What about the Title Reverend?


What about the Title “Reverend”?

Richard Hollerman

Some of you may have grown up in a Catholic Church or Protestant denomination, thus you are familiar with the term, “Reverend.” Maybe you presently belong to the Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, or the Lutheran Church, thus you may refer to your “pastor” or “minister” as Reverend. When you greet the pastor, you may refer to him as “Reverend Smith” or “Reverend Jones.”

The early years of my life, until I was sixteen, was spent in the Lutheran Church. We would refer to Reverend Stakle, Reverend Mattern, or Reverend Dobenspeck. Perhaps you do something similar even now.  When I wrote my letter of resignation at age fifteen or sixteen, I refused to use the term Reverend and simply wrote the letter to “Mr. So and So.” Obviously, my parents couldn’t understand my refusal to use the accepted Lutheran term but I had to keep a clear conscience before the Lord.

The only place in the KJV where “reverend” is found is Psalm 111:9: “Holy and reverend is his name.” Thus, the single use of reverend in this translation is to God Himself. I couldn’t make myself refer to a mere human being as “reverend” and this was why I refused to employ it to refer to a Lutheran clergyman. Of course, there were many other issues that had come to light by this time as I studied Scripture and eventually left this denomination, but this was one of them.

For those of you who wish to have more of the background of the term, consider this source:

The Reverend is a style most often used as a prefix to the names of Christian clergy and ministers. There are sometimes differences in the way the style is used in different countries and church traditions. The Reverend is correctly called a style but is often and in some dictionaries called a title, form of address or title of respect. The style is also sometimes used by leaders in non-Christian religions such as Judaism and Buddhism. (wikipedia.org/wiki/ The_Reverend).

Where does the term have its origin?  The same source tells us:

The term is an anglicisation of the Latin reverendus, the style originally used in Latin documents in medieval Europe. It is the gerundive of the verb revereri (to respect; to revere) which may be taken as a gerundive or a passive periphrastic, therefore meaning [one who is] to be revered/must be respected. The Reverend is therefore equivalent to The Honourable or The Venerable.

When someone refers to his pastor or minister as Reverend, he is calling him (or her!) “The Honorable” or “The Venerable”! Can we render such homage, as Christians?

Sometimes we see the term connected with another term that seems to add something to it.  Notice this explanation:

It is paired with a modifier or noun for some offices in some religious traditions: e.g., Roman Catholic bishops are usually styled The Most Reverend (reverendissimus); Anglican bishops are styled The Right Reverend; some Reformed churches have used The Reverend Mister as a style for their clergy.

Would Christ Jesus really want us to call a fellow human being with such exalted terminology? Would you refer to a pastor as “The Most Reverend Smith”? Or what about “The Right Reverend Jones” or even “The Reverend Mister Williams”?

Is this religious and church term something that we should use in our own relationship with religious people? We offer these thoughts for your consideration:

First, as we have already seen, “reverend” is found only one time in the entire KJV and it is applied to God. Would you or I want to be addressed in this manner? Most of us may use other translations of Scripture but they probably don’t use the term at all. The NASB, for example, doesn’t use the term from Genesis to Revelation. Would it be right for us to use the term to refer to a fellow human being?

Second, the early Christians in the New Testament period and in the immediate postapostolic period didn’t use the term to refer to Christian leaders.  (Neither did they use terms such as “pastor” or “father” or “minister” as titles for their leaders.)

Third, nothing comparable is found in the New Testament with reference to elders, overseers, shepherds, or servants (sometimes called presbyters, bishops, pastors, deacons).  We don’t read of “Pastor Jones” or “Bishop Smith” or “Elder White” or “Deacon Black.” Jesus said, “You are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8b). Even “Brother” wasn’t normally used as a title in the New Testament period! Certainly, “reverend” or something comparable wasn’t used.

Fourth, we are to walk in humility rather than pride.  Using “Reverend” would surely be expressive of pride on the part of the recipient.  Jesus declared, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).  Peter likewise wrote, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Can we use a term that has such an exalted meaning as this?

Fifth, the apostles didn’t use such exalted language in regard to themselves. If Paul, Peter, James, John, and others didn’t use “reverend” or other terms like it to refer to themselves, why should we?

It is time for us to go back to the Scriptures and embrace the same simple lifestyle and humble attitude that Jesus and the apostles urged upon us. Let’s refuse to use “reverend” and similar terms to refer to fellow-human beings. God’s way is always the best way!


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