We now come to the final three offices noted in the epistles.
- Teachers didáskalos
- Apostles apóstolos
- Prophets prophḗtēs
- Evangelists euangelistḗs
- Pastors poimḗn
- Overseers epískopos
- Elders presbýteros
- Deacons diákonos
An "overseer" or "bishop," in either dispensation, is very similar to a pastor/shepherd. This is made clear in the Acts.
For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. -Acts 20:27-29
It appears that this is more of a protection role. The word, epískopos, is used five times in the epistles. In the Post-Acts epistles, it appears once in Philippians (in Paul's opening salutation) and twice in the Non-Prison epistles (once each in Titus and 1 Timothy). This is consistent with the position that these men were in place to protect the flock.
In both instances in the Non-Prison epistles, the context is the character of the men. As these men are "appointed" we cannot say the office is not a "miraculous" gift nor can these men claim the office for themselves. The qualifications have nothing to do with having a degree or publishing or anything of the sort. The words are never used as title.
If we hold to anything still being in effect today, we can see the place of an elder. But, again, having such men to protect the flock does not mean they have any theological authority over the individual believer. They are not a theological authority, No one is commanded to "submit mind and will" to them as the Catholic Church demands in her hierarchy of Bishops.
And even if we hold to such an office today, the witness of the Dispensation of the Mystery is so scattered, such an appointment doesn't seem to fit.
We have a similar situation with Deacons. These are also referenced in Paul's salutation. The English word, deacon, only appears 3 times in most versions (out of 27 uses). The word is generally translated "servant" or "minister." Paul refers to himself as a "deacon." He uses the Greek word twice in the central mission passage of Colossians 1:23-25 in regard to his calling in the teaching of the Dispensation of the Mystery.
In many church organizations, "Deacons" have been relegated to tasks such as fixing toilets or mowing the yards of widows. This is partially based on the supposed "deacons" of Acts 6 who looked after widows so the Apostles could carry on teaching "the Word of God." But the word diákonos is not used in the passage.
And let us not pass over the ministry of the Apostles teaching the Word of God. As with Paul, they taught nothing but that which was taught by Moses and the Prophets. They were expecting the restoration of the Kingdom (Acts 1:6) as Peter preached to the men of Israel, his brethren, in Acts 3, promising them the restoration and the return of Christ if the nation would repent.
The widows in the church of Acts 6 consisted of both young and old. With the tribulation at hand, there was great need for daily care. That would change Post-Acts (as we will see). I think it is an error to try to find the duties of the office of Deacons in Acts 6.
The Change in Calling
Let's not miss something here. The overseers and bishops in the Acts Age were called at a time when Paul "withheld nothing" from believers (Acts 20). He would later testify that this was in context of "nothing that was not preached by Moses and the Prophets" (Acts 26:22). So, their ministry differed from later bishops and overseers.
The qualifications for elders, bishops, deacons were not laid out until the Post-Acts epistles. In the Acts Age, with the restoration of Israel and the Tribulation "at hand," each Christian was gifted individually and overseers primarily protected them as they waited. Post-Acts, with no tribulation facing believers, there was more time to test men and appoint elders and deacons.
We have used this example before, but just so we can see the change in urgency and its effect on instructions for the church, let us look at widows in the Acts Age and widows Post-Acts.
But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am [single]... But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction. -1 Cor 7:8, 29-35 (Acts Age)
But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith. And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not. Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some have already turned aside after Satan. -1 Tim 11-15 (Post Acts)
Post Acts the conditions changed. Widows had time to become idle busybodies. Paul, who previously wished they would stay single as he was so they would have no other concerns such as husband and children because "the time is short" and "For the form of this world is passing away," now desires they marry, have children, and manage the house.