to shepherd

I have had the habit over the years of creating memories out of firsts, the first word I plugged into google, the first book I borrowed from the UBC library vaults, the first (and only) website I designed, the first full sentence I spoke in Punjabi, ah, firsts.

The first book that I remember being read to me was Le Bon Berger. I cried every time my mother read this book to me. I learned from it that if you chase butterflies, you will fall down into a deep black pit. On the good side, a shepherd will rescue you and bind up your wounds. Thus my earliest notions of God and humanity were not gendered. I thought of Jesus as the shepherd and people as the sheep or lambs, while God was always L’Éternel.

When the Dictionnaire Grec-Français by Magnien and Lacroix arrived last week I inaugurated this dictionary by looking up the word ποιμαίνω – to shepherd. I have displayed the entry without citations below. For comparison’s sake I have also included entries from Liddell Scott Jones and BDAG.


1. faire paître, mener paître des troupeaux,
2. faire paître, être pâtre, être berger, sureveiller de moutons au pâturage
3. entourer de soins, soigner, entretenir, nourrir, élever,
4. guider, gouverner,
5. nourir d’illusions
6. faire paître sure une représentation figurée
7. aller au pâturage, être counduite au pâturage, aller se repaître
8. toute contrée de la terre a été parcouru


A. – herd, tend, to be shepherd over sheep, abs., act as shepherd, tend flocks, :–Pass., to be herded, roam the pastures, of flocks, : metaph.,

      2. every country has been traversed (as by a shepherd or flocks of sheep)

    II. metaph., tend, cherish,

      2. guide, govern,
      3. soothe, beguile, : hence, generally, deceive,
      4. images which they send flocking, i.e. represent as flocking,


        1. to serve as tender of sheep, herd, tend, (lead to) pasture

        2. to watch out for other people, to shepherd, of activity that protects, rules, governs, fosters,

          a) in the sense of lead, guide, or rule

            α with imagistic detail promininently in mind, of the direction of a congregation, tend to God’s flock
            β with imagistic detail retreating into the background, of the administration of a congregation
            γ the activity of shepherd has destructive results

          b) protect, care for, nurture, to look after oneself, ie care for oneself alone

        The first difference that I notice between the English and French lexicons is that the English ones are hierarchically ordered, while the M-L presents the different senses of the headword in a serial list. The structure of the former could, on the one hand, offer increased clarity or, conversely, subtly influence the reader to favour one reading above another in any particular case. An example of this would be Eph. 4:1 where ποιμήν can be legitimately translated as either “shepherd” or “pastor”. The translation “pastor”, however, may create a false dichotomy in English between Jesus, the good shepherd, and the pastor.

        Next, these three lexicons are not of the same type. The Magnien-Lacroix is comparable to the LSJ in that it is a comprehensive dictionary of ancient Greek, while the BDAG is a dictionary of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. The M-L (2168 pages) is somewhat smaller in size than the LSJ (2438 pages), but still considerably larger than the BDAG (1138 pages), which accords with the fact that it covers a far larger vocabulary.

        However, the M-L does not claim to rival the LSJ; the editors made the decision to omit the precise details of citations in the text in order to save space. The teacher of ancient Greek is supposed to have no difficulty in finding these references elsewhere. (Ahem, yes in the LSJ.) On the other hand, the M-L contains a great deal of etymological information that I have not seen in any English resource so far. In particular, for many Greek headwords the M-L lists the cognates in other Indo-European languages.

        The different lexicons demonstrate an interesting pattern in how they present the morphological anaysis of compound words and word derivation, in general. As an example, using the word ὀρθοτομέω, I compared the presentation of word derivation in 5 lexicons. In the Liddell Scott Lexicon, 1871, the entry supplied ὀρθός and τέμνω; LSJ 1940 (Perseus), none; BDAG 1979, none; BDAG 2000, ὀρθός and τέμνω ; M-L ὀρθότομος, ὀρθός and τέμνω. It is a small reminder that all lexicons are not equal.

        There are two overriding differences between using a lexicon of ancient Greek, such as the LSJ or the M-L, and a lexicon of early Christian literature. The former presents as many words as possible of those that are recorded in the literature as a whole. The latter presents only those that occur in a certain domain, that of Christian literature. While the general lexicons, such as LSJ and M-L, present the primary sense of the word followed by the secondary or figurative sense, BDAG will sometimes occasionally present only the secondary sense. Not only are there fewer words in the BDAG, but for some words fewer meanings are provided.

        An example of this is ποικἰλος, which is “diverse, variegated or many-coloured” in BDAG, but more clearly explained in M-L as deriving from ποικἰλλω “to chisel, embroider or paint” and includes “to braid, or weave”. In fact, M-L also indicates the relationship of this word to “paint”.

        Another advantage to using a Greek-French lexicon is that occasionally one notices that a Greek word and a French word may have a similar semantic range not shared by the English word. An example of this is χαλινὀς, or “bit”, as in “bit and bridle”. In French this is “frein” which means both “bit” and “brakes”. This can add slightly to one’s understanding of James 1:26.

        Although I am a committed user of the Perseus LSJ lexicon and database, I have found a dramatic difference in the experience of scanning the pages of a print book versus an electronic search. In electronic form the word appears in isolation. In the real book, the one word which one is looking up is found surrounded by all the other related words. Digital resources allow for powerful and almost instantaneous search results, but there is still something to be said for the book!

        Now for a few final thoughts on the word of my choice, ποιμαἰνω – to shepherd.

        [Note: a quote has been deleted from this post.]

        The metaphor of the shepherd unites in one whole person the gift and service of guiding, governing, protecting, nurturing, and providing care. Jesus as the good shepherd models all of these and demonstrates that each of us, either male or female, is a complete human being without need of “completion” by another [human being]. The metaphor of the shepherd and sheep transcends gendered images of both God and humanity.

        Addendum: Thank you to David Lang for pointing out that I had given the impression that we are sufficient unto ourselves. We are creatures dependent on a relationship with our Maker, and in need of community.

        2 thoughts on “to shepherd

        1. David Lang says:


          You wrote: “Jesus as the good shepherd models all of these and demonstrates that each of us, either male or female, is a complete human being without need of “completion” by another.”

          On the contrary, Jesus as the good shepherd demonstates that each of us, whether male or female, is a sheep: stupid, lost, blind, distressed, downcast, and headed for destruction. Far from being “complete” and “without need of ‘completion’ by another,” we are all alike fractured, incomplete, and desperately in need of completion by another: namely, Jesus Christ.

          Be careful not to let your feminism lead you into humanism. Otherwise, you merely demonstrate that egalitarianism really does–as the complementarians claim–start us down a slippery slope toward rejection of the Gospel.

        2. Suzanne McCarthy says:


          I appreciate your pointing out that in relation to Christ we are all sheep. We all need a relationship with our Maker to be complete. I regret if I gave the impression otherwise. I will edit the post later and add

          each of us, either male or female, is a complete human being without need of “completion” by another human being..

          That was my intent. Would that help?

          With this correction, I certainly hope you do not see anything in my post which leads to a rejection of the gospel. Please point this out if it remains.

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