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Why are ministers referred to as "Reverend?"

Webster's dictionary defines the word, "reverend," as a title of respect for a clergyman. It comes from the idea of giving "reverence," which means "to regard with deep love and respect."

Calling a minister "reverend" did not originate in scripture. The term became accepted sometime in the seventeenth century in England as a scriptural show of respect toward men of God. "And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake..." (1 Thes. 5:12-13).

The prominent Bible translation of that era, the King James Version, used the word "reverence" 14 times in connection that which was holy or sacred. Those things which were to be reverenced were: the Lord's sanctuary (Lev. 19:30, 26:2), the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 21:37, Mark 12:6, Luke 20:13), the Lord's anointed (2 Sam. 9:6), our earthly father (Heb. 12:9), the husband by his wife (Eph. 5:33), the way we serve the Lord (Heb. 12:28), and the name of the Lord: "He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant forever: holy and reverend is his name" (Psa. 111:9 KJV).

It's obvious that the term was never actually intended to become a title, but rather, was an expression used by Christians to identify and denote respect and esteem toward their minister. To say, "The Reverend John Smith," was like saying, "The deeply loved and respected man of God, John Smith."

In later years, "reverend" began to lose its original distinction and evolved into a secular "title" of etiquette, used as a prefix in front of a clergyman's name to indicate his ministerial vocation. Some ministers don't wish to be identified by this term and may prefer to be addressed as "pastor" or "brother."

Another tradition associated with ministers, the so-called clerical collar, came from the standard style of a gentleman's dress in Europe in the middle ages. As styles changed, clergymen were slow to follow, and eventually the style became identified with formal clergy attire. Most evangelical ministers do not ascribe to the tradition of the clerical collar.

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.