Is a bishop or overseer the same as an elder in Titus 1:7?                             by Jack Kettler


For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,” (Titus 1:7)


The context in Titus 1:7 is fixed in Titus 1:5, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set-in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.” (emphasis mine)




The Greek word ἐπίσκοπον (episkopon) is used seven times in the New Testament and is translated bishop in the other six incidences. However, in light of the contextual passage in Titus 1:5, this means that these very same elders πρεσβυτέρους (presbyterous), are also referred to as bishops in the same letter by Paul. Thus, it can be said that there is no fundamental distinction in Scripture between elders (presbyters) and bishops about their position in the church. Also, some translations use the word overseer rather than bishop. Elders, overseers, and bishops are essentially synonymous.


Proving this:


Consider three translations and the variant renderings for Titus 1:7:


English Standard Version

“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,”


King James Bible

“For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;”


Aramaic Bible in Plain English

“For an Elder ought to be without faults as a steward of God, and not led by his own mind, neither bad tempered, neither excessive with wine, neither should he be quick to strike with his hand, neither loving filthy riches,”


Which translation is correct? All three translations are permissible.


Titus 1:5-7 is part of the section where the apostle Paul guides Titus, who was in control of the appointment of overseers or elders in the early Christian churches. Titus 1:7 reads: “For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money.”


In addition, the Apostle Paul gives Timothy the exact instructions as Titus and uses bishops, oversees and elders interchangeably in 1 Timothy 3:1-2:


1 Timothy 3:1:


King James Version

“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”


English Standard Version

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”


Aramaic Bible in Plain English

“This is a trustworthy saying, that if a man desires Eldership, he desires a good work.”


1 Timothy 3:2:


King James Version

“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;”


English Standard Version

“Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,”


Aramaic Bible in Plain English

“And an Elder ought to be one in whom no fault is found and is the husband of one woman, is of a vigilant mind, sober, orderly, loves strangers and is a teacher;”


The Englishman's Concordance and the interchangeability of overseers and bishops in the following passages:


“Acts 20:28

GRK: ἅγιον ἔθετο ἐπισκόπους ποιμαίνειν τὴν

NAS: has made you overseers, to shepherd

KJV: you overseers, to feed

INT: Holy did set overseers to shepherd the”


“Philippians 1:1

GRK: Φιλίπποις σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις

NAS: including the overseers and deacons:

KJV: with the bishops and

INT: Philippi with [the] overseers and deacons”


“1 Timothy 3:2

GRK: οὖν τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνεπίλημπτον εἶναι

NAS: An overseer, then, must

KJV: A bishop then must

INT: then the overseer blameless to be”


“Titus 1:7

GRK: γὰρ τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνέγκλητον εἶναι

NAS: For the overseer must

KJV: For a bishop must be

INT: indeed the overseer blameless to be”


The Strong's Concordance says:


“episkopos: a superintendent, an overseer

Original Word: ἐπίσκοπος, ου, ὁ

Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine

Transliteration: episkopos

Phonetic Spelling: (ep-is'-kop-os)

Definition: a superintendent, an overseer

Usage: (used as an official title in civil life), overseer, supervisor, ruler, especially used with reference to the supervising function exercised by an elder or presbyter of a church or congregation.”


In light of the above, elders, bishops, and overseers are interchangeable terms. In Titus 1:5 and 1:7, both words describe the same person or office holder. As said before, the Greek word for elder in Titus 1:5 is presbuteros, and the Greek word for overseer or bishop in Titus 1:7 is episkopos. The word “elder” refers to the leader's character, while “overseer” or “bishop” refers to his oversight duties or responsibilities. The inescapable conclusion is that an overseer or bishop is an elder.


Furthermore, it should be understood that the elders (presbyters or bishops) mentioned in Titus 1:7 are responsible for overseeing the affairs of the local church and ensuring its faithful and orderly functioning. In Reformed theological understanding, the biblical offices of elder and bishop are not separate hierarchical positions but different descriptions for the same leadership role.


Understanding this functional equivalence of overseers, bishops, and elders is rooted in the theology that emphasizes the priesthood of all believers and a more equal approach to leadership within the church. It reflects the belief that there should be a plurality of elders who collectively govern the church, with no one elder exercising authority over the others.


Commentary entries:


Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers on Titus 1:7 says:


“(7) For a bishop must be blameless. — There is no doubt that the “bishop” here must be identified with the presbyter of Titus 1:6. In the Pastoral Epistles written between A.D. 63-67 these terms are clearly applied indifferently to the same person. The title presbyter refers to the gravity and dignity of the office; the title bishop suggests rather the duties which belong to an elder of the church.” (1)


The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges agrees with Ellicott:


“7. For a bishop must be blameless] Or, as R.V., the bishop. Both are correct and idiomatic; note on 1 Timothy 3:2. ‘Bishop’ here is admitted to refer to the ‘presbyter’ of Titus 1:5, ‘bishop’ describing the nature of the duties assigned, viz. superintendence and pastoral oversight, while ‘presbyter’ refers rather to station and character; the one is official the other personal. See note on 1 Timothy 3:1, Introduction, pp. 15–19, and Appendix, C. Bp Wordsworth well paraphrases here, ‘For he who has the oversight of others ought to be blameless.’” (2)


In summary:


As noted, Titus 1:5 sets the context to properly understand Titus 1:7. The task of Titus was to ordain elders. Therefore, contextually, bishops and elders are used interchangeably. Other traditions have distorted a bishop into a hierarchical position, thus departing from the early church and biblical understanding of the term.    


Henceforth, the terms bishops, overseers, and elders are used interchangeably in Scriptural contexts to describe individuals who hold positions of authority and responsibility within their churches. These leaders provide guidance, support, and spiritual direction to the church.


Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)




1.      Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Titus, Vol. 8, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 251.

2.      Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, by A. E. Humphreys, Titus, (Cambridge University Press, 1898), e-Sword version.


 Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife, Marea, attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of 17 books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at Amazon.