In my last two posts (“Ephesians 4:11 and the Five-Fold Ministry” and “Ephesians 4:12 and Equipping Ministries“) I argued from the basic structure of the Greek sentence that Paul was not specifying a special group of five leaders who job was to equip the church. Because of these posts, several have asked me to post my interpretation of Ephesians 4:11-12. In order to do so, I believe we must look at the passage in context.
Paul begins this section of Ephesians (that we call chapter 4), by encouraging believers to deal with one another in humility and gentleness and patience in order to “maintain the unity”. What unity is Paul talking about? He explains that we are united in one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God. This is the foundation of our unity. From this starting point of unity, Paul writes:
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” ( In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:7-16 ESV)
Beginning in verse 7, Paul recognizes that unity is not the same as uniformity. God works through different people in different ways according to his grace and Christ’s measure. “Measure” is an important word in this passage (Î¼ÎÏ„ÏÎ¿Î½ – metron), showing up in three important verses: 4:7, 13, 16. Also, the phrase “to each one of us” is important: it is fronted in the Greek text, showing the author’s emphasis.
Next, in verse 8, Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 in order to demonstrate Christ’s right to distribute gifts. In this quote (and in the explanation that follows in the next two verses), Christ is described as a victorious conqueror. As a conqueror, he has the right to the spoils and to distribute those spoils as he sees fit. Thus, Christ (the one who descended and ascended) has the right to distribute gifts according to his measure.
In the next two verses, Paul connects the “ascending” in verse 8 to Jesus’ incarnation (descension) and ascension. In verse 10 especially, the subject changes to focus on the work of Jesus. Christ is “He who descended” and “who also ascended”, and he does this for a particular purpose: “that he might fill all things”. This is very important: Christ does not give gifts so that the gifts might fill all things, or that the gifted individuals might fill all things. Instead, Christ ascended and gives gifts so that he himself might fill all things.
Paul continues to focus on the work of Christ in verse 11. This verse begins a sentence that continues through the end of verse 16. Specifically, the verse and sentence begins with the (unnecessary) nominative third person pronoun “he” (Î±Ï…Ï„Î¿Ï‚). This pronoun is unnecessary (and rarely used in Ephesians) because the pronoun is already built into the verb “gave” (ÎµÎ´Ï‰ÎºÎµÎ½ – aorist active indicative 3rd person singular from Î´Î¹Î´Ï‰Î¼Î¹). Because of this, some English translations begin the verse “he himself gave” (NKJV) or “it was he who gave” (NET, NIV) in order to show the emphasis. Paul lists four groups gifted individuals (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers) whom Christ gives. (I will discuss this gifted individuals after I finish interpreting this passage.)
Why does Christ give? In verse 12, Paul says that Christ gives for the purpose or result of the equipment, training, or preparation of the saints. Similarly, the following two prepositional phrases (“for the work of ministry/service” and “for building up/edification of the body of Christ”) could demonstrate the purpose or result of Christ’s giving. However, since these two phrases begin with a different prepostion than the phrase “to equip the saints”, this preposition could indicate a frame of reference. Thus, Paul could be saying that Christ gives for the purpose or result of the work of service and the edification of the body, or he could be saying that Christ gives with reference to the work of service and the edification of the body. Either way, any “work of service” or “edification of the body” is carried out only because of Christ’s giving, not because of the people themselves.
Verse 13 begins with a conjunction: “until”. From this we see that the author continues to point back to the beginning of this sentence: “And he gave… until”. There is a point at which Christ will stop giving. What is that point? Notice there is a change of subject for this clause. Now the subject is Paul and other believers: “we all”. Christ will stop giving when “we all” reach (“attain to”) at least three things: 1) unity, 2) perfection/completion, and 3) the measure of Christ himself. (This is the second use of the term Î¼ÎÏ„ÏÎ¿Î½ (metron – “measure”). Christ not only “measures” the gifts that he gives (vs. 7), he is also the “measure” of the perfection to which we are being changed.)
Verse 14 begins with another conjunction that relates back to the beginning of the sentence in verse 11: “And he gave… in order that”. We are not yet perfect, but we may no longer be children. Because Christ gives, we are being matured such that we no longer are affected by the storms of this world. The “storms” that concern Paul most are the “cunning, crafty, deceitful” teachings of other humans. As we mature through the gifts that Christ gives, we grow beyond being affected by this type of deceit.
In verse 15, Paul continues the clause that he began in verse 14. This is still part of the same sentence that started in verse 11: “And he gave… in order that we might no longer be children… but [in order that] we might grow…” In this verse, we begin to understand how Christ’s gift move us from being children to the perfection and maturity that is measured by Christ. We begin by being truthful in love. As we grow into the head – that is Christ – something else begins to happen that is further explained in verse 16.
In the final verse of this section (vs. 16), we see that our goal is to grow into the head (Christ) by working from the head (Christ). As each part of the body does its share (literally: “according to the working in the measure of each one’s part”), the body grows into Christ. Here is the third use of the term Î¼ÎÏ„ÏÎ¿Î½ (metron – “measure”). No only does Christ “measure” the gifts that he gives, and not only is Christ the “measure” of our growth, Christ also “measures” the part that each person plays in the growth of the body.
Specifically, each person has a part to play in order for the body to grow. In fact, this verse states this emphatically twice (double emphasis): “joined and held together by every joint” and “when each part is working properly”.
So, in this passage, the emphasis is firmly placed on Christ and the affects of his giving, not on the function of certain parts of the body of Christ. In fact, the last verse emphasizes and double emphasizes that it is the proper working of each part of the body that is necessary for the body to grow. Is it necessary for apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc. to function properly in order for the body to grow? Yes, absolutely! But, this is not because they are special parts of the body, but because that are parts of the body. Every part of the body must function properly in Christ in order for the body to grow. There are not any unnecessary parts nor are there any unimportant parts in the body of Christ.
Therefore, when I look at the list of gifted individuals (see, I told you I would get back to them!) in Ephesians 4:11, in the context of this entire passage and especially in the context of the long sentence that runs from 4:11-16, I do not see a list of special Christian leaders. In fact, seeing these gifted individuals as special leaders would be contrary to the entire passage. Instead, it seems to me that in Eph 4:11, Paul is simply listing examples of gifted individuals that Christ gives to the church. These individuals, and all other believers, must function as they are gifted in order for the church to be edified. 1 Corinthians 12 (especially 1 Cor. 12:28-30) shows that Paul can easily shift from gifts (as in Eph 4:7-10; 1 Cor 12:28b;30) to gifted individuals (as in Eph 4:11; 1 Cor 12:28a;29).
What do I make of the combination “pastors and teachers” in Eph. 4:11? I do not have to make anything of this. Simply, Paul is pointing to individuals who are gifted both with pastoring and teaching. Paul is not saying that all pastors are teachers; nor is he saying that all teachers are pastors. These arguments may be made based on other passages of Scripture, but that is not Paul’s point here. Instead, just as some people are gifted by Christ as apostles, others are gifted as prophets, others are gifted as evangelists, and still others are gifted as pastors and teachers.
What is important is that those who are gifted as apostles must function as apostles in order for the church to be edified. Those who are gifted as prophets must function as prophets in order for the church to grow. Those who are gifted as evangelists must function as evangelists as Christ himself has measured their part. Those who are gifted as pastors and teachers must function as pastors and teachers in order for the church to mature toward Christ-likeness. These gifted individuals and all gifted believers edify the church when they do their part – gifted, empowered, and enabled by Christ himself. Christ equips believers to edify the church.
Yes, I believe these giftings are still necessary today, but that belief has little to do with this passage (I have already mentioned something of this in 4:13 with the conjunction “until”). Instead, I do not see any indication elsewhere in Scripture that any gifting has stopped. I do believe that gifting will stop eventually, but that time (the time of perfection – Eph 4:13; 1 Cor 13:10) has not occurred yet.
I have tried to start with the text of Scripture and what the text actually says. I have based my interpretation on that text. Do I have preconceptions coming into this text? Certainly. Am I open to correction? Yes, I am open to correction as explained from the text itself. Do I believe that the Holy Spirit aids me in understanding these texts? Absolutely! As important, if not more important, I also rely on the Spirit to enable me and convict me to LIVE these texts. I have tried to live what I believe here and elsewhere in Scripture. Does that mean that I am always right? No, the Spirit is infallible, but I am not. I know that this interpretation will not satisfy everyone. I’m okay with that, and I would welcome any comments.