January 06, 2013 Q & A

Why are pastors called "Reverend"?


Why does the church call pastors "Reverend"? Are they to be revered above other men? Are they better than other men? Are not all Christians equal in the eyes of God? The usage goes back a long way. What is its history?


Many words end up in the vernacular that started out with slightly different meanings. The term "reverend" is one such word. Today the term is usually taken to mean a person of the ordained clergy. This is society's usage, not the church's in particular. Whether it is a good or bad convention, it is what it is. Virtually everybody knows that "Rev. So-and-so" is a clergyman without offering any actual reverence toward him.

In fact, of course, the word is an adjective. While the spelling points to "revered," I think the better rendering would be "respected." This concept works better with an emphasis on the office rather than the man. We are to respect the offices God has established, regardless of the man in the office. Notice how, in 1 Samuel 24:10, David refused to harm Saul because he was "the Lord's anointed." David had respect for the office of king.

In the Old Testament the recognized spiritual offices were prophet, priest and king. In the New Testament we find those of deacon and elder, with the latter being sub-divided (or at least differentiated) into ruling and teaching categories. The teaching elder was especially "worthy of double honor" (1 Tim. 5:17). I suspect this special respect for the teaching elder underlies the use of "reverend" that developed (out of Latin) for ordained ministers over the years.

The Roman Catholic Church applied the Latin term reverendus with a number of variations for their hierarchical positions ("the most," "the very," etc.). Evidently the simple and basic usage was continued in many branches of the Protestant churches as well.

You are entirely correct that all believers are equal in their persons before the Lord. We are all sinners and not very "reverent." That God chooses to save us in Christ is amazing. That he puts some sinners in sacred and respected offices is astounding.



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