the weblog of Alan Knox

Gifting vs. Office

Posted by on Nov 20, 2009 in blog links, elders, office, spiritual gifts | 6 comments

Three years ago, I was attending the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington D.C. I attended a presentation by Harold Hoehner on the topic of spiritual gifting vs. office. In response, I wrote a blog series describing and interacting with Hoehner’s view. (“Gifting vs. Office,” “Gifting vs. Office 2,” “Gifting vs. Office 3,” and “Gifting vs. Office 4.”) (By the way, I don’t like the term “office” when used in connection with the church. But, Hoehner used the term, so I used it in my series.) It’s interesting to see how some of my views and terminology has changed over the last three years. Here is that series:


Gifting vs. Office

This is the first series of posts inspired by papers or conversations at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting this year. One of the first presentations that I heard was Harold W. Hoehner’s “Can a Woman be a Pastor-Teacher?” (If you can find this paper online, please let me know.) Apart from the provocative title, the content provided many opportunities for discussion. Hoehner’s premise was that we must not confuse spiritual gifting with office. Now, while I do not like the term “office”, I will use it for this discussion. His conclusion was that pastoring and teaching are both spiritual gifts, not offices. Since the Holy Spirit gifts different believers with different gifts, He may – and probably does – endow women with the gift of pastoring-teaching.

This series will center around the differences between gifting by the Spirit and office within the church. Is there a difference? Should someone holding a certain office always have certain gifts? Should someone with certain gifts always hold a certain office? If you think of other questions, please add them in the comments.


Gifting vs. Office 2


In Hoehner’s presentation at ETS (“Can a Woman Be a Pastor-Teacher”), he made a distinction between gifting by the Holy Spirit and holding an office in the church (Remember, I do not like the term “office”, but I’m using it here because Dr. Hoehner used it in his presentation.)

Hoehner suggested that an office can be recognized in Scripture when there are qualifications for holding that office. Therefore, he sees three distinct offices:

  1. Apostle (qualifications given in Acts 1:15-26)
  2. Elder/Bishop-overseer (qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9)
  3. Deacon (possibly deaconess) (qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3:8-13)

Hoehner did not like to use the term “pastor” for the office of elder/bishop, because he says that “pastoring” is a Spiritual gift, not an office. However, it is interesting to note that he sees “apostle” as both an office and a gift, and “deacon” as an office and a gift (since “deacon” acutally means “servant”).

Are these “offices” in the church? Are there other “offices”? Is there a better term than “office”?


Gifting vs. Office 3

At ETS this year, Harold Hoehner presented a paper titled “Can a Woman be a Pastor-Teacher?” He argued that there is a difference between gifting and office. Scripture designates an “office” (Remember, I do not like that term. I am using it because Hoehner used it.) by listing qualifications for the office. He recognizes apostle, elder/bishop, and deacon (possibly deaconness) as scriptural offices.

On the other hand, Hoehner argued that gifts are not given based on qualifications. Instead, gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to all believers. He recognizes all of items listed in Eph 4:11, 1 Cor 12, and Romans 12 to be spiritual gifts. Any believer may exercise his or her spiritual gift as sovereignly endowed by the Holy Spirit. According to Hoehner, Eph 4:11 lists individuals who are exercising their spiritual gifts, not offices. Therefore, any believer may have the gifting to operate as an apostle (not as the office of an apostle though), a prophet, an evangelist, or a pastor-teacher (not as the office of an elder/bishop though).

Is Hoehner correct that there is a difference between gifting and office? Could any believer possess any spiritual gifts? Is there any scriptural evidence that some categories of believers (women, for instance) will never be granted certain spiritual gifts (pastoring/teaching, for instance)?


Gifting vs. Office 4

So far, I have attempted to explain Harold Hoehner’s view as he presented it in this paper given at ETS: “Can a Woman be a Pastor-Teacher?” Here is his argument in summary:

  1. Many misunderstandings (his estimate was 95%, I think) about women in ministry are caused by a blurring of the distinctions between spiritual gifts and offices.
  2. Scripture gives qualifications for offices. Qualifications are given for apostles, elder/ bishops, and deacons/deaconesses.
  3. Scripture does not give qualifications for gifts. Gifts are given according to the will of God through the Holy Spirit.
  4. Since there are no qualifications given for the list in Ephesians 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers), pastor-teachers are individuals endowed with spiritual gifts, not offices.
  5. Therefore, even if women cannot hold a certain office, they can be pastor-teachers if they are so gifted.

To be honest, I have no desire to discuss women in ministry. Instead, I would like to discuss his distinction between spiritual gifts and offices.

First, my understanding of spiritual gifts seems to differ slightly from Hoehner’s understanding. Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, through believers, for the benefit of others (1 Cor. 12:7). Scripture does not indicate that believers are endowed with gifts for life, or that believers can recognize their particular gifts. The “name” of the gifts (i.e. serving, leading, teaching), seem to come from the benefit given to others. In other words, someone has the gift of teaching because what the Spirit does through them teaches others. It is possible that the Spirit could use the exact same actions/words to encourage others at the same time. Therefore, the gift is recognized as teaching for group 1, while it is recognized as encouragment for group 2. Yet, the Spirit is working through the same person’s words.

If this view is correct, then we should not emphasize that a person is “exercising” a certain spiritual gift. The person does not control whether or not, or how, the Spirit decides to work through them. Instead, as Peter says, the person should speak and/or act according to the will of God, and allow the Spirit to use those words/actions as He chooses.

I do recognize that there are people within Scripture that are called “teachers,” “prophets,” “servants,” etc. However, in my view, this is the recognition of others that these are the primary ways that the Spirit works through those individuals. Thus, for one known as a “teacher,” the Spirit normally uses that person’s words to teach others; therefore, other people recognize this and refer to him/her as a “teacher.”

This is illustrated in 1 Cor. 12-14. In 1 Cor. 12:29, Paul asks the question, “Are all prophets?”, expecting a negative answer: No, all are not prophets. Thus, Paul recognizes that, for certain believers, the Spirit regularly uses their words as words of prophecy. But, the Spirit does not normally work this way through everyone. Then, in 1 Cor. 14:31, Paul states, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” In this verse, Paul recognizes that, even though the Spirit may not normally use someone’s words as prophecy, that potential is always there, because the Spirit chooses how He will endow gifts according to His will.

I realize that this may seem pedantic. However, I think the distinction is important. Which is important: 1) I should teach others, or 2) I should speak as the Spirit leads me, even if no one “learns” from my words. I am not responsible for how others receive my words or actions; however, I am responsible for obeying God is everything that I do and say.


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

  1. 11-20-2009

    I am no fan of the term “offices” in the church either.

    Is there perhaps an issue of calling as well? Not all people are called to be missionaries overseas for example. That doesn’t imply a lack of ability to be a missionary in a far away land, but a lack of calling.

    I see a blurring between gifting and calling. My position has always been that women should not lead in the church, which includes teaching men. That is not to suggest an inferiority or inability, merely a lack of calling. I know that is going to be unpopular but Paul is equally clear that in Christ men and women are equal and he is also clear that there are some functions in the church that are restricted to men.

  2. 11-20-2009

    Although I don’t think that the word “office” is necessary, there is certainly an assignment, an appointment, a commissioning by the church of an individual to hold some sort of recognized position amidst the church (we are to “appoint” / “establish” elders per Titus 1:5).

    It was a bit more than “hey, you’re a mature guy that has a good demeanor and can serve as a good example toward other believers”. There were recognized duties of elders – they had to guard sound doctrine, they had to pray for those that they watched over, etc. So, although we don’t need to institutionalize the duties of elders, nor should we regard them as uber-christians with authority over others, we should certainly recognize them as a position that is set aside from the average Joe – one that we are to respect and honor and should submit ourselves to.

    Should women be elders? My 2 cents, No, because men should not ever be in submission to women, as evidenced by the creation order cited throughout scripture (and plenty of other evidence). Can women counsel or even teach men? Yes, because as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to submit to sound doctrine and the word of God. For a woman that has a spiritual gift of leadership or teaching, they may be primarily meant to counsel women as Titus 2 asks the older women to do, but the occasional counsel to a man is probably not out of question, nor do I think it is anti-scriptural in any way (though I suppose that if she is asserting authority over a man, there are issues all around – there is a fine balance necessary in that type of interaction).

  3. 11-20-2009

    Thanks for posting this. I have also thought there was some legitimacy to the idea that when Paul asks the question, “Are all prophets?” the context is him addressing how that church conducts themselves when gathered together. In other words, he’s meaning that everyone can’t serve the same function when they gather together. The “2 or 3″ that speak in a meeting don’t seem to be the same 2 or 3 every meeting without fail. This seems to go hand in hand with your view that the option of “prohesying” remains open to all in a given gathering, even if God routinely acts that way through certain folks.

  4. 11-22-2009

    Thanks everyone for the comments. I’m sorry that I have been slow to reply, but it’s been a busy weekend.


  5. 11-22-2009

    I suppose this is off topic, but it is a response to something in the post worth picking a bone over together.

    Hoehner … sees three distinct offices:

    1. Apostle (qualifications given in Acts 1:15-26)

    This issue about the qualifications of an apostle seem to me to be misunderstood in the account of Matthias’s selection. Faced with the loss of Judas, Peter and the early apostles searched the scriptures and found guidance in, “… it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.”

    From this they understood there was to be a replacement for Judas. Now the question becomes, how would they select this replacement? The qualifications they subsequently agree upon are based on this one case, finding a replacement for Judas. “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”

    If these are the qualifications for any apostle, then subsequent to the twelve, outside of meeting these qualifications, there are no other apostles. But are these the qualifications for every apostle?

    Several other folks the scriptures call apostles (Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Apollos, and James) do not meet the qualification of having “companied with us from our Lord’s baptism until His ascension.” To use the Judas’ replacement criteria as a set of qualifications for all apostles seems contradictory to the scriptures which themselves identify other men as apostles who did not meet these criteria.

    [I assume Paul is given, see James (Gal 1:19; 2:9), Silvanus (Silas) (I Thess 1:1; 2:6; 2:2 cp Acts 16:22,25), Barnabas (Acts 13:2-4; 14:14; I Cor 9:6), and Apollos (I Cor 4:6,9; cp I Cor 3:1-8, 22).]

    We also have false apostles, who are not discerned to be so because they fail to meet the supposed qualifications for Judas’ replacement. In II Corinthians, written around the mid ’50’s, we find there were already false apostles:

    “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.” –II Cor11:13

    The book of revelation, written probably last, in the mid ’90’s, contains this important insight:

    “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:” -Rev.2:2

    Now as late as the mid 90’s AD they had to try them to determine if they were true or false apostles, because they could not simply say they “knew” the apostles had ceased to exist. They (and the other itinerants) still exist today.

  6. 11-22-2009


    I have a book with excerpts of Origen’s commentary on Ephesians (from the early to mid 200’s). He also argues that apostles still existed in his time.