the weblog of Alan Knox

Origen and Jerome on Ephesians 4:11

Posted by on Mar 27, 2008 in church history, office, scripture | 1 comment

A few weeks ago, Maël and Cindy gave me a book by Ronald E. Heine called The Commentaries of Origen and Jerome on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). Apparently, knowing that I love the book of Ephesians, they tried to find a commentary by someone older than me. (Gee, thanks, Maël and Cindy!)

I thought some of my readers would enjoy some of Origen’s and Jerome’s comments on Ephesians 4:11. Here is the text:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers… (Ephesians 4:11 ESV)

Origen lived sometime around 185 – 254 AD. While his writings were very influential in the early church, they were later considered “anathema” by the fifth ecumenical council in 553 AD, primarily because of the excesses of those who followed him (the Origenists). Here is part of his commentary on Ephesians 4:11 from the book above:

Now if these offices [teacher, pastor, evangelist, prophet] can exist continually in the Church, perhaps apostles, too, can be found even now to whom it is given ‘to produce the signs of an apostle’ (2 Cor. 12:12).

It seems that question of the presence of apostles has been around for a long time. Origen argues that apostles still existed in his time. Apparently, others who lived at the same time as Origen disagreed. I think you’ll find the same disagreements today.

Jerome lived sometime around 347 – 420 AD. He is best known for translating Scripture from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (and probably some old Latin manuscripts) into the Latin Bible which became known as the Vulgate. Here is a comment from Jerome about Ephesians 4:11:

It is not to be supposed, however, that just as he said in the previous three that some are apostles, others prophets, others evangelists, so he also appointed different offices in pastors and in teachers. For he does not say, ‘and others pastors and others teachers’, but ‘others pastors and teachers’, so that he who is a pastor ought also be a teacher, nor ought one assume the title of pastor for oneself in the churches, however holy one might be, unless one can also teach those whom one pastors.

So, Jerome concludes that Ephesians 4:11 lists four individuals (he calls them offices), instead of four. But again, apparently Jerome wrote this passage in disagreement with those who were teaching otherwise. Therefore, there were some in Jerome’s day who believed that Ephesians 4:11 lists five individuals, much like the modern concept of the five fold ministry.

So, does Christ continue to give apostles to the church today? Does Ephesians 4:11 point to four or five different types of gifted individuals? Apparently these questions have been debated almost from the beginning. We will probably not come to a consensus on answers to questions such as these. Is it possible that we can find unity with coming to a consensus? Perhaps, if we seek unity in something or someone other than the answers to our questions.

One Comment

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  1. 3-28-2008

    I never really understood the import of determining four versus five, but it wouldn’t bother me at all if someone felt they were more pastor than teacher or vice versa. What I do not understand is this notion that there are no apostles today. Although I must say I find it very interesting that even in the second or third century that debate was around.