Latin forms the basis for all of the Romance Languages and much of English both through derived words and in structure. As Latin words exist in general in the English language, so then there are Latin words and Latinisms that also exist in various Bible versions. Most are innocuous. Some oddities have come into common usage and understanding through the years. One such is the word genesis. I think most people believe this word to be of Hebrew origin, but that is not the case. It is a Latin word, and denotes the constellation under which one’s birth had occurred: the astrological sign, hence the notion of “beginning.” It comes to Latin from a Greek base word gignethai: to be born. That the word had migrated over from the Greek language does nothing to help explain its appearance in the Hebrew OT.

Of other dangling Latin words, four might be of interest to learners. These would be of those few words that did not come to be used in the scriptures through the use of the original languages of the OT and NT.

Many students know that the word Easter, the Anglo-Saxon transliteration of the Latin name of the god Eostre, had also found its way into the KJV where the word Passover should have appeared in two occurrences – both found in the Gospel of Luke (2:41 and 22:1). This oversight has caused all sorts of misinformation through the ages. But let me suggest that the Passover is not Easter, and Easter has nothing at all to do with Christianity.

The Latin words canticle and canticorum, the singular and plural form, combine as the ancient title of the book we know as the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon. If you collect old versions of the Bible or have an older version of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the KJV, each likely used these Latin words in that book’s title. All of the modern versions have managed to navigate around this insertion.

Two other Latin words appear in some of the familiar Bible versions: Calvary and pastor. Calvary appears once. And the Latin word for herdsman, although its Greek equivalent occurs often, only appears once. By far the better known of these two is the word Calvary, as it has also found a home in songs and hymns – poetic license being what it is. You might begin to think that the word could be found in the Greek language or in the ancient original language biblical fragments and manuscripts; but it cannot.

Calvary is a transliteration of the Latin word calva, the word for skull. Its one occurrence is in Luke 23:33, but only in versions chronologically preceding the 1910 American Standard. That aside, it is awfully popular in our speech and from the pulpit in many places. But, alas and alack; it is nonetheless Latin and not Greek, and therefore has no foundation to be included in the text. Calvary is likely a carryover from Old Erasmus’ original Latin version upon which the KJV favorably relied. The other versions never caught up with its incorrect inclusion until the twentieth century.

The case with the word pastor is quite different, and it too has no foundation in Greek. As said, it is the Latin word for shepherd or herdsman, and comes from the Latin root pascere: to feed. Its single occurrence is found in the significant passage Ephesians 4:11 – “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…” (NKJV)

This word is commonly found in some of the newer versions. But, to their credit, the ESV, HCSB and others have managed to eliminate the Latin and actually use one of the correctly translated forms from English. These scholars are to be applauded for eliminating this unusual error.

As an aside, it is interesting that there are some other versions that lack credibility even though they get the Latin translated correctly into English. The Living Bible Version comes to mind immediately. Though they used the translated English forms, they threw good scholarship and any rules for a reasonable translation out the window. So, they get the word right and have discarded the proper context. Paul’s comment is about the offices within the church, but in the LBV is made into an open ended anybody-can-be-one sort of nonsense.

Where Paul said this in a few words:

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

They insert this idiocy using four times the verbiage and missing the point:

“Some of us have been given special ability as apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God’s people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God. Why is it that he gives us these special abilities to do certain things best? It is that God’s people will be equipped to do better work for him, building up the Church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity.”

You can count the added words and unqualified phrases if you want; and obviously, the meaning has been considerably altered. Unfortunately, the text does not come close to supporting their “translation” (if you must call it that). There are others that do similar things. But they got the pastor out of it!

I should get back to the point. The Latin word pastor is without foundation here or anywhere else, yet has still been kept in place by some translators. There is a reason for that. The word has come to be used to allow for an office of pastor, usually in the person of the minister or evangelist, in addition to or in place of the elders or shepherds of the biblical pattern.

John McGarvey, though long dead, figured this one out. He wrote the following:

“The third and last official title which we shall notice is pastor or shepherd. This term, in the substantive form, is used but once in the New Testament with reference to church officials. It is in the well known passage, Eph. 4:11, where pastors are enumerated among the gifts bestowed upon the Church by Christ. The evidence that this term designates the overseers or elders, is conclusive, and may be briefly stated.

“The Greek term for shepherd is poimeen, and the verb poimaino means to do the work of a shepherd. Now, he to whom this verb applies is a shepherd, just as he who sows is a sower, he who reaps is a reaper, he who speaks is a speaker, he who sings is a singer… But Paul exhorts the overseers in Ephesus “to be shepherds to the church.” Acts 20:28; and Peter exhorts the elders of the churches to which he writes, “Be shepherds to the flock of God which is among you,” and promise that when the “chief shepherd” shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory. They then, were shepherds and Christ, the chief shepherd.

“The, term pastor, the Latin for shepherd, has come into common use from the influence of the Latin version of the Scriptures. There is one all-sufficient reason for preferring our own Anglo-Saxon term shepherd. It is found in the fact that pastor has become perverted by sectarian usage, and designates in popular phraseology, an entirely different office from the one to whom it is applied in the Scriptures. It has become a synonym for a settled preacher. And (it) is often used for the purpose of distinguishing the preacher from those who are by scriptural called the pastors of the church. It will perhaps be impossible to recover the term from this abuse, and therefore, it is better to throw it away.

“Another good reason for preferring shepherd is that its primary meaning is familiar to the most illiterate reader, and the metaphor by which the overseer is thus styled is perfectly intelligible to every one; whereas, the term pastor is known to the masses only in its appropriated sense.” (From A Treatise on the Eldership 1870)

Enough said.

5 Comments

  1. There are quite a few words that I think need to be modernized if not in our translations of the Bible, then at least by ourselves. One that immediately comes to mind is the word “Baptism” which is a transliteration of the greek word for bathing or ritual bath. Because people doing early translations didn’t want to offend the King of England or the Catholic Church, the word has never changed with the times. This is unfortunate because it allows various religious groups to mislead their followers. Unfortunately, the translators want to sell Bibles so they wouldn’t dare touch that one as it would be too controversial to potential buyers. 

  2. A Baptist backed organization did put out a translation that replaced the words for baptism with immerse and immersion, in the mid nineteenth century. It actually made it out to the bookshelves.

    Folks pointed out to them that they had succeeded in translating themselves out of the NT and the version was immediately pulled. 

    The devil is in the details.

    Thanks for the comments Joel.

  3. Thanks for this post, interesting stuff to think about. NYT had this article published May 24, 1882 speaking about “The Immersion Bible”.

    Sidenote: Above you mentioned the HCSV…was that supposed to be HCSB? I think they still have pastor in Eph 4:11 for some odd reason.

  4. Joe, interesting article. I would call that controversial. The NYT was quite different back then.

  5. Yeh Joe, it is the HCSB. Thanks for the correction, and the link to the NYT article – I edited the original post.