Paul and Barnabas appointed presbyters for the towns they had preached in.


On St. Paul’s first missionary journey he and Barnabas met first with Jews and then Gentiles in four towns in what is now central Turkey. They preached, then baptized in Antioch, Iconium, Lysta and Derbe, then they retraced their steps. In each town on their way back they took note of men with leadership qualities who had been faithful to their Christian teaching. They appointed these men to be presbyters. Many Bibles translate this as saying they appointed elders, but we are right in saying they appointed them as priests, because our word priest is just a contraction of the word presbyter.
Our first Christians had priests before they had bishops. Our word bishop is the contraction of the Greek word for an overseer. The word was epi-scope. With people saying it over and over the p sound became a b sound, and the sc sound became an sh sound, and the word bishop emerged. When a town had a number of presbyters one of them came to be seen as the overseer or bishop.
When we look at the derivation of the word presbyter we get an idea of how priests should behave. The core syllable of the word presbyter is byt, and that was an Indo-European word for an ox. When we prefix pre to byt what we get is the “lead ox.” That tells us that a priest should not conduct himself like the master perched on the wagon, swinging his whip. Rather, he should be the lead ox, out there in front, pulling the heavy load, teaching young oxen how to get on by not fighting back.

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