The Office of Teacher or Doctor

Then spake Jesus… saying, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”

Mt. 23:1-3

“And He gave… some pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry…”

Eph. 4:11-12

“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers…”

1 Cor. 12:28




Extraordinary Call



Order of Contents

Articles  5
Book  1
Quotes  8
Doctors: Members of Presbytery, may sit on Sessions  1
May a Person Teach who is not Ordained?  10





Voet, Gisbert – ‘On Whether there is an Office of ‘Doctor”  from Ecclesiastical Politics  (Amsterdam, 1669), pp. 479-81  trans. Charles Johnson

Owen, John – ch. 6, ‘Of the Office of Teacher in the Church’  Buy  (1688)  12 pp.  in The True Nature of a Gospel Church & its Government  in Works, vol. 16

This is the best short work arguing for the office from scripture.  Owen was a congregationalist, which view held that teachers must be called by the local church and could preach and administer the sacraments.

The Scots, which this webmaster agrees with, held that doctors could be called by presbyteries, could work outside the bounds of the local church, and did not have the power to preach or administer the sacraments.

Heidegger, Johann – On the Office of Doctor  Buy  trans. 2017

“Johann Heinrich Heidegger (1633-1698) was one of the great Swiss theologians of the seventeenth century.  He served as Professor of Theology at Zurich from 1667 to 1698.  Heidegger is remembered for his leading role in the drafting of the Formula Consensus Helveticus, a document, although moderate in tone, intended to unite the Swiss churches against the innovative theology of Saumur.  His Corpus Theologiae Christianae is a massive and learned presentation of orthodox Reformed dogmatics.”



Fentiman, Travis – ‘Introduction to the Office of Teacher’  (2014)  27 paragraphs, with four Appendices of 44 more paragraphs.

Here is a comprehensible introduction to the historic, Reformation view and that of the Westminster Assembly, showing the Biblical warrant for the Office of Teacher.  Further resources are suggested in the article for further study.

Myers, Andrew – ‘Office of Doctor’  (2009)  34 paragraphs

This is an anthology of excerpts from 14 reformation era creeds, books of discipline and documents demonstrating that the Office of Doctor was the universal view and practice of the Reformation and post-reformation eras.  Read here to see how these godly divines understood the particulars of the office, including its Biblical warrant and functions.




Henderson, Robert – The Teaching Office in the Reformed Tradition: a History of the Doctoral Ministry  Buy  (1962)  277 pp.

This is an invaluable, exhaustive dissertation on the history of the Office of Doctor in the historic, Reformed Church, though it is not exegetical and does not cover many of the Biblical arguments.  He very clearly distinguishes the different conceptions and practices of the Office of Doctor in the Middle Ages, Calvin’s Geneva, the Scottish Church, the French Church, the Dutch Church, the English Church (including the Westminster Assembly), and in the puritan Congregational churches.



Quotes  in addition to those in Myers’ article


The Discipline of the Reformed Churches of France  1559

ch. 11, ‘Of Baptism’, Canon 2  in Synodicon in Gallia Reformata, vol. 1, p. xliv

“A Doctor in a church may not preach, nor administer the sacraments, unless that he be at the same time both Doctor and Minister.”



The Synod of Dort  1619

First Head, The Offices, Article 2

“The offices are of four kinds: of the Ministers of the Word, of the Professors of Theology, of the Elders, and of the Deacons.”


Samuel Rutherford  1642

A Peaceable & Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland  (London, 1642)

Ch. 20, Whether or not the government of the Church of Scotland can be proved by God’s Word to be lawful?

Article 2, Officers of the Church

“The ordinary officers of our Church are Pastors, to whom belongeth the word of exhortation, 1 Tim. 3:1-3; 2 Tim. 1:7,8, Doctors, who in schools expound the word of God, and convince gainsayersRom. 12:7,8; Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28, Governors, or governing Elders who rule well, Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Tim. 5:17; Acts 15:23, and Deacons who care for the poor, Acts 6:2-4; 1 Tim. 3:8-12.”  


Article 5, Pastor’s Duty

“The doctors’ way is doctrinal, to inform the mind and defend the truth against gainsayers (Rom. 12:7).”


Article 10, Schools and Doctors

“There are with us Doctors of Divinity who teach in schools and Universities, men tried to be holy and learned, and then put in office, as 1 Tim. 3:10, under whose instruction are students aiming at the holy ministry called expectants, as in the Jewish Church in their colleges, were young prophets, or sons of the prophets, as 1 Sam. 10:5; 2 Kings 2:7; 2 Kings 4:1; 1 Kings 20:35These Doctors and also the teachers of human literature, who train up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4, if they aim at the ministery, prophecy in our presbyterial meetings, 1 Cor. 14:29.”


A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker…  wherein the way of the churches of New England is now Re-examined  (London, 1658), p. 22

“2. The contret [contract?] of a lecturer that preacheth the word to diverse professors from sundry Churches, if:

1. He have no warrant to administer the seals, or to exercise discipline over them; he seemeth to me some catholick doctor I read not of in scripture, not unlike the Popish and prelatical deacon, who may preach and baptize (as a midwife to them in case of necessity may baptize) but not to administer the other seal.

2. If he be a lawfully called Pastor, I shall say, the meeting is a true visible Church of visible members met from sundry churches, and is not a fixed, but a transient church, and it is no more absurd to say [that] these [auditors] are members of four visible churches, to wit, transient members, than to say they are members of the whole catholic, visible Church, and baptized.  Whether Jews or gentiles, all, by one spirit, unto one body, 1 Cor. 12:13., being all one body, having one spirit, one faith, one Lord, one baptism.  Eph. 4:4-5, though they belong to diverse particular churches:”


James Fergusson

Commentary on Eph. 4:11.  HT: Andrew Myers

The other two are ordinary office-bearers, pastors and teachers; I say two, though the disjunctive particle “some,” be not cast in between them; for they are distinguished, Rom. 12:7, 8, and the exercise of their respective offices is distinguished also, 1 Cor. 12:8; so that by pastors are meant those who, besides their ability to open up the text of Scripture in some measure, are chiefly gifted with the word of wisdom, wisely and powerfully to apply the word for working upon the affections, as the matter requires; and the teacher is he who is gifted with the word of knowledge, or ability to open up the mind of God in Scripture, establishing truth, and confuting error, without insisting much upon particular application; which office, because of the church’s poverty, is confined to the schools, and the ordinary exercise of it before the people left upon the pastor.”


Paul Baynes

Commentary on Eph. 4:11.  HT: Andrew Myers.

“Pastors, that is, ministers that labored in the word of exhortation, and ministering the sacraments.

Teachers. Ministers that labored in the word of doctrine or knowledge; for as the persons are here distinguished, so the gifts elsewhere.”


George Gillespie

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland, ch. 2:

But they differ, in that the pastor labors in the word of exhortation, that is, by the gift of wisdom applies the word to the manners of his flock, and that in season and out of season, as he knows their particular cases to require.  The doctor labors in the word of doctrine, that is, without such applications as the pastor uses; by simple teaching he preserves the truth and sound interpretation of the Scriptures, against all heresy and error.  The ruling elder doth neither of these, but labors in the government and policy of the church only.  The Apostle has distinguished these three sorts of elders, 1 Tim. 5.17, “Let elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.”  Where, as [Theodore] Beza notes, he distinguished the word, which is the pastor’s part, from doctrine, which is the doctor’s part.  Even as Rom. 12:7,8, he distinguishes teaching from exhortation; and 1 Cor. 12:8, puts “the word of wisdom,” and “the word of knowledge,” for two different things. Now, besides those elders which labor in the word, and those which labor in doctrine, Paul speaks to Timothy of a third sort of elders, which labor neither in the word nor doctrine, but in ruling well.  Hence it appears how truly the Book of Policy, ch. 2, says, That there are four ordinary, perpetual, and necessary offices in the church, the office of the pastor, the doctor, the elder, and the deacon; and that no other office, which is not one of these four, ought to be received, or suffered in the church.”


Edward Leigh, was a member of the Westminster Assembly

Annotations on the New Testament, 1650

Matt 23:39

“…so that this should be the meaning, I [Jesus] have behaved Myself humbly and lovingly amongst you, and have discharged the office of Teacher, now the course of my calling being finished, I will depart, and you shall not enjoy Me hereafter…”


John 7:37

Jesus stood.  When otherwise the custom of that age carried it, that the teachers sat, even as Christ also often did, but here He stood that He might signify that He would seriously execute the great Office of Teaching.”



Doctors are Members of Presbytery & may Sit on Sessions

Geroge Gillespie

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland in the Points of Ruling-Elders….  (Edinburgh: Bryson, 1641), ch. 2, pp. 8-10

“Notwithstanding of all the multiplicity of Popish orders, yet Peter Lombard (pt. 4, distinction 4) treading the vestiges of the primitive simplicity, did observe that the apostles left only two sacred orders to be perpetual in the Church, the order of deacons and the order of elders.

The administration of deacons is exercised about things bodily.  The administration of elders about things spiritual.  The former about the goods: the latter about the government of the Church.  Now elders are of three sorts: 1. Preaching Elders, or Pastors, 2. Teaching Elders or Doctors, 3. Ruling Elders.  All these are elders, because they have voice in presbyteries and all assemblies of the Church, and the government of the Church is incumbent to them all: nor only to the pastor and elder, but to the doctor also.

The bishop of Dune, in his Examen conjurationis Scoticae [‘Examination of the Scottish Conjuration’], p. 35, alleges that our Church of Scotland did never yet determine whether doctors and deacons have right of voicing in the consistories and assemblies of the Church.  But had he read our book of Policy, he might have found that it excludes deacons from being members of presbyteries and assemblies, ch. 8, but admits doctors into the same, ch. 5.

The doctor being an elder, as said is, should assist the pastor in the government of the Kirk and concur with the elders, his brethren, in all assemblies, by reason the interpretation of the Word, which is [the] only judge in ecclesiastical matters, is committed to his charge.  But they differ in that the pastor labors in the Word of exhortation, that is, by the gift of wisdom, applies the Word to the manners of his flock, and that in season and out of season, as he knows their particular cases to require.  The doctor labours in the Word of doctrine, that is, without such applications as the pastor uses, by simple teaching he preserves the truth and sound interpretation of the Scriptures against all heresy and error.  The ruling elder does neither of these, but labours in the government and policy of the Church only.

The apostle has distinguished these three sorts of elders, 1 Tim. 5:17, ‘Let elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the Word and doctrine,’ where, as Beza notes, he distinguishes the Word, which is the pastor’s part, from doctrine, which is the doctor’s part.  Even as Rom. 12:7-8, he distinguishes teaching from exhortation: and 1 Cor. 12:8 puts the Word of wisdom and the word of knowledge for two different things.  Now beside those elders which labour in the Word, and those which labor in doctrine, Paul speaks to Timothy of a third sort of elders, which labor neither in the Word nor doctrine, but in ruling well.”



May a Person Teach Christianity who is not Ordained?

The Public Sphere

The General Rule

John Calvin

Commentary on Luke 3, verse 2

“Hence infer, that there are no regular teachers, but those on whom God has conferred the office; and that it is not enough to have the word of God, if there be not likewise a special calling.”


Samuel Rutherford

A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline Penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker…  (London, 1658), p. 195

“Would the Lord appoint men, elders and brethren, and Churches to come many hundred miles to heal rent and spoiled Churches, and the result of all is a mere counsel which a woman at home may give?”


Further Explanation

Public School teachers of youth who taught Christianity in Scotland during the 1500’s-1600’s often held the office of doctor or teacher in the Church.

Religious teachers of young children would seem not to need ordination, this fitting with nature and its close relation to domestic and private instruction (see below).

Nor do Church teachers in ‘Sunday Schools’ necessarily need to be ordained, if they have the implicit consent and responsible government of the elders of the Church (see Rutherford below).


On Writing Books:  Not from the Authority of the Pastoral Office

Samuel Rutherford

A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline…  (London, 1658), bk. 2, ch. 4, pp. 210-11

“3. Neither Mr. Rutherford [contra what Hooker said] nor any judicious man can teach that either a gift to write books, or of eminent preaching, praying, exhorting, proceeds out of a power of office; it is a sanctified gift which the Church sees and judges to be in any before they call him to office; and any gift is by order of nature and time before the office, and so proceeds not from the office; and therefore it is not required that every pastor should have a gift of writing books; But if the Lord have given it to any, they exercise it as such [additionally] gifted officers as the prophets and apostles, as such prophets so gifted did write canonic Scriptures; so are pastors, if gifted, to write and preach in their way, and both to write and preach by their office.

Nor is it good logic that all in office should write books because some by virtue of their office write books; for a minister gifted with four talents is obliged to gain with these four talents, and that as a minister by virtue of his office; but it is weak logic to infer, therefore, all ministers by virtue of their office are obliged to gain with four talents, for many are obliged by virtue of their office to gain with only two [talents, not including with writing books] to their Lord, and with only one [talent].

4.  It was needless to Mr. Hooker to prove writing of books does not belong to the power of office because a learned man out of office may do it with more authority, for Mr. Rutherford had no such intention [of teaching to the contrary].

For sure, if such a thing agreed to the office-power as the office-power, then all officers, pastors [and] elders were obliged to write books, and yet Mr. Hooker does not very happily prove it, because many learned men, unofficed, may with more au∣thority of truth write books than officed men.  It is only some officed men he must mean, or it is not true.

[emphasis added below]

And then I retort it thus: Many officed men may write books with more authority both of truth and of office (and two are better than one) than some unofficed men less learned [Rutherford affirms this].  Therefore [according to Hooker’s logic, it would seem], some gifted pastors do not as pastors so gifted, and by virtue of their office relating both to the presbyterian Church and their own congregation, edify all the Churches about by writing books.  It follows not. [Rutherford is affirming that some gifted pastors do write books with the virtue of their office in relation to the churches, though a calling to write books does not derive simply from their office]”


Exceptions to the Rule

Samuel Rutherford

Due Right of Presbyteries (1646)

pt. 1

p. 8

“…as David without immediate revelation from Heaven to direct him, by only the Law of nature, did eat showbread; So is the case here, so answer the casuists and the schoolmen, that a positive law may yield in case of necessity to the good of the Church; so Thomas, Molina, Suarez, Vasquez, Vigverius, Sotus, Scotus, Altisiodorensis, Durand, Gabriel; and consider what the learned Voetius says in this:

What if in an extreme case of necessity, a private man, endued with gifts and zeal should teach publicly, after the example of the faithful at Samosaten.”


p. 165

“4.  Stephen [a deacon] did no more (Acts ch. 7) in his apology [contra Anglicans who hold that deacons may preach] than any witnesses of Christ convened before rulers may do who are obliged to be ready always to give an answer to every one who asks them of the hope that is in them, with meekness and fear, 1 Pet. 3:15, yea though it were a woman who yet may not preach, 1 Cor. 14:34.”


Part 2, p. 272

“5th Distinction:  There is a formal calling of the Church, as the laying on of the hands of the elders, and a virtual and interpretative calling or tacit approbation of the Church, when learned men of eminent gifts, not in office, do write commentaries, sermons on canonical Scriptures, and tractates refuting heresies; to this the tacit approbation of the Church is required, but these have not ordinary pastoral care, nor are they the ordinary converters of souls to Christ, as the pretended prophets of Separatists are [claimed to be].”


A Peaceable & Temperate Plea  (1642), ch. 19, p. 298

“2. As a singularly graced Christian, he [the civil king] may write sermons and commentaries on holy Scripture for edifying the Church; but this should be done by him by no kingly faculty [but rather as a private person].”


A Careful Review of Arminianism, trans. David C. Noe  (RHB, 2023), ch. 27, ‘Synods’

“All friends, brothers, and equals that are endowed with greater grace, experience and knowledge – to the extent that they provide us with good and just counsel from God’s Word – must be acknowledged as our superiors.

If David had rejected Abigail’s advice and suggestion in pushing him away from disproportionate vengeance, he would have also rejected God’s counsel and sinned against the fifth commandment of the Decalogue no less than if the supreme priest or prophet of God had commanded that same thing, according to his prophetic authority, which Abigail had only urged privately.”



Baker, Richard – An Apology for Laymen’s Writing in Divinity…  (London, 1641)  155 pp.  ToC

Baker (Knight, c.1568-1645) was an English politician, historian and religious writer.  He is now known for his Meditations on several psalms, which were highly commended by Charles Spurgeon and have been reprinted.

‘John Owen on Commending Edward Polhill as a Lay Theologian’  from Edward Polhill, The Divine Will Considered in its Eternal Decrees, & Holy Execution of Them. By Edward Polhill of Burwash in Sussex Esquire  2nd ed.  (London: Thomas Shelmerdine, 1695), unpaginated


Other Lay Persons who wrote theological works during the 1600’s

Edward Leigh
Andrew Wellwood
Johnston of Wariston
Francis Rous
Archibald Campbell
Sir Richard Baker


The Private Sphere

Scottish Directory for Family Worship  1647

“12. Seeing the word of God requireth that we should consider one another, to provoke unto love and good works; therefore, at all times, and specially in this time, wherein profanity abounds… every member of this kirk ought to stir up themselves, and one another, to the duties of mutual edification, by instruction, admonition, rebuke; exhorting one another to manifest the grace of God in denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and in living godly, soberly…”


Samuel Rutherford

A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline Penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker…  (London, 1658), p. 260

“And though women be forbidden authoritatively to teach in the Church, 1 Tim. 2:7; 1 Cor. 14, and publicly, yet they may teach the younger women, Tit. 2:2-3, give a seasonable rebuke and counsel to men, 2 Sam. 20:16-17; 1 Sam 25:23-24, 32-33, and a woman, a sister is to labor to gain a sister, by Mt. 18, and that in a Church-way; and women, as other Church-members, are to teach, exhort, warn, according to their place, as well as men, Col. 3:16; Rom. 15:14; 1 Thess. 5:14; Heb. 3:13 & 20, 25.”




Related Pages

The Government of the Church

The Offices of the Church