I have read several books that discuss the “five-fold ministry”, taken from Ephesians 4:11. (Two important books that deal with “five-fold ministry” are Wolfgang Simson’s Houses that Change the World and Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch’s The Shaping of Things to Come.) According to the “five-fold ministry” concept, the list in this verse (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – sometimes called APEPT) represent five types of Christian leadership. I’m trying to be very broad in my terminology, because different authors use different words to describe the “five-fold ministry”. Some call them offices; some call them functions; some call them gifts.
At this point, I do not plan to discuss the purpose of the people listed in Ephesians 4:11 – that will come in a later post. Instead, I would like to focus on the number of “items” listed in the verse. Unfortunately, to make this point, I will have to include the Greek text:
ÎºÎ±Î¹ Î±Ï…Ï„Î¿Ï‚ ÎµÎ´Ï‰ÎºÎµÎ½ Ï„Î¿Ï…Ï‚ Î¼ÎµÎ½ Î±Ï€Î¿ÏƒÏ„Î¿Î»Î¿Ï…Ï‚ Ï„Î¿Ï…Ï‚ Î´Îµ Ï€ÏÎ¿Ï†Î·Ï„Î±Ï‚ Ï„Î¿Ï…Ï‚ Î´Îµ ÎµÏ…Î±Î³Î³ÎµÎ»Î¹ÏƒÏ„Î±Ï‚ Ï„Î¿Ï…Ï‚ Î´Îµ Ï€Î¿Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ½Î±Ï‚ ÎºÎ±Î¹ Î´Î¹Î´Î±ÏƒÎºÎ¿Î»Î¿Ï…Ï‚…
A literal translation would be:
And he (himself) gave on the one hand the apostles, on the other hand the prophets, on the other hand the evangelists, on the other hand the pastors and teachers…
There are three reasons to see this as a list of four items instead of five.
First, the Î¼ÎµÎ½ … Î´Îµ (men … de – “on the one hand … on the other hand”) conjunction pair works to separate this list into four distinct elements. When using the Î¼ÎµÎ½ … Î´Îµ conjunction, it was perfectly acceptable to the Greeks to have more than two “hands”, but they still used the conjunction pair to mark off the items in the list. Today, in English, we use commas and conjunctions to do the same thing. By examining the Î¼ÎµÎ½ … Î´Îµ … Î´Îµ … Î´Îµ construction in Ephesians 4:11, it seems that the author was pointing to four items.
Second, the author also uses the definite article Ï„Î¿Ï…Ï‚ (tous) to separate the items. Notice that in this verse, there are four uses of the definite article Ï„Î¿Ï…Ï‚. The last two nouns (Ï€Î¿Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ½Î±Ï‚ ÎºÎ±Î¹ Î´Î¹Î´Î±ÏƒÎºÎ¿Î»Î¿Ï…Ï‚ – “pastors and teachers”) share a definite article. This shows a correlation between these two nouns that the author does not indicate between the other three nouns (Î±Ï€Î¿ÏƒÏ„Î¿Î»Î¿Ï…Ï‚… Ï€ÏÎ¿Ï†Î·Ï„Î±Ï‚… ÎµÏ…Î±Î³Î³ÎµÎ»Î¹ÏƒÏ„Î±Ï‚ – “apostles… prophets… evangelists”) since each has its own definite article.
Third, according to Daniel Wallace in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, the combination of the Î¼ÎµÎ½ … Î´Îµ conjunction pair with the definite article implies a mild contrast. [212-213] For this reason, many English versions translate this conjunction pair with the definite article as “some” and “others” (i.e. “some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers). However, this “mild contrast” does not exist between the last two nouns (Ï€Î¿Î¹Î¼ÎµÎ½Î±Ï‚ ÎºÎ±Î¹ Î´Î¹Î´Î±ÏƒÎºÎ¿Î»Î¿Ï…Ï‚ – “pastors and teachers”). Instead, they are connected by a different conjunction (ÎºÎ±Î¹) which is connective or correlative. So, the author is contrasting four distinct groups, with the fourth group containing two connected nouns.
In other words, I would contend that the grammar and syntax of Ephesians 4:11 would create a bulleted list as shown below:
- pastors and teachers
I am not asserting that a “pastor” and a “teacher” are the same thing. That is a completely different discussion. At this point, I am simply examining the grammar, syntax, and construction of the Greek text. It is my belief that the Spirit worked through the authors to produce the text as He desired. Thus, we can know the intention of the author by reading the text itself. Once we know what the text says, then we can begin to discuss what the text means.
Also, I am not asserting that these giftings no longer exist nor am I asserting that God no longer works through individuals as apostles, prophets, etc. Again, that is a separate discussion.
So, what is my assertion? There are four items listed in Ephesians 4:11. I think it is problematic to base the concept of a “five-fold ministry” on a list that only contains four items.