Our first readings for today and tomorrow are from Paul's short letter to his disciple Titus whom Paul had sent to the island of Crete to organize the church there. He instructed Titus to find a leading Christian in every town whom he might appoint as that town’s presbyter.
Since Webster’s Dictionary tells us that our word priest is a contraction of the word presbyter, we can say that Paul told Titus to appoint a priest for each town.
The word presbyter has an interesting history. The herders who moved their beasts over the south Asian plateau used the word byt for an ox. They called the lead ox a pres-byt. Following that, a priest should behave like a lead ox that is out in front pulling the load. He shouldn’t behave like the man up on the cart cracking his whip.
Our word bishop is a contraction of two Greek words epi and scopus, which meant an overseer. In mentioning the qualities required of a man to become a priest, Paul went on to say, “as an overseer he should be blameless.” However, our translation makes an abrupt change in the thought to say, “For a bishop should be blameless.”
Once when I was taking a class from Father Joseph Fitzmyer S. J. , our leading expert on Paul's Letters, I asked him if our Catholic translators had altered Paul’s line of thought for the purpose of getting the bishops into the act. He said yes, it was a terrible twisting of Paul’s meaning.
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