Articles home page

Is Eph 4:11 "five-fold" or "four-fold"?

(Garth D. Wiebe, March 2022)

You may have heard the challenge that Eph 4:11 actually calls out a "four-fold" ministry, combining the "pastors and teachers" into one category, instead of "five-fold."

First, it isn't anything-fold, as the apostle Paul is just citing examples of roles that build up the body of Christ. See Gift/office/n-fold-ministry lists for my discussion of this point. The word "five-fold" is not in the text. Nor is "four-fold." 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, as a number of translations recite, but the original text doesn't.

However, there remains the question about how many categories there are in Eph 4:11.

You may know that in English we have the expression "on one hand...on the other hand..." In English the expression only works with two things, as a person only has two hands on his body so, figuratively, the expression compares only two things that contrast each other. You look at what's in one hand, and then you look at what's in the other hand. The same concept is in the Koine Greek language, when marked by the sequence of conjunctions, μεν...δε... in sequence. But for Greek, use the same kind of thinking, but extend it to imagine that our body may have more than two hands. The conjunction sequence μεν...δε...δε...δε... would, for example, correspond to our having four hands on our body, from which we would look at one, then the other, then the other, then the other, and compare/contrast what is in each hand.

Eph 4:11 "and 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"
Eph 4:11 has the "μεν...δε...δε...δε..." construct, and then the "shepherds and teachers" (ποιμενας και διδασκαλους) are in one of those four categories the apostle Paul is contrasting.

In conclusion, he contrasts:

1. sent-ones
2. prophets
3. well-messengers
4. shepherds and teachers
So, is it a prescription for a single role of a shepherd who teaches (or a teacher who shepherds)? It isn't a prescription, and that question is outside of what is being addressed by the apostle Paul here in context. Again, he is citing examples of different roles that build up the body of Christ. If it is a small group, then the shepherd teaches as a teacher who shepherds. Perhaps in a very large group, one could designate separate roles, designating some who focus on teaching while the shepherd oversees, guides, and protects. I am functioning as a teacher to all those who are reading this article, yet I do not shepherd everyone reading this article, yet many who are taught by me in my articles, some of whom I have never met and will never hear from personally, would say that I am helping to equip them and build them up (Eph 4:12). But I see Eph 4:11 as more of somewhat of a sequence of roles. You start with someone sent off/away on a mission to reach people far away. Then there are those who proclaim in advance, and those who spread the good news. The last category (shepherds and teachers) are the ones who stay put in the end, those who are committed to the growth of each local body.

No copyrightI grant this work to the public domain.