i can’t tell you how tempted i am to launch into monty python’s “clever sheep” routine.  i shall show restraint

i was reading dear john’s letters today (that’s dear apostle john) and, even though the word doesn’t occur in them, i was somehow thinking about shepherds.  so i looked it up.  kind of like following a bunny trail except, of course, sheep are rather larger and don’t really hop.

it’s noun form is used in 10 places in the new testament and 11 more times as a verb.  the greek words involved are: n.: ποιμὴν (poimen) and v.: ποιμαίνω (poimaino).

so out of these 21 spots, a lot of them are referring to jesus as the good shepherd (from psalm 2 and elsewhere) – and he uses the term about himself.  others are referring to literal shepherds like the ones in luke 2 who heard from angels about jesus’ birth.

four other times it’s used figuratively concerning the work of church leaders.  in john 21:16, jesus tells peter “shepherd my sheep” (niv: “tend”, kjv: “feed”).  in acts 20:28 paul tells the ephesian elders to “shepherd the church of god”, and peter says the same thing to the jewish elders in 1peter 5:2.  all good so far.

then there is one little anomaly.  in ephesians 4:11, instead of translating poimen to the english word shepherd, as is done everywhere else in the new testament, many translations use the latin word pastor.  they did this following the king james.  the story goes [citation needed] that king jimmy required this from his translation committee.  he reasoned: “i, as the head of the anglican church, have authority over pastors (a formal religious title), but not over shepherds”.

this is not a problem in french, btw, since the french word for shepherd is pastor.

so since that fateful day in 1611, we have that one use of the term in the new testament.  and bible versions definitely won’t sell without the approval of – you guessed it – pastors.  so most translations have followed the kjv tradition rather than any good translation principle.


there are a couple terms that pop up almost unnoticed in the new testament: rabbi and synagogue.  many people don’t realize this, but they aren’t mentioned at all in the before-jesus half of the bible.  god required all hebrew men to worship in jerusalem 3 times a year.

but by jesus’ day, man had come up with a nice religious system with synagogues on every street corner (in the torah belt) and rabbis in every synagogue.  senior rabbis.  associate rabbis.  youth rabbis.  kids’s church rabbis (jk).  it had become the tradition to go to synagogue once a week and let the rabbi tell you what god thought about things.

and while jesus never completely diss’d the rabbi/synagogue system, he also didn’t try to work within it.  when they asked him “who ordained you?” (matt 21), he gave them a question they couldn’t answer and went right on teaching.  he was happy to speak in the synagogue when they invited him, but just as happy to do open-air meetings and house-church ministry.  he could speak freely in the temple because that was part of god’s system, not the rabbinical one.

so what started me wondering about all this was this question: could we have anything like the same situation now? just a thought.

i’m reading the new testament by author this time around, so it’s on to revelation.  no telling what kind of bunny trails that will inspire.  after that it’s on to peter, hebrews and jude – then time to start my next lap.


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