Does the Bible support professional clergy members and authorities like “pastors”?

by Brian Shilhavy

The English word “pastor” today is most often used in front of a person’s name as a title of someone in a leadership position within a church or religious organization.

But is this common title used so often in modern culture really biblical? Would believers in Jesus Christ in the First Century, among whom are the writers of the New Testament portion of the Bible, have used this term as a title, representing leaders and authorities?

“Pastor” = “Shepherd”

In our English translations of the Bible, we have two words that mean the same thing and are translated from the same word in the original Greek language.

Those words are “shepherd” and “pastor.” They can be used interchangeably, and there is no difference in meaning since both words translate the same word in the Greek language used in the New Testament portion of the Bible, and the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

The term can refer to someone who is occupied tending livestock such as we see in the Christmas story in Luke (see Luke 2:8-15), or it can refer figuratively to rulers and leaders.

Pastor/Shepherd Used to Refer to Rulers

In secular classical Greek, for example, Homer, Plato, Socrates and others used the term metaphorically to refer to leaders, rulers, commanders, and others.

In other ancient texts among the Sumerians and Babylonians, the concept of “pastor” is used figuratively of both rulers and divinities, with the people under their rule being their “flock.”

In the Old Testament portion of the Bible the term “shepherd” was also frequently used to refer to political and religious leaders.

The prophet Jeremiah prophesied against the idolatry and corruption of the king and rulers of his day, warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and referred to these leaders as shepherds:

Weep and wail, you shepherds; roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock. For your time to be slaughtered has come; you will fall and be shattered like fine pottery.

The shepherds will have nowhere to flee, the leaders of the flock no place to escape. Hear the cry of the shepherds, the wailing of the leaders of the flock, for the LORD is destroying their pasture.

The peaceful meadows will be laid waste because of the fierce anger of the LORD. Like a lion he will leave his lair, and their land will become desolate because of the sword of the oppressor and because of the LORD’s fierce anger. (Jeremiah 25:34-38)

God Wanted to be the Pastor and Ruler of Israel

As we look at the history of Israel in the Old Testament accounts, we see that God always desired to be the ruler of his people. He begrudgingly allowed them to setup a king during the days of the Judge Samuel, but he made it clear that this was not the best choice:

And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king.

He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.

He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.

When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD.

The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” (1 Samuel 8:7-22)

Having human rulers rather than God as your king is a poor substitute, and history shows us that most of the kings over Israel became corrupt.

So as we see in the prophecy of Jeremiah above, when the rulers were referred to as “shepherds,” they were not very good at taking care of their “flock.”

In contrast, we see the term shepherd used for God in the Old Testament as the one who truly looks after his “flock”:

See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:10-11)

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalms 23:1-3)

The well-known words of Psalm 23 were written by one of the few good kings of Israel, David. David was not from a family of nobility, but was a simple shepherd boy himself when he was called and anointed as king.

God made a covenant with him and his descendants, and the future Messiah was to come from among his descendants.

Human Pastors have Always Failed

The prophet Ezekiel prophesied during the same time period as Jeremiah. He too referred to the political rulers of Israel as bad “shepherds,” and declared that God would take the flock away from them and tend the sheep himself:

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?

You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.

You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock.

I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep.

I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,” declares the Sovereign LORD.

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:1-16)

Prophecy of the “One Shepherd” to Rule Forever

Now remember from the passage above in Samuel, this was God’s plan from the beginning: to be their Shepherd and Ruler.

The human shepherds did a lousy job in his place.

So how was God going to fulfill this plan to become the Shepherd of his people? Through the promise of the Messiah, the king who was to come in the line of David:

I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken. (Ezekiel 34:23-24)

King David himself had died hundreds of years before this prophecy was written by Ezekiel. So this prophecy was regarding the promise made to David that someone from his family line would rule over and shepherd the people “forever:”

Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:16)

But this seems like a contradiction. If God wants to be the ruler and shepherd over his flock instead of human rulers, how could this promise made to David, and confirmed by the prophesy of Ezekiel, ever work out through another human ruler?

It probably confused Jewish scholars for many years.

Jesus Became the “One Shepherd” and Fulfilled Prophecy

The answer is found in the Christmas story, when the angels from heaven revealed to common shepherds tending their flocks at night that the Messiah, the promised Jewish King from the line of David, had been born.

The Messiah and Shepherd of the people would be born through a virgin woman, and be the Son of God himself. And who better to announce this event to, than the literal shepherds watching over their flocks of livestock?

The imagery and symbolism are incredible!!

Later, when Jesus grows up and begins his public ministry as the prophesied Messiah, he refers to himself as the “Good Shepherd”:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep.

So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:11-16)

Only One Shepherd

Notice that Jesus states that there is only one flock, and only one shepherd. This is almost identical to the prophecy of Ezekiel written above “I will place over them one shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34:23)

We are not dealing with a plurality of shepherds in these texts. Jesus is making claim to being the owner of the flock, and the one shepherd.

Throughout the New Testament writings, the only person referred to by name with the title “Shepherd” or “Pastor” (there is only one word in the Greek language) is Jesus Christ:

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25)

The exceptions where the term “shepherd” does not refer to Jesus in the New Testament are Luke 2, the shepherds in the fields at the time of Christ’s birth (see above), and Ephesians 4:11.

In most of our English translations of the Bible, only in Ephesians 4:11 is the word “pastor” chosen to be used instead of “shepherd”:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12)

In all the other New Testament references the word “shepherd” is chosen, even though the word in the original language is exactly the same.

Are Modern Day “Pastors” Using a Biblical Title?

In our modern day English, the term “pastor” is usually associated with a religious leader in a church organization. But such a distinction is not seen in the language of the New Testament. There is only one Greek word used, and it is the same word we translate to “shepherd.”

The use of “pastor” in Ephesians 4:11 is linked together with “teacher,” and does not specify an office or official position in the church.

How could it, when the term “pastor” is so clearly related to the Messiah and King Jesus, of which there is only one?

Jesus himself seems to warn against the use of titles among his followers:

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.

Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:8-12)

The leaders described in the New Testament churches were described by different words: elders (also translated “overseer” or “bishop”) and deacons, although even these designations were not used as titles.

Specifications are given for the offices of elders and deacons (see: 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1,) but never for “pastors.”

Pastor is never attached to anyone’s name outside of Christ, leading one to believe that the use in Ephesians 4:11 was a function, and not a title.

Maybe we can get a clue from Jesus’ words to Peter just before he left the earth and ascended to heaven about how the term “pastor” was understood:

Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”(John 21:16)

Who do the sheep belong to? Jesus said “Take care of my sheep.” We belong to Jesus. He is our one Pastor. There is only one flock, and only one shepherd/pastor.

In John chapter 10 Jesus refers to the others who tend the sheep as either thieves and robbers, or “hired hands.”

The thieves and robbers in Jesus’ day were the religious leaders who opposed Jesus because he threatened their power base. “Hired hands” or employees don’t usually look after affairs with the same care that the owner does.

But when we are reborn into Jesus’ Kingdom, we become co-heirs with him. (See Galatians 4:1-7 and Romans 8:14-17) We are no longer employees or slaves in God’s Kingdom, but adopted sons.

We have a new motivation to serve Christ, our one Pastor. We represent him in our service to the flock.

While the term “pastor” is never used as a title of a leader in the church, the verb form of “shepherding” or “pastoring” was used of the church leaders: the elders and deacons. (See Acts 20:28 for an example.)

But the job of shepherding is not limited to only leaders in the church. There is only one Pastor, and all shepherding is done under his leadership.

Where did the Modern Day Term “Pastor” Originate for Religious Leaders?

So if the term “pastor” is never used as a title to anyone besides Jesus Christ in New Testament times, why are we using it now?

The answer probably lies in the use of another title used in church history, the title of “priest.” The Old Testament priesthood was done away with by Christ, who became our new High Priest, replacing the need for human priests. This is explained in Hebrews chapter 7.

Unfortunately, as the established church institutions became more corrupt and wanted to exert more influence over the general population, the office of “priest” was setup again with a hierarchy system to rule over the people.

The reformation period of Europe in the 18th century did away with a lot of these practices of the church, returning the power to the people by translating the scriptures into the common language of the people, for example.

They also did away with the hierarchal office and authoritarian system of “priests.”

Unfortunately, most denominations simply replaced the concept of a central authority figure like the priest with a new one, the “pastor.” Some organizations continue to use the office of priest as well.

Neither authority figure is biblical, since the flock belongs to the one Pastor, the High Priest Jesus.

Who will follow the one true Pastor Jesus, who is the rightful owner of the one true flock, and tend to his sheep under his leadership? Who will pray in faith with the power and authority of Jesus to affect true healing for the multitudes that are suffering in the 21st century? Who will deal with the disease and effects of sin and receive the forgiveness from Jesus that cleanses and heals?

The great Shepherd, our one and only Pastor, came into the world on Christmas, and the world has never been the same. The power that created the world humbled himself and entered the flow of human history as a helpless baby, but he was only recognized by a few humble shepherds, while he lay in a simple shepherd’s manger.

Who will recognize the one true Shepherd today, and follow his leadership, rather than the false shepherds of our culture? Will you?

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalms 23:1-3)


Medicine: Idolatry in the Twenty First Century

Medicine: Idolatry in the Twenty First Century

The Authority to Heal

Medicine: Idolatry in the Twenty First Century

The subject of “authority” and health is one that affects every living person on the planet today, and everyone reading this article. Here in the 21st Century, various government agencies regulate “health” and operate under laws and regulations as to just who has the authority to practice healing. This would include the World Health Organization (WHO) internationally, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States.

“Health” of course is generally defined today as “practicing medicine,” and the authority given by government to “practice medicine” is tightly controlled through government licensing. Someone not licensed, or using unapproved products for healing, face arrest and imprisonment.

A similar situation existed during the First Century. Jesus and his disciples did not follow the laws set forth by the government body of their day, and their system of healing was far superior. When common people outside the educated ruling class dared to oppose their authority and implement healing in Jesus name, they faced arrest and even execution in the First Century.

The authority of Jesus is still in place today, as is his healthcare plan. Just as there was during the days and times of Jesus’ earthly life and immediately afterward, there is a competing health care system in place today that denies the authority of Jesus, and would feel threatened if enough people started being healed through Christ’s healthcare plan. To oppose the authority of today’s medical system and their approved cures is to risk punishment and even imprisonment.

The current healthcare system is not a “healthcare” system at all, but a “medical” system designed to bring great profit to the pharmaceutical companies and others who profit from treating sick people. If enough people started exercising the authority of Jesus to see cures without having to pay for medical care, it would threaten their business, and opposition would be just as fierce as it was during the days of Jesus and the early disciples. But will that ever happen?