The Ordination of Pastors in Ephesians, Part 2
The letter to the Ephesians speaks of God the Father’s redemptive plan for the world, namely to take what was shattered and to restore it into a unified whole (Eph 1:9–10). How is God accomplishing this purpose? First, by reconciling broken sinners to God, bringing them by his grace from death to life, from those awaiting judgment to those who are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:1–10). Second, by reconciling to one another those who have been reconciled to God as dynamic evidence that rightness with God is possible through Christ.
The most dramatic illustration of such a reconciliation between human beings is detailed in Eph 2:11ff, where God takes the two most unlikely people groups, Jews and Gentiles and, through the work of salvation, “creates” one new “man” out of the “two,” making peace between them. This work of reconciliation among sinners who were once enemies of God but are now reconciled to God is the Lord’s “Church.” And the local “church” is a microcosm of this reconciliation, fleshed out for all to see in the lives and worship and witness of God’s redeemed people. In other words, through the church God proclaims that he restores the fragmented relationship between himself and humanity by demonstrating that he can bring peace to fragmented human relationships.
Therefore, because of God’s overarching purpose for the church, that it be a unified body as a witness to the world of reconciliation, the unity of the church is essential for the maturity of the church. In fact, maturity as unity is one of the central themes in Paul’s theology. In Ephesians, the idea of unity is one of the most significant threads running through the fabric of the whole letter. There is a similar theme in Colossians (e.g., 1:24–29). In 1 Corinthians, we see the mirror image of the unity in Ephesians and Colossians in the immaturity of the Corinthian believers. Their immaturity is not due to their newness in Christ as much as it is due to their disunity (1 Cor 1:10–17; 3:1–4). In his letter to the Philippians, Paul exhorts believers to be of one mind, with one goal (Phil 1:27; 4:2–3), following the example of Christ himself (Phil 2:1–11). And in Galatians, the pluralism that comes from the introduction of a different gospel is the trouble that is dividing the Galatians believers (Gal 1:6–9).
Back to Ephesians, Paul exhorts the church to be loving to one another, to be eager to maintain the unity that the Spirit has given (Eph 4:3), celebrating one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one “God and Father of all” (Eph 4:4–6).
So, how does the church maintain this level of unity, united in the doctrines of faith, united in love for one another?
Apostles and prophets. These were the first-century representatives of Christ, given to the church in its earliest days for laying the foundation of the church (1 Cor 3:11). Paul says earlier in Eph 2:20 that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone.
Evangelists. In this context, I believe that “evangelists” are most likely church-planters or missionaries; those whose primary ministry is to preach the gospel for those who have never heard, so that people come to faith in Christ and so that new churches are established.
Shepherds and Teachers. These are men given by the Lord to oversee the ongoing unity of a church body already established, unity in its worship, doctrine, witness, and obedience.
Although we could examine all three of these categories, my focus will stay on the ordination for pastoral ministry—shepherds and teachers. Whether this designation “pastors and teachers” (poimenas kai didaskalous) refers to one office or different offices, to one activity or two is not really a concern of mine here, for the pastor will be one who pastors and teaches, leads and feeds. My concern for the rest of this post is on the duty of this pastor-teacher.
Note the placing of the comma after the word “ministry” in this verse. The comma, of course, is not in the original Greek text; the comma is a translation decision. Yet the single comma here in the ESV after the word “ministry” is consistent with several other modern versions, including the NASB and the HCSB. The comma’s placement suggests the interpretation that the pastor-teacher is responsible to equip God’s people so that, in turn, God’s people can do the work of the ministry, so that the body of Christ is edified.
The interpretation could be tiered like this:
“ … to equip the saints [purpose]
for the work of the ministry [process]
for building up the body of Christ.” [result]
This interpretation has given rise to modern translations such as the NIV which reads, “… to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” And the NLT, which reads, “Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”
Nevertheless, I would like to push back on this popular interpretation of Eph 4:12 on the basis of at least two observations: (1) the uncertainty that the phrases in Eph 4:12 should be subordinated as they are in modern translations, and (2) the true meaning of katartismos,which is the word normally translated “equipping” in today’s versions.
ARE THE PHRASES SUBORDINATE?
I prefer the way that the King James Version (not the NKJV) handles the punctuation in Eph 4:12. The KJV reads, “… for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
In other words, Eph 4:12 views all three phrases—the equipping of saints, the work of the ministry, and the maturity (unity) of the body—as the responsibility of the minister, here the pastor-teacher. This is not to say that church members do not minister in the body, for the New Testament clearly teaches in several places that the members minister to one another in the body and serve Christ’s cause (e.g., Rom 12; 1 Cor 12). Moreover, they must be discipled in order to serve effectively.
Nevertheless, I contend that the equipping of the saints so that the saints can do the work of the ministry is not what Paul is saying in Eph 4:12. In fact, I believe that dropping the first comma (after “saints”) in the modern translations reflects a sentiment that has been long developing in American churches, in which individualism has led to the downgrading of the idea of pastoral authority. Church people do not actually follow their pastors as shepherds anymore. Instead, they listen to him and take his advice into account, then make their own decisions about what to do and to believe. They may follow their shepherd to pasture, but they decide where to graze. In this kind of culture, it is easy to see how the shift has been made from a pastor’s equipping and serving and building up the body through his calling, and turning over his ministry to the congregation who will do it themselves.
Rather than walk through the Greek exegesis of this text, let me just say that I am not alone in my objection to a modern interpretation of Eph 4:12, nor to its ostensible motive. For example, A. T. Lincoln suggests that the modern interpretation is motivated “by a zeal to avoid clericalism and to support a ‘democratic’ model of the Church (Lincoln, WBC 1990: 253; see also H. Hamann 1988; T. Gordon 1994; J. Davis 2000; Page 2005). One example of this “zeal” is found in Markus Barth, who reacts strongly against the older reading of Eph 4:12, claiming that it has “an aristocratic, that is, a clerical and ecclesiastical flavor; it distinguishes the (mass of the) ‘saints’ from the (superior class of the) officers of the church” (Barth 1974: 479).
Likewise, H. Hoehner, who wrote what is arguably one of the best English commentaries on Ephesians, also defends the modern “equipping” view on the basis that “to make such a distinction between clergy and laity goes against the thrust of this passage that promotes unity in the body of Christ” (Hoehner 2002: 547–48). But is Hoehner correct on this point? Does a paradigm in which ministers of the church, given by Christ himself and called to edify his body actually lead to disunity? There is strong reason to believe that just the opposite is true; that, in fact, giving over the minister’s duties to the individuals in the congregation at large may actually lead to disunity in the body of Christ. For when the duties of pastors and teachers are given to members of the body in general it is not corporate unity that results, but individualism, expressed through a plurality of doctrines and interpretations.
On the other hand, when there is unity in doctrine through those few who are given to the church by Christ, the result is unity in the body, “the unity of the faith and knowledge” (Eph 4:13). After all, true unity is always centered around a single source of truth, while pluralism always divides. This interpretation of Eph 4:12 is not to suggest that the Church return to days when its leaders kept the Bible under lock and key, away from the hands of the people. Neither does it suggest that the members of a church are to ignore the exercise of their own gifts. Nevertheless, trusting the ministry to the care of those who are given by Christ himself for the task of edifying his Church does not discourage unity in the body but rather enhances it. Therefore, there is strong reason in the context to accept the reading of Ephesians 4:12 which sees the ministers in 4:11 as taking the lead in the edification of the Church.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF KATARTISMOS?
If we adopt an interpretation that makes the ministers in Eph 4:11 responsible to carry out the phrases in Eph 4:12, other possibilities for the translation of katartismos, usually translated “equipping,” but sometimes “perfecting” (KJV) or “training” (HCSB), may be explored. Is “equip” even the best translation of katartismos?
A brief tour of two leading lexicons reveals that BDAG prefers “equipping” in Eph 4:12. The noun form is a hapax legomenon in the GNT, however, so there is no other NT data to compare with that particular form. The word is used in ancient writing, however, to refer to the “setting of a bone.” This latter idea is parallel to the feminine noun cognate, glossed with “perfecting” or “maturation,” while the verbal form katartizō bears the meaning of “put in order,” or “to restore to a former condition.” For example, the verb is used in 2 Cor 13:11 with the idea of “mend” one’s ways.
The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (2015) offers further nuances of the word group. Probing the meaning of the word in a fresh study of the ancient literature, Brill suggests for our word the glosses of reconciliation, treatment (of a dislocation), furnishing (of goods), and perfection or education. What is striking about the semantic range suggested in Brill is that the gloss “equipping” does not appear. Instead are glosses that bear the idea of restoration or returning something that is broken or out of place back to its former condition, or filling up what is lacking.
These glosses run parallel to what others have observed about Eph 4:12. H. Hamann, in a technical argument that I will not represent here, demonstrates that the word katartismosis a stand-alone noun, needing no subordinate phrase to complete it. Therefore, the word cannot be translated “equipping,” since “equip” always implies equipping for something else (Hamann 1988: 44–55). Sydney Page offers evidence that “the katart- word group could be used to refer to moral or spiritual maturation,” and supports the translation, “for bringing the saints to maturity” (Page 2005: 34–5). T. Gordon, with his eye on the larger context, says, “The most natural understanding of the term in this context is that of gathering, uniting, or ordering the saints into visible communion and mutual cooperation one with another” (Gordon 1994: 74).
If we accept the definition of katartismos as make whole, restore, reconcile, or perfect, the verse fits perfectly with Paul’s theology of what God the Father is doing through the church. Furthermore, if we adopt the non-subordination of the phrases in Eph 4:12, so that the ministers in the church are doing the work of the ministry, it means that this verse strongly suggests that ministers—including pastors and teachers—are given by Christ as gifts to the church for the purpose of helping to bring the body in to an organized whole, to encourage oneness and unity. In other words, one of the leading reasons God has given pastors to the church is to maintain the visible unity in the body of Christ. And this means that one of the marks of a man who is qualified for ministry is that he is able to teach the people how to maintain the unity that the Spirit gives.
Now, how do pastors accomplish maintaining this unity? If, as I argue, all three phrases in Eph 4:12 refer to the work of the pastor, then the pastor preserves unity through “the work of the ministry” (4:12). What, then, is the “work of the ministry” and how does this “work” accomplish the unity of the body of Christ?
The answer to that question I plan to explore in Part 3.
For part 1 of this series, click here.