What is a Bishop?

What is a bishop?

This is a often asked question I get. It’s a new question about an old term.

The word “bishop” is biblical. Different churches and denominations have used it to refer to church leadership and government throughout church history. Yet I often get questions about this term, as it has invaded Baptist ranks. Local churches within self-governing Baptist congregations have become consecrated bishops.

As far as I can tell, this trend began with the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship – a loose denomination of Charismatic Baptists. At least, this is when I caught wind of it. It wasn’t long before other upstart groups began making bishops. Then many pastors started naming themselves bishops. Baptist bishops are now everywhere. (For the record, I do not know of one White Baptist pastor who calls himself a bishop. Apparently this is a trend primarily among African-American Baptists.)

I recently saw an interview where several bishops were asked their take on the rise of “illegitimate” bishops. For all that was said, the interview did not seriously address the biggest question about bishops (or any subject): What does the bible say?

So what does the Bible say about bishops? What is a bishop? How does the New Testament understand the office of the bishop?

Answer: A bishop is a pastor is an elder is an overseer.

These terms are different ways of describing the same office: the pastor-teacher. The term “elders” (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:6) emphasizes the leader’s personal character. Pastors are to be mature, godly men. The term “bishop” (Phil. 1:1) or “overseer” (Acts 20:28) emphasizes the leader’s ministry task. He is to oversee the congregation of saints he is appointed to lead. And the term “pastor” (Eph. 4:11) emphasizes the leader’s ministry philosophy.  He is to lead, feed, protect, and care for the congregation as a faithful shepherd. The New Testament uses these terms interchangeably to describe spiritual leadership in the church.

For instance, Paul exhorts the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17):

”Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” – Acts 20:28

Paul instructs the elders to watch over and care for (shepherd, pastor) the flock of God in which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers.

Paul writes to Titus:

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you… For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.” – Titus 1:5, 7

Likewise, 1 Peter 5:1-2 says:

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight…”

Did you get that? Peter exhorts the elders to shepherd (pastor) the flock by practicing oversight.

The bottom line is that the Bible does not teach a leadership hierarchy in which bishops are over overseers who are over elders who are over pastors. There are only two biblical offices in the church: elders and deacons. Elders serve by leading. Deacons lead by serving. In the New Testament, deacons are called deacons. But elders are called pastors, overseers, and bishops. Different terms. Same office.

There are two mistakes we make in regard to the biblical terminology for pastoral leadership. First, we ignore the biblical terminology. Likewise, we misuse the biblical terminology. And this misuse of biblical terminology has led to the development of artificial congregational and denominational hierarchies. But our terminology should be a faithful representation of our doctrinal convictions.

I do not make these points to attack any person or group. I have friends who have been consecrated as bishops. I respect them. But I disagree with them on this point. More importantly, scripture disagrees with them. Isn’t that what matters the most?

We should strive to be biblically regulated Christians and churches. This requires that we refuse to embrace practices that are not biblically justifiable or contradictory to scripture. And we must be on guard against a fleshly preoccupation with titles. Our goal as pastors should not be to get “elevated” to the office of a bishop. May we be content to simply be faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Feel free to offer your comments on this post and please share it with friends who may find it helpful. 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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50 thoughts on “What is a Bishop?



  2. Pastor Charles thank you for the information on bishop.my heart has been heavy on understanding those that call themselves pastor and soon to be an bishop.pray that I continue to learn.

  3. H B Charles thank you for this article. I to have been looking into this bishop title. I recently had the conversation with a fellow man of God who was putting other men of God down because they were using the
    title of bishop and he felt that they had not went through the ranks and schooling to have earned the title. He himself is called a bishop and is part of a bishop hierarchy that says who can be a bishop or not. When I asked him to show me in the Scriptures where this all was he started hemming and hawing.
    I thank you for bringing this subject up for discussion and showing scriptural references. To God be the glory. Pastor Joe

  4. Thank you for the enlightening information.
    I do agree that we have taken the title bishop out of biblical context.
    Being a bishop wasn’t designed to become lord over people, nor to make people feel infearear. I believe that the title has its needs when the Sr pastor has elders and associate pastor working with them to distinguish between the Sr pastor and the associates.
    Also if the Sr pastor is planting cu
    Hour he’s and placing new pastors overseeing other ministries.
    However I do agree it is one of the same. I am being consecrated to bishop as an administrative position in a fellowship. But I have reminded ou congregation my number calling is of the role of pastor leading the flock.
    Lastly I’d like to say I disagree with how people have used the title to bring glory to themselves. Again thank you for the enlightening info.

  5. Pastor Charles:

    This is a man you met in 2000 after you preached late night on the subject of gambling. I was glad to here when you got charge of such a great Florida Baptist Church. I am apart of a Baptist Bishops organization that I believe is in line with the biblical teaching you have out lined in both this and the eldership article. The only difference I can see is that you do not utilize the title of Bishop (for the senior pastor or elder.) We have put forth teaching in eldeship since 2009. This was taught to us by our founder the Late Bishop Tom E. Diamond. He taught that Baptist should use the biblical terms instead of Rev. There is no hierarchy in our congregational structre but the terms Elders and Deacons. We have just chosen to use the term Bishop for the senior pastor.

  6. Yes i too have been confuse about this pastor,bishop,archbishop,elder of a thing. should we consecrate bishop if it means the same thing as pastor,elder? why do we see a bishop as the almighty. may God help us

  7. Hi pastor H.B. Charles. I have always enjoyed your preaching and teaching. This article is very enlightening as well. I have one question, why do Baptist use the non bibilical terminology Rev
    , or Reverend when it is not found in the bible to describe those who have been called to preach.

  8. I am having an extremely hard time understanding why becoming a Bishop is so popular amongst non denominational churches. There is no biblical based. It all des to be a gain for financial profit and a ploy to reach some sort of title status. In church where the majority are struggling to pay tithes on top of “pastoral obligation” whatever that means…raising money for a title seems so futile…jus my opinion as member…

  9. Well to my understanding and growing up in the church. I have seen a lot of things, I’ve notices for so long men and woman of the today church’s are focusing on the wrong thing.I thought the role of the church was where the sick could come to for comfort and be healed. We are to busy trying to see who has the biggest church and who has the biggest title. We must set our eyes , minds, hearts and souls on the things of the lord. I only say that because all of the titles in the church will not get you into heaven. Only God and God alone.

  10. I read your article and though I am not a bishop, as a pastor, you peaked my interest on the subject and I found that if you look at the word office in the original text as well as Bishop in the original text, you can see by the definitions that it is clearly speaking of an organizational structure.

    Further more Paul being called an Apostle and the word of God saying in (Eph 4:11) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; shows that there is an organizational structure to the church.

    As you look at the original definition of bishop and pastor, they are not the same. Pastor is shepherd and bishop is inspection, superintendence and visitation.

    The word office in the greek is chiefly official which implies a higher ranking.

    (Act 1:20) For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.

    Bishop in the Greek: episkopē
    From G1980; inspection (for relief); by implication superintendence; specifically the Christian “episcopate”: – the office of a “bishop”, bishoprick, visitation.

    Office in the Greek: pek-ood-daw’
    Feminine passive participle of H6485; visitation (in many senses, chiefly official): – account, (that have the) charge, custody, that which . . . laid up, numbers, office (-r), ordering, oversight, + prison, reckoning, visitation.

    Pastor in the Greek: poimēn
    Of uncertain affinity; a shepherd (literally or figuratively): – shepherd, pastor.

    (1Co 12:28) And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

    I personally don’t believe that any pastor could be a bishop, I believe that the clue is in the definition having other churches or ministries that you oversee, in making sure that there is accountability concerning the word of truth.
    The statement that was made that being a Bishop was only in the black church is definitely not true. Bishop Earl Paulk, Bishop David Huskins, Bishop Randy White and Bishop Lloyd Naten just to name a few but the list goes on and on.
    I admit that I can see why you can make that statement, the church is so segregated that we don’t know what is going on in their ministries and they don’t know what is going on in ours.

    Thanks for your time.

    • He stated in the baptist church no white bishop that he knew of. You named Earl Paulk-Cathedral at Chapel Hill. Randy White-Without Walls International Church. Lloyd Naten- Pentecostle Church of God. Last you used David Huskins Cedar Lake Christian Center. The key word in Mr Charles article is Baptist Church. Perhaps in your many many more you can find the word baptist in the church title.

  11. Hi Pastor. I am a born again christian here in Philippines. There’s an 88 years old, he called himself as archbishop, he is recruiting our pastor in our church to get ordained as bishop. He told him that due to his assessment our pastor is qualified. He (so-called archbishop) told our pastor he usually require 50,000 pesos for the ordination fee but he told our pastor, it’s OK if it’s a love gift. And he needs to ordain our pastor so he can bring our pastor in the US. He said Americans doesn’t recognize pastors and only bishop they respect. Is that true?

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this, I’ve had many discussions with friends and family members on the subject of bishops in the Baptist church, but couldn’t quite put it in perspective.

  13. I salute you sir for this article, I am from jamaica and this hierarchy is rapidly penetrating the churches here in jamaica by the American church planters coming to the island. This message is needed more than you can imagine because people are been enslaved by the “misused terminology ”

  14. It’s all about money money money money$$$$ bishops are responsible for paying more money than elders elders are responsible for paying more money than pastors. Look it up

  15. For years , being a born again Christian , I have always tried to understand and/or ask others why be called a bishop. The truthful answer is, Primarily, that is if one is black / negro, minister/pastor they are generally called a bishop. No one can explain why this seems to be fact! As you say , can we ever hardly find a white / caucasion that is called bishop! The honest answer , no! Therefore it remains a mystery who really is a bishop and why?? RS slocey@aol.com

  16. I know someone who was consecrated a bishop 4 years ago (Baptist). He once was pastor of a church but now is overseer to churches to churches in several countries which he visits several times a year; much in the manner spoken of in Titus:1:5, 7. He does not carry the ‘title’ in the manner of the Roman Catholic Church. Is this biblical?

  17. My feelings exactly. For the most part it is a title that many have given to themselves to try to say they are higher than someone else. With that said, let me introduce myself. I am Baptist Pope Jack!
    Only joking. I love my title, PastorJack. I know I serve my congregation and they have showed their love over and over. Could I get any higher?

  18. I have read your article and agree that we must be biblical in our approach to all things concerning the “The Faith”. I am concerned with a practice in the church that I cannot find biblical authority for, and that is congregational government.

    Where is it Biblical for a congregation to hire and fire a Pastor! I have witnessed some horrific procedures perpetrated against Godly men, just because a congregation was persuaded by a few in power to dismiss their Pastor.

    Bishop A Livingston Foxworth, Grace Church Of All Nations, Boston

    • Bishop, what are the steps to be granted to become a Bishop especially with Born Again organization? Are there large amount of payment required? More power.

  19. Let me first say Dr. Charles, this blog entry is excellent and very biblically sound. I have recently been involved in several intense conversations concerning this matter. So how do we (the church in general) come to a consensus on the use of the term or terms that would properly reflect scripture? Furthermore, there has been a uprising amongst baptist to use the term however, pentecostals, charismatics and even the catholic church have built entire denominations, movements, reformations and etc off this wrong biblical interpretation.

  20. Great synopsis. The only white Bishop I can think of is the late, Bishop Earl Paulk of The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, I too only see this in the African American church. I appreciate your allegiance to Scripture. It was a pleasure to hear you for the first time this week at NCP 2014 in Duluth.

  21. Thank you!! A Christian friend of mine was speaking to me today on this very thing today. He went from being a Minister ,to a Pastor ,then to a Bishop all in less than a year and says this all in the name of Jesus. He tole me he has hid divorce papers in hand to file. I explained that a Bishop is the husband of one wife. He then come back and say, there are many Bishops who are not married and has been divorce. At that point I knew he was not in it for the right reasons. All he talks about is money, and seems to love titles but denies that this is a motive. He seems to be money and title driven, but will not admit to it, or refuses to see it. Please pray with me for my Christian friend in the Name of Jesus and ask God to bring him back to his first love.Jesus Christ our Lord. .

    • Riley, I do not object to the use of biblical terminology, either. My objection is that it is used to create an artificial hierarchy that scripture does not teach. You do not get “elevated” from pastor to bishop. They are interchangeable words that address the same biblical office.

      • I strongly agree with Pastor Maurice’s comment( Sep 22, 2015) According to the scriptures(Eph 4:11, and 1 Tim3:1) there is a clear distinction between a pastor(Shepherd) and a bishop(overseer). I don’t agree with you sir(H.B Charles) that the office of a bishop and a pastor are the same. Thanks for the forum, God bless you.

  22. Very good article pastor; concise, yet enlightening. You said, “There are two mistakes we make in regard to the biblical terminology…. First, we ignore the biblical terminology. Likewise, we misuse the biblical terminology. And this misuse of biblical terminology has led to… hierarchies. But our terminology should be a faithful representation of our doctrinal convictions.” In my opinion, this statement reaches far beyond the scope of just pastoral leadership terminology: it also speaks volumes concerning the greater issue of biblical illiteracy, that is so prevalent, in the body of Christ.

    Grace, mercy, & peace – Elder gab

  23. I’m a white Baptist who refers to himself as bishop in an effort to reclaim the title from those who have hijacked it! It’s even catching on among the congregation!

  24. H. B. Charles Jr, thanks for giving the differences of the offices of elders and pastors. intact many Christians are confused but i thanks God who led you to write this, may God bless you.

  25. I know the bible is right, so I agree with your analogy on the subject. However I have another question for you. In the church that I am an associate minister they call the associates, elder as apposed to being called Reverend. They say that since there is no exact scriptural reference to a preacher beig called Reverend, and that since only God is to be reverenced, no man should be called reverend. They base some of their argument from psalm 111:9 (KJV), what do you think?

  26. Though we have never met, when I read your works I cannot help but to blush as if it wrre my friend telling the story. Currently I serve as president of our state convention and find it interested that there are those in the convention who are Bishops, yet elected me as their President. Just saying. I look forward to your concerns regarding the “Apostle”

  27. Pastor Charles I just wanted to say thank you for all sharing that you do. I always try to share your blogs and videos via FB, Twitter, and even get a quote or two on instagram since they’ve been helpful to me that others would find your website as a blessing. I look forward to the release of your book. Once again, thanks so much for taking the time to share!

  28. Pastor, Thank you for this article. Having grown up in the Baptist church (40+ years), it has only been recently that I have started hearing the title of “Bishop” within the Baptist church. I have raised that question several times myself. Thanks again. Grace, Peace, & Blessings.