“For ye were going astray as sheep, but have now returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls”
(1 Peter 2:25).
Excerpted from the Morrish Bible Dictionary
The Greek word ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos) is once translated as ‘overseer’ (Acts 20:28), and this occurrence shows conclusively that the ‘elders’ and the ‘bishops’ were the same.
Paul called for the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17) and called them ‘overseers.’ The same thing is seen in the epistle to Titus: Paul left Titus in Crete to “ordain elders in every city . . . for a bishop must be blameless” (Titus 1:5-7). The above two passages prove that, instead of a bishop being set over a large district, with inferior clergy (as they are called) under him, as is now the custom in Christendom, each city had more than one bishop or overseer, and at that time there was only one assembly in a city. Titus was to ordain (literally ‘to appoint’) elders in every city.
In Titus 1 and in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 the qualifications necessary for a bishop are given. Special gifts are not mentioned, but moral qualities are essential: A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, having his children in subjection, etc.; but he must be able to ‘take care’ of the church of God, and be ‘apt to teach.’ The bishops of Ephesus were exhorted to take heed to all the flock, and to feed the church of God.
Although an apostle (or his delegate) was the instrument used in the appointment of the bishops, and thus the unity of the church was preserved, Paul could say “the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers” (Acts 20:28).
Elders were established to exercise godly care in the undivided local assembly — to ‘shepherd’ the flock. Any attempt to appoint them now would be, not only without the necessary apostolic authority, but would ignore the divided state of the church. Such elders could only assume authority over a fragment of the church in a locality, and that with no apostolic sanction. That no security for the church was to be found in them is proved by the warning of the apostle, that among themselves should men arise, speaking perverse things; and in view of this, he commends them, not to some ecclesiastical authority, or to a church council, but “to God, and to the word of his grace” (Acts 20:32), a resource which all Christians still have. Happily, there are now servants of God who care for the saints, those who are ‘apt to teach,’ and gifted to feed the flock of God; and who, without any apostolic appointment, addict themselves to the work of the ministry, as did the house of Stephanas in early days (1 Cor. 16:15). All such should be acknowledged, and be highly esteemed for their work’s sake. In one passage the Lord is Himself called the Shepherd and Bishop of souls; and who can care for and feed His saints as He? (1 Peter 2:25).