From the Greek episkopos (ἐπίσκοπος), meaning an “overseer” (one who sees “over”); literally “looking on intently”; “one who keeps an eye on” others, the flock, the fellowship.1 In the church organized by Joseph Smith, “the historical development of this office has been the most complex and the least understood…. Smith first appointed ‘general’ bishops with broad geographical jurisdiction. Only later did he introduce the possibility of local bishops for smaller geographical units [such as wards and branches] and a Presiding Bishop for the entire church. Again retrospective interpretations and changes in the historical record have muddied the story of this development.”2 Joseph Smith was church president, and Hyrum Smith was in the church presidency and also patriarch to the church, but choosing the bishop was left for the members’ vote.3 Even the duties of a bishop were decided by common consent in the beginning of the restoration.4 The office of bishop still continues in many of the various religious groups claiming Joseph Smith as their founder.
1 Strong’s Concordance, G1985.
2 D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 69.
3 Preserving the Restoration, 260n684.
4 Preserving the Restoration, 260.