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Bible Question and Answer

What does the word pastor mean?

Bob Prichard

Topic(s): Bible Study

"Pastor is from Latin, translating the original Greek word poimen. The familiar Anglo-Saxon word shepherd also translates this word. The root meaning of the word is one who tends, or feeds the flock. Pastor is one of several words used in the New Testament to designate the men that God has charged to oversee the local church. Other names for these men include elders, or presbyters, from the Greek presbuteros; and bishops, or overseers, from the Greek word episcopos. All three Greek words describe the same church leaders in the New Testament, with each of the three titles simply showing different aspects of their work.

Acts 20 shows that all three terms refer to the same men. Luke said of Paul that from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church (Acts 20:17). Preparing these elders for the work ahead, Paul gave them this charge: Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28). Paul addressed these elders and said that the Holy Ghost had made them overseers. He also said that their duty was to feed the church of God. The word feed here is a form of that Greek word translated as pastor elsewhere. Thus the elders were also overseers or bishops and pastors, all at the same time. Peter used these terms interchangeably. The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind (1 Peter 5:1-2). This is how Peter used the titles: the elders, older men qualified by their years of service; serve as bishops, to oversee the church; while being pastors, or shepherds over the spiritual flock of God.

The New Testament does not call preachers, or evangelists pastors. The one place the KJV and NIV New Testament refers to pastors is in Ephesians 4:11: And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers. Here Paul emphasized the distinction between the evangelist, or preacher, and the pastor. Paul set qualifications for the pastor-bishop-elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Among other qualifications, the pastor must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). Paul told Titus to ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless (Titus 1:5-7). A preacher can serve as an elder, or pastor, only when he meets these specific scriptural qualifications. The primary work of the preacher or evangelist is to preach the gospel. The elder or pastor oversees the church. Timothy was an evangelist, but his youth disqualified him from being a pastor.

Also please check out the parallel question:
Should a woman be a pastor?

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