Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Ephesians 4:11 and gifts to the church

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 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 regions, 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 shepherds 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.(Eph, 4:1-16 ESV)

καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, (Eph. 4:11 SBL GNT)

While growing up, I have heard Ephesians 4:11 stated to be one of the passages discussing spiritual gifts, alongside other passages like 1 Corinthians 12. Over time, I have felt uneasy with the categorization of this verse as one speaking of spiritual gifts, as if there were the gift of apostleship, the gift of prophet (not necessarily the same as the gift of prophecy), the gift of an evangelist, and the gift of shepherd and teacher, or pastor-teacher. The passage interpreted as such contributes categories into the mixture of gifts that are supposedly available to believers, and each Christian was to discern his or her spiritual giftings (usually involving some form of personality testing or something to that effect), and then operate and serve in the church with the gifts they have. After all, Ephesians 4: 12 speaks of "every member ministry" for building up the body of Christ, or so they interpret that verse.

The context of Ephesians 4:1-16 is that of the Body Life of the Church. It speaks about Christ giving gifts to His people. In this passage, Paul in verse 8 cites Psalms 68:18, but switches the verb from one of receiving (לָקַ֣חְתָּ)to one of giving (ἔδωκεν). Instead of the King ascending and receiving gifts among men, Christ the King ascends and gave gifts to Man. The switch speaks of the change in the stage of redemptive history, plus it gives us the context. Christ give gifts to His people as a result of His conquest over sin and death, and His ascension procured all the benefits He is giving His Church.

It must be noted here that the context is the Body of Christ, the Church, not just individual Christians. In verses 4 and 5, we see emphasized the oneness of the Church, having one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Christ is thus giving gifts to His Church. The purpose of the gifts are for building her up (vv. 12-16), not some idea of personal edification however important that might be.

The focus on the Church implies that the gifts are not given to individuals per se, but to the Church. Such is clearly seen in verse 11 itself. God in Christ gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. Note that those officers are the direct object of the verb of giving. So Christ gave the apostles etc. He did not give the gifts to the apostles and other officers of the church , which would require rendering the officers as the indirect objects. No, Christ gave the officers, to... the Church, for that is what the entire context is speaking of. In other words, it is not that Christ give, for example, Paul the gift of apostleship so that he might be an apostle. Rather, Christ gave Paul the Apostle to the Church.

Ephesians 4:11 therefore is not about individual spiritual gifts. In fact, since "spiritual gifts" is normally seen to be various individual believers, Ephesians 4:11 is not speaking of "spiritual gifts" at all. Both the context of Ephesians 4: 1-16 and the grammar of the text militates against that common Evangelical interpretation. Christ gives officers to His Church. Therefore it implies that officers are not something one grows into, but a special calling by God. It implies that ordination is required for officers, since it is not a mere role someone takes up when one has the "appropriate gift."

Just to show that this is not a novel interpretation, I post here from two commentaries:

Note, The great gift that Christ gave to the church at his ascension was that of the ministry of peace and reconciliation. The gift of the ministry is the fruit of Christ’s ascension. And ministers have their various gifts, which are all given them by the Lord Jesus. The officers which Christ gave to his church were of two sorts—extraordinary ones advanced to a higher office in the church: such were apostles, prophets, and evangelists. The apostles were chief. [Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: Complete and unabridged in one volume (2313). Peabody: Hendrickson. Logos]

The first gift is, his apostles. It is not meant that he gave to some the gifts needed to constitute them apostles, though that is true; but that, having qualified some to be apostles, he gave them to the Church.[Ephesians. 1909 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.). The Pulpit Commentary (148). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. Logos]

It is noted here that both writers do not dispute the fact that God give gifts to office bearers, but that the focus is God giving officers to His Church. Here is where I would like to be more precise, for the passage does not speak of gifts to the officers of the Church. Therefore, while they would certainly possess gifts, the gifts and the officers are distinct. In other words, one might have various gifts which would qualify one to be an apostle, but there is no particular "gift," for example, of "apostleship." "Apostleship" demarcates an office, not a gift. The office is the gift to the Church, not one particular gift for the office.

Christ gave gifts to His Church for her benefit. The Church is to receive them as good things from her Lord, and receive them with joy, for if they labor with groaning, "that would be of no advantage to you" (Heb. 13: 17ff).

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