A seminary is a graduate institution (offering master’s and/or doctoral degrees) that prepares people for ministry as pastors, priests, or rabbis. Therefore, there are Jewish seminaries, Catholic seminaries, and Protestant seminaries. Sometimes, a seminary may be called a divinity school. A seminary may be part of a larger university or a school that stands alone. Protestant seminaries may be operated by churches or denominations, or they may be independent. Independent seminaries may have a particular focus, such as Evangelical theology or, more narrowly, apologetics, dispensational theology, missions, or church planting. Some seminaries are better known for practical ministry training, while others focus on academic and theological rigor. Some were started by churches or denominations but later severed or minimized their ties with the founding church or denomination.
The foundational degree that most seminaries offer is the Master of Divinity (M.Div.), but many will also offer a Master of Theology (Th.M.), a D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry), or a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) degree.
The word seminary is from the Latin word for “seed.” The seminary is a place where ideas (preferably true ideas) can be planted, germinate, and take root in the lives of the students and then bear fruit that they can then share with those they minister to.
The Bible speaks nothing of seminaries by that name, but it does mention formal education and religious training. Paul “studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law” (Acts 22:3). Jesus commanded His followers to teach others (Matthew 28:19–20). Timothy is directed to train church leaders: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
In the book of Acts, we find what could be considered an early prototype of the modern seminary. Paul was in Ephesus, where he spoke in the synagogue for about three months, until the Jews’ obstinacy forced him to leave. But the training in the gospel continued: “He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:9–10). A daily discussion of theology for two years in a lecture hall—this sounds very much like the practice of the modern seminary.
God’s approved workers are described as “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV), a quality that assumes a study of the Word. God can use those who have never been to seminary—the apostles Peter and John were “unschooled” (Acts 4:13). But the formal study of Scripture can be a tool God uses as well, and seminaries can provide that training.