Difference between priest/pastor?

I was wondering…

What is the difference between a priest and a pastor? What’s the history behind both roles.

Thanks in advance for taking the time to answer my question!

Kind regards,


Hi Jasmine! It’s so nice to hear from you again!

As far as I am aware, the designation of “priest” is reserved for use within the Roman Catholic church and the term “pastor” is used in non-Roman Catholic denominations. Some church groups also use the term “minister” for those in pastoral roles.

If anyone has more accurate information, please feel free to correct me.



@Jasmine Great question :slight_smile: The term priest actually comes from the Biblical word often translated as elder - presbyteros, whereas the word pastor refers to a shepherd. In the Bible, one could say that presbyteros were shepherds. The modern distinction between a priest and pastor is not present in the Bible in my opinion.

In modern usage, as @tpauls8 already said, you would generally find a priest in an organization that emphasizes tradition and liturgy, such as the Catholic or Anglican Church. The priest, not unlike the priests in the Old Testament, has special authority to administer the sacraments to the people of God. That is why you may have seen in some movies where the priest has to come to a person’s deathbed to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper before they die.

To the Priest, through the laying on of hands by the Bishop, is given the sacred responsibility and authority to administer the Holy Communion and Baptism (normally), to represent Christ at the altar, to pronounce God’s absolution and God’s blessing. These are the things that no Minister, ordained or unordained, can do.


In contrast, the term pastor is generally used in denominations where they believe in what is called the priesthood of all believers. The pastor is an overseer responsible for shepherding and teaching the Church, but they do not have any unique authority related to the sacraments. They are simply a believer who has a gift for leadership and teaching to serve God’s Church.

1 Peter 2:9 - But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.


Hi Jasmine. So glad to have you connecting. I might add one other thing that is different between the Catholic priests from pastors. Please, anyone, correct me if I’m wrong. I believe the Catholic priests must remain celibate, just as the nuns are required to be. Whereas, pastors in Protestant denominations are free to marry and raise a family. I attended 2 different liturgical churches: an Episcopal church and an Anglican Church. (There really was very little difference between the two until recently.)
While there is an hierarchical order in the more formal liturgical churches, none of arch bishops, bishops or “priests” where I attended were single, unless by choice.


Thanks so much for your response!

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When would you say this modern distinction between a priest and pastor began to influence the Church?

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Thank you Sharon.

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@Jasmine That’s a wonderful question! This distinction developed fairly early on in the life of the Church - according to below article as early as the second century. A Church historian might be able to add some nuance to that though…

Originally the terms presbyteros (“elder”) and episkopos (“overseer”), current in the New Testament and the early church, were probably identical. From the 2nd century on, however, the sacerdotal hierarchy developed along the lines of the Hebrew priesthood, the title episcopus , or bishop, becoming reserved for those who presided over the presbyterate, then called sacerdotes because they shared in the episcopal sacerdotium (“priesthood”), which included the offering of the eucharistic sacrifice of bread and wine. But the conferring of holy orders (ordination of presbyters) and administering the sacrament of confirmation, together with administration of the diocese (jurisdictional area), were confined to the episcopate.

It was not until ecumenical meetings of the Catholic Church at the First and Second Lateran councils in 1123 and 1139 that priests were explicitly forbidden from marrying.

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I don’t have any definitive answer to this question, but I suspect the office of the priesthood began changing when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses and is credited with starting the Reformation and Protestantism. His post began questioning indulgences and other Catholic practices. You might want to research this further for an answer to how pastors emerged as opposed to priests.

@SeanO Ah great, thanks for all of the articles you’ve shared. I really appreciate it!

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@Jasmine Sure thing :slight_smile: Christ grant you wisdom as you study!

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