Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers

MIDWEEK BIBLE STUDY IN EPHESIANS 4:7-12 – THE GIFTS WHICH THE LORD GIVES TO HIS CHURCH TO BUILD IT UP

v7. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 

Christ dispenses grace to the church, according to the gift which He Himself has received. He has received all power and authority from His heavenly Father, and He thus distributes certain gifts to men.  By ‘grace’ here we are not thinking only of the grace of forgiveness and salvation, which is the same to all, but also of the differing gifts whereby each believer carries out his own service to Christ within the church. So the emphasis of the next few verses is on the gifts of believers rather on the distinctive offices which they hold. The Lord Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection is the Victor over sin, death and Satan. It is the spoils of this victory which He now distributes to the Church. 

v8. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 

‘Captivity’ describes all the demonic forces which have held men in captivity to sin and to Satan. At the Cross Satan’s hold over men and over the power of death was broken, and the Lord ascended triumphantly to heaven. As a general distributes the spoils of battle to his men during a glorious victory procession, so Christ distributes the fruits of His victory over Satan by dispensing various gifts for the prospering of His church. This verse 8 is actually a quotation from Psalm 68, which speaks of God’s giving Israel victories over her enemies. Those Old Testament military victories foreshadowed the ultimate spiritual victory of Christ over Satan and his demons. The Devil and his cohorts are generically called ‘captivity’ because they hold men captive, but at the Cross they themselves were put in chains : “he led captivity captive”. Like a general on a victory procession bestowing gifts on his followers from the spoils of battle, so Christ, having defeated Satan at the Cross, bestows the spoils of His victory upon His church. He bestows upon all believers the general gift of the Holy Spirit, enabling them to become conformed to Christ in all holiness of life. Upon some He bestows special gifts of the Spirit whereby they are enabled to lead and guide other believers in the paths of truth.

v9. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 

Our Lord’s ascension only happened because He had first descended to this earth to carry out His Father’s will and gain victory over Satan and his demons, and also over death. So our Lord going to “the lower parts of the earth” refers to His incarnation; His setting aside of the glories of heaven and becoming a man. Indeed, the same phrase is used as a metaphor for the womb in Psalm 139 : 

“My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth” (Psalms 139:15). 

He who ascended from the earth following His death and resurrection had first to descend to the earth to become a man. It was necessary for God’s Son to appear on earth in the flesh, that He might live a life of perfect obedience as a man, and then die on the Cross, also as a representative man, to accomplish man’s salvation.

v10. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. 

The ascended Christ now reigns from His heavenly throne. He fills the world in that He is its universal Governor, exercising an universal and unassailable dominion over all the elements and over all His creatures.

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18 ).

“By him all things consist” (Colossians 1:17). 

“(He is) upholding all things by the word of his power … (He hath) sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). 

The Lord is also now filling the church with all necessary gifts and graces enabling believers to serve Him. From His heavenly throne He sends upon believers His Holy Spirit.

v11. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers”. 

Although church offices are listed in this verse, the focus is on the gifts which they represent, rather than upon a formal position which is held within the church. This verse is following on from verse 8 (verses 9 and 10 being in brackets). Verse 8 says of Christ, “He gave gifts unto men”, and now verse 11 continues, “and some of the gifts which he gave for the benefit of the church were that of being an apostle, some were that of being a prophet, some were that of being an evangelist, and some were that of being a pastor/teacher. “The point is not that some men received the apostleship (gift), others (the) prophecy (gift), but that these men themselves constitute the gift of Christ to the whole (Church)” (1) . These gifts were not mutually exclusive, in that a man could have one of them, but not any other. It is quite possible, and indeed usual, for example, for a man to possess both evangelistic and pastoral gifts. Neither Mark nor Luke were apostles, but they were both travelling evangelists and they were both also prophets, in that they were in receipt of special revelation as the authors of Scripture.

v11. “And he gave some, apostles”. 

The word ‘apostles’ here is not used in the general sense in which it is sometimes used of one who is sent with a commission from God. It is rather used in the restricted sense of one of the Twelve whom the Lord personally appointed to be the heralds of His truth. We must of course in this context include Matthias, who replaced Judas and Paul. This apostolic gift was unique to the first years of the church. By its very nature it can never be repeated. The apostles generally comprised the Lord’s closest companions during His earthly ministry.

The mark of apostleship was having received special revelation from God Himself to make known new foundational truth regarding God’s purposes of salvation. The apostles expounded for us the significance of the Lord’s death and resurrection, as being the ultimate out-working out of God’s plan of redemption, which had begun in the Old Testament period. They also articulated for us the new aspect of the incorporation of the Gentiles into the original covenant which God had made with Abraham. These men have been wonderful gifts to the church, and continue to be such today. They were the vehicles of the new and final unfolding of God’s purposes for mankind.

v11. “And he gave … some, prophets”.

The New Testament prophets were “extraordinary officers who … (received) immediate revelation” (2). ‘Extraordinary’ means that they are not meant to be ordinary or regular church officers throughout the church age. They possessed, along with the apostles, the unique and temporary gift of receiving direct revelation from God. They also “expounded revelation already given; (this is) implied in Acts 13:1” (3); in other words, they expounded the Old Testament Scriptures from a New Testament perspective, and they expounded the new apostolic revelations. They also on occasions “did foretell things to come (Acts 11:27, 22:1)” (4). 

“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:1-2). 

Each man named here was both a prophet and a teacher, teaching being integral to being a prophet. We see that, as prophets, they receive direct revelation regarding Barnabas and Saul, the latter being classified as a prophet, before his apostolic calling was made known to the church and before his missionary journeys began. “Prophets were not ordinary believers who had the gift of prophecy, but those who had been especially commissioned by the early church” (5). “The meaning (of the word prophecy) is simply that of speaking forth or proclaiming publicly … since the completion of Scripture, prophecy has not been a means of new reveltion, but is limited to proclaiming what has already been revealed in the written word” (6) . 

Unlike the apostles, the prophets were not personally called by the Lord during His earthly ministry and their direct inspiration would have been on occasions, as opposed to the more regular revelation received by the apostles. One commentator describes them as “the occasional organs of inspiration” (7). The gift of being a prophet was only bestowed on a very few believers, and, in respect of the reception of direct revelation from God, it was also a temporary gift, like that of apostles, being unique to the foundational period of the New Testament church. 

“(Ye) are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). 

We see here that if there were apostles and revelation-receiving prophets today, then we would still be at the foundation stage of the church some 2000 years after its inception. These New Testament prophets were directly inspired – with infallibility – to tell forth God’s truth, and sometimes, as we have intimated, he also predicted immediately future events. They include those authors of the New Testament who were not apostles, namely Luke, Mark and the author of Hebrews. In the previous chapter here in Ephesians Paul refers to the gospel as being revealed “unto the apostles and prophets”.

(He speaks of) “the mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:4-5). 

So there were prophets, as well as the apostles, revealing new and final truth following our Lord’s death and resurrection. These two unique and temporary offices were essential in that initial period of new revelation, but they are no longer necessary because we now possess the completed Scriptures.

“Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them” (Acts 15:32). 

A prophet, then, is a teacher of God’s word who receives special revelation from God. The verb ‘prophesy’ can occasionally mean in the New Testament to expound the Scriptures, without of necessity implying any direct and immediate revelation. In that limited senses any pastor today is prophesying, as he sets forth the truth of Scripture, but the meaning of the word ‘prophet’ here in Ephesians 4:11 refers to one who is directly inspired with infallible truth.   

v11. “And he gave … some, evangelists”. 

Evangelists were apostolic assistants who travelled to preach and found new churches. The word literally means ‘a messenger of glad tidings’. Philip, Mark, Timothy, Titus, Apollos, Silas and Epaphras were all evangelists. Mark and Silas were prophets as well. These evangelists were formally ordained to this role. We read, for example, of Paul having ordained Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6). In Acts 8 we read of the evangelist Philip :

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did” (Acts 8:5–6 ). 

Philip was also ordained as deacon in Acts 6, but we see in Acts 8 that he acts as an evangelist. We thus see overlap here between two offices. The 70 men whom our Lord sent out to preach in addition to the 12 may also fall into the category of evangelists. These 70 had the power to cast out evil spirits in the Lord’s name. So, as apostolic assistants, the evangelists were itinerant preachers to the unconverted.

v11. And he gave … some, pastors and teachers. 

Pastors and teachers constitute a single office. This is proven by the absence of the definite article in the Greek in front of the word for teachers, which would have been necessary, were teacher a separate office (8). Pastor-teachers are the ordinary permanent officers given by the Lord to the church in every age. They have no direct revelation from God; they merely expound the revelation which has already been given. They do not have direct powers to heal and cast out demons, as the apostles and evangelists had. They shepherd God’s people. They are also referred to as ‘bishops’, that word simply meaning an overseer. So Biblically speaking, every pastor of a church is the bishop of that church.

The pastors are also referred to in the New Testament as elders or presbyters. So bishop, pastor and elder are all the same office. In our particular tradition we often use the more general word ‘minister’, which simply means ‘servant’, but any of the other terms would be correct. Peter, although an apostle, also describes himself as an elder. Apart from receiving direct revelation from God, a phenomenon which ceased with the close of the apostolic period, pastors today will also be those who have been granted prophetic and evangelistic gifts for the benefit of the church, the prophetic gift being in the sense of an ability to set forth God’s word. 

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28-30). 

Here Paul is addressing the co-ministers of the church at Ephesus. He longed that they adhere to the truth of Scripture and grow to maturity. Just as a literal shepherd has to steer the sheep away from dangerous ravines and protect them from wolves, so a church’s pastor has to warn about false doctrine and practice.

v12. “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”. 

The Greek allows us to ignore the commas in the translation. Pastor-teachers are given to the church to equip the saints for the work of their service, service whereby the whole body is edified. The saints must be perfected, grow in grace, as they progress toward their heavenly goal. Apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors are all God’s gifts to the church to establish true doctrine, to bring men to salvation and to build them up in their faith. So the ‘ministry’ here means the service given by any believer, which is aided by these gifts and offices which the ascended Christ bestows. The saints need to be perfected and to become better servants of Christ. In that way, the whole body will be built up. 

Conclusion

We are being taught here about the offices which the ascended Christ has given for the benefit of His church.

There were the unique and temporary offices of the apostles and prophets. What they revealed and declared, with the help of the evangelists, is what we now believe.

Pastors and teachers, constituting a single office, are the ordinary, permanent officers given by the Lord to the church in every age, along with evangelists, who may also be pastors, or else travelling preachers founding new congregations.

Pastors and evangelists, unlike apostles and prophets, have no direct revelation from God; they rather expound the revelation once and for all given by the apostles and prophets. A pastor must be a teacher of the Scriptures. He is given to the church “for the perfecting of the saints”, that all might grow in holiness and become better workers and servants for Christ.

So, it is the task of people and pastor today to work together in setting forth apostolic truth “for the work of the ministry (and) for the edifying of the body of Christ”.

Endnotes

  1. Lenski, Commentary on the NT, Hendrikson, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, p526
  2. Matthew Poole’s Commentary, Vol. 3, p672
  3. Macarthur Bible Commentary, Nelson, p1694
  4. Matthew Poole’s Commentary, Vol. 3, p672
  5. Macarthur Bible Commentary, Nelson, p1694
  6. Macarthur Bible Commentary, Nelson, p1593
  7. William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Galatians and Ephesians, Banner of Truth, p196
  8. See Charles Hodge, Epistle to the Corinthians, Banner of Truth, p1062 

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