“Pastors” in The New Testament Church – Nathan Brewer

Nathan Brewer

This role may not be what you think it is. In the King James Version of the New Testament, the word pastor only occurs one time—in Ephesians 4:11. And here, it’s in the plural form, pastors.

The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The Greek word from which pastors is translated is poimen. Joseph Henry Thayer, in his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, defines it as “a herdsman, esp. a shepherd.”

Poimen occurs 18 times in the Greek text of the New Testament. Of these, it’s translated “pastors” once, while it’s translated “shepherd” the other 17 times.

This Greek word occasionally describes literal shepherds. Sometimes it’s used metaphorically of Jesus. In Ephesians 4:11, it refers to groups of men within congregations of the Lord’s church who oversee those congregations.

The verb form of that Greek word is poimaino, and it means “to feed, to tend a flock, keep sheep.” The Apostle Paul uses this verb when he exhorts the elders of the church at Ephesus to take care of that congregation (Acts 20:17, 28).

But in Acts 20:28, Paul also calls these men “overseers,” from the Greek episkopos, which is elsewhere translated “bishop(s).” Paul uses three terms in the original language to describe the same group of men from the Ephesian church—elders, shepherds (which also means “pastors”) and overseers (or “bishops”).

Paul lists the requirements for elders/shepherds/bishops in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-11. According to these passages, this position requires males who are experienced, and who have proven, by taking care of their own families, that they can be trusted with the flock of God.

The role of elders/shepherds/bishops has become confused. Although elders/shepherds/ bishops must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), they are never designated specifically as preachers. And although two young preachers, Timothy and Titus, are often called “pastors” by people today, the Bible never calls them that. They’re simply evangelists, preachers of the Gospel.

And although the common practice today among many churches is to have one primary pastor who directs a congregation, the New Testament always speaks of the Lord’s church having more than one pastors/elders/bishops to tend and oversee the church (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17-28; Titus 1:5; Philp. 1:1).

Although a pastor (shepherd) can also preach, he does not necessarily do so. And the New Testament never speaks of a woman as being a pastor. Neither does the New Testament know anything about one person acting as “the” pastor/bishop/elder of a congregation.


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Author: Editor

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