Rebuttal to the Article “Doth Already Work”
An article entitled "Doth Already Work" was e-mailed to me by a member of the "Church of Christ." I found a number of errors in it, and the person that sent it to me wanted to know what these errors were. This is my response to that person and to anyone else that is interested.
New Christians, especially those from other cultures, express amazement at the rifts in Christendom. Also students of church history marvel at how soon digression came into the Lord's church. The church of England claimed to be re-established upon the teaching and practices of the "early Christian Fathers". They find it hard to accept that those who were so close to the apostles could have misunderstood or misinterpreted the apostles' teaching. They lean heavily upon the "early Christian Fathers" writings for doctrines and practices which have no foundation in the New Testament. Examples are: baby baptism, the hierarchy of the clergy and the distinction between clergy and laity.
The New Testament does have infant baptism, a Church hierarchy, and a distinction between the clergy and the laity. The subject of infant baptism is beyond the scope of this rebuttal, but I will point out that the practice of excluding infants from baptism has no foundation in the New Testament. Baptism was not a Christian invention, but an established Jewish custom that had been widely practised for around two hundred years before John began baptising. It was primarily Gentile converts that were baptised, although the acceptance of John's baptisms shows that it was not restricted to converts. When a Gentile family converted to Judaism, the entire family was baptised and all males were circumcised; both customs included infants (even before Christianity, baptism and circumcision were closely related). Since the Jews were already in the habit of baptising infants before the time of John and Jesus, the exclusion of infants from Christian baptism would be something new, and would have been recorded in the New Testament or other early Christian literature if it had existed. However, evidence of excluding infants from Christian baptism does not exist until the eleventh century. The New Testament does not explicitly exclude infants from Christian baptism, which demonstrates that the practice of baptising infants continued from Judaism into Christianity.
Discussing the existence of a distinction between the clergy and the laity in the New Testament seems quite pointless because the main arguments of this article proves this point wrong. This article talks a great deal about episcopi and presbyteri, and even makes reference to these terms being used in the New Testament. This article takes for granted that the men holding these offices were set apart from the other Christians that they served. An assumption that this article relies on is that the clergy, that is episcopi and presbyteri, are distinct from the laity, that is, Christians that do not hold the office of episcopate or presbyterate. It is quite absurd that this article begins with a statement that denies a basic premise of this same article.
The main focus of this article is an attempt to prove, using the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, that there was no hierarchy within the clergy, which is assumed to be distinct from the laity, in the first century of the Christian era. The purpose behind this attempt to prove this conjecture is to support the claim in the first paragraph that there is no hierarchy in the clergy found in the New Testament. This is the main purpose of this article, and so I will elaborate upon this point more than I did for the other two.
Although this rebuttal is only an argument against the theological and historical errors of this article, I will make this one literary criticism. The goal of this article is to prove that there is no hierarchy in the Christian clergy, which is introduced in the first paragraph by stating that "the hierarchy of the clergy" has "no foundation in the New Testament." As a clearer introduction, and to more smoothly lead into the remainder of the article, this statement should have been listed last: "baby baptism, the distinction between clergy and laity, and the hierarchy of the clergy." The listing of "baby baptism," and "the distinction between clergy and laity" are only examples, while "the hierarchy of the clergy" is the topic of the article, and as such should be used to usher in the main body of the article.
One important fact that must be taken into consideration when reading literature that was written in an age other than your own, is that the meaning and usage of words change over time. The study of this change in the meaning of language forms is the science of semantics. An example of this that has recently become a popular topic among some political groups is the English word man, which originally did not refer to male human beings, but generically to human beings irrespective of gender. The word werman referred to male human beings, and the word wyfman referred to female human beings. Through time, wyfman evolved into the present English word woman, and man retained its original meaning while also taking on a dual role by replacing werman. Such a change must be understood when reading old English literature.
A more recent change in definition is the computer term modem. The word modem is a contraction of the two words modulator and demodulator, which are the two basic functions of a modem. A modulator converts a digital signal into an analog signal, and a demodulator does just the opposite, converting an analog signal into a digital signal. Modems are necessary to transmit digital signals over an analog network, such as a standard telephone line, that would otherwise distort a true digital signal. For the transmission of a digital signal over a digital network, a modem is not needed, but a similar device called a "digital service unit" is used. While modems and digital service units perform essentially the same task, they accomplish this task through different technologies, and are distinctively different. The advancement of digital technology has produced a growing number of digital networks that have replaced the role of standard analog telephone lines for digital communications. The device used on these newer digital networks is a digital service unit; however, due to the technological ignorance of the general public, these devices are being incorrectly called "digital modems." Digital modems are not modems, but like other words, the word modem has evolved into something other than the original meaning.
This evolution of words can be expected to have happened during the two thousand-year history of Christianity, which would be augmented by the invention of words to describe pre-existing substances or concepts. Such change in language is especially prevalent in the infancy of fields, such as the first couple of centuries of the Christian infrastructure. To understand how the hierarchy of the Christian clergy is described in the New Testament, it must be understood in the language of the New Testament, and then related to our modern understanding.
The lowest level in the clerical hierarchy is the deaconate, which assists the higher level of the presbyterate. The establishment of the deaconate is described in Acts 6:1-6 without any specific terminology; however, the term deacon was eventually used as a title for this level in the clergy. The term deacon is mentioned in Philippians 1:1, and 1 Timothy 3:8-13, and is specifically distinguished from episcopi, a term that was used interchangeably with the term presbyter. The word διακονον (diakonon) is used in Romans 16:1 in reference to a woman, but this does not mean that women held the office of the deaconate. The words diaconissa (deaconess), presbyterissa, and episcopissa all refer to a wife of a deacon, a presbyter, and an episcopus. The exceptions to this are a few rare occurrences of a heretical sect ordaining women to the presbyterate, and women that attended the door and assisted at the baptism of women, who were also referred to as a deaconess. Women ministers were needed during the baptism of women for modesty's sake. The presbyter would anoint the baptismal candidates on the head with oil, like they continue to do today, but the oil was also spread over the entire body, which is no longer done. As well, nude baptism was very common to more profoundly symbolise new birth. Obviously, it would have been indecent for a male minister to perform these rites with a female candidate, and so a deaconess was necessary, but they were not ordained and were not part of the clergy.
While our modern understanding of the word deacon is only in reference to the clerical office of the deaconate, this is not the case in earlier times, such as when the New Testament was written. In 1 Corinthians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 3:6, and 2 Corinthians 6:4, Paul refers to himself as a servant using the term deacon. Paul did not hold the lower office of deacon, but the higher office of presbyter and episcopus; however, this did not stop him from using the word deacon in its non-clerical sense. Paul also refers to Christ as a deacon in Romans 15:8, which is again not in the clerical sense, since Christ is above any clerical office. Usually it is quite clear whether the word deacon is used to mean a servant, such as Romans 15:8, 1 Corinthians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 3:6, and 2 Corinthians 6:4, and when it pertains to the clerical office of the deaconate, such as in Philippians 1:1, and 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
The second level in the clerical hierarchy is the presbyterate, which was established by Christ when He established the Eucharist. This is described in Mathew 26:20-29, Mark 14:17-25, and Luke 22:14-20; however, this description does not use the terms presbyterate and Eucharist, at least not in the technical sense, but describes the establishment of the presbyterate and Eucharist without any exact technical terms. The word Eucharist was established as a technical term very early in the second century, and actually comes from the word used in these three Gospel passages that is commonly translated as "gave thanks." Unlike the term Eucharist, the term presbyter does not originate from these Gospel passages, but its use was well established in apostolic times. The presbyterate and Eucharist were established together because the primary duty of the presbyterate is to preside at the celebration of the Eucharist. This is the distinction between the deaconate and the presbyterate: the presbyterate celebrates the Eucharist by presiding, while the deaconate celebrates the Eucharist in the same manner as does the laity.
The establishment of the presbyterate is described in the New Testament in particular detail. The words of Christ were "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19), which is only recorded in one Gospel account, but all three Gospel accounts record who Christ was directing this command to. Mathew 26:20 says, "he sat at table with the twelve disciples"; Mark 14:17 says, "he came with the twelve"; and Luke 22:14 says, "he sat at table, and the apostles with him." The New Testament is very specific in revealing that only the Twelve Apostles received the command and authority to preside at the Eucharist; making them the first twelve presbyteri.
The term presbyter was eventually bestowed on what is now referred to as the presbyterate, and is found in Acts 14:22, Acts 15:2, 1 Timothy 4:14, 1 Timothy 5:17, 19, Titus 1:5, and James 5:14. As well, in the New Testament, and throughout first century Christian literature, the term presbyter was used interchangeably with the term episcopus, which is the case in Titus 1:5-7. The term episcopus is also found by itself in Philippians 1:1, and 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
Both the terms presbyter, and episcopus were taken from the existing language, and continued to be used in their original definition. The word presbyter is Latin, and comes directly from the Greek word πρεσβυτερος (presbuteros), which is the original word used by the New Testament authors. Depending on the context, the word πρεσβυτερος does not always refer to the presbyterate. Both Peter and John identify themselves with the word πρεσβυτερος in 1 Peter 5:1, 2 John 1, and 3 John 1, but in this context they are not referring to the presbyterate. This is why the Latin Vulgate does not use the morphologic translation of presbyteros, but the semantical translation of senior.
When referring to the presbyterate, the word presbyteros could not be semantically translated into the English words senior or elder without losing its meaning. This resulted in a morphologic translation into the word preost, which evolved into the modern English word priest. All official Christian documents are written in Latin, and use the terms presbyter, and presbyterate to refer to this level of the clerical hierarchy. When these documents are translated into English the words priest and priesthood are use, although many times the Latin is retained.
Unfortunately, the Latin word sacerdos, which is the semantical equivalent of the Greek word ‘ιερευς (hiereus), has no semantical equivalent in a number of modern languages, such as German, French, and English. The reason for this is that the word presbyteros took on the meaning of sacerdos by the very nature of Christ's explication of the presbyterate, to preside at the celebration of the Eucharist. The definition of the word sacerdos is a minister of Divine worship, especially of the highest act of worship, sacrifice, which is the very act of presiding at the celebration of the Eucharist, that is, the celebration Christ's final sacrifice on the cross. A presbyteros is a specific type of sacerdos, but since he is a sacerdos, many languages used a form of presbyteros to also represent the word sacerdos. This is the case with the English word priest, which is derived from the Latin word presbyter, and has no lingual or morphological relationship with the Latin word sacerdos, but only an inherited semantical relationship.
It is unfortunate that the English word priest is the only correctly translation of both presbyteros and sacerdos because it loses the distinction between these two words. This becomes particularly troublesome in understanding the difference between the priesthood of the Christian clergy and other types of priesthoods, such as the Jewish or pagan priesthoods, and the priesthood of all Christians. All of these priesthoods are sacerdos priesthoods, but only the priesthood of the Christian clergy is a presbyteros priesthood. This is why the English translation of many official Christian documents retains the Latin terms presbyter and presbyterate, so as not to be confused with the non-presbyteros definition of priesthood. However, the vast majority of the English speaking population are complete ignorant of the fact that the context of the word priest changes its definition in a very substantial way, and so are left in confusion.
The deaconate and the presbyterate are the only two levels in the clerical hierarchy described in the New Testament, and since the "Church of Christ" is loosely based on the English translation of the New Testament, their clerical hierarchy is very similar to that of the New Testament. The "Church of Christ" clerical hierarchy consists of deacons and elders. It does not contain presbyteri, but elders, which come from the semantical translation of πρεσβυτερος, which is senior. With only the senior understanding of πρεσβυτερος, the "Church of Christ" has only one true level of clergy, that being deacons, which are subdivided into two classes, one being called deacons, and the higher rank being called elders. They are not without the concept of the presbyterate, but this is not reserved for a select group. The "Church of Christ" does not only believe that all members belong to the sacerdos priesthood, but also to the presbyter priesthood. The "Church of Christ" believes that all members are presbyteri, and that they are led by seniores, which are assisted by diaconi.
Unlike the "Church of Christ," the clerical hierarchy of the Christian Church contains the same clerical hierarchy described in the New Testament, that of the lower rank of deacon, and the higher rank of priest. The priesthood, however, was also divided into two distinct classes. The Twelve Apostles were the first priests, but it would have been impractical to keep the number of priests to only twelve as the Church grew and the Apostles were martyred. This is why the Apostles appointed other priests, but these priests did not have that same authority as the Apostles, and a clear distinction is made between the office of apostle and the office of priest in Acts 15:2-6, 22-23, and 16:4. The difference between the Apostles and the other priests was that the Apostles had authority over the other priests, and could appoint new priests, making the priesthood divided into two distinct classes, that of common priest, and that of apostle priest. Again, it would have been impractical to keep the number of this higher class of priesthood to only twelve, or thirteen including Paul, and the Apostles appointed some priests who had the same authority as themselves. Two of these priests of higher rank were Timothy and Titus. Paul gives Timothy instructions in the selection of priests and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13, as he does to Titus in Titus 1:5-9. Paul specifically says to Titus, "For this reason I left you in Crete: so that you might set right what remains to be done, and to ordain priests in every town, as I appointed you to do." (Titus 1:5).
The New Testament, and other early Christian literature, does not use any terminology to describe this higher order of priest, but only refers to them with a description of this office, such as successors of the Apostles. They were only successors in the sense that they had the same authority as the Apostles, but were not actual Apostles in the strictest sense. In the second century, the other term to described the priesthood, episcopus, was restricted to the Apostles' successors, while the term presbyteror continued to refer to both levels of the priesthood. This is the same terminology that is in use today. The morphological evolution of episcopus into English went from bisceope into the modern bishop.
These are the three orders of the clerical hierarchy found in the New Testament, described with modern English terminology: deacon, priest, and bishop. All three terms are morphological derivatives of the original Greek terminology. Any other title that is used today in the Christian Church, such as cardinal, nuncio, delegate, patriarch, primate, metropolitan, archbishop, vicar-general, archdeacon, dean, parish priest, and curate, are faculties within the three orders, and in the strictest sense, are not part of the hierarchy. All clerics in the Catholic Church can only be a deacon, a priest, or a bishop; no other orders exist in the Christian hierarchy.
In a slightly wider sense, there is one more position in the Christian hierarchy described in the New Testament, but this is a singular position, and not another order. This position was established before the three orders, and even before the establishment of the Apostles. Unlike the terminology of the three orders, this position was established with an exact term, the Aramaic word Cephas, which is semantically translated into English as Rock.
The establishment of the Rock is recorded in John 1:42: "And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, 'So, you are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas,' which is translated as Rock." While this was the establishment of the Rock, Simon, who was the first Rock, did not yet understand what this position was that he held, nor was he given the full authority of this position at this time. Christ did not explain the position of Rock until some time later in Matthew 16:17-19: "Jesus answered him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you, you are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind upon earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'"
A full explanation of John 16:17-19 is impossible within the confines of this rebuttal because it would require several volumes to explain the profound symbolism and its history, especially the symbolism in the location of this event. A greatly condensed explanation of these verses will have to suffice. "And upon this rock I will build my church," illustrates that the Catholic Church will be completely supported by the office of Rock. "And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," explains that the Catholic Church will last for all eternity. "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven," is a symbolic gesture of stewardship, making the office of Rock the Vicar of Christ. "Whatever you bind upon earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven," is quite directly the instalment of absolute power and authority. There are many other implications of these words of Christ, but these few explanations give a vague idea of the importance of the Rock. In short, the Rock will be given all the power and authority that belongs to Christ.
Although John 16:17-19 gives a very clear indication of the authority and importance of the Rock, it is not until after Christ's Resurrection that the responsibilities of the Rock are given. In John 21:15-17 the main responsibilities of the Rock are given: to love Christ more than anyone else, and to care for and rule all Christians. These responsibilities are quite obvious in most English translations; however, the responsibility to rule is a little obscure. The Greek word used in verse 16 is ποιμαινε (poimaine), which is often translated as, "Tend my sheep," it is also used in Psalm 2:9 of the Greek Septuagint, which is often translated as, "rule them with an iron sceptre."
As stated earlier, the exact word used to describe this position was the Aramaic word Cephas, although this is only the Latin rendering of the Aramaic word. In the New Testament, this word was semantically translated into the Greek word Πετρος (Petros), but occasionally the Aramaic was retained by morphologically translated it as Κηφας (Kephas). The office of Rock was so significant that no other semantical translations took place. The Greek Πετρος was morphologically translated into Latin as Petrus, which evolved into the modern English word Peter.
The Latin word Petrus and its morphologic forms in other languages, such as the English Peter, have become very popular as personal names. This is a wonderful testament to the love and fidelity to the first Peter, Simon the Apostle, but it has cause the uniqueness of this title to fade. During and before the time of the Apostles, these words were not used as personal names, and would have been as unusual as using the English word Rock as a personal name.
Many different titles have been bestowed upon the office of Peter, many of them describing the aspects of this office found in the New Testament, and others describing responsibilities that were added to this office after the writing of the New Testament. The most common title in the west for this office is pope, or the papacy, although in the east this title is can be found in reference to any bishop, or even any priest, but this is becoming less prevalent. The title Peter has always been used to describe this office, often in the title Successor of Peter. One of the most common pledges of allegiance to the papacy is the words of Christ: "You are Peter." Peter is the original, and one of the most meaningful titles of the papacy.
With the office of the papacy, to which the three orders, deacon, priest, and bishop, are subordinated, the hierarchy described in the New Testament is complete, and has been faithfully preserved in the Catholic Church. Now that this point has been explained, although not in full detail, I will continue to rebut this article.
The writings of the early Christians do enable us to see how they interpreted scripture. They also illustrate to what extent New Testament principles were maintained and when digressions set in. Take for example how soon one man in each assembly was regarded as the bishop of that assembly and the others as presbyters. About AD 105, Ignatious, who was supposed to be "a personal disciple of the apostle John", is on record as having written:-
"Do ye, beloved, be careful to be subject to the bishop, and the presbyters and the deacons. For he that is subject to these is obedient to Christ," and "... your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, ..."
In these, and in many similar statements, in the writings attributed to Ignatious, distinction is made between bishop [overseer] and presbyters [elders]. There is not yet any evidence of the Episcopalian (Church of England) and Roman Catholic system of archbishops or bishops presiding over several churches in a district. But there were congregations with one bishop presiding over several elders. However a letter written before AD 100, by the hand of "Clement of Rome", on behalf of the church in Rome to the church in Corinth, indicates that this was not the generally held view in the first century.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, also called Theophorus, was born in Syria around the year 50, and died at Rome between 98 and 117. A few early writers claim that when Ignatius was a child, it was him that Christ took up in his arms in Mark 9:35-37. Along with Ignatius' friend Polycarp, he was among the auditors of the Apostle St. John. Ignatius was the successor of Evodius as the third Bishop of Antioch. Theodoret states that St. Peter appointed Ignatius to the See of Antioch, and St. John Chrysostom states that he received his episcopal consecration at the hands of the Apostles themselves.
The words priest and bishop were used interchangeably until the second century, when the word bishop begain to be used only for priests that had the same authority as the Apostles in appointing new priests. Examples of this in the New Testament are Timothy and Titus.
Obviously, there will be no evidence of the Church of England in the first two centuries, since it did not break from the Christian Church until the sixteenth century, like all other Protestant churches. There is plenty of evidence of the Christian system of deacon, priest, bishop, and pope in the first two centuries, especially in the New Testament. The term archbishop is a later development, and describes a particular duty of some bishops. An archbishop is no more of a bishop than any other bishop, just like the pope as the Bishop of Rome is no more of a bishop than any other bishop.
It is very strange that a person would put more faith in the opinions of men that studied the writing of the Apostles fourteen to seventeen centuries after their death over the opinions of men that personally knew that Apostles, and were their successors in leading the Church.
Clement of Rome lived from about AD 30 to about AD 100. Some believe that he is the same Clement mentioned in Philippians 4:3. Western theologians claim he was second "Bishop of Rome" after Peter. However translators of Clement's letter - Drs. Roberts and Donaldson - state:-
"The lists of early Roman bishops are in hopeless confusion, some making Clement the immediate successor of St. Peter, others placing Linus, and still others, Linus and Anacletus, between him and the apostle".
From this it is obvious that the attempts to foist a pyramid type hierarchy on the history of the early church are entirely fanciful. Clement is not - in fact no one is - referred to as the bishop of Rome and the following extracts will show that the church at Corinth did not have one official known as the bishop of the church in Corinth. It follows that the authors of the letter sent by the church in Rome to the church in Corinth did not regard Clement as the bishop of Rome. They would regard Clement as one of several bishops in their congregation, in the same way that they saw the church in Corinth as having several bishops, all of equal status.
The accepted list of the first four Popes is this: St.Peter, St. Linus, St. Anacletus, and St. Clement. This list is handed down to us through the writings of St. Irenaeus, Julius Africanus, St. Hippolytus, and Eusebius. These records are traced back to a list of the Roman bishops dated between the years 174 and 189. Confusion arises from the writings of Tertullian who omits Linus and Anacletus, and places Clement immediately after Peter, but this list is regard as unreliable. As well, the writings of Augustine and Optatus reverse the order of Anacletus and Clement; however, the older lists are deemed more reliable. Here are the oldest lists of Popes:
- Peter, Linus, Cletus, Clemens
- Peter, Linus, Anencletus, Clemen
- Peter, Linus, Anacletus, Clemens
- Peter, Linus, Cletus, Anacletus, Clemens
- Peter, Linus, Clemens, Cletus, Anacletus
- Peter, Linus, Clemens, Anacletus
We must remember that the authors of these lists were recording information that remained oral for fifty years after the death of Clement and a century after the death of Peter. As well, there is no doubt that Cletus, Anacletus, Anencletus, are the same person.
The following writings have been falsely attributed to St. Clement: the Second Clementine Epistle to the Corinthians, two Epistles to Virgins, two letters to James, three works of Pseudo-Isidore, the Apostolical Constitutions, the Apostolic Canons, and the Testament of Our Lord. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, however, was written by St. Clement, who addresses the letter from the Roman Church. Hegesippus attributed this letter to Clement, as does Irenaeus, who writes, "Under this Clement no small sedition took place among the brethren at Corinth and the Church of Rome sent a most sufficient letter to the Corinthians, establishing them in peace, and renewing their faith, and announcing the tradition it had recently received from the Apostles". Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, wrote around 170 to the Romans, "Today we kept the holy day, the Lord's day, and on it we read your letter - and we shall ever have it to give us instruction, even as the former one written through Clement".
Although Clement addresses the letter from the Roman Church and not himself, the Corinthians would have known it was either written by Clement, or someone writing in the name of Clement at his request. Either way, the letter was written with the authority of the Roman Bishop, who also had authority over the Corinthian Church. The authority of the Roman Bishop over the Corinthian Church is the reason this letter was accepted by the Corinthian Church.
This letter of Clement's is held in very high respect by the Christian Church. It was actually considered for inclusion in the New Testament when the Catholic Church canonized the catalogue of the New Testament at a Roman Synod in 382. The Coptic Orthodox Church does include this letter in their New Testament.
There is absolutely no evidence in the first century of a bishop in the Corinthian Church. Evidence of a Corinthian Bishop would consist of a description of this office and not the actually use of the term bishop because at that time, the term bishop was still used in reference to the priesthood. It is widely accepted that there was no bishop at Corinth when Clement wrote to them, but as a consequence of this letter, a bishop was soon appointed.
This is a beautifully written letter, kindly urging rebellious members in the church in Corinth to submit to their elders/bishops. These extracts are taken from volume one of the American reprint of the Edinburgh Edition of "The Ante-Nicene Fathers" edited by Alexander Roberts D.D. and James Donaldson LL.D.,
The letter begins:-
"The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth, to them that are called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ, be multiplied".
In the letter, bishops [episcopate] in the church at Corinth were also called Elders [presbyters]. The terms were used interchangeably:-
Episcopate is not the Latin translation of bishops. The correct Latin translation of bishops is episcopi. The English translation of episcopate is bishopric.
Presbyters is not the Latin translation of elders. The correct Latin translation of elders is seniores. The English translation of presbyter is priest.
The plural of presbyter is not presbyters. The plural of presbyter is presbyteri. The correct plural form of presbyter becomes self evident when that same attempt is made with episcopus: episcopuses is obviously wrong.
In this context, the word presbyter is not English, but Latin. It was not until after the Protestant Reformation that that presbyter became an English word so that Protestants did not have to use the correct English translation of priest. The Protestant use of presbyter is incorrect because the Latin use of this word is only in references to the Clerical position in the Christian Church referred to in English as a priest. Depending on its context, the Greek word πρεσβυτερος (presbuteros) can be translated as priest (Latin: presbyter), or as elder (Latin: senior). The Protestant use of presbyter has no relationship to the word πρεσβυτερος in the context of Acts 14:23, Acts 15:2, 1 Timothy 4:14, 1 Timothy 5:17, 19, Titus 1:5, and James 5:14.
Naturally Clement uses the words priests and bishops interchangeably, since he lived in the first century.
"For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who ....."
So all references to presbyters are to bishops, since they are different terms for the same persons.
This is the quote in its context:
Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. As for these, then, who were appointed by them, or who were afterwards appointed by other illustrious men with the consent of the whole Church, and who have ministered to the flock of Christ without blame, humbly, peaceably and with dignity, and who have for many years received the commendations of all, we consider it unjust that they be removed from the ministry.
Our sin will not be small if we eject from the bishopric those who blamelessly and holily have offered its Sacrifices. Blessed are those priests who have already finished their course, and who have obtained a fruitful and perfect release; for they have now no fear that any shall transfer them from the place to which they are appointed. For we see that in spite of their good service you have removed some from the ministry in which they served without blame.
A reference to priests does not refer to bishops, but both the term priests and the term bishops are used interchangeably in reference to priests. In the first century, the word bishop was not yet restricted to the office of bishop. In order to refer to the bishopric in the first century a description of this office was necessary, which is the case in the above quote. The role of the Apostles as bishops is described by saying that the priests in Corinth were appointed by the Apostles. Next, it is stated that when these priests die, "approved men should succeed to their ministry." Not just anyone could be appointed, but only "approved" men. The authority to approve an appointment to priesthood did not rest in the Corinthians themselves, or even the other Corinthian priests, but rested solely in the Apostles, and "other illustrious men," that is, bishops. This quote does talk about priests and bishop, but the words priest and bishop are used to refer to priest, and a description without definite terminology is use to refer to bishops.
As well, the primary duty of a priest is also described, to offer Holy Sacrifices.
Previously they had honoured their bishops:-
"For ye did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honor to the presbyters among you."
Note "presbyters" is plural as it is in the remaining two quotations:-
As stated earlier, presbyters is not the correct plural form.
This quote states that they had previously honoured their priests, but makes no indication that they had a bishop or bishops. Priests is plural because they had more than one priest; however, nowhere in this letter is any indication of one or more Corinthian bishops.
"It is disgraceful, beloved, yea, highly disgraceful, and unworthy of your Christian profession, that such a thing should be heard of as that the most steadfast and ancient Church of the Corinthians should, on account of one or two persons, engage in sedition against its presbyters." "submit yourselves to the presbyters"
Evidently they had more than one bishop in the congregation at Corinth.
Evidently, they had more than one priest in the congregation at Corinth, but there is no evidence that they had any bishops.
Just as the authors of the letter saw the church in Corinth as having several bishops, all of equal status so they would regard Clement as one of several bishops in their own church in Rome. CLEMENT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN "THE BISHOP OF ROME", SO HE COULD NOT HAVE BEEN SUCCESSOR TO PETER. THE ABSENCE OF MENTION OF A PAPAL SUCCESSOR TO PETER IN THE LETTER SHOWS THERE WAS NO SUCH PERSON AT THAT TIME NOR EVER COULD BE.
The author of this letter recognized that all the priests of the Corinthian Church were of equal status, but nowhere does the author acknowledge the existence of a bishop or bishops in the Corinthian Church. Unlike the Corinthian Church, the Roman Church did have a bishop, and this bishop was also the leader of the Christian Church, this is why the Corinthians accepted the authority of this letter. There is no reason for this letter to make reference to Clement's succession of the chair of Peter because this letter was written no more than thirty years after the death of Peter, and the succession of the chair of Peter was not in dispute. This letter did not even state who the author was, but only that it came from the Roman Church. Since the chair of Peter was at Rome, the Corinthians would immediately know that a letter from Rome would carry the authority of the Pope.
In the New Testament several elders (most likely chosen by the members of the congregation Acts.6:3) were appointed in each assembly. Acts 14:23. The expressions: elder [i.e. presbyter], bishop [i.e. overseer] and pastor [i.e. shepherd], referred to different aspects of their work. [Titus 1:5-7, 1Peter 5:1-3]. There were no chief bishops. The only chief is the Lord Jesus [1 Peter 5:4]. Yet, even in the lifetime of the apostle John there was a man who dominated a certain assembly to such an extent that John himself and other faithful brethren were turned away from that congregation. [3.John 9]. This tendency of evil men to want to "rule the roost", called the "mystery of iniquity", was at work in the church - "in the temple of God" - even in the lifetime of the apostle Paul. It eventually culminated in the establishment of the papacy [2 Thessalonians 2:3-12].
It is true that each assembly had several priest, which is the case today in assemblies were more then one priest is available. The idea that members of the congregation appointed priests is contrary to the evidence in the New Testament, as has already been thoroughly explained. Acts 6:1-4 describes the appointment of men to "serve tables" so that the priests could concentrate on "prayer and to the ministry of the word."
It is very unscholarly to attempt to prove something by looking for the usage of a term in a context that was not yet in use. Any time the term bishop is used in the first century, it is referring to the priesthood, not the bishopric as we know it today. Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5-7 clearly illustrate that the extra duty of a bishop is to appoint priests.
1 Peter 5:4 calls Christ the Chief Shepherd, which implies that there were shepherds below him. The shepherd immediately below Christ is the Pope, followed by the bishops, priests, and deacons. 3 John 9 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 do not make any reference to anything even closely resembling the Papacy. The verses in Scripture that overtly deal with the Papacy are John 1:42, John 21:15-17, and Matthew 16:13-20, specifically Matthew 16:18.
The early Christians suffered indescribable horrors for their faith in the Lord. For this they deserve our respect and admiration. However since errors arose, even amongst those who are reputed to have personally known the apostles, we cannot rely on the "early Christian Fathers" for infallible guidance. It is not enough to return to the teaching and practices of the "early Christian Fathers". We must return totally to New Testament principles in faith and practice. This is the personal responsibility of each one of us. We must all be scripture searchers as were the "noble" Bereans. [Acts.7:10-11]
Even the early Christians that believed in heresies suffered indescribable horrors, and deserve our respect and admiration. However, this does not mean that we to should follow heresies, but we should follow the teachings of the Apostles, which have been maintained by the hierarchy of Christ's Church. It would be complete folly on our part to attempt to personally interpret Sacred Scripture apart from the Christian hierarchy, and expect to derive Christ's true doctrine. It is the vice of pride that makes one believe that he is better able to interpret the literature of the Christian Church than the Church that created this literature. However, we should read and study Sacred Scripture so that we grow in fidelity to the Church, which will remove any reason to rebel against those Christ has put over us as His shepherds.
We have seen that even in one generation serious errors can take root. This is a warning to us to be diligent to maintain "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" and in humility to watch ourselves lest we also fall, the Word of God alone being our guide. [Jude 3, 1 Corinthians 10:12]
We have actually seen that serious error took root in the Catholic Church even in the first generation while the Apostles were all still alive. Like the early Christians, we must follow the teachings maintained by the hierarchy of Christ's Church who are guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit (cf. John John 14:15-18, John 14:26, 16:13-15), and not follow new teachings developed by men, which is the case in all church that broke away from the Catholic Church, including the "Church of Christ."