Investigating the Biblical Occupation or Work of the Elder/Teacher/Pastor
A better method of discovering the meaning of the title, "pastor," would be to analyze the metaphorical uses of that word in Greek and Hebrew, to discover what aspects of literal shepherding are applied to other occupations, what these aspects have reference to, and to what persons or offices they are applied. Once we understand how the terms for "shepherd" are used metaphorically throughout scripture, we may then better understand how they would have been understood to apply to the title named in Ephesians 4:11.
In that passage, the Apostle Paul cites the office of "pastor" (poimhn) along with those of apostle, prophet, and evangelist (the office of teacher, as we shall see, is probably coordinate with that of pastor), but gives no content to the position so named.
- refers to Jesus in his unique role as messiah—specifically, in His laying down His life for the sheep (i.e., atonement through the cross).
This is an important point to observe, because many simply identify Jesus as "shepherd" and then press the analogy between Jesus and the local pastor of the church.
- However, when one examines the specific claims to "shepherding" made by or about Jesus in the New Testament, we find that they are few in number and specifically salvific in nature.
- Having the intention or power to bring about salvation or redemption: "the doctrine that only a perfect male form can incarnate God fully and be salvific"
The synoptic references to Zechariah 13:7, as can such statements in John 10:11,15,17,
These passages refer clearly and specifically to Jesus' atoning death and resurrection, and they are the only passages in which Jesus clearly refers to Himself as shepherd. The implication here is that the local pastor cannot be a shepherd in the same sense that Jesus was, and so, to discover the content of the pastor's "shepherding" responsibilities, one must look elsewhere than to simple analogy to Jesus.2
Outside Ephesians, only Matthew 9:36-37-38:
- They either refer to literal shepherds, to Jesus in his unique atoning/salvific role, or have uncertain reference to "workers" in the harvest; the most that can be inferred is that "harvesting," or salvation of souls, is involved.
However, a further element of the pastoral office may be deduced from the context of Ephesians 4:11 itself:
- in the expression, "and some to be pastors and teachers,"
2 Poimainw, to shepherd, pastor, tend, rule
Three uses of the verbal similar poimainw help us to fill out the content of the term "pastor" in Ephesians 4:11; i.e., explain something of what it means to "pastor" or "shepherd" the congregation of believers.6
(John 21:15-18), Peter is enjoined by Jesus to "Take care of
(poimaine) my sheep." What this "taking care" would involve is not explicitly told, but it is (in Peter's case, at least) clearly to be an outgrowth of his love for the Lord, and would result in captivity and martyrdom, and brings to fruition Jesus' original call to him: "Follow me" (vv. 18-19).
In his farewell address to the elders of the Ephesians church, the apostle Paul charges the elders to "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God" (Acts 20:28-31 28) Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you) overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with his own blood
- In the first (v. 29), he warns that "savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock."
- In the next verse, he explains that "men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them."
- Then he warns the elders to be on their guard and recalls to them his constant warnings for the previous three years.
- Here, watchfulness with regard to false teachers and warning the people concerning them is the evident practical import of the descriptive verb shepherd/Pastor.
1 Peter 5:2-4 calls upon the "elders among you to
In this we see confirmation that "elders" are to be identified with "overseers" and charged with "shepherding"; we see also that "God's flock" (i.e., the congregation) is in some sense "under" the elder's "care."
- "not because you must," "not greedy for money," "not lording it over those entrusted to you";
- but rather
- "because you are willing, as God wants you to be," "eager to serve," and "being examples to the flock."
If we identify the verbal poimainw with the conduct of the "pastoral" office, it follows from these three passages that
- the office of "pastor" is to be identified with that of "elder" and "overseer," and therefore what is said about these offices is in turn applicable to the pastor;
- its motive ought to be out of love for the Lord and a willing eagerness to serve (rather than out of compulsion or greed);
- its conduct involves serving God's people and exemplifying the new life before them; and
its content specifically includes watching out for false teachers and warning the people of them; i.e., teaching against false doctrine as it appears.