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Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament


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bosko (Strong's #1006) Feed, Tend

poimaino (Strong's #4165) Shepherd, Rule

Boskein and poimainein are often used in a figurative and spiritual sense in the Old Testament ( 1 Chronicles 11:2; Psalm 77:72; Jeremiah 23:2; Ezekiel 34:3). Poimainein also is used this way in the New Testament, but boskein is only used in this sense in John 21:15; John 21:17. Christ, while giving Peter his commission to feed his "lambs" ( John 21:15), his "sheep" ( John 21:16), and again his "sheep" ( John 21:17), first used boske, then poimaine, and finally boske. This return to boske in the third repetition of the charge has been interpreted as indicating that boskein and poimainein are used synonymously in this passage. Those who argue this way urge that Christ could not have had progressive aspects of the pastoral work in mind here, since he returned to the word that he began with. But the variations in these words cannot be accidental any more than the other changes found in these same verses: agapan (Strong's #25) to philein (Strong's #5368, see sec12) and arnia (Strong's #721) to probata (Strong's #4263). The Authorized Version renders boske and poimaine by "feed," and the Vulgate translates both words by pasce (feed). Due to the limitations of language, neither translation has attempted to follow the changes of the original text. "Tend" for poimaine is the best suggestion that I can make.

There is a real distinction between boskein and poimainein.Boskein and the Latin pascere simply mean "to feed"; but poimainein indicates much more. It refers to the whole office of the shepherd, to the guiding, guarding, and folding of the flock, as well as providing pasture. The more extensive meaning of poimainein is seen in Revelation 2:27; Revelation 19:15, where it would be impossible to substitute boskein for it.

The shepherd's work fittingly illustrates man's highest ministry in which he seeks the well-being of his fellow man. The phrase shepherds of their people has frequently been transferred to those who are, or who should be, the faithful guides and guardians of others. Thus in Homer kings are called "shepherds of the people." In Scripture God himself is referred to as a shepherd ( Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11-31), and Christ refers to himself as "the good shepherd" ( John 10:11). Jesus is called the "Chief Shepherd" ( 1 Peter 5:4) and "the great Shepherd of the sheep" ( Hebrews 13:20) and as such fulfills the prophecy of Micah 5:4.

If poimainein is the more comprehensive word and was added to boske in Jesus' instruction to Peter in John 21:15 ff., how do we account for Jesus' return to boske and his concluding with the narrower and weaker admonition? Dean Stanley suggested the answer, and his suggestion is a most important lesson that the church and all who rule her need diligently to apply. Feeding the flock and finding them spiritual food is paramount and should not be superseded by any other concerns. Often in false ecclesiastical systems the preaching of the Word loses its preeminence, and the boskein recedes into the background and is swallowed up in the poimainein. In such situations, the poimainein is not a true poimainein, because it is not a boskein as well, but is the sort of "shepherding" that is denounced by Ezekiel.

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Bibliography Information
Trench, Richard C. Entry for 'Feed'. Synonyms of the New Testament. 1854.

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