Pastors and Teachers—Ephesians 4:11 (Mondays with Mounce 10)
This passage has long engendered debate, and I doubt I will forever close that debate in this blog. But it is a good example of how Greek grammar clarifies the issues and gives us an acceptable range of meaning, after which sensitivity to the language and context make the final decisions.
Wouldn’t it be great if a knowledge of Greek solved all the mysteries of the universe, or at least answered all the questions of the New Testament? It doesn’t, and opinions to the contrary border on cult mentality.
Paul is discussing the gifts that God gives. In v 11 he says, word for word, “And he gave men the apostles de the prophets de the evangelists de the pastors and teachers. The men … de is the correlative construction “both … and … and” that often does not make it into translations because while it is gentle and smooth in Greek our correlatives are a bit rougher and more intrusive.
The question is whether “pastors and teachers” designate one spiritual gift or two.
One interpretation sees them as one gift and point to the use of the article. It is repeated before all the other gifts, but when it gets to the last two there is only one article that governs both nouns. Grammatically, this signals a change and expects us to see that “pastors and teachers” form a unit that is set off from the preceding series.
There can be no debate on this point; this is just plain Greek grammar. The question is the precise nature of the “unit.”
The use of a single article with multiple plural nouns indicates a single unit, but it does not necessarily mean the two nouns are identical. This same construction occurs earlier in 2:20 and joins “apostles” and “prophets,” but these are not identical gifts.
Hoehner suggests that the distinction is that the prior gifts are expressed in an itinerate ministry and the later two are gifts for a local ministry. Harold’s discussion of this is excellent and worth reading (Ephesians. An Exegetical Commentary published by Baker).
Hoehner goes on to quote Wallace’s argument that the grammar suggests that the first (“pastors”) is a subset of the second (“teachers”). Everyone who is gifted to shepherd a local flock of believers is gifted to teach, but the gift of teaching does not necessarily mean the person is gifted to shepherd (e.g., administration, exhortation).
So the second interpretation is that “pastor” and “teacher” are somewhat distinct gifts. All pastors must be able to teach (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2) but not all teachers are gifted to pastor, to help meet the daily needs of a local church.
I saw a senior pastor job description the other day that illustrates the significance of this distinction. It was a traditional American church description that guarantees the failure of their next pastor. Jesus couldn’t even do what they are asking. Literally. Not only does he have to have to be an excellent preacher, but also a superb administrator, giving approval for staff programs, but also a superb counselor and husband and father — which is where Jesus would give up on the job application and go heal somebody. And he was also a non-voting member of the elder board. Hmmm. Let’s take the most gifted, most called, most experienced person, give him all the responsibility to run the ship, but then don’t give him a vote on how to steer the ship. Seems to me that anybody who thinks they can perform the job is either naïve or arrogant.
God has gifted some people to do everything. These are the wonderful pastors who have a small enough church that they can care for everybody and everything. I have a friend who does this. He loves smaller churches. He pastors them for about ten years, takes a sabbatical, and then looks for another small church to love and care for. He is just now headed for his third church as their pastor. And he will pastor them, and that by definition includes the calling to teach them. Ultimately churches are to be led by their teachers, which is why every pastor and elder must of necessity be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2).
But there are other people who are gifted to teach. They may not have great administrative gifts, and may not be very good and sitting down with someone and listening to their issues. But they still love their God and their people just as fervently, and they show that love by spending a vast number of hours in preparing their sermons.
The American church as a whole is sick. While there are many glorious exceptions to that generalization, the fact of the matter is that the American church as a whole chews up and spits out people. Especially their pastors. Sometimes I think that pastors are put up on a pedestal so that in a few months the complainers in the church can get a clear shot at them.
Why do we insist, especially in larger churches, that the preacher do everything? It is probably outside his giftedness, and asking someone to center in their area of weakness is just plain wrong. Our Lord has given a wide variety of gifts to his body so that the body can minister to the wide variety of needs within the body.
Here’s a novel idea ;-), what if the people with the gift of mercy accepted the responsibility of caring. What if those gifted to administrate were given a desk in the office? What if the elders gave spiritual leadership? What if those gifted to give led the capital campaigns? And what if the people gifted to preach were allowed to preach, to express their love for God and people through the best means at their disposal: the preached word. I wonder what that church would look like?
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Visit www.billmounce.com for more info or read his blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.supportministry.com.
by John H. Walton
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