What does the Bible say about religious titles?


I have a question pertaining to religious titles. What is your opinion on ministers of God’s word referring to themselves as “Reverend”? From my understanding, the only person in scripture to be called in this manner is our Lord Jesus Christ. Can you shed some insight on this tricky topic?

I have not thought too much about these things, but if you ask my opinion, I want to have a biblical one, so I decided to show you what the Bible says in this respect. Lord Jesus warned us …

Beware of the Pharisees’ attitudes

Here’s what the Gospel of Matthew tells us in this regard:

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being calledRabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12)(NASB)

In this text, the Savior warns us of the following things:

  • Pharisees liked respectful greetings in the market places, and being calledRabbi” (which means Teacher) by men, with all that their life was contrary to the teachings they gave to people
  • Lord Jesus told us, Christians, Christian ministers, not to be called this way, in the sense that we should not find pleasure in thinking too much of ourselves and lifting ourselves above others, using these titles
  • We, Christians, must understand that we are equal before Christ and we are all brothers, regardless of the position we have and what ministry we do in the Gospel
  • The central meaning of this text is not to use these titles to exalt ourselves in our own eyes or to exalt ourselves above others and forget the humility that we were called to and taught by our Savior

What titles did the apostles use for themselves?

Typically, at the beginning of the epistles which they wrote, the Apostles used some titles, depending on the message that they were sending. At the beginning of the Ist Epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:1-2)(NASB)

Paul calls himself “an apostle of Christ”, he calls Sosthenes “brother” and says that the Corinthians were sanctified and are “saints by calling.” These titles show their calling, what the Lord Jesus Christ is waiting from them, to what He has called them.

Apostle Peter also presented himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ at the beginning of his first epistle:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside asaliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and besprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. (1 Peter 1:1-2)(NASB)

By the way, people use the title of Apostle without thinking at the meaning of this word. In the context of those times, the word “apostle” meant “sent” and it often applied to a slave who was sent by his master to communicate a message to someone. The apostle Peter calls the Christians “chosen” by God.

Also in this first letter, the Apostle Peter says of himself that he is an “elder” which means old, but especially in respect of the old leader, church leader, who is involved in ministry:

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; (1 Peter 5:1-2)(NASB)

In the second epistle, the Apostle Peter makes a reference to the Apostle Paul, writing this:

and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, (2 Peter 3:15)(NASB)

As we see, the apostles addressed one another with the title of “brother”, as Jesus had taught them.

Let us honor those who govern us in the Lord

God teaches us this in Holy Scripture, when He says:

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)(NASB)

It is sad to see how often people use today high titles to their spiritual leaders, but treat them with disrespect and these things do not fit together, just as it does not fit when spiritual leaders self-appoint with high titles, but through their lives show a different behavior. Let us guard against this attitude and treat with respect those who labor among us and govern us in the Lord and admonish us. God help us so.

Translated by Felicia Rotaru