Is it appropriate or biblical to call someone reverend?
Titles and Pride
It’s very easy to get caught up in titles. We can be dad, mom, brother, sister, husband, wife, employer, supervisor, CEO, Dr., Mr., and so on, but Jesus was not impressed by religious titles. He wanted His followers to resist any marks of distinction among people. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and the scribes, saying that they “do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,” (Matt 23:4), and worst of all, “they preach, but do not practice” (Matt 23:3b) what they preach. The Lord specifically said, “you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ” (Matt 23:8-10). The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were filled with pride and desired to be set apart from all others, but Jesus said, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt 23:11-12). I’m not saying that someone who wants to be called reverend is exalting themselves, but titles tend to do that. Jesus said to “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts” (Mark 12:38-39). God resists the proud but gives His grace to the humble (James 4:6), so we can either humble ourselves before Him today, or someday, He will do it for us, and we don’t have to guess which one of these is more painful.
The Apostle Paul told Timothy that “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17), but that doesn’t mean they should demand it. A godly man who exemplifies 1 Timothy 3:1-13 is worthy of respect, but as a person, can he say he is “reverend?” Someone who sets a godly example in word and deed is worthy of being respected, no matter what job or position they hold. Any honest work is honorable work. I worked as a janitor for 7 years working my way through college, and there is no shame in doing a good job, no matter what you do for a living, so whether or not the title of “reverend” should be used is a matter of personal conviction and preference, however it should be noted that reverend is not actually a title but an attribute of God and it’s used as an adjective, but it’s descriptive of God, not man. It’s how we are to regard God and His holy name. The King James Version uses the word “reverend” in Psalm 111:9, but the NIV, NAS, NKJV, and ESV all render the Hebrew word as “awesome” (Psalm 111:9).
Holy and Revered
The psalmist wrote, “He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name” (Psalm 111:9), so the word “reverend” is found in only a few translations today because it’s actually the word “awesome,” but even here, God alone is awesome, and He alone is holy and to be revered. The word “awesome” comes from the Hebrew word “yare’” which means “to fear, be afraid, to stand in awe of, be awed to fear,” or “to be dreadful,” so who wants that for a title? If you read all of Psalm 111, you’ll find that the subject matter is all about God and His power, His holiness, and His awesomeness. Notice the Apostle Paul’s instructions for church leadership in Acts 20:28. He says church leaders are to, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood,” so rather than having concern for titles or positions of authority, the goal of the church elder or pastor is to live a holy life and exhort the church to do the same, while also caring for and feeding the flock under his care, but this means he is also a servant. And, he is only an under-shepherd to the Good Shepherd, for these are not His sheep, but the Shepherds!
Attributes of God
Whether or not the title of “reverend” should be used is a matter of personal conviction and preference. There is no biblical precedent of using reverend or awesome in the New Testament church. The church leader is not called to focus on his title anyway, but rather to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:2-3). Would we want to take an attribute of God and claim it for ourselves? Of course not, so why use an adjective for God as a title for man? Besides, reverend is not a really used as a title in the Bible but as an adjective, which is descriptive of God and God alone. The late Dr. J. Vernon McGee put it well when he said that reverend means “to incite terror” (in the Hebrew) or “terrible” and Dr. McGee said he wasn’t terrible enough to be considered reverend. When men take to themselves religious titles and special clothing, Jesus was always saying, “Beware” of them” (Matt 16:6)! Speaking for myself, if you are a Christian, why not call me brother…or just Jack?
To be called pastor is not the same as being called reverend. I go by Jack or Pastor Jack, or “Hey you,” but never do I introduce myself as “Pastor Jack,” or “Reverend” in print or by word. It’s simply, “Jack.” I’m good with that. I am not good with being called reverend, for none but God is to be revered and He alone is awesome. If others insist on having that title, it’s their choice. It’s not mine to judge, but speaking for myself, I am not reverend in the way the Bible uses the word reverend. The only righteousness I have is imputed on my behalf because of Christ (2 Cor 5:21), but that doesn’t make me awesome or reverend. The cross levels the ground for us all. Of course, you see that word used in the obituaries and in funeral programs next to the pastor’s name, but much of that is human tradition. One thing about traditions worry me…they have a human source, and Jesus warned us about human traditions more than once (Matt 17:9; Mark 7:7).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.