Why was the word "Bishop" used in Titus 1:7 and 1 Peter 2:25 [KJV] instead of "Guardian" / "Episkopon" (Ἐπίσκοπον)?

1 Peter 2:25 [KJV]

[25] "For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."

Titus 1:7 [KJV]

[7] "7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre".

In the original Greek text of 1 Peter 2:25 & Titus 1:7, we do not find the word "Bishop". - Instead of Bishop, the word "Guardian" / "Episkopon" ( ἐπίσκοπον ) is used.

Why did the KJV use a Bishop instead of simply stating a Guardian or "Episkopon"?

  • 3
    Bishop etymologically comes from Episkopos. It's the same word just untranslated, like Christ 'translates' Christos (Anointed). Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 14:11
  • 1
    Some translate the word 'overseer'. I prefer the word 'evaluator', myself. The word is a matter of clearly assessing what is visible. But tradition is involved and quarrels arise. Down-vote cancelled (+1).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 14:43
  • If "Bishop" derives from "bisceop", could "bisceop" be an Old English mistransliteration of the Latin "episcopus" that derived from the Greek "ἐπίσκοπον"? Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 17:37
  • For etymological questions such as this one, please consult Linguistics.SE, Latin.SE, or the Wiktionary.
    – Lucian
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 18:48

3 Answers 3


The word ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos) literally means one who looks over, ie, an overseer. It occurs just 5 times in the NT, Acts 20:28, Phil 1:1, 1 Tim 3;2, Tit 1:7, 1 Peter 2:25, and is used almost synonymously with πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros) - see Acts 20:17, 28, 1 Tim 3:2, cf. Tit 1:5, 7, 1 Peter 5:1-3.

BDAG provides the following meaning:

one who has the responsibility of safeguarding or seeing to it that something is done in the correct way, guardian, eg, 1 Peter 2:25, ... In the Gr-Rom world, frequently refers to one who has a definite function or fixed office of guardianship and related activity within a group ... overseer, supervisor, eg, Acts 20:28, Phil 1:1, 1 Tim 3;2, Tit 1:7.

The KJV word meanings were quite accurate at the time they were translated but word meaning have changed somewhat in the last 400 years. The English word "bishop" has the following etymology (Macquarrie and OED):

ME; OE bisce(o)p, from VL (e)biscopus, var of L episcopus, from Gr episkopos overseer.

Thus, the old English "Bishop" and "overseer" are the same word. Almost all modern versions use this modern word, including the NKJV, BLB and YLT.

  • Most useful because I am looking into the Scottish Episcopal Church (part of the Anglican Communion). I have questions about the role of priests and whether there is a biblical basis for applying the word "priest" to men based on the fact that Christ Jesus is our priest forever. and he is our mediator, not any man.
    – Lesley
    Commented Mar 9 at 11:29
  • 1
    @Lesley - these questions surround the question of "ordination" about which the NT is frustratingly (for some) silent.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 9 at 20:40

Merriam Webster:

The Old English word bisceop, from which we get our English word bishop, comes from the Latin word episcopus. Like many other Latin words connected with religion and the church, this was borrowed from Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written. The Greek word episkopos, meaning “overseer,” was first used for officials in government, and later came to be used for church leaders. In the Bible, bishop and priest were used to identify the same thing. It was much later when a bishop became overseer of a large district, or diocese.

The meaning of the word bishop has changed over the centuries from overseer to today's bishop as a title in the Catholic church. To avoid that confusion, the New King James Version translated 1 Peter 2:25 as

For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Why did the KJV use a Bishop instead of simply stating a Guardian or "Episkopon"?

At the time of KJ translators, the word "bishop" means "guardian" or "overseer". Centuries later, the English word "bishop" took on a new meaning as a job title of the Catholic church. By the time of the NKJ, the translators decided to replace the English word "bishop" by "overseer".

  • This question isn't about the NKJV, but the KJV.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 23:07

I think the word "bishop" shouldn't be used for several reasons.

  1. Bishop is a title of power in the RCC, and there should never be any comparison to the RCC in any way, shape, or form. Would you want to use the word if it compared to a position in the Jehovah's Witnesses? Absolutely not! Same difference here.
  2. Is has been noted that the Archbishop of Canterbury changed some the words in the KJV to ensure his future position in the Church of England. Everyone knows that the Archbishop's position is very powerful.
  3. Both positions are positions of power, defying Jesus' own teachings that every witness/minister was to become a servant of all. Jesus made it emphactically clear saying "it shall not be so concerning you" about not being religious bosses and usurping authority over the flock.(Mark 10:42-45)
  4. Paul taught the church should never hold to traditions/ordinances that offend christians or cause contention.(1 Corinthians 11:2-16) Certainly this should apply here as well.
  5. Several denominations currently use the office name of bishop to usurp authority in their churches and their districts and nat'l offices.
  6. The church needs to look at what denominations have done to this word to degrade it instead of striving to justify it from an Greek/Hebrew/Latin perspective.

With all these examples, why would we continue to use the word, when 'overseer' does so much better? After all God's ministers should be 'watchmen on the wall', sounding the alarm, not issuing orders. The modern church needs watchmen, esp. in these final hours.

  • Hi Stephen - would you be able to provide a source for your second point "has been noted that the Archbishop of Canterbury changed some the words in the KJV to ensure his future position"?
    – Brainardo
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 16:36
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    My apologies, I have searched and cannot find the sources. A couple of years ago I was searching for this when I found 2 or 3 sites that stated this. They all agreed that the Archbishop had the final authority of the the translation and edited it to put the word 'bishop' in to cement his own position. There were a few other things also, such as renaming a church leader from 'Junia' to 'Junias' when no such name has ever been found elsewhere in other ancient texts.
    – Stephen M.
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 16:58
  • 1
    I didn't find it in tyndales(biblestudytools.com/tyn/#), but I did find it in the Geneva Bible.
    – Stephen M.
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 17:41
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    Here it is in Tyndale: biblestudytools.com/tyn/1-timothy/3.html
    – Brainardo
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 17:44
  • 1
    Whether it was 'official' or not, the word has been given a bad reputation as a "superintendent' and 'supervisor', & for those reasons alone it I believe it ought to be removed. With 'overseer' & 'elder' already in many good translations, it's no longer needed. Thanks Brainardo for finding it for me.
    – Stephen M.
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 17:52

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