Pastor and Teacher: Distinct Church Offices

Pastor and Teacher-Distinct Church Offices

John Owen
The True Nature of a Gospel Church
and its Government, ch. 6.

Of the Office of Teachers in the Church, or an Inquiry into the State, Condition, and Work of those called Teachers in the Scripture.

The Lord Christ hath given unto his Church pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11). He “hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers” (1 Cor. 12:28). In the Church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers (Acts 13:1). And their work is both described and assigned unto them, as we shall see afterwards.

But the thoughts of learned men about those who in the Scripture are called teachers, are very various. Nor is the determination of their state and condition easy or obvious, as we shall find in our inquiry.

Historical Background of the Office of Teacher.

If there were originally a distinct office of teachers in the Church, it was lost for many ages. But yet there was always a shadow or appearance of it retained. First in public Catechists, and then in doctors or professors of Theology in the schools belonging unto any Church. But this, as unto the title of Doctor or Teacher, is but a late invention. For the occasion of it rose about the year of Christ, 1135. Lotharius the emperor having found in Italy a copy of the Roman civil law, and being greatly taken with it, he ordained that it should be publicly taught and expounded in the schools. This he began by the direction of Imerius, his Chancellor at Bononia; and to give encouragement unto this employment, they ordained, that those who were the public professors of it should be solemnly created Doctors, of whom Bulgarus Hugolinus, with others, were the first. Not long after, this rite of creating Doctors was borrowed of the Lawyers by Divines, who publicly taught Divinity in their schools. And this imitation first took place in Bononia, Paris, and Oxford. But this name is since grown a title of honour to sundry sorts of persons, whether unto any good use or purpose, or no, I know not. But it is in use, and not worth contending about, especially, if as unto some of them, it be fairly reconcilable unto that of our Saviour: “be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren” (Mat. 23:8).

But the custom of having in the Church teachers, that did publicly explain and vindicate the principles of religion, is far more ancient, and of known usage in the primitive churches. Such was the practice of the Church of Alexandria in their school, wherein the famous Panlaenus, Origen, and Clemens were teachers; an imitation whereof was continued in all ages of the Church.

And indeed, the continuation of such a peculiar work and employment, to be discharged in manner of an office, is an evidence that originally there was such a distinct office in the Church. For, although in the Roman Church had instituted sundry orders of sacred officers, borrowed from the Jews or Gentiles, which have no resemblance unto anything mentioned in the Scripture; yet sundry things abased and corrupted by them in church officers took their occasional rise from what is so mentioned.

Four Views on the Office of Doctor.

There are four opinions concerning those who are called by this name in the New Testament.

1. Some say that no office at all is denoted by it; it being only a general appellation of those that taught others, whether constantly or occasionally. Such were the prophets in the Church of Corinth, that spake occasionally and in their turns (1 Cor. 14). Which is that which all might do who had ability for it (1 Cor. 14:5, 24-25).

2. Some say it is only another name for the same office with that of a Pastor, and so not to denote any distinct office; of which mind Jerome seems to be (Eph. 4).

3. Others allow that it was a distinct office, whereunto some were called and set apart in the Church, but it was only to teach (and that in a peculiar manner) the principles of religion, but had no interest in the rule of the Church, or the administration of the sacred mysteries. So the Pastor in the Church was to rule and teach, and administer the sacred mysteries. The Teacher to teach or instruct only, but not to rule, nor dispense the sacraments. And the Ruling Elder to rule only, and neither to preach nor administer sacraments; which hath the appearance of order, both useful and beautiful.

4. Some judge that it was a distinct office, but of the same nature and kind with that of the Pastor, endowed with all the same powers, but differenced from it with respect unto gifts, and a peculiar kind of work allotted unto it. But this opinion hath this seeming disadvantage, that the difference between them is so small as not to be sufficient to give a distinct denomination of officers, or to constitute a distinct office. And it may be such a distinction in gifts will seldom appear, as that the Church may be guided thereby in their choice of meet persons unto distinct offices. But Scripture testimony and rule must take place; and I shall briefly examine all these opinions.

1. Examination of the first view.

Teacher is an office, not a general name.

1. The first is that this is not the name of any officer, nor is a Teacher as such, any officer in the Church, but it is used only as a general name for any that teach on any account the doctrine of the Gospel. I do not indeed know of any who have in particular contended for this opinion, but I observe that very many expositors take no farther notice of them, but as such. This seems to me to be most remote from the truth.

It is true that in the first churches, not only some, but all who had received spiritual light in the gifts of knowledge and utterance did teach and instruct others as they had opportunity (1 Pet. 5:8-11). Hence, the heathen philosophers, as Celsus in particular, objected to the Christians of old, that they suffered sutlers, and weavers, and cobblers to teach among them, which, they who knew that Paul himself, their great Apostle, wrought at a trade not much better, were not offended at. Of this sort were the disciples mentioned (Acts 8:4). So was Aquila (Acts 18:26), and the many prophets in the Church of Corinth (2 Cor. 1:14). But,

1. The name διδάσκαλος is not used in the New Testament but for a Teacher with authority. The Apostle John tells us that διδάσκαλος is the same with ῥαββουνί (John 20:16), or as it is written, ῥαββονί (Mark 10:51), which in mixed dialect was the same with Rabbi. And רבא and רבי, were then in use for the Hebrew מורה; of which see Job 36:22 and Isa. 30:20. Now the constant signification of these words is a Master in Teaching, a Teacher with Authority. Nor is διδάσκαλος used in the New Testament but for such a one. And therefore those who are called Teachers, were such as were set apart unto the Office of Teaching, and not such as were so called from an occasional work or duty.

2. Teachers are numbered among the officers which Christ hath given unto and set in the Church (Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28). So that originally church officers were intended by them, is beyond contradiction.

3. They are mentioned as those who with others did preside in the Church, and join in the public ministrations of it (Acts 15:1-2).

4. They are charged to attend unto the work of teaching, which none can be but they whose office it is to teach (Rom. 12:7). It is therefore undeniable that there is such an office as that of a Teacher mentioned in the Scripture.

2. Examination of the second view.

Pastors and Teachers are not synonymous.

The second opinion is that although a Teacher be a church officer, yet no distinct office is intended in that denomination. It is, say they, only another name for a Pastor, the office being one and the same, the same persons being both Pastors and Teachers, or called by these several names, as they have other titles also ascribed unto them.

So it is fallen out, and so it is usual in things of this nature, that men run into extremes, truth pleaseth them not. In the first deviation of the Church from its primitive institution, there were introduced sundry offices in the Church that were not of divine institution, borrowed partly of the Jews, and partly of the Gentiles, which issued in the seven orders of the Church of Rome. They did not utterly reject any that were of a divine original, but retained some kind of figure, shadow, or image of them. But they brought in others that were merely of their own invention. In the rejection of this exorbitance, some are apt to run into the other extreme. They will deny and reject some of them that have a divine warrant for their original. Howbeit, they are not many, nor burdensome. Yea, they are all such, as without the continuation of them, the edification of the Church cannot be carried on in a due manner. For unto the beauty and order of the Church in its rule and worship, it is required, not only that there be many officers in each Church, but also that they be of sundry sorts. All harmony in things natural, political, and ecclesiastical, arising from variety with proportion. And he that shall with calmness, and without prejudice, consider the whole work that is to be done in Churches, with the end of their institution, will be able to understand the necessity of Pastors, Teachers, Ruling Elders, and Deacons, for those ends, and no other. And this I hope I shall demonstrate in the consideration of these respective offices, with the duties that belong unto them, as I have considered one of them already. Wherefore, as unto the opinion under present consideration, I say:

Galatians 6:6.

1. In the primitive Church, about the end of the second century, before there was the least attempt to introduce new officers into the Church, there were persons called unto the office and work of public teaching, who were not Pastors, nor called unto the administration of other ordinances. Those of this sort, in the Church of Alexandria, were, by reason of their extraordinary abilities, quickly of great fame and renown. Their constant work was publicly unto all comers, believers and unbelievers, to explain and teach the principles of Christian religion, defending and vindicating it from the opposition of its heathen adversaries, whether Atheists or Philosophers. This had never been so exactly practiced in the Church, if it had not derived from divine institution. And of this sort is the τῷ κατηχοῦντι the Catechist, intended by the Apostle (Gal. 6:6). For it is such an one as constantly labours in the work of preaching, and hath those who depend upon his ministry therein,  κατηχούμενος those that are taught or catechized by him. For, hence alone it is that maintenance is due unto him for his work. Let the catechized communicate unto the Catechist, the taught unto the Teacher in all good things. And it is not the Pastor of the Church that he intends, for he speaks of him in the same case in another manner, and nowhere only with respect unto teaching alone.

Exegesis of Ephesians 4:11.

2. There is a plain distinction between the offices of a Pastor and a Teacher in Ephesians 4:11, “some Pastors and Teachers.” This is one of the instances wherein men try their wits, in putting in exceptions unto plain Scripture testimonies, as some or other do in all other cases; which if it may be allowed, we shall have nothing left us certain in the whole Book of God. The Apostle enumerates distinctly all the teaching officers of the Church, both extraordinary and ordinary. It is granted, that there is a difference between Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists, but there is none, say some, between Pastors and Teachers, which are also named distinctly. Why so? Because there is an interposition of the article τές between those of the former sort, and not between Pastors and Teachers—a very weak consideration to control the evidence of the design of the Apostle in the words. We are not to prescribe unto him how he shall express himself. But this I know, that the discretive and copulative conjunction καὶ “and” between Pastors and Teachers, doth no less distinguish them the one from the other, than the τοὺς μὲν “some” and τοὺς δὲ “and some” before made use of. And this I shall confirm from the words themselves.

1. The Apostle doth not say Pastors or Teachers, which in congruity of speech should have been done if the same persons and the same office were intended. And the discretive particle in the close of such an enumeration of things distinct, as that in this place, is of the same force with the other notes of distinction before used.

2. After he hath named Pastors he nameth Teachers with a note of distinction. This must contain either the addition of a new office, or be an interpretation of what went before, as if he had said Pastors, that is, Teachers. If it be the latter, then the name of Teachers must be added as that which was better known than that of Pastors, and more expressive of the office intended. It is declared who are meant by Pastors in calling them Teachers, or else the addition of the word is merely superfluous. But this is quite otherwise, the name of Pastor being more known as unto the indignation of office-power and care, and more appropriated thereunto than that of Teacher; which is both a common name, not absolutely appropriated unto office, and respective of one part of the pastoral office and duty only.

3. No instance can be given in any place where there is an enumeration of Church officers, either by their names, as 1 Cor. 12:25, or by their work, as Rom. 12:5-7, or by the offices themselves, as Phil. 1.1, of the same officer, at the same time to be expressed under various names, which indeed must needs introduce confusion into such an enumeration. It is true, the same officers are in the Scripture called by several names, as Pastors, Bishops, Presbyters, but if it had been said anywhere that there were in the Church Bishops and Presbyters, it must be acknowledged that they were distinct officers, as Bishops and Deacons are (Phil. 1:1).

4. The words in their first notion are not synonymous. For all Pastors are Teachers, but all Teachers are not Pastors, and therefore the latter cannot be exegetical of the former.

Romans 12:7-8.

3dly. As these Teachers are so called and named in contradistinction unto Pastors in the same place, so they have distinct office works and duties assigned unto them in the same place also: “He that teacheth on teaching; or he that exhorteth on exhortation” (Rom. 12:7b-8a). If they have especial works to attend unto distinctly, by virtue of their offices, then are their offices distinctly also. For from one there is an especial obligation unto one sort of duties, and to another sort from the other.

1 Corinthians 12:28.

4thly. These Teachers are set in the Church as in a distinct office from that of Prophets, “secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers” (1 Cor. 12:28). And so they are mentioned distinctly in the Church of Antioch (Acts 13:1). There were in the Church at Antioch Prophets and Teachers. But in both places Pastors are comprised under the name of Prophets, Exhortation being an especial branch of Prophecy (Rom. 12:6-8).

Maintenance specifically for Teachers (Gal. 6:6).

5. There is a peculiar institution of maintenance for these Teachers, which argues a distinct office (Gal. 6:6).

From all these considerations, it appears, that the Teachers mentioned in the Scripture were officers in the Church distinct from Pastors. For they are distinguished from them: (1.) By their name, declarative of the especial nature of their office. (2.) By their peculiar work, which they are to attend unto, in teaching by virtue of office. (3.) By the distinct placing in the Church as peculiar officers in it, distinct from Prophets or Pastors. (4.) By the especial constitution of their necessary maintenance. (5.) By the necessity of their work to be distinctly carried on in the Church. Which may suffice for the removal of the second opinion.

3. Examination of the third view.

Teacher is a distinct office, but confined to teaching only.

The third is that Teachers are a distinct office in the Church, but such whose office, work, and power, is confined unto teaching only, so as that they have no interest in rule or the administration of the sacraments.

1. I acknowledge that this seems to have been the way and practice of the churches after the Apostles. For they had ordinary Catechists and Teachers in assemblies like schools, that were not called unto the whole work of the ministry.

2. The name of a Teacher, neither in its native signification, nor in its ordinary application, as expressive of the work of this office, doth extend itself beyond, or signify anything but the mere power and duty of teaching. It is otherwise as unto the names of Pastors, Bishops or Overseers, Elders, which as unto the two former, their constant use in Scripture suited unto their signification, includes the whole work of the ministry, and the latter is a name of dignity and rule. Upon the proposal of Church officers under these names, the whole of office-power and duty is apprehended as included in them. But the name of a Teacher, especially as significant of that of Rabbi among the Jews, carries along with it a confinement unto an especial work or duty.

3. I do judge it lawful for any Church, from the nature of the thing itself, Scripture, general rules and directions, to choose, call, and set apart meet persons unto the office, work, and duty of Teachers, without an interest in the rule of the Church, or the administration of the holy ordinances of worship. The same thing is practiced by many for the substance of it, though not in due order. And, it may be, the practice hereof duly observed would lead us unto the original institution of this office. But,

4. Whereas a Teacher, merely as such, hath no right unto rule or the administration of ordinances—no more than the Doctors among the Jews had right to offer sacrifices in the Temple—yet he who is called to be a Teacher, may also at the same time be called to be an Elder, and a Teaching Elder hath the power of all holy administrations committed to him.

5. But he that is called to be a Teacher in a peculiar manner, although he be an Elder also, is to attend peculiarly unto that part of his work from whence he receiveth his denomination. And so I shall at present dismiss this third opinion unto farther consideration, if there be any occasion for it.

4. Examination of the fourth view.

Teacher is a distinct office in the Church.

The fourth opinion I rather embrace than any of the others, namely, upon a supposition that a Teacher is a distinct officer in the Church, his office is of the same kind with that of the Pastor, though distinguished from it as unto degrees, both materially and formally. For,

1. They are joined with Pastors in the same order as their associates in office (Eph. 4:1). So they are with Prophets, and set in the Church as they are (1 Cor. 12:28; Acts 13:1). 2. They have a peculiar work of the same general nature with that of Pastors assigned unto them (Rom. 12:7). Being to teach or preach the Gospel by virtue of office, they have the same office for substance with the Pastors. 3. They are said to have λειτουργούντων “ministered” in the Church (Acts 13:1-2), which compriseth all sacred administrations.

Concluding thoughts on the office of Teacher.

Wherefore, upon the consideration of all that is spoken in the Scripture concerning Church Teachers, with the various conjectures of all sorts of writers about them, I shall conclude my own thoughts in some few observations, and then inquire into the state of the Church, with reference unto these Pastors and Teachers. And I say,

1. There may be Teachers in a Church called only unto the work of teaching, without any farther interest in rule or right unto the administration of the sacraments. [1] Such they seem to be who are mentioned in Galatians 6:6. They are there called peculiarly κατηχοῦντι “Catechists,” and παιδαγωγοὺς (1 Cor. 4:15) “instructors” of those that are young in the rudiments of religion. And such there were in the primitive churches, some whereof were eminent, famous and useful. And this was very necessary in those days when the churches were great and numerous. For, whereas the whole rule of the Church, and the administration of all ordinances in it, is originally committed unto the Pastor, as belonging entirely unto his office; the discharge of it in all its parts, unto the edification of the Church, especially when it is numerous, being impossible for any one man, or it may be more, in the same office where all are obliged unto an especial attendance on one part of it, namely, the Word and Prayer, it pleased the Lord Christ to appoint such as in distinct offices should be associated with them, for the discharge of sundry parts of their duty. So were Deacons ordained to take care of the poor, and the outward concerns of the Church, without any interest in rule or right to teach. So were, as we shall prove, Elders ordained to assist and help in rule, without any call to preach or administer the sacraments. And so were Teachers appointed to instruct the Church and others in the truth, who have no right to rule, or the administration of other ordinances. And thus, although the whole duty of the edification of the Church be still incumbent on the Pastors, yet being supplied with assistance to all the parts of it, it may be comfortably discharged by them. And if this order were observed in all churches, not only many inconveniences would be prevented, but the order and edification of the Church greatly promoted.

2. He who is peculiarly called to be a Teacher, with reference unto a distinction from a Pastor, may yet at the same time be called to be an Elder also, that is to be a Teaching Elder. And where there is in any officer a concurrence of both these, a right unto rule as an Elder, and power to teach, or preach the Gospel, there is the same office and office-power, for the substance of it, as there is in the Pastor.

3. On the foregoing supposition there yet remains a distinction between the office of a Pastor and Teacher; which, as far as light may be taken from their names and distinct ascriptions unto them, consists materially in the different gifts which those to be called unto office have received, which the Church in their call ought to have respect unto. And formally in the peculiar exercise of those gifts in the discharge of their office, according unto the assignation of their especial work unto them, which themselves are to attend unto.

May there be many Teachers and Pastors in a particular church?

Upon what hath been before discoursed concerning the office of Pastors and Teachers, it may be inquired whether there may be many of them in a particular Church, or whether there ought only to be one of each sort. And I say,

1. Take Teachers in the third sense, for those who are only so, and have no farther interest in office-power, and there is no doubt, but that there may be as many of them in any Church as are necessary unto its edification, and ought so to be. And a due observation of this institution, would prevent the inconvenience of men’s preaching constantly, who are in no office in the Church. For although I do grant that those who have once been regularly or solemnly set apart or ordained unto the ministry, have the right of constant preaching inherent in them, and the duty of it incumbent on them, though they may be separated from those churches, wherein and unto whom they were peculiarly ordained, yet for men to give themselves up constantly unto the work of teaching by preaching the Gospel, who never were set apart by the Church thereunto, I know not that it can be justified.

2. If there be but one sort of Elders mentioned in the Scripture, it is out of all question, that there may be many Pastors in the same Church. For there were many Elders in every Church (Acts 14:22; Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5). But if there are sundry sorts of Elders mentioned in the Scripture, as Pastors, who peculiarly feed the flock, those Teaching Elders of whom we have spoken, and those Rulers concerning whom we shall treat in the next place, then no determination of this inquiry can be taken from the multiplication of them in any Church.

3. It is certain, that the order very early observed in the Church was one Pastor, ό προέσως proesos, quickly called Episcopus by way of distinction, with many Elders assisting in rule and teaching, and Deacons ministering in the things of this life, whereby the order of the Church was preserved, and its authority represented. Yet I will not deny, but that in each particular Church there may be many Pastors, with an equality of power, if the edification of the Church doth require it.

4. It was the alteration of the state of the Church from its primitive constitution, and deviation from its first order, by an occasional coalescence of many churches into one, by a new form of churches never appointed by Christ, which came not in until after the end of the Second Century, that gave occasion to corrupt this order into an Episcopal preeminence, which degenerated more and more into confusion under the name of order. And the absolute equality of many Pastors in one and the same Church is liable unto many inconveniences, if not diligently watched against.

5. Wherefore, let the state of the Church be preserved and kept unto its original constitution, which is Congregational, and no other [1]; and I do judge, that the order of the officers, which was so early in the primitive Church, namely, of one Pastor or Bishop in one Church, assisted in rule and all holy administrations, with many Elders teaching or ruling only, doth not so overthrow Church-order, as to render its rule or discipline useless.

6. But whereas there is no difference in the Scripture, as unto office or power intimated between Bishops and Presbyters, as we have proved, where there are many Teaching Elders in any Church, an equality in office and power is to be preserved. But yet this takes not off from the due preference of the pastoral office, nor from the necessity of precedence for the observation of order in all Church assemblies, nor from the consideration of the peculiar advantages, which gifts, age, abilities, prudence, and experience, which may belong unto some according to rule, may give.



[1] This, being a Congregationalist view of the office, disagrees with the Westminster Form of Presbyterian Church Government, which states: “The scripture doth hold out the name and title of teacher, as well as of the pastor. Who is also a minister of the word, as well as the pastor, and hath power of administration of the sacraments.

[2] John Owen, although helpful regarding the office of Teacher, also held to Congregationalism, and denied the divine right of Presbyterianism.

cf. Keys of the Kingdom: Congregationalism or Presbyterianism?

Proof that Presbyterianism is Biblical

Presbyterianism in the Old Testament Church | George Gillespie

Westminster Assembly’s Grand Debate by Naphtali Press

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