by Steve Coleman

Many Christians are asking "Who is my covering?" Until recently, the word "covering" was not found in most Christian literature. The popularity of the discipleship and Shepherding Movement, however, has brought this subject out in the open.

The Shepherding Movement arose in the early 1970s in an attempt to solve shortcomings in the modern church. Many newly converted Christians were not properly "discipled," or taught how to grow in the faith. They were largely on their own to study the Bible, learn how to pray, and to learn how to live a lifestyle that is pleasing to the Lord. As a result, many converts became "casualties," and dropped out of the church.

Shepherding was an attempt to correct the situation by saying that each Christian should have a shepherd for everyday guidance. This shepherd became the person's spiritual leader, counseling him and even making decisions for him. It was taught that the shepherd was "God's delegated authority" and therefore his advice was always to be followed. The shepherd was like "God's ambassador" who communicated God's messages to the disciple. To disobey God's messenger would be to disobey God, and therefore a person was to trust in the shepherd's judgment rather than his own.

Because of the tremendous amount of authority given to a shepherd, Christians were taught to seek God to find the shepherd that the Lord wanted for them. It was stated that when the right shepherd was found, he became the person's "covering," or protection. Because of the "divine relationship" with this shepherd, a person was supposed to be protected from his making wrong decisions affecting the disciple. The shepherd is also supposed to protect the disciple from Satan, who might influence a person into making a bad decision.

One of the leaders of the Shepherding Movement summed it up like this:

"We are protected by the authority to which we submit: Unsubmitted, we are unprotected." [1]

What does the Bible say about this subject? Has a "shepherding doctrine" been hidden? What does the Bible say about "covering"?


The Shepherding Movement is presumably trying to use the word in a biblical sense, since all major shepherding teachers use the Bible as their basis of authority. If the Bible is the basis for Christian doctrine, then we must say that any doctrine contrary to the Bible is heresy.

What we must do, then, is to use the word "covering" in the context in which it is meant.

There are three major Hebrew words which have been translated as "covering." For someone to act as our "covering," this must encompass part or all of the meaning of these words, depending on the sense which is intended.

The first Hebrew word, sakak, means "to cover or hedge in." [2] Figuratively, the word means "to protect," having the meaning of "to cover, defend, hedge in, join together, set, or shut up." [3] In other words, men can protect themselves by joining together, shutting themselves up or fortifying their position, or hedging themselves in so that the enemy cannot see or reach them.

The Bible says the Lord, and not a man, is our covering in the sakak sense. Psalm 91:3 says the Lord does the following things:

"He rescues you from the snares of fowlers hoping to destroy you; he covers you with his feathers, and you find shelter underneath his." (Jerusalem Bible)
The second Hebrew word that means "to cover" is kasah. The primary meaning of this word is "to cover for clothing or secrecy." [4] It also means "to cover over, conceal." [5] Proverbs 10:12 says that "love covers all offenses" (JB). A leading biblical commentator says that by love we will "overlook the offense that is given us, and cover it, and by this means strife is prevented." [6] The sin thus is not removed, but merely concealed.

The third Hebrew word we find is kaphar. The King James Bible translates this word as "to make atonement," and from the same root word we get Yom Kippur, or "Day of Atonement." This root also means to "cover over, pacify, make propitiation." [7] As opposed to kasah, which means "to cover something over," kaphar means to completely "wipe it out, annul it, and make it non- existent." [8]

The word kaphar is used in context with the blood offering of the Old Testament. Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, was commanded to slaughter the goat as the sin offering for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. This was to make atonement for the holy place because of the sins of Israel (Leviticus 16:15, 16).


What sense of the word "covering" are people referring to when they say, "I am the covering"? In material published by the Shepherding Movement, it is apparent that "covering" is used in the sense of "protection" (sakak). According to the teaching, having a shepherd is like having a "divine insurance policy." Losses suffered as a result of mistakes are "covered" because a person is in submission to a shepherd.

Although the Shepherding Movement does not guarantee that a shepherd will never steer a person wrong, it does say that God will make things right because the disciple was "in submission."

It is obvious, however, that the claims of shepherding are not only for sakak covering, but also for kaphar covering.

Derek Prince, in his book, Discipleship, Shepherding, Commitment, says:

"Also, as Christians, we do not obey those in authority because they are right; we obey them because they are in authority, and all authority ultimately stems from God Himself." [9]

If this is true, then the implication is that people could do something that is normally considered sin, i.e. something that is out of God's will. A person may know it is sin, but does not have to worry about it because he is "covered" by a shepherd. A person will not be judged for the sin, but for his submission to the shepherd.

If this is the case, then how would a sin become an act of obedience? The only answer is that this transformation occurs through the process of "covering."

In summary, then, "covering" works like this:

We obey our shepherd, but our action is against God's will.

We are "covered" through our submission to a shepherd

Because of our submission, the sin becomes an act of righteousness.

If our sin could be transformed in this way, it could only be through kaphar covering. Only through kaphar, or atonement, could sin thus be removed, annulled and wiped out.

In other words, the Shepherding Movement teaches that atonement or propitiation comes through the shepherd and the authority to which we are submitted.


These Hebrew words are important because they have different meanings. It has been confusing to the church because we have only one word, "covering," which describes all three of these meanings. Christians should ask, however, what kind of "covering" they are being asked to accept.

God wants Christians to cover (kasah) people's sins through love. Christian's still acknowledge that a person has sinned, but forgive the sinner just as God forgives each Christian.

However, the idea that a shepherd can protect a Christian (sakak) is unscriptural. The Bible says: "The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped..." (Psalm 28:7). It also says, "Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation." (Psalm 146:3).

As unscriptural as the teaching about sakak covering is, it is a far worse error to say that a shepherd is a Christian's atonement (kaphar). Imagine how grieved Jesus Christ is when others claim to be the "covering" after He gave His life to be the covering for sins.

1 Peter 1:18-19 says, " were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ" (New American Standard Bible). The Christian's allegiance thus belongs to the one who paid for redemption, and He is the one who must be obeyed.

Romans 3:25 says that Jesus Christ was publicly displayed by God "as a propitiation in His blood through faith."

It has been shown that the words "covering," "atonement," and "propitiation" have the same meaning, and are expressed by the same Hebrew word (kaphar). Thus, if these synonymous words are substituted into Romans 3:25, it can be seen that:

Our propitiation comes in the blood of Jesus through faith.

Our atonement comes in the blood of Jesus through faith.

Our covering comes in the blood of Jesus through faith.

It should be apparent why the Shepherding Movement is in such error: it has applied to men what rightfully belongs to God. Instead of saying the Lord is the covering, it claims that shepherds are the covering. While the Bible says people can trust God for strength and guidance, the Shepherding Movement says that a man is necessary too.

In short, the Shepherding Movement casts doubt on God's ability to care for the Christian.

Let us trust in the Lord as our covering. Proverbs 3:5-6 says:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight." (NASB)
When people put their total trust in the Lord, then other Christians can give the help and advice they need to learn how to grow as a Christian.


1. Charles Simpson, Covering of the Lord, New Wine, Vol. 5, No. 12, Dec. 1973, pg. 29.
2. Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Bible, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970, pg. 209.
3. James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, New York: Bingdon Press, 1965, pg. 82 of the Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary.
4. Strong, pg. 56 of the Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary.
5. Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament: With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1968, pg. 491
6. Matthew Henry, Commentary On The Whole Bible, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961, pg. 749.
7. Brown, Driver, and Briggs, op cit., pg. 497.
8. John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (A Commentary by John F. Walvoord), Chicago: Moody Press, 1971, pp. 221, 222.
9. Derek Prince, Discipleship, Shepherding, Commitment, Ft. Lauderdale Fla.: Derek Prince Publications, 1976, pg. 18.

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