Ephesians 4:11-12 states the following: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…”
Even though “teachers” is listed together with the offices of the ministry, including apostle, prophet, evangelist and pastor, what was the original intent of this passage and the inclusion of “teachers”?
Looking at the qualifications of a bishop (literally, an overseer) or an elder (compare New International Version) will help us to clarify this issue.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 states:
“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop [“elder,” New International Version], he desires a good work. A bishop [“elder”] then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
Notice that we read in verse 2 that a bishop or better overseer or elder must be “able to teach.” [The same expression is used in Acts 20:17, where it is rendered in the New King James Bible as “elder.” In Acts 20:28, the New King James Bible states: “overseers.” Compare the Jamieson Fausset and Brown commentary.] See also our Q&A on the biblical meaning of the term “elder”.
We can conclude that a teacher is, at best, a function of an office or a rank–not itself an office or a rank. Sometimes, it does not even include a function of an office. We read that older women are to admonish or teach younger women (Titus 2:1-5), but older women do not function within a ministerial office or rank. In fact, Paul prohibits women to teach in church (1 Timothy 2:12). On the other hand, we have always understood that a minister’s wife fulfills a certain function (not an office or rank) in assisting, helping and supporting her ordained husband. We have usually referred to this fact by stating that a minister’s wife constitutes 50% of her husband’s ministry.
We also note that Jesus Christ was a Teacher. John 3:2 states: “This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’” The Pharisees recognised that Christ was not only a teacher, but also a teacher from God. This was a function of His many titles–not a title per se.
He is called Son of God, Son of Man, King of kings, Chief Shepherd, High Priest, the Apostle, the Prophet, the Lawgiver (Shiloh, compare Genesis 49:10), and He had of course a great ability to teach others.
The revealed ministerial ranks or offices in the Church of God are (compare Ephesians 4:11-12):
Romans 1:1 describes Paul as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” He is also referred to as an apostle in 1 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1, and in many other places in the Bible. Jesus Christ is referred to as THE Apostle.
There is currently no one in the Church of God who holds this office or rank, although there might be some who have usurped this rank to themselves as “self-appointed” apostles. The only recognized apostle in the Church of God in recent years has been Herbert W. Armstrong who died in 1986. The Bible reveals that in the future, some (for instance, the two witnesses) will hold the office and rank of apostle, but this time has not yet arrived. Presently, we are warned not to accept those as apostles whom the Bible designates as false apostles and deceitful workers.
1 Corinthians 14:37 cautions us: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.”
Paul and Barnabas were prophets (Acts 13:1). Jesus Christ is referred to as THE Prophet.
As with the rank and office of apostle, there is currently no one in the Church of God who holds the office or rank of prophet, although there are some who have usurped this rank to themselves as “self-appointed” prophets. In the future, there will be those who will be functioning as prophets (for instance, the two witnesses), but this time has not yet arrived. Mr. Armstrong—even though he was recognized as an apostle—was not perceived as holding the office or rank of prophet.
Acts 21:8 states: “On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.”
2 Timothy 4:5 states: “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Today, there are several ministers in the greater Churches of God who hold the rank and office of Evangelist.
Today, there are quite a few ministers in the greater Churches of God who hold the rank and office of Pastor (compare Ephesians 4:11). In addition, this office or rank can be a little bit confusing to some because there are those in the Church of God who are fulfilling the function of a pastor or a “shepherd,” since they are looking after a group of people, but they have not been ordained (yet) to the office or rank of Pastor.
An Elder (see below) can be fulfilling the function of a Pastor, in that he looks after a group of God’s people. But this is also true for an Evangelist, who fulfills the function of a Pastor and an Elder, being able to preach and teach. Usually, an Evangelist-rank minister was previously ordained to the rank of Elder and Pastor. Jesus Christ is referred to as the Chief Shepherd or the Chief Pastor.
Although not specifically mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-12, it has been recognized that the Bible speaks of the rank and office of Elder in numerous places.
James 5:14 states: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
Act 14:23 writes: “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
Compare also 1 Timothy 5:17 and 1 Peter 5:5; and note 1 Timothy 4:14, referring to “the laying on of hands of the eldership.”
Some of the ministerial offices overlap, since some of the apostles referred to themselves also as elders. In 2 John 1:1, the apostle John refers to himself as an elder. The apostle Peter also refers to himself as a fellow elder in 1 Peter 5:1.
Paul was an apostle, a prophet, an elder, a preacher and a teacher (compare 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11). He fulfilled all these functions, but he was specifically ordained to the ranks of apostle, prophet and elder—not to the rank or the “office” of preacher or teacher. A similar description of functions is found in 1 Corinthians 12:28—this passage does not necessarily describe ranks or offices, although some are of course included: “Now God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues…”
In addition, the Bible recognizes the non-ministerial rank and office of deacon and deaconess (1 Timothy 3:8, 11). In order to become a deacon or a deaconess, one must be ordained to these offices. Also, to become an elder, one [including a deacon] must be ordained to that office. When somebody were to claim that as a deacon, he was also a minister, then such claim would be false (even though a deacon may be asked to give sermonettes or even sermons in Church services, under the direction and supervision of a minister. But he is not to heal the sick, cast out demons, baptize or ordain others etc.). Likewise, to become a pastor, one must be ordained to that office (even though an elder may be asked to fulfill the function of a pastor, see above). In addition, to become an Evangelist, someone has to be ordained to that rank and office.
With each ordination, God gives the ordained person who is being raised in rank an additional amount of His Holy Spirit so that he can fulfill the role and function of that office. See our Q&A on John 3:34. When somebody were to claim that as a deacon or an elder, he had the same amount of God’s Holy Spirit as a pastor or an evangelist, then that person would be making a false claim. And of course, ministerial credentials can be revoked by the Church of God if a minister proves through his conduct that he has become disqualified of and unfit for the particular rank, office and function. The same is true for ordained deacons and deaconesses. The idea of “once a deacon or a minister, always a deacon or a minister,” is not biblical.
In conclusion, the recognized ministerial offices or ranks in the Church of God are Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Elder. Any other designation for a rank or title is not biblical. “Teacher” or “Preacher” are not ranks or offices, but they rather describe various functions. We do not refer to a minister as “Reverent,” as this designation is reserved for God.
For further information, please read our Q&A on ministerial ranks in God’s Church.
Lead Writers: Rene Messier and Norbert Link