Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Pastors and Teachers, and the Article (Eph 4:11)

This passage has long engendered debate, and I doubt I will forever close that debate in this blog. But it is a good example of how Greek grammar clarifies the issues and gives us an acceptable range of meaning, after which sensitivity to the language and context make the final decisions.

Wouldn’t it be great if a knowledge of Greek solved all the mysteries of the universe, or at least answered all the questions of the New Testament? It doesn’t, and opinions to the contrary border on cult mentality.

Paul is discussing the gifts that God gives. In v 11 he says, word for word, “And he gave men the apostles de the prophets de the evangelists de the pastors and teachers. The men … de is the correlative construction “both … and … and” that often does not make it into translations because while it is gentle and smooth in Greek our correlatives are a bit rougher and more intrusive.

The question is whether “pastors and teachers” designate one spiritual gift or two.

One interpretation sees them as one gift and point to the use of the article. It is repeated before all the other gifts, but when it gets to the last two there is only one article that governs both nouns. Grammatically, this signals a change and expects us to see that “pastors and teachers” form a unit that is set off from the preceding series. There can be no debate on this point; this is just plain Greek grammar. The question is the precise nature of the “unit.”

The use of a single article with multiple plural nouns indicates a single unit, but it does not necessarily mean the two nouns are identical. This same construction occurs earlier in 2:20 and joins “apostles” and “prophets,” but these are not identical gifts.

Hoehner suggests that the distinction is that the prior gifts are expressed in an itinerate ministry and the later two are gifts for a local ministry. Harold’s discussion of this is excellent and worth reading (Ephesians. An Exegetical Commentary published by Baker).

Hoehner goes on to quote Wallace’s argument that the grammar suggests that the first (“pastors”) is a subset of the second (“teachers”). Everyone who is gifted to shepherd a local flock of believers is gifted to teach, but the gift of teaching does not necessarily mean the person is gifted to shepherd (e.g., administration, exhortation).

So the second interpretation is that “pastor” and “teacher” are somewhat distinct gifts. All pastors must be able to teach (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2) but not all teachers are gifted to pastor, to help meet the daily needs of a local church.

I saw a senior pastor job description the other day that illustrates the significance of this distinction. It was a traditional American church description that guarantees the failure of their next pastor. Jesus couldn’t even do what they are asking. Literally. Not only does he have to have to be an excellent preacher, but also a superb administrator, giving approval for staff programs, but also a superb counselor and husband and father — which is where Jesus would give up on the job application and go heal somebody. And he was also a non-voting member of the elder board. Hmmm. Let’s take the most gifted, most called, most experienced person, give him all the responsibility to run the ship, but then don’t give him a vote on how to steer the ship. Seems to me that anybody who thinks they can perform the job is either naïve or arrogant.

God has gifted some people to do everything. These are the wonderful pastors who have a small enough church that they can care for everybody and everything. I have a friend who does this. He loves smaller churches. He pastors them for about ten years, takes a sabbatical, and then looks for another small church to love and care for. He is just now headed for his third church as their pastor. And he will pastor them, and that by definition includes the calling to teach them. Ultimately churches are to be led by their teachers, which is why every pastor and elder must of necessity be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2).

But there are other people who are gifted to teach. They may not have great administrative gifts, and may not be very good and sitting down with someone and listening to their issues. But they still love their God and their people just as fervently, and they show that love by spending a vast number of hours in preparing their sermons.

The American church as a whole is sick. While there are many glorious exceptions to that generalization, the fact of the matter is that the American church as a whole chews up and spits out people. Especially their pastors. Sometimes I think that pastors are put up on a pedestal so that in a few months the complainers in the church can get a clear shot at them.

Why do we insist, especially in larger churches, that the preacher do everything? It is probably outside his giftedness, and asking someone to center in their area of weakness is just plain wrong. Our Lord has given a wide variety of gifts to his body so that the body can minister to the wide variety of needs within the body.

Here’s a novel idea ;-), what if the people with the gift of mercy accepted the responsibility of caring. What if those gifted to administrate were given a desk in the office? What if the elders gave spiritual leadership? What if those gifted to give led the capital campaigns? And what if the people gifted to preach were allowed to preach, to express their love for God and people through the best means at their disposal: the preached word. I wonder what that church would look like?


tanks for artikel . question: is a spiritual gifts to pastor and teacher give to a one man or a few ones? Thank you

Many people are given the same gift, even in the smae church.

Hi thanks for the article. Recently one of my profs said that in Ephesians 4:12 there should be a comma after the phrase "to equip the saints". He says that this was an excepted exegetical argument up to about 50 years ago and emphasizes the ministers work instead of the saints work -- i.e. to equip the saints, to do the work of the ministry, to build up the body of Christ, etc. I was wondering what your take on this is? Thanks!

God has revealed what my spiritual gift is. As a pastor- teacher I am to learn everything that the Bible says, and then teach that as accurately as possible. If I will do this then there is little room for questions. My job as a teacher is to not teach you to come to me for answers, but teach you how to answer those questions on your own. I believe in teaching so that I put myself out of a job, because what is the next generation going to do If all the teachers are gone tomorrow? We should teach them in such a manner. Our job is very specific and if we would give our devotion to the Word, then we would have little time for other endeavors.

That is a good question, what would the Chruch look like if we all actually were given an opportunity to use the gifts that God has given us in our church

Your blog will not close the debate, I agree, I suspect the Body of Christ might be more divided than those living out a subjective secular playbook. The conversation, though beneficial for knowledge, does not alter the one singular tenet that unifies all Christians, that being Christ risen, so as far as I can tell the real benefit of conversation might be to dive into how any view on this, or any other topic might potentially convey a religious undertone that places the Church above the Body of Christ. Instead, we debate the various views without examining the consequences, which in my opinion is where your statement, "the American church as a whole chews up and spits out people. Especially their pastors. Sometimes I think that pastors are put up on a pedestal so that in a few months the complainers in the church can get a clear shot at them." Here lies the crux of the institutional religious conundrum. The truth is embedded in the text but often our denominational background and penchant for the religious, makes us little better than the Israelites themselves.