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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xxv. βόσκω, ποιμαίνω.

While βόσκειν and ποιμαίνειν are both often employed in a figurative and spiritual sense in the O.T. (1 Chron. 11:2; Ezek. 34:3; Ps. 77:72; Jer. 23:2), and ποιμαίνειν in the New; the only occasions in the latter, on which βόσκειν is so used, are John 21:15, 17. There our Lord, giving to St. Peter that thrice-repeated commission to feed his “lambs” (ver. 15), his “sheep” (ver. 16), and again his “sheep” (ver. 17), uses first βόσκε, then secondly ποίμαινε, returning to βόσκε at the last. This return, on the third and last repetition of the charge, to the word employed on the first, has been a strong argument with some for an absolute identity in the meaning of the words. They have urged, with some show of reason, that Christ could not have had progressive aspects of the pastoral work in his intention here, else He would not have come back in the end to the βόσκε, with which He began. Yet I cannot ascribe to accident the variation of the words, any more than the changes, in the same verses, from ἀγαπᾶν to φιλεῖν (see p. 41), from ἀρνία to πρόβατα. It is true that our Version, rendering βόσκε and ποίμαινε alike by “Feed,” as the Vulgate by “Pasce, ” has not attempted to follow the changes of the original text, nor can I perceive any resources of language by which either our own Version or the Latin could have helped itself here. ‘Tend’ for ποίμαινε is the best suggestion which I could make. The German, by aid of ‘weiden’ (== βόσκειν) and ‘hüten’ (== ποιμαίνειν), might do it; but De Wette has ‘weiden’ throughout.

The distinction, notwithstanding, is very far from fanciful. Βόσκειν, the Latin ‘pascere,’ is simply ‘to feed:’Etym. Note. 13 but ποιμίνειν involves much more; the whole office of the shepherd, the guiding, guarding, folding of the flock, as well as the finding of nourishment for it. Thus Lampe: ‘Hoc symbolum totum regimen ecclesiasticum comprehendit;’ and Bengel: ‘βόσκειν est pars τοῦ ποιμαίνειν.’ The wider reach and larger meaning of ποιμαίνειν makes itself felt at Rev. 2:27; 19:15; where at once we are conscious how impossible it would be to substitute βόσκειν; and compare Philo, Quod Det. Pot. Insid. 8.

There is a fitness in the shepherd’s work for the setting forth of the highest ministries of men for the weal of their fellows, out of which the name, shepherds of their people, has been continually transferred to those who are, or should be, the faithful guides and guardians of others committed to their charge. Thus kings in Homer are ποιμένες λαῶν: cf. 2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7; Ps. 78:71, 72. Nay more, in Scripture God Himself is a Shepherd (Isai. 40:11; Ezek. 34:11-31; Ps. 23.); and God manifest in the flesh avouches Himself as ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός (John 10:11); He is the ἀρχιποιμήν (1 Pet. 5:4); ὁ μέγας ποιμὴν τῶν προβάτων (Heb. 13:20); as such fulfilling the prophecy of Micah (v. 4). Compare a sublime passage in Philo, De Agricul. 12, beginning: οὅτω μέντοι τὸ ποιμαίνειν ἐστὶν ἀγαθόν, ὥστε οὐ βασιλεῦσι μόνον καὶ σοφοῖς ἀνδράσι, καὶ ψυχαῖς τέλεια κεκαθαρμέναις, ἀλλὰ καὶ Θεῷ τῷ πανηγεμόνι δικαίως ἀνατίθεται, with the three §§ preceding.

But it may very naturally be asked, if ποιμαίνειν be thus so much the more significant and comprehensive word, and if on this account the ποίμαινε was added to the βόσκε in the Lord’s latest instruction to his Apostle, how account for his going back to βόσκε again, and concluding thus, not as we should expect with the wider, but with the narrower charge, and weaker admonition? In Dean Stanley’s Sermons and Essays on the Apostolic Age, p. 138, the answer is suggested. The lesson, in fact, which we learn from this is a most important one, and one which the Church, and all that bear rule in the Church, have need diligently to lay to heart; this namely, that whatever else of discipline and rule may be superadded thereto, still, the feeding of the flock, the finding for them of spiritual food, is the first and last; nothing else will supply the room of this, nor may be allowed to put this out of that foremost place which by right it should occupy. How often, in a false ecclesiastical system, the preaching of the Word loses its preeminence; the βόσκειν falls into the background, is swallowed up in the ποιμαίνειν, which presently becomes no true ποιμαίνειν, because it is not a βόσκειν as well, but such a ‘shepherding’ rather as God’s Word by the prophet Ezekiel has denounced (34:2, 3, 8, 10; cf. Zech. 11:15-17; Matt. 23.)

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G1006,G4165.]

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