop," or "eparch" as it is called in many Eastern Christian churches . Dioceses vary considerably in their size of area and population. Some dioceses around the Mediterranean Sea which were Christianized early are rather compact; whereas dioceses in areas of rapid modern growth in Christian commitment, as in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and the Far East, are much larger and more populous.
As well as traditional diocesan bishops, many churches have a well-developed structure of church leadership that involves a number of layers of authority and responsibility.
;Primate:A primate is usually the bishop of the oldest church of a nation. Sometimes this carries jurisdiction over metropolitan bishops, but usually it is purely honorific. The primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church is chosen from among the diocesan bishops, and, while retaining diocesan responsibility, is called Primus.


In Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy ,and Anglicanism only a bishop can ordain other bishops, priests, and deacons.
In the Eastern liturgical tradition, a priest can celebrate the Divine Liturgy only with the blessing of a bishop. In Byzantine usage, an antimension signed by the bishop is kept on the altar partly as a reminder of whose altar it is and under whose omophorion the priest at a local parish is serving. In Syriac Church usage, a consecrated wooden block called a tablitho is kept for the same reasons.
The pope, in addition to being the Bishop of Rome and spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church, is also the Patriarch of the Latin Rite. Each bishop within the Latin Rite is answerable directly to the Pope and not any other bishop except to metropolitans in certain oversight instances. The pope previously used the title Patriarch of the West, but this title was dropped from use in 2006.
In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion, the cathedral of a diocese will have a special chair set aside for the exclusive use of the bishop. This is the bishop's cathedra, which is often called the bishop's throne. In some Christian denominations, other churches besides the cathedral will maintain a chair for the use of the bishop when he visits their parish; this is to signify the parish's union with the bishop.
The bishop is also the proper minister of the sacrament of confirmation. However, in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches bishops usually delegate this power to priests. Among Anglicans, only bishops can administer confirmation.

Ordination of Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Bishops

Bishops in all of these communions are ordained by other bishops through the laying on of hands. While traditional teaching maintains that any bishop with Apostolic Succession can validly perform the ordination of another bishop, some churches require two or three bishops participate, either to insure sacramental validity or to conform with church law. Roman Catholic doctrine holds that one bishop can validly ordain another male (priest) as a bishop. Though a minimum of three bishops participating is desirable (there are usually several more) in order to demonstrate collegiality, canonically only one bishop is necessary. The practice of only one bishop ordaining was normal in countries where the Church was persecuted under Communist rule.
Apart from the ordination, which is always done by other bishops, there are different methods as to the actual choosing of a candidate for ordination as bishop. In the Roman Catholic Church today, the Congregation for Bishops oversees the selection of new bishops with the approval of the pope. The papal nuncio usually solicits names from the bishops of a country, and then selects three to be forwarded to Rome. Most Eastern Orthodox churches allow varying amounts of more or less formalised laity and/or lower clergy influence on the choice of bishops. This also applies in those Eastern churches which are in union with the pope, though he is required to give assent.
Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran bishops claim to be part of the continuous sequence of ordained bishops since the days of the apostles referred to as Apostolic Succession. Since Pope Leo XIII issued the bull Apostolicae Curae in 1896, the Roman Catholic Church has insisted that Anglican orders are invalid because of changes in the Anglican ordination rites of the 16th century and divergence in understanding of the theology of episcopacy and Eucharist. However, this view has since been complicated. Since the 1930s, Old Catholic bishops (whom Rome recognises as valid) have acted as co-consecrators the ordination of Anglican bishops. By 1969, all Anglican bishops had acquired Old Catholic lines of apostolic succession fully recognized by Rome. This development has muddied the waters somewhat as it could be argued that the strain of Apostolic Succession has been re-introduced into Anglicanism.
The Roman Catholic Church does recognise as valid (though illicit) ordinations done by breakaway Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, or Oriental bishops, and groups descended from them, and as valid and licit those ordinations done by Eastern Orthodox bishops, so long as those receiving the ordination conform to other canonical requirements (e.g. is an adult male) and an orthodox rite of episcopal ordination, expressing the proper functions and sacramental status of a bishop, is used; this gives rise to the phenomenon of episcopi vagantes (e.g. clergy of the Independent Catholic groups claiming Apostolic Succession).
The Orthodox Churches would not accept the validity of any ordinations performed within the Independent Catholic groups, as Orthodoxy considers to be spurious any consecration outside of the Church as a whole. Unlike Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy considers Apostolic Succession to exist only within the Church as a whole, and not through any authority held by individual bishops. Having said this, although Roman Catholicism does recognise the validity of the orders of those Old Catholics in communion with Utrecht, as well as groups such as the Polish National Catholic Church (which received its orders directly from Utrecht, and was - until recently - part of that communion), it would refuse to recognise the orders of any group whose teaching is at variance with core tenets of Christianity e.g. The Liberal Catholic Church which has a strong theosophist tendency and permits belief in reincarnation even though they may use the proper ordination ritual. The recent practice within Independent Catholic groups of ordaining women has added a definite cloudiness to the matter. The act of ordaining women demonstrates an understanding of Priesthood which is unacceptable to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches; thus, any sacramental acts performed by these women are considered to be invalid. Further, the theology of male clergy is suspect as they presumably approve of the ordination of females (thereby demonstrating a belief in Orders different from that of Catholicism and Orthodoxy), and may have even undergone an (invalid) ordination ceremony conducted by a woman. Whilst members of the Independent Catholic movement take seriously the issue of valid orders, it is highly significant that the relevant Vatican Congregations usually do not to respond to petitions from Independent Catholic bishops and clergy who seek to be received into communion with Rome, hoping to continue in some sacramental role. In those instances where Rome does grant reconciliation, those deemed to be clerics within the Independent Old Catholic movement are invariably admitted as laity and not priests or bishops.
There is a mutual recognition of the validity of orders amongst Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic, Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian Nestorian churches.
Some provinces of the Anglican Communion have begun ordaining women as bishops in recent decades e.g. the United States, Aotearoa New Zealand, Canada and Cuba. The first woman bishop within Anglicanism was Barbara Clementine Harris, who was ordained in the United States in 1989.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, and based largely on the Nordic Lutheran state churches (similar to that of the Church of England), bishops are elected by Synod Assemblies, consisting of both lay members and clergy, for a term of 6 years, which can be renewed, depending upon the local synod's "constitution" (which usually mirrors that of the national ELCA constitution). Since a 1999 Concordat with the Episcopal Church, they have been ordained in the historic episcopate of apostolic succession, by the laying on of hands of other bishops whose line passes back to the apostles, including Episcopal bishops and Lutheran bishops from church branches in apostolic succession. Currently, they are responsible for, since going into ecumenical communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States, ordaining of all pastors, consecrating of all diaconal ministers, giving approvals to "roster" all current pastors (pastors are called by local congregations, like that of the Episcopal Church), and upholding the teachings of Luther, the ELCA and synod constitutions. The Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, the national bishop, is elected for a single 6-year term and is limited to 2 terms, and handles all episcopal consecrations, as well as presiding at the Churchwide Assembly, which is held every 2 years. A similar structure exists with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). It should be noted that although ELCA agreed with the Episcopal Church to limit ordination to the bishop "ordinarily", ELCA pastor-ordinators are given permission to perform the rites in "extraordinary" circumstance. In practice, "extraordinary" circumstance have included disagreeing with Episcopalian views of the episcopate.

United Methodist Church

In The United Methodist Church, bishops serve as administrative and pastoral superintendents of the church. They are elected for life from among the ordained elders (Presbyters) by vote of the delegates in regional (called Jurisdictional) conferences, and are consecrated by the other bishops present at the conference through the laying on of hands. In The United Methodist Church bishops are not ordained in the traditional sense (i.e. belonging to the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter, deacon) but remain members of the "Order of Elders" while being consecrated to the "Office of the Episcopacy." Within The United Methodist Church only bishops are empowered to consecrate bishops and ordain clergy. Among their most critical duties is the ordination and appointment of clergy to serve local churches as pastor, presiding at sessions of the Annual, Jurisdictional, and General Conferences, providing pastoral ministry for the clergy under their charge, and safeguarding the doctrine and discipline of the Church. Furthermore, individual bishops, or the Council of Bishops as a whole, often serve a prophetic role, making statements on important social issues and setting forth a vision for the denomination, though they have no legislative authority of their own. In all of these areas, bishops of United Methodist Church function very much in the historic meaning of the term. According to the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, a bishop's responsibilities are
In each Annual Conference, United Methodist bishops serve for four year terms, and may serve up to three terms before either retirement or appointment to a new Conference. United Methodist bishops may be male or female, with the Rev. Marjorie Matthews being the first woman to be consecrated a bishop in 1980.
The collegial expression of episcopal leadership in the United Methodist Church is known is the Council of Bishops. The Council of Bishops speaks to the Church and through the Church into the world and gives leadership in the quest for Christian unity and interreligious relationships. The Conference of Methodist Bishops includes the United Methodist Council of Bishops plus bishops from affiliated autonomous Methodist or United Churches.
John Wesley consecrated Thomas Coke a "General Superintendent," and directed that Francis Asbury also be consecrated for the United States of America in 1784, where the Methodist Episcopal Church first became a separate denomination apart from the Church of England. Coke soon returned to England, but Asbury was the primary builder of the new church. At first he did not call himself bishop, but eventually submitted to the usage by the denomination.
Methodists in the United Kingdom acquired their own bishops early in the nineteenth century, after the Methodist movement in Britain formally parted company with the Church of England. The position no longer exists, however, in British Methodism.

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

In the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, bishops are administrative superintendents of the church; they are elected by "delegate" votes for as many years deemed until the age of 74, then he/she must retire. Among their duties, are responsibility for appointing clergy to serve local churches as pastor, for performing ordinations, and for safeguarding the doctrine and discipline of the Church. The General Conference, a meeting every four years, has an equal number of clergy and lay delegates. In each Annual Conference, CME bishops serve for four year terms. CME Church bishops may be male or female.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Bishop is the leader of a local congregation, called a ward. As with most Mormon priesthood, the Bishop is a part-time lay minister and earns a living through other employment; in almost all cases, he is married. As such, it is his duty to preside at services, call local leaders, and judge the worthiness of members for service. The bishop does not deliver sermons at every service (generally asking members to do so), but is expected to be a spiritual guide for his congregation. It is therefore believed that he has both the right and ability to receive divine inspiration (through the Holy Ghost) for the ward under his direction. Because it is a part-time position, all able members are expected to assist in the management of the ward by holding delegated lay positions (e.g. women's' and youth leaders, teachers) referred to as callings. Although members are asked to confess serious sins to him, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, he is not the instrument of divine forgiveness, merely a guide through the repentance process (and a judge in case transgressions warrant excommunication or other official discipline). The bishop is also responsible for the physical welfare of the ward, and thus collects tithing and fast offerings and distributes financial assistance where needed.
A bishop is the president of the Aaronic Priesthood in his ward (and is thus a form of Mormon Kohen; in fact, the church's Doctrine and Covenants states that any "descendant of Aaron" who converts to Mormonism has a right to be a bishop). A bishop is also a High priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Each bishop is selected from resident members of the ward by the stake presidency with approval of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and chooses two counselors to form a bishopric. In special circumstances (such as a ward consisting entirely of young university students), a bishop may be chosen from outside the ward. A bishop is typically released after about five years and a new bishop is called to the position. Although the former bishop is released from his duties, he continues to hold the priesthood office of bishop, and is usually still referred to by the title "Bishop" as a term of respect.
Latter-Day Saint bishops do not wear any special clothing or insignia the way clergy in many other churches do, but are expected to dress and groom themselves neatly and conservatively per their local culture, especially when performing official duties. Bishops (as well as other members of the priesthood) can trace their line of authority back to Joseph Smith, who, according to church doctrine, was ordained to lead the Church in modern times by the ancient apostles Peter, James, and John, who were ordained to lead the Church by Jesus Christ.
The Presiding Bishop oversees the temporal affairs (buildings, properties, commercial corporations, etc.) of the entire Latter Day Saints Church, including the Church's massive global humanitarian aid and social welfare programs. The Presiding Bishop has two counselors; the three together form the Presiding Bishopric.

New Apostolic Church

The New Apostolic Church (NAC) knows 3 classes of ministries: Deacons, Priests and Apostles. The Apostles, who are all included in the apostolate with the Chief Apostle as head, are the highest ministries.
Of the several kinds of priest-ministries, the bishop is the highest. Nearly all bishops are set in line directly from the chief apostle. They support and help their superior apostle.

Pentecostal Church of God

In 2002, the general convention of the Pentecostal Church of God came to a consensus to change the title of their overseer from General Superintendent to Bishop. The change was brought on because internationally, the term Bishop is more commonly related to religious leaders than the previous title. Although called "bishops", they are not validly ordained in apostolic succession, and as such, have no traceable ordinational connection to the Apostles of Christ, as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox Churches do.
The title Bishop is used for both the General (International leader) and the district (state) leaders. The title is sometimes used in conjunction with the previous thus becoming General (District) Superintendent/Bishop.


Some Baptists have begun taking on the title of Bishop.
In some smaller Protestant denominations and independent churches the term bishop is used in the same way as pastor, to refer to the leader of the local congregation, and may be male or female. This usage is especially common in African American churches in the USA. In the Church of Scotland, which has a Presbyterian church structure, the word "bishop" refers to an ordained person, usually a normal parish minister, who has temporary oversight of a trainee minister.

Dress and Insignia

Traditionally, a number of items are associated with the office of a bishop, most notably the mitre, crosier, and episcopal ring. Other vestments and insignia vary between Eastern and Western Christianity.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the choir dress of a bishop includes the purple cassock with amaranth trim, rochet, purple zuchetto (skull cap), purple biretta, and pectoral cross. The vestments of a bishop include the pontifical gloves and pontifical sandals, but these items are rarely seen today except within the context of the Tridentine Mass. The cappa magna, which was once used as choir dress for bishops on solemn occasions, is also rarely seen today although its use continues to be permitted. The coat of arms of a Roman Catholic bishop will usually display a mitre (or galero) and crozier behind the escutcheon; however, the specifics will differ by location and ecclesiastical rank (see Ecclesiastical heraldry).
Anglican bishops generally make use of the mitre, crosier, episcopal ring, purple cassock, purple zuchetto, and pectoral cross. However, the traditional choir dress of Anglican bishops is quite different as a very long rochet is worn with a chimere.
In the Eastern Churches (Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Rite Catholic) a bishop will wear the Mandyas, Panagia (and perhaps an Enkolpion), Sakkos, Omophorion and an Eastern-style mitre. Eastern bishops do not normally wear an episcopal ring—the faithful will kiss the bishop's hand rather than a ring. To seal official documents, he will usually use an inked stamp. An Eastern bishop's coat of arms will usually display an Eastern-style mitre, cross, eastern crozier and a red and white (or red and gold) mantle. The arms of Oriental Orthodox bishops will display the episcopal insignia (mitre or turban) specific to their own liturgical traditions. Variations will occur based upon jurisdiction and national customs.



  • Ignatius of Antioch, Epistles of to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallesians, and Smyrnans, Lightfoot, trans., Harmer, ed. (Kessinger, 1891/2003). ISBN 0-7661-6498-5
  • Mathews, James, Set Apart To Serve: The Role of the Episcopacy in the Wesleyan Tradition (Nashville: Abingdon, 1985).
  • Moede, Gerald, The Office of Bishop in Methodism: Its History and Development (Nashville: Abingdon, 1965).
bishop in Official Aramaic (700-300 BCE): ܐܦܝܣܩܘܦܐ
bishop in Belarusian: Епіскап
bishop in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Біскуп
bishop in Bosnian: Biskup
bishop in Breton: Eskob
bishop in Bulgarian: Епископ
bishop in Catalan: Bisbe
bishop in Czech: Biskup
bishop in Welsh: Esgob
bishop in Danish: Biskop
bishop in German: Bischof
bishop in Estonian: Piiskop
bishop in Modern Greek (1453-): Επίσκοπος
bishop in Spanish: Obispo
bishop in Esperanto: Episkopo
bishop in French: Évêque
bishop in Western Frisian: Biskop
bishop in Scottish Gaelic: Easbaig
bishop in Galician: Bispo
bishop in Korean: 주교
bishop in Croatian: Biskup
bishop in Indonesian: Uskup
bishop in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Episcopo
bishop in Icelandic: Biskup
bishop in Italian: Vescovo
bishop in Hebrew: בישוף
bishop in Georgian: ეპისკოპოსი
bishop in Latin: Episcopus
bishop in Luxembourgish: Bëschof
bishop in Lithuanian: Vyskupas
bishop in Limburgan: Biesjop
bishop in Hungarian: Püspök
bishop in Dutch: Bisschop
bishop in Japanese: 司教
bishop in Norwegian: Biskop
bishop in Norwegian Nynorsk: Biskop
bishop in Polish: Biskup
bishop in Portuguese: Bispo
bishop in Romanian: Episcop
bishop in Russian: Епископ
bishop in Albanian: Ipeshkvi
bishop in Simple English: Bishop
bishop in Slovak: Biskup
bishop in Slovenian: Škof
bishop in Serbian: Епископ
bishop in Serbo-Croatian: Biskup
bishop in Finnish: Piispa
bishop in Swedish: Biskop
bishop in Vietnamese: Giám mục
bishop in Turkish: Piskopos
bishop in Ukrainian: Єпископ
bishop in Venetian: Vescovo
bishop in Contenese: 主敎
bishop in Samogitian: Vīskops
bishop in Chinese: 主教

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Aaronic priesthood, Grand Penitentiary, Holy Father, Melchizedek priesthood, Seventy, abuna, antipope, apostle, archbishop, archdeacon, archpriest, bishop coadjutor, canon, cardinal, cardinal bishop, cardinal deacon, cardinal priest, castle, chaplain, chessman, coadjutor, curate, deacon, dean, diocesan, ecclesiarch, elder, exarch, hierarch, high priest, king, knight, man, metropolitan, papa, patriarch, pawn, penitentiary, piece, pontiff, pope, prebendary, prelate, priest, primate, queen, rector, rook, rural dean, subdean, suffragan, teacher, vicar
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