What's the difference between these words for 'priest'?

宮司 [ぐうじ]
高僧 [こうそう]
住職 [じゅうしょく]
神職 [しんしょく]
僧侶 [そうりょ]
出家 [しゅっけ]
禅僧 [ぜんそう]
神主 [かんぬし]
お坊さん [おぼうさん]
牧師 [ぼくし]
神父 [しんぷ]


  • 1
    Are you sure about 高層? – user3856370 Dec 11 '17 at 21:09
  • 牧師 is more "pastor" than "priest". You should probably add [祭司]{さい・し} too. – istrasci Dec 11 '17 at 21:13
  • A helpful initial approach might be to separate these terms by religion. E.g. Christianity, Buddhism, Shinto, etc. That should be straightforward if you do a quick Google or dictionary search. From there, the subtleties might become more clear. – user224579 Dec 11 '17 at 22:25
  • プロテスタントの教会には牧師さんがいて、カトリックの教会には神父さんがいたような気が。ん?「神父」がない・・ – Chocolate Dec 12 '17 at 2:47
  • Also, would you mind adding furigana to these terms since they may not be commonly known to users here? – istrasci Dec 12 '17 at 17:06


  • 宮司: The head of a shrine.
  • 神職: Literally "God(-related) job", people who do various rituals of Shinto.
  • 神主: A rather casual synonym of 神職. Practically, in many small shrines, this is the same person as a 宮司.


  • 僧: A monk of Buddhism.
  • 僧侶: Synonym of 僧.
  • 高僧: A 僧 with high social status.
  • お坊さん: A friendly and colloquial synonym for 僧.
  • 住職: The head of a temple (who is of course a 僧侶, too)
  • 禅僧: 僧 of Zen Buddhism.
  • 出家: to enter the Buddhist priesthood (suru-verb)


  • 牧師: A pastor.

If you need a generic term for "clergy", use 聖職者, which includes everything above except 出家.

  • Christianityの方が少し良さそうではないですか?この分類に。 – user25382 Dec 12 '17 at 10:03
  • 1
    @kimiTanaka 仰る通りです…直しました、ありがとうございます – naruto Dec 12 '17 at 11:20
  • Thanks, that's very helpful. One question: You say that 神主 is a synonym of 神職, ie people who do various rituals. But you also say this is the same as 宮司, who is the head of a shrine. I don't quite understand the distinction there. – kandyman Dec 12 '17 at 12:05
  • 1
    also, can you add 神父 "Catholic priest" to your list? – kandyman Dec 12 '17 at 12:08
  • @kandyman I mean, a large shrine can have many 神職/神主 but only one 宮司. See this. Confusingly, however, in the past 神主 referred to the head of a shrine, and some people still believe in such a definition. To be honest I'm not good at Christian terms. – naruto Dec 12 '17 at 12:33

I mentioned in my comment above, but it was not included in @naruto's answer, there is also [祭司]{さい・し}. I have really only seen this used in the Bible, although there are several weblio examples here that do not reference the Bible. So it is definitely used for Jewish priests, although those examples (along with some other definitions) show that it is sometimes used as a general term for "priest" (i.e., irrespective of any one religion).

In the Bible, it's used as

  • 祭司 → Priest
  • 祭司長 → Chief Priest(s)
  • 大祭司 → High Priest
  • Ok thanks for that addition. In what context are the words for chief priest and high priest used? – kandyman Dec 12 '17 at 21:31
  • Are you able to read the examples on that page? If you are, you can look up the verses in the Bible to see. There are just too many there to list. Plus, you'd have to know a lot about the Bible and old Jewish custom to make sense of it. As far as "chief priests", if I had to guess, they were probably the higher ranked priests in Jerusalem (as opposed to the less-important cities). For "high priest", there's just too much history to try to explain it there. – istrasci Dec 13 '17 at 0:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.