Friday, February 23, 2007

Ephesians 4:11 - Spiritual gifts or positions?

And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

For quite some time I have been thinking of this verse, Eph 4:11, as being a list of gifts, not a list of positions in the church. As usual, I have godly brothers in Christ who will call me to account for my opinions, and so I've decided to spend some time looking into this passage.

Where could the idea of gifting come from when looking at this passage? After all, the NKJV titles it Spiritual Gifts, the NLT actually renders it “He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles …”. Paige Patterson and D.A. Carson both present this passage as a list of gifts1, and Horner entitles this section of his commentary “The distribution of the gifts,”2 just to name a few examples.

If you look back at v. 7, "Paul states that each believer is given a gift according to the measure of the gift of Christ."3 Paul then proceeds to quote Psalm 68 in v. 8 in which we see that the one who ascended on high, that is Christ, gave gifts to men. Ephesians 4:9-10 then parenthetically comments on Psalm 68. Thus v. 11 is positioned on the tail of a discussion about gifting, not positions in the church, and from that perspective it seems logical to assume that in v. 11 the topic of discussion continues to be gifting rather than positions.

One could point out that this is not a list of gifts, but a list of gifted people. I would agree with that, but the fact that they are gifted people does not make this a list of positions, or as some would call them: offices (I personally do not like the term office … I guess that will be the topic of a future post). We see something similar in 1 Cor 12 where Paul lists gifts in vv. 8-10, and then in vv. 27-30 he lists people who are gifted in such a way. The fact that he is talking of gifted people rather than positions in the church is emphasized by v. 31 where he states: “But earnestly desire the best gifts” (emphasis mine) not “the best positions”. In contrast, we see Scripture teaching in 1 Tim 3:1 that the people desiring the position of overseer desire a good work, not a good gift.

As a final note, I would say that if this were a list of positions in the church, one would expect to see overseers and deacons mentioned as well, but they are not. Some might counter that pastor/teachers are mentioned in the place of overseers. I would argue instead that here we read about the gifting, pastor/teacher, that every overseer/elder should have (see Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2, and the qualifications for overseers in 1 Tim 3), but which gifting some others in the church could have even though they do not have the position of overseer/elder.4 I co-pastor a congregation which has many who are gifted as pastor/teachers, but at this time the congregation only recognizes two as holding the position of pastor/elder.

1 Paige Patterson, The Troubled Triumphant Church – an Exposition of First Corinthians (Dallas: Criswell Publications, 1983), 211 and D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit – A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), 35-6.

2 Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians - An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 538.

3 Ibid, 541.

4 Ibid., 544-7.


Alan Knox said...


I think you've done a good job documenting that others believe that Eph 4:11 lists spiritually gifted people instead of positions/offices in the church. You know that I agree with you on this, and you know that I think this is very important to our understanding of the church. I wonder (and I asked this on my blog as well), do people think this is important? If so, why? If not, why not?


Unknown said...

I think this must be important b/c both of my "recognized as holding the position of pastor/teacher" people think it's important. I'd like to know what the implications would be of holding one view verses the other. Are we just talking semantics here?

Kati A said...


Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I definitely agree with your conclusion.

God's Glory,

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