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Should Ministers be Called “Reverend?”

One of our readers makes reference to a booklet which condemns the use of the title, "Reverend," for ministers.  The author of the booklet states:

‘Reverend' means ‘worthy of reverence'.  It is a word found once only in the Word of God and it pertains to deity alone.  "Holy and reverend is His name" (Psalm 111:9).  It is an appellation never to be assumed by mortal man.

This is a title carried over from Romanism by the state church, accepted by the Presbyterians and later by many Non-conformists.  Today the title is used without embarrassment by those who are know as Reformed and evangelical.  Knowing what the term ‘Reformed' really means, perhaps we should not be too surprised, but for a true evangelical, one who claims to stand for all the teaching and practice of Holy Scripture, to take for himself such a title is to be deplored.

Our correspondent writes: "On the face of it without looking at the text in context, this seems to be a reasonable interpretation of the Scripture verse.  Without wishing to open a hornet's nest, I would be interested in (your) interpretation of this word."

Let us state, that while we have no love for the title, and prefer to be addressed in some other way, we find the objections to the use of this title groundless.  Indeed they betray an ignorance of Scripture and a lack of careful study.

First of all, if the word reverend may not be used of mortal man, then neither may the term "holy," for God's Name, according to Psalm 111:9, is also holy.  Yet Scripture often uses the term "holy" not only as a description of God's people, but even as a title or name.  The many passages which call God's people "saints" are a case in point.  Our readers will know that word "holy" and the word "saint" are really the same word, as any good concordance will show (cf. II Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2).

Second, it is misleading to say, without qualification, that the word "reverend" is found only once in Scripture.  In that form of the English word it is found only once in the Authorised Version.  Nevertheless, the word is a common word in Scripture, though usually found in different forms or translated differently.  It is, in fact, found almost 350 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, most often translated "fear" or "feared" (Ps. 111:9 could be translated: "Holy and feared is His Name").

While that Hebrew word is applied almost exclusively to God, there are passages where it is applied also to man (again, this can be checked with a good concordance).  Prov.  24:21 is a good example: "My son, fear thou the Lord and the king," where the word translated "fear" is the same word as in Psalm 111:9.

Third, as far as the English word "reverend" is concerned, it also is applied to men, though in a slightly different form.  We "reverence" our parents (Heb. 12:9); also rulers (II Sam. 9:6; I Kings 1:31).  These passages certainly show that the honor, fear, and obedience which are implied in the title, "reverend" are due to them as well as to God.

The only objection, therefore, that can legitimately be raised against the use of this English word "reverend" is that it is never used as title for a minister in Scripture.   But then neither are the titles that are currently in use, "Pastor," for example.  Indeed, the titles that Scripture does use for anyone with teaching authority in the church, "Apostle," or "Evangelist," are titles that belonged only to the twelve and their associates.           

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 7
  • Issue: 7
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017

Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/

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