the weblog of Alan Knox

Just Semantics? (Pastor)

Posted by on Dec 9, 2008 in elders, office, scripture, service | 6 comments

In this series, I’m going to discuss various biblical terms that are often misused or misunderstood because of the way we use the English terms today. In other words, we often read our modern day definitions into scriptural words. This is not a valid way to understand Scripture.

For example, consider the English word “pastor”. As a noun, the Greek term that is translated “pastor” (ποιμήνpoimÄ“n) usually refers to Jesus. Only once in the New Testament does it refer to someone other than Jesus (Ephesians 4:11). This noun refers to someone who takes care of sheep. The Greek verb (ποιμαίνω - poimainō) usually refers to the work of an actually shepherd. At least twice it refers metaphorically to the work of church leaders (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2).

In the metaphorical uses, this word group always refers to caring for people. It is not used as a title, but as a function. However, today, the church often uses the term “Pastor” to refer to an official position in the church – much like we use the word “Minister” from yesterday’s post. Likewise, when we read the word “pastor” or “shepherd” in Scripture, we often read this modern definition into the meaning of the Scripture.

For example, wiktionary gives the following definitions for “pastor”:

Pastor: The minister or priest of a Christian church.

Recently, I heard from a man who referred to himself as a “Pastor”. The church referred to him as “Pastor” as well. The man said that he loves to study Scripture and teach, but he doesn’t like caring for people. However, when he read Acts 20:28 or 1 Peter 5:2, he thought that it referred to him because he was a “Pastor”.

If someone refers to himself as “Pastor”, but does not care for people, then that person is not a “pastor” and is not “shepherding” in the scriptural sense. Even if the church gives someone the title of “Pastor”, if that person is not caring for people, then the person is not a “pastor” in the meaning of Scripture.

The person may be a great person. He or she may be a terrific teacher. But, that does not make the person a “pastor”. But, of course, if someone is giving the title “Pastor”, they naturally read Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2 as referring to them. Again, this is an example of reading a modern meaning of the word “Pastor” back into Scripture illegitimately. This means that we are not understanding Scripture the way the original authors (and God!) intended for us to understand it.


Just Semantics?
1. Servant
2. Pastor
3. Worship
4. Preach


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  1. 12-9-2008

    I believe this series is touching on some very important points. Unfortunately, I think those who need to hear it the most will view it as simple semantics.

  2. 12-9-2008

    There is a difference between being a pastor and a preacher or a teacher.

    It is a huge blessing when someone can combine both gifts effectively and be a servant leader on both fronts.

  3. 12-9-2008

    Just to echo Mark’s point, this was exactly what I thought when I saw the title ‘semantics’. immediately I concluded that would be what people would latch on to in order not to consider what is being said.
    I have noticed many, many times when I debate with ‘Bible scholars’ that when THEY are making a point this sort of analysis is termed ‘detailed exegesis’ or ‘recovering the meaning of the Greek text’. However, when it is a point they DON’T agree with, it becomes ‘mere semantics’ or ‘disputing over words’. I’ve experienced 1 Tim 1:4 and 2 Tim 2:14 used to deflect and dismiss any challenge to people’s pet beliefs. Sadly to say this has almost always been about the words surrounding elders/pastors/leaders etc. and for the reasons we can all imagine.

  4. 12-9-2008

    I think one of the issues is – what constitutes caring for the sheep. Teaching, rebuking, love, hospitality, etc – one, some or all and others. I guess those who really are pastors will know the answer or at least practise it. I don’t!

  5. 12-9-2008


    That’s why I named this series “Just Semantics?”. Of course, semantics is meaning. If someone says that semantics is not important, they’re saying that it doesn’t matter what Scripture means. Scary to me…


    I’m going to talk about the word “preach” in a couple of days. Stay tuned…


    I agree. When a point is important to someone, they will argue semantics. Otherwise, they will say semantics is not important. I think semantics (meaning) is always important.


    Exactly. If we can agree that “pastor” or “shepherd” means to care for people instead of a title or position, then we can startr discussing what it really means to care for people.


  6. 12-10-2008

    Looking forward to the “preach” post. I have been thinking a lot about the “pastor” = “preacher” and “sermon” = “preaching” equivalency we have created in the church. Good series thus far.