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Gift/office/n-fold-ministry lists

(Garth D. Wiebe, Oct 2015, updated Aug 2016, added table Jan 2018, added video Aug 2018, Eph 4:11 edit Mar 2022)

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We all in the body (the εκκλησια, the "out-calling") function as one body that has many members, each supporting one another for the common goal.

For roles, "offices," and such things, people tend to take a microscope to a couple of verses and say "Here's the list," when it isn't about a list at all, but examples of things to illustrate the point being made, which isn't to make a list. If you get that, then that will free you from the bondage of the "lists" of "gifts," "offices," and "n-fold ministries."

Here are all the "lists":

Rom 12:6-8 cites prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, mercy (7 things)

1 Cor 12:8-10 cites wisdom, knowledge, faith, remedies, empowerment, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation. (9 things)

1 Cor 12:28 cites apostles, prophets, teachers, empowerment, remedies, assistance, administration, tongues. (8 things)

1 Cor 12:29 cites apostles, prophets, teachers, empowerment, remedies, tongues, interpretation (7 things), and that is the same category as the previous verse!

1 Cor 13:1-3 cites tongues, prophecy, faith, generosity, martyrdom (5 things)

1 Cor 13:8-9 cites prophecy, tongues, knowledge (3 things), and that is the same category as in the previous verses!

Eph 2:20 cites apostles, prophets (2 things)

Eph 4:11 cites apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds-teachers (4 or 5 things)

1 Tim 3:1-13 cites overseers, servants, and women (3 things)

Titus 1:5-9 cites elders/overseers (closely paralleling 1 Tim 3:1-7 "overseers"), and then elder-women, younger-men, and slaves (uh... ??)

1 Pet 4:10 cites "whatever" (nothing in particular)
Notice that the numbers change, even in the course of one verse (compare 1 Cor 12:28 with :29), and the so-called "gifts" are blurred with the so-called "offices" and so-called "n-fold ministries" in other lists.

Then, even the assignments of individual items are not distinct, either. 1 Timothy 3:1 talks about being in a position of having oversight. That's what "elders" are supposed to do. Compare 1 Timothy 3:1-7 with Titus 1:5-8. Or see 1 Peter 5:1-2, which shows that elders are supposed to "shepherd" (i.e. "pastor"), as "overseers. "shepherding" (i.e. "pastoring") is also what "overseers" do; see Acts 20:28. So what is the official "office" then? (Note that the Greek word for "pastor" is just the common word for "shepherd" and is only ever translated as "pastor" once in Eph 4:11).

Here's a table listing where each thing occurs in each scripture list:

things  \  lists
1 Cor
1 Cor
1 Cor
1 Cor
1 Cor
1 Tim
1 Pet
apostles (👤)
prophets (👤) prophecy (✔)
evangelists (👤)
elders (👤)
overseers (👤)
shepherds (👤)
teachers (👤) teaching (✔)
servants (👤) serving (✔)
women (👤)
elder women (👤)
younger men (👤)
slaves (👤)
wisdom (✔)
knowledge (✔)
faith (✔)
remedies (✔)
empowerment (✔)
discernment (✔)
tongues (✔)
interpretation (✔)
assistance (✔)
administration (✔)
exhortation (✔)
generosity (✔)
leadership (✔)
mercy (✔)
martyrdom (✔)
whatever (✔)

Also see my list of religious terms that shouldn't be religious, particularly for the meaning of "apostle" (anyone "sent off" or commissioned), "evangelist" (a "well-messenger"), "deacon" (religious word that only really means "servant"), "pastor" (only means "shepherd"), and note that there are no "preachers" in any of these lists ("preach" is a religious word, translated from a common word that only means "herald" or "proclaim," which is what we are all supposed to be doing).

For leadership roles, you can make this complicated, or just say that there are those who have the responsibility of "oversight" who should be "elders" who "shepherd" the flock, among other things, and they should be qualified as being mature and beyond reproach.

"Five-fold ministry" is a modern religious label usually used for building institutional empires and creating classifications for the elite, and is not in the Bible. The apostle Paul was just giving some examples, not making an itemized list. The "examples" were examples illustrating verse 7, which I will translate more literally as it flows in the original (at the expense of proper English):

"7 Yet/and/also to one each of us is given the grace/favor according to the measure of the gratuity of the Christ...[8 9 10 cites/refers back to Psalm 68:18]...that he should be filling (Strong's G4137, πληρωση) the all/every, 11 and the same gives on-one-hand the sent-ones, on-another-hand the prophets, on-another-hand the well-messengers, on-another-hand the shepherds and teachers, 12 toward the equipping of the saints into [a] work of service into home-building of the body of the Christ 13 until we should attain the all/every into the oneness of the faith and of the knowledge upon of the son of the God into [a] mature man into [a] measure of first of the fill-effect (Strong's G4138, πληρωματος) of the Christ, 14 that we may not still be juniors, being surged and carried about to every wind of the teaching in the dice of the men in craftiness toward the stratagems of the deception." [Note: See this explanation for the μεν...δε...δε...δε... construct.]
This isn't a prescribed list of anything. Notice that the word "five-fold" is not in the text. Neither is the word "some" (as in granting "some to be this, some to be that"); it is actually just the definite article, "the." There are Koine Greek words for "some" (τινες) and the verb "to be" (ειναι), so "some to be" would be τινες ειναι, if he wanted to say that, which he didn't. Or "few" (ολιγοι), as in "[a] few to be" which would be ολιγοι ειναι, if he wanted to say that, which he didn't. It is just the word "the." How boring.

So, there is no itemized list or prescription to argue about there, either.

And, what of Eph 2:20, which talks of how we are built upon the the foundation of the "apostles" and "prophets"? Did he miss evangelists and shepherds-teachers in that list of only two? But, alas, these are both religious terms that shouldn't be religious. So, if you go by their generic definitions, Eph 2:20 can be translated,

"...being built upon the foundation of those commissioned and those revealing beforehand..."
Oops! what happened to the religion?? I think I just pulled the rug out from under it.

If you want to classify, categorize, and create institutional "office" and "gift" and "n-fold ministry" formulas and prescriptions out of all this, you've got a quite a mess to deal with.

Let me finish with a humorous illustration. In 1 Cor 12, the chapter that many use to say that there are "9 spiritual gifts," if you think that is an itemized and complete list, then keep reading to verses 14 through 25 where it gives the analogy to the parts of the human body. Itemized there are the feet, the hand, the ear, the eye, the smell, and the head (6 things). Does this mean that the apostle Paul is saying that the human body is composed of 6 parts: an eye, an ear, the feet, a hand, a nose, and a head? Does the human body look something like this?

That illustration is kind of silly, but so is hyper-analyzing lists in the Bible. Instead, if you look at the lists in the Bible as practical examples to illustrate the spiritual principle being made in each context, then everything works.

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Attribution required for photograph of tomato: M.Barel (CC BY-NC 2.0)