This work provides a new starting point for studying the origins of church offices. Alistair Stewart, a leading authority on early Christianity and a meticulous scholar, provides essential groundwork for historical and theological discussions. Stewart refutes a long-held consensus that church offices emerged from collective leadership at the end of the first century. He argues that governance by elders was unknown in the first centuries and that bishops emerged at the beginning of the church; however, they were nothing like bishops of a later period. The church offices as presently known emerged in the late second century. Stewart debunks widespread assumptions and misunderstandings, offers carefully nuanced readings of the ancient evidence, and fully interacts with pertinent secondary scholarship.
Alistair C. Stewart (PhD, University of Birmingham) is team vicar of Upton-cum-Chalvey, Slough, England, and visiting scholar of Sarum College in Salisbury, England. Recognized as a leading expert on early Christian liturgy and polity, he is the author or editor of a dozen books.
Brilliant and breathtaking! With a commanding and encyclopedic knowledge of all the primary sources--Christian, Jewish, and pagan alike--and centuries of scholarship at his fingertips, Alistair Stewart has turned the kaleidoscope of evidence in such a way that the pieces fall into a coherent, comprehensive, and compelling picture. Stewart, coalescing the best of contemporary scholarship into an epochal new consensus, shows how the role of the bishop (and presbyters and deacons) developed as Christian communities moved from the house church, through association, into federation with the appearance of the monepiskopos.
St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary
Building on a number of new trends in scholarship and grounded in impressive mastery of the sources, this study drives a coach and horses through the long-standing consensus that presbyters and bishops were once the same and early church governance was collegial. Its challenge to anachronistic reading of the sources should finally undermine contemporary claims to historical precedent in debates about ministry, whether those claims be denominational, ecumenical, or feminist, highlighting as it does the 'otherness' of the socio-cultural order within which the emerging church developed an organization suited to its own needs yet indebted in terminology and practice to its historical context. The Original Bishops is a tour de force, creating a coherent yet complex narrative that, despite its frequent acknowledgment of ignorance given the scrappy nature of the evidence, is sure to be contested. Future discussion of the issues, however, will be unable to ignore this book.
University of Birmingham
Stewart shines fresh light on a pivotal theme in late Christian antiquity--the emergence of ecclesiastical offices under the rubrics of presbyter and bishop. He explains with vigor the rise of each category within the framework of individual churches throughout the Roman Empire, from the advent of the apostle Paul to the turn of the third century, challenging age-old views offered by Lightfoot and others of his generation. Stewart's understanding of the regional presbytery as a collective association of local bishops delivers novel insight into the divergent use of such terminology throughout apostolic and post-apostolic literature. This book is carefully written and demands vigilant reading. Its clear and resourceful analysis of the maze of data from ancient authors--ever a focus of intrigue among contemporary scholars--will engage readers at every level, from the introductory student to the polished specialist!
-Clayton N. Jefford,
Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology
Alistair Stewart applies his considerable distinction in the literature of early liturgy and church order to produce an outstanding, scholarly tour de force. Since the work of Ussher and subsequently Stillingfleet, the problem has persisted unresolved of why the two terms episkopos and presbyteros appear to be used of an identical ecclesiastical office. What form did an allegedly collective government of leaders take both in liturgy and in church organization? Stewart sifts judiciously and persuasively between the complexities of the five-hundred-year-old discussion and material that has more recently come to light. Building on recent studies of the church in urban communities as fractionalized into house-groups, he proposes that in individual house-groups the presiding minister was called episkopos, but when they gathered as what Clement of Rome called 'the whole church' in a common council over their city as a whole, they were called presbyters. Alistair Stewart has produced a major contribution to the study of church order in early Christianity that will form part of the foundation for future research.
King's College, London
This book is a masterwork. With massive erudition, Alistair Stewart elaborates here a bracing hypothesis revising several standard views about the origin of bishops, presbyters, and deacons in the first Christian centuries. Future histories of early Christian ministry will have to take into account the impressively wide scope of Stewart's evidence as well as the arguments he builds on that evidence. The book is valuable for the vast amount of modern scholarship that it gathers on this question as well as for the fresh proposals it brings to the interpretation of numerous ancient Christian sources.
-Joseph G. Mueller, SJ,
The Original Bishops is a must-read for those interested in the debate over the church order of the early centuries. While there have been numerous studies on the topic in recent decades, Alistair Stewart challenges preconceived notions that view episkopoi and presbyteroi as synonymous terms as well as the idea that bishops arose out of the presbytery. While the challenge is not new, the meticulous reengagement with the historical facts sets the stage for a new approach to understanding the role of bishop in the early church as the primary office from the very beginning. Whether you agree or disagree, Stewart's thorough historical approach will enrich your understanding of the early church orders and inform the church's continuing discussions on ecumenism and ecclesiology.
-Joel C. Elowsky,
Concordia University Wisconsin