This term, in the substantive form, is used but once in the New Testament with reference to church officials. It is in the well-known passage, Ephesians 4:11, where pastors are enumerated among the gifts bestowed upon the Church by Christ. The evidence that this term designates the overseers or elders, is conclusive, and may be briefly stated. The Greek term for shepherd is poimeen, and the verb poimaino means to do the work of a shepherd. Now, he to whom this verb applies is a shepherd, just as he who sows is a sower, he who reaps is a reaper, he who speaks is a speaker, he who sings is a singer, etc. But Paul exhorts the overseers in Ephesus “to be shepherds to the church.” Acts 20:28; and Peter exhorts the elders of the churches to which he writes, “Be shepherds to the flock of God which is among you,” and promise that when the “chief shepherd” shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory. They then, were shepherds and Christ, the chief shepherd.
The, term pastor, the Latin for shepherd, has come into common use from the influence of the Latin version of the Scriptures. There is one all-sufficient reason for preferring our own Anglo-Saxon term shepherd. It is found in the fact that pastor has become perverted by sectarian usage, and designates in popular phraseology, an entirely different office from the one to whom it is applied in the Scriptures. It has become a synonym for a settled preacher, and is often used for the purpose of distinguishing the preacher from those who are Scripturally called the pastors of the church. It will perhaps be impossible to recover the term from this abuse, and therefore, it is better to throw it away.
Another good reason for preferring shepherd is, that its primary meaning is familiar to the most illiterate reader, and the metaphor by which the overseer is thus styled is perfectly intelligible to every one; whereas, the term pastor is known to the masses only in its appropriated sense.
The title Shepherd is still more significant than either of the other two. The Jewish shepherd was at once the ruler, the guide, the protector, and the companion of his flock. Often, like the shepherds to whom the angel announced the glad tidings of great joy, he slept upon the ground beside his sheep at night. Sometimes, when prowling wolves came near to rend and scatter the flock, his courage was put to the test: (John 10:12); and even the lion and the bear in early ages rose up against the brave defender of the sheep. 1 Sam. 17:34-36. He did not drive them to water and to pasturage; but he called his own sheep by name, so familiar was he with every one of them, and he led them out, and went before them, and the sheep followed him, for they knew his voice (John 10:3-4). A relation so authoritative and at the same time so tender as this could not fail to find a place in the poetry of Hebrew prophets, and the parables of the Son of God. (A Treatise on the Eldership, Published in the Apostolic Times, 1870).