Christianity / Organization /
The word comes from Greek, "episkopos" (overseer).
A bishop is ranked in the church hierarchy as above the priest, and below an archbishop or patriarch.
The role and influence of a bishop differ significantly between the various denominations. There are several gradations of bishops, highest the pope, then cardinals, archbishops, patriarchs, metropolitans down to the average bishop.
Among a bishop's tasks are ordaining priests, being a teacher to his priests, settling matters of dispute and controlling church finances. The bishop still retains his role as a priest, in his own church and with his own congregation.
A bishop is usually appointed by higher officials. In the Roman Catholic Church this is done by by the Pope, while the official investiture is performed by an archbishop and two other bishops.
In Eastern Orthodox churches a bishop is appointed by the governing body of each rite or by a synod. Eastern Orthodox bishops, as well as all clergy, have it specified that they cannot hold political offices.
Many churches uphold the tradition that a bishop is the successor of the apostles, this doctrine is known as apostolic succession. The word "episkopos" is used 5 times in the New Testament, every time in texts relating to the apostles; i.e. after the death of Jesus Christ. 1 Timothy expresses that a an episkopos is required to be 'the husband of but one wife', which indicates that there is no prohibition against bishops being married and already having children. The apostle Peter himself was married and had children. Still, in many churches, bishops are obliged to live in celibacy.
Early on, a bishop was the chief priest of a city, but this gradually developed into including churches in the countryside, so that every small church belonged to a bishop diocese.