the weblog of Alan Knox

And he gave… (Ephesians 4:11)

Posted by on Aug 18, 2008 in edification, elders, office, scripture, service, spiritual gifts | 20 comments

From talking with several people, reading many books on the subject, and perusing blog posts about leadership, I think I have a view of Ephesians 4:11 that is a minority view. As a reminder, Ephesians 4:11 says:

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

I’ve written about this passage previously in several blog posts, including “Ephesians 4:11 and the Five-Fold Ministry” (and the associate series on Ephesians 4:7-16, which continues to be one of my most read series) and “Spiritual Gifts – Ephesians 4:11” (and the associated series on spiritual gifts).

As we begin to think about this verse again, we should start by reading it in its context:

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)

In this passage, verses 7-10 point out that Jesus has gifted all of his followers according to his grace. Similarly, verses 13-16 point out that all of Jesus’ followers have the same goal – maturity in Christ – and all must exercise their gifts in order for the body to build itself up in love. Thus, except for verses 11-12, it appears that this passage is about the gifted of the entire body of Christ.

However, verses 11-12 – and especially verse 11 – is usually interpreted to mean that only certain gifted individuals are given for the equipping of the body for works of service. That is, Jesus specifically gives apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers to do a work that none others within the body can and a work that none other are supposed to do – equipping. This view leads to seeing these four (or five, depending on interpretation) types of gifted individuals as being “specially” gifted within the body. Sometimes, these four (or five) are even called “offices” in the church.

In this post, I’m going to suggest an alternate view – a view that I think better aligns with the context of this passage and with other teachings in Scripture about spiritual gifts and gifted individuals.

Instead of reading the four (or five) gifted individuals as a special type of gifting and the only ones who are called to “equip” the church, I read this list as a sample of listed individuals. Paul could have used any gifted individual in his list in Ephesians 4:11, because all gifted followers of Jesus are necessary for equipping and edifying the body of Christ. Thus, the following phrase would have been just as correct:

And he gave the servants, the healers, the givers, the tongues speakers and interpreters, to equip the saints for the work of ministry…

While this sounds strange to our ears – being accustomed to hearing the other gifts as special offices in the church – it seems completely in line with scriptural teaching about spiritual gifts.

For example, notice 1 Corinthians 12:28:

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28 ESV)

First, Paul easily shifts from gifted individuals (apostles, prophets, teachers) to the gifts themselves (miracles, healing, helping, administrating, tongues). Paul easily makes this same shift in Romans 12:6-8, listing both gifts (prophecy, service) and gifted individuals (the one who teaches, the one who exhorts, the one who gives, the one who leads, the one who does acts of mercy).

Second, notice that Paul’s ordered list in 1 Corinthians 12:28 (above) does not include the same “necessary offices” as the list in Ephesians 4:11. Specifically, Paul does not mention evangelists (or the gift of evangelism) or pastors (or the gifts of shepherding) to the Corinthians at all. This seems strange if Paul thought these were two of the necessary spiritual gifts for the church to be equipped for service.

Also, consider the follow passage from 1 Corinthians 12:22-25:

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:22-25 ESV)

Here, instead of arguing that some “gifted officer” are necessary to equip the body, Paul does just the opposite. He says that those members of the body that seem weaker (less gifted?) are actually indispensable. Again, as in Ephesians 4:7-10 and 13-16, Paul emphasizes the importance for the entire body of Christ to work together to build itself up. Even more interesting, Paul says that God himself has given greater honor to those members of the body that seem to lack it. Could it be that in interpreting Ephesians 4:11 as a list of “offices” that we are honoring the wrong people – at least, not the ones that God honors?

Taking all of this evidence together, I believe that Ephesians 4:11 was not intended as a list of specially gifted individuals who alone can equip the church for service. Instead, I believe that Ephesians 4:11 represents a sample of gifted individuals, much like we see in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, and 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, none of which include all of the gifts because they are all meant as samples of spiritual gifts.

Just as Jesus gives apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers to the church to equip us for works of service, he also gives servants, helpers, givers, exhorters, healers, tongues speakers, and tongues interpreters (and ALL believers) to the church to equip us for works of service. The church is equipped for works of service and the church is built up toward maturity in Christ when every member of the church exercises the gifts given by Jesus through the Holy Spirit for the benefit of all.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-18-2008

    Wonderful post.
    I am so glad that God has given each of us different gifts for the use of glorifying his kingdom on earth.
    I hope you have a great week Alan!

  2. 8-18-2008

    My Sentiments exactly Alan.

    I have been wrestling with this for many reasons you probably know about. Namely church leadership. These gifts usually qualify men to take on responsibilities that the entire body is responsible for. Namely the making of disciples. I believe the view alternative to yours cripples the saints of God from walking in their giftedness to help build the church. I think Paul makes it clear when He says:

    when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

    I don’t know if we understand the weight of this verse.

  3. 8-18-2008

    I say Amen to your interpretation, Alan. I have interpreted this text (that always seems to come up in this kind of discussions) in “your way” for about five years, and definitely think it´s the interpretation that best fits the context in the letter and the other gift-lists, as you pointed out so well. Thanks for this post!
    /Jonas Lundström

  4. 8-18-2008

    Kinney, Lionel, and Jonas,

    Thank you all for the encouragement. I’m glad to hear that I’m not alone in this interpretation. :) Actually, I do know others who hold this interpretation as well, but I think we are in the minority.


  5. 8-18-2008


    May I add my agreement, also? At the time of Paul’s writing these words, it was very early in the development of the Body of Christ, and these gifts would be,of necessity, foremost as those God would use through His servants, “…to equip the saints for the work of service, for the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to become mature, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” “…to grow up in all aspects into him, who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, being joined and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each part, causes the growth of the body and builds itself up in love.”

  6. 8-18-2008

    Like a breath of fresh air. Thanks Alan.

  7. 8-19-2008


    Not meaning to infer I believe your argument rises or falls on this, but if you could help me a bit with the Greek here, it may help clear up something for me.

    Looking at the ESV translation, I find it interesting that the same English verb “equip” is used both in v. 12 and v. 16. Yet, I do not find a corresponding Greek word that is used in both verses. As best as I can tell, “equip” in v. 12 comes from καταρτισμον and in v. 16 from επιχορηγιας, though I may be wrong on this. Actually, looking at a number of other English translations, I have not been able to find another one that uses the word “equip” in v. 16. In any case, I am trying to discern any nuances of meaning between the word or words translated “equip” in v. 12 and in v. 16. For instance, the New Living Translation seems to translate καταρτισμον “equip” and the idea communicated by the phrase including επιχορηγιας as “helps the other parts grow,” if I am reading this correctly. Excuse me if I am wrong on this. My Greek is really rusty.

    In any case, what I am getting at is, is it possible to make a distinction between the role of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (e.g. specifically “equipping”) and that of every joint (e.g. a more general “helping the other parts grow”)?

    If this were the case, I think we could still say that every member and every gift in the Body is vitally important for the growth of the Body, yet not every member or gift is necessarily meant to function in a specifically “equipping” role.

    What do you think?

  8. 8-19-2008

    David and Alan,

    I was wondering about a similar question yesterday – does “each one” in verse 7 correspond with the equippers, or the saints being equipped?

    I look forward to Alan’s answer, but it seems to me that “each one” is connected to “apostles…” by the idea of Christ’s giving.

    Also, Paul refers to himself as apostle, prophet, evangelist and teacher, and he describes his call/gifting in terms of being “given grace” (3:2-9, three times), the same words that he applies to “each one” in verse 4:7.

    I was also thinking of Colossians, a letter that has much material in common with Ephesians, and it makes no mention of distinct “ministry gifts”; rather, all the members appear to be involved in teaching (3:16) and evangelism (4:5-6).

    “Every member equipping” makes sense to me if I think of evangelist, shepherd and teacher in terms of activities done by ordinary people: sharing Christ and planting churches, taking care of one another, and sharing what we have learned from the word.

  9. 8-19-2008

    Aussie John,

    I agree that these gifts were necessary (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers), but I think all gifts were necessary as well (servers, helpers, miracle workers, etc.).


    Thanks. I hope its not hot air.


    I think the two words translated “equip” in vs. 12 and vs. 16 are similar – perhaps slightly synonymous. But, my understanding of this passage is not built on the synonymity of those two terms.

    As far as the unique use of the word “equip” in vs. 12, I have already written an explanation of that. It was supposed to be published this morning, but I decided to postpone it until tomorrow in order to publish my post for today. I’ll add a note about your comment.

    John Krainis,

    Like I told David, I’ve already written a post about the word “equip” which will be published tomorrow. Hopefully, we can discuss that term more in that post.

    It is interesting that you bring up the book of Colossians. Like you said, Paul covers similar themes and probably wrote both letters at about the same time. But he doesn’t mention these special “offices” to the Colossians.

    Per Ephesians 4:7, I think the “each one of us” refers to “each believer” with Paul including himself. Notice that similar phrases introduce other passages about spiritual gifts:

    But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:7 ESV)

    Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them… (Romans 12:6 ESV)

    To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV; see also 1 Cor 12:4-6)

    Even Peter has a similar statement:

    As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace… (1 Peter 4:10 ESV)

    It seems that the authors of Scripture empahsize that every believer is given a gift, so I would say that is Paul’s emphasis in Eph 4:7 also.


  10. 8-19-2008


    I think I didn’t express myself very well.

    I was trying to convey the thought that the gifts mentioned in Ephesians were most essential in the early development of the church, not apart from the other gifts, but in the establishment and teaching of a community which would exercise ALL of the spiritual gifts

  11. 8-19-2008

    Aussie John,

    Thank you for the clarification.


  12. 8-31-2008


    Technically, you might want to reconsider some of the claims you make in this very stimulating post.

    First, you write,

    “Paul could have used any gifted individual in his list in Ephesians 4:11, because all gifted followers of Jesus are necessary for equipping and edifying the body of Christ. Thus, the following phrase would have been just as correct:

    And he gave the servants, the healers, the givers, the tongues speakers and interpreters, to equip the saints for the work of ministry…”

    Well, perhaps “Paul could have used any gifted individual,” but in fact he did not. He chose to write what he did write, and our task is to understand that. Language is all about making choices. The meaning of a text largely consists in the choices the author makes when writing it. An important technique of Bible study (or in the linguistic analysis of any text) is to ask, “What else might the author have written here, and why did he choose to write what he did rather than that alternative?” The possible alternative is not the meaning of the text, but rather, the complement of the meaning of the text.

    Second, the four gifts named are not just “a sample.” Their special nature is indicated by both internal and external considerations.

    Internally, they have been selected to form a 2×2 structure of contrasts, functional vs. chronological.

    The first two contrast with the second two chronologically. “Apostles and … prophets” were prominent in the early life of the church. In 2:20, Paul describes the church as “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” The genitive here is probably subjective, “the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets.” The only foundation is Christ (1 Cor 3:11), but the role of the apostles and prophets was to provide, from “the many other things which Jesus did” (John 21:25) the basic truths upon which the church is based. “Evangelists and … pastors and teachers” are the gifts that are active in the mature church that emerges toward the end of Acts and is seen in the epistles.

    Orthogonal to this chronological distinction is a functional one. Apostles and Evangelists (the first member in each pair) are itinerants, church planters. They take the gospel to those who have not heard it yet. Prophets and Pastor-teachers (the latter being a single item, as you note in an earlier post) are resident in the local church. Thus in the early church at Antioch we see “prophets and teachers” (Acts 13:1), while the pastor-teacher, also called elder and overseer (AV “bishop”), is prominent throughout the later NT.

    So these are hardly a random sample of gifts. Paul has selected these particular gifts to indicate that, at every age in the church, the risen and ascended Christ has provided gifted men both to raise up new churches and to nurture existing ones.

    The external evidence that these gifts are more than just a sample is 1 Cor 12:28, “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” Surely the “first, second, third” are meant to set these three apart from the others, and it is hardly coincidental that they are three of the four mentioned in Eph 4:11. Now, you note this verse, and point out the omission of “pastor” and “evangelist” as evidence that the priority in Corinthians cannot be applied to Ephesians. The omissions are not as serious as you suggest. As you noted in your earlier post, Paul groups “pastor” and “teacher” together as one item, so for his purposes the priority of “teacher” in 1 Cor 12:28 applies to “pastor-teacher” in Eph 4:11. As for “evangelist,” it appears nowhere in any of the other gift-lists. Early in Paul’s ministry (when the gift-lists in Rom 12 and 1 Cor 12 were written), most church-planting was being done by the apostles, and the distinctive role of “evangelist” had not yet begun to emerge. The only references to the ευαγγελιστης are late in Paul’s ministry–Acts 21:8, 2 Tim 4:5, and our text. So Eph 4 and 1 Cor 12 agree on distinguishing the gifts associated with church planting and teaching the local assembly, but the language in Eph 4 reflects the emergence of the evangelist as distinct from the apostle in the later years of Acts.

    Thank you for stirring up our minds by your stimulating thoughts!

    In Christ,
    Van Parunak

  13. 8-31-2008


    Thank you for the thoughtful consideration of this post. I’d like to address your concerns briefly.

    First, you suggest that apostles and prophets contrast with evangelists and pastors and teachers chronologically. This could be true in the development of a group of believers. However, its also true that tongues and miracles seem to be gifts that show up early in the life of a church, while service, administration, etc. are later chronologically. Thus, the chronological argument does not indicate that Paul had to limit his list to these four gifted individuals. Even if he wanted to maintain a chronology, he could have used other gifts.

    Next, you suggest a difference between itinerant serice and local service. I agree again that there is a difference. However, I think we also see in Scripture that prophets can be itinerant (as some interpret 1 Thess 5:20-21). In any event, the Didache certainly speaks to travelling prophets.

    Finally, as per the external evidence, you admit that evangelists are not found in any other gift lists. That is exactly my point. None of the gift lists are given as exhaustive or complete. We accept all of the other gifts lists as sample lists, but we usually read Eph 4:11 as exhaustive. This seems inconsistent to me.

    I did not intent this study to change what Scripture says. We should deal with Eph 4:11 as Paul wrote it. However, we should also example this gift list just as we do other gift lists – recognize that this list is a sample of gifted individuals that Jesus gives to the church, just as the other lists give samples of gifts and gifted individuals – lists that are not exhaustive.


  14. 8-17-2011

    Excellent Post. I do not believe that Paul could have used any words in Ephesians 4:11, but only the words that were used. That said, I do believe that all believers are gifted with the characteristic ministry aspect of each of the gifts listed there. I think the other giftings in the other passages you cited are sub gifts of the ones listed in Ephesians 4.

    Our primary concern in the region where we work on South America has always been whether or not the Ephesians 4 giftings are for the Church today. When I look at the greek, and find that “And He Gave,” is the Aorist Active Indicative and that it is classified as a “culminative or effective aorist,” it would seem, on the surface that those gifts “were” given at one point in time for the purpose of laying foundation and then, at some point in the future would no longer be given.

    Perhaps some of my greek geek friends can correct my thinking here. Regardless, because word studies can often yield faulty conclusions, I do believe that the ministry gifts are not only still being given, but still very active.

    Just today, I have also focused on not only living as sent (apostolic), but “giving as sent,” (serving) in my blog. Always a pleasure Alan.


  15. 8-17-2011


    That’s interesting… we know that Peter did something similar (categories of gifts) in 1 Peter 4:10-11.

    The aorist can’t really be classified as a “once for all” type of meaning all by itself. In fact, it’s called “aorist” (which means “unmarked”) primarily because it’s the default tense and carries little, if any, indication of whether the action is ongoing or not.


  16. 12-1-2011

    Thanks for putting all of these passages together. Lately, for whatever reason, I’ve been focusing on Ephesians 4:11, and ignoring the others, though I agree with the main premise of this post, which is that every person is gifted in some way to serve the church and people outside of the church.

    You remind me that there are people who don’t necessarily have one of the gifts in Ephesians, but who do have others.

    As a professional church worker in an old denomination (Lutheran), I do wish people would allow the Word to trump tradition. There are too many people who are exactly what you describe, who believe that the most important gifts are relegated to a select few, and that it’s the job of those few to do “real” ministry. The Church would be revolutionized if more people agreed and acted upon what you’re saying in this post!

  17. 4-2-2013

    I know that I am late to the party of comments on this post but Alan, I came on your blog post wondering about this issue, and couldn’t help but be encouraged that your view lines up with what the Lord has led me to understand about these gifts. I had never even heard of the view that you blog about before the Lord showed it to me as I prayerfully considered the verses in question in connection with every member ministry.

    With that in mind Alan, I was wondering if I could ask you to review the chapter in a book I am writing (and which book I will give away for free) about the five-fold ministry gifts? Or rather not to review but to let me know if what I say in this chapter is indeed scriptural from all that you might understand about these things?

    I am not trying to get you to recommend my book under a “please review” subterfuge or otherwise. I genuinely want input to make sure I am presenting the Lord’s heart on this as accurately as possible.

    There are some things in what I have written that are rather eye opening if I do say so myself and things that perhaps you have never read anywhere else.

    Anyway let me know if you are willing to review the one chapter and give me your input and I will be happy to get you a link to the chapter in whatever way is convenient.

    Thanks and thanks too for stating your belief Alan!


  18. 4-2-2013


    I’ll be glad to read your chapter. You can email it to


  19. 6-12-2013

    Hi Allan could these verses also imply that God will enable his church to serve one another according to need, ie what God want to do through you, as the Spirit enables you. God already has his people in place they can receive gifts as the Holy Spirit leads.. Regards Richard

  20. 6-15-2013


    I think that’s exactly why God gifts his children: for the benefit of others, meaning those others needs something that God wants to provide through his children.



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