The Original Bishops

Office and Order in the First Christian Communities

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"Brilliant and breathtaking! With a commanding and encyclopedic knowledge of all the primary sources--Christian, Jewish, and pagan alike--and centuries of scholarship at his fingertips, Alistair Stewart has turned the kaleidoscope of evidence in such a way that the pieces fall into a coherent, comprehensive, and compelling picture. Stewart, coalescing the best of contemporary scholarship into an epochal new consensus, shows how the role of the bishop (and presbyters and deacons) developed as Christian communities moved from the house church, through association, into federation with the appearance of the monepiskopos."
--John Behr, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary

"Building on a number of new trends in scholarship and grounded in impressive mastery of the sources, this study drives a coach and horses through the long-standing consensus that presbyters and bishops were once the same and early church governance was collegial. Its challenge to anachronistic reading of the sources should finally undermine contemporary claims to historical precedent in debates about ministry, whether those claims be denominational, ecumenical, or feminist, highlighting as it does the 'otherness' of the socio-cultural order within which the emerging church developed an organization suited to its own needs yet indebted in terminology and practice to its historical context. The Original Bishops is a tour de force, creating a coherent yet complex narrative that, despite its frequent acknowledgement of ignorance given the scrappy nature of the evidence, is sure to be contested. Future discussion of the issues, however, will be unable to ignore this book."
--Frances Young, University of Birmingham (emeritus)

"Stewart shines fresh light on a pivotal theme in late Christian antiquity--the emergence of ecclesiastical offices under the rubrics of presbyter and bishop. He explains with vigor the rise of each category within the framework of individual churches throughout the Roman Empire, from the advent of the apostle Paul to the turn of the third century, challenging age-old views offered by Lightfoot and others of his generation. This book is carefully written and demands vigilant reading. Its clear and resourceful analysis of the maze of data from ancient authors--ever a focus of intrigue among contemporary scholars--will engage readers at every level, from the introductory student to the polished specialist!"
--Clayton N. Jefford, Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology


Alistair C. Stewart, Author

Alistair C. Stewart (PhD, University of Birmingham) is team vicar of Upton-cum-Chalvey, Slough, England, and visiting scholar of Sarum College in Salisbury, England. Recognized as a leading expert on early Christian liturgy and polity, he is the author or editor of a dozen books.

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