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Correct Terminology
by Dr. Johnny O. Trail, LMFT
When our youngest son was about five years old, we had some interesting, albeit confusing, conversations. His inquisitive mind always had diverse and varying discussions ready for our daily commutes. One day after being picked up from school, he was conversing with his mother and their dialogue focused on peanuts.

After buckling himself into the back seat of our van he said, “I don’t like the ‘dirty’ peanuts. I really like the peanuts with tails on them.” Understandably, my wife was confused by his words. She retorted, “You mean the peanuts with skins on them?” as she reasoned about the “dirty peanuts.” “Yes,” he replied.

Still trying to figure out what he meant by the peanuts with “tails” on them, she finally realized he was talking about cashews! It is funny how language can be used to speak of common things in confusing terms. For this reason, we must be careful about how we use terms and make sure we apply them in a correct manner.

One might ask, “Why does it matter?” Well, we are told to speak about Biblical topics using correct terminology. 1 Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” The term “oracles” could also be translated as an “utterance” of God. In other words, we need to use biblical terms in biblical ways to correctly represent God.

One of the big misuses of terminology in religion is the use of the word “pastor.” In the Bible, the terms elder, bishop, pastor, overseer, and shepherd are used interchangeable to refer to the same work in the New Testament. Three passages in the New Testament use the word “pastor” in various forms. The passages are Acts 20:28, I Peter 5:2, and Ephesians 4:11.

In Acts 20:28, the bishops or overseers (episkopos—Gk.) were to feed or care for the flock. In I Peter 5:2, the shepherds (poimaino—Gk.) or overseers were to tend the flock. In Ephesians 4:11 the shepherds or pastors (poimen—Gk.) were to care for and teach the flock.

Incidentally, the terms “bishops” and “overseers” are used interchangeably in Titus 1:5-7. It says, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders (presbuteros—Gk.) in every city as I commanded you— if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop (episkopos—Gk.) must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money.”

These works in the New Testament church were always referred to in the plural form of the word. Thus, there is no scriptural support for a single pastor, elder, or shepherd to oversee the work of the church. By the same token, it is not scriptural for a group of elders to oversee multiple congregations. The New Testament portrays elderships as qualified men overseeing one autonomous congregation of the Lord’s people.

Moreover, these men had to meet the scriptural qualifications to serve in this capacity. Some of these qualifications are listed in I Timothy 3:1-7 and in Titus 1:5-9. If one does not meet all the qualifications mentioned in the New Testament, he is not qualified to serve as an


The term “priest” is also misused by many denominations. The Bible plainly teaches that all Christians are part of a “royal priesthood.” 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” In the New Testament, there are no distinctions made between a priestly caste and a laity caste.

Exodus twenty-eight mentions the garments and ornaments of a priest. However, one does not find a single reference to the re-establishment of a Levitical priesthood or a type of it in the New Testament. Thus, calling someone a priest in the New Testament dispensation does not carry with it the same understanding as a priest in the Old Testament. Why, then, do some in the religious world insist upon wearing robes and garments that identify them as “priests” in their denomination? There is no scriptural authority for this.

Along these lines of reasoning, I have seen advertisements on social media for a church of Christ that was preparing to name a new “pastor.” One hopes that the one being named as a pastor has met the scriptural qualifications of a shepherd and is serving in a biblical manner with the church and not referring to a new preacher.

These same advertisements also picture a man in robes and garments that underscore a denominational understanding of the “priesthood.” At best, these images create a visual misunderstanding of what being a “priest” in the New Testament sense of the word entails. At worst, it creates a distinction that has no scriptural support.

Brethren, I sincerely offer these words in love and in the hope of bring about biblical change in harmony with the Word of God (Galatians 4:16). As Christians, we should use biblical terms in the correct fashion. Using improper language creates confusion in a world that is already mistaken about God and religion.