Monday, July 18, 2011

Comma or no comma in Ephesians 4:12?

The “New Perspective” on Ephesians 4:11-12:

I was reading Peter Master’s booklet “Your Reasonable Service in the Lord’s Work” (Sword and Trowel, 1987, 2011) encouraging the active involvement in service and ministry of all Christians. I agreed with most of what Masters was promoting. I stumbled, however, on his interpretation of Ephesians 4:11-12 (see pp. 14-15).

Masters takes exception with the punctuation of v. 12 in the AV:

KJV Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

He would remove the first comma in v. 12, so that the first phrase reads, “For the perfecting of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body.” Removing the comma interprets Paul's point here as meaning not that pastors and teachers themselves are given “for the work of the ministry,” but so that they might equip or perfect the saints to do the work of the ministry.

Masters then states his preference for the NASB rendering, which reflects this interpretation:

NAS Ephesians 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;

The NIV goes even further by rendering the phrase in dynamic equivalence as “to prepare God’s people for works of service”:

NIV Ephesians 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

The ESV also offers a dynamic equivalent spin, rendering v. 12: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

The Message does the same: “…and pastor-teachers to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body…”

The NKJV, as well, removes the comma:

NKJV Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

Masters cites William Hendriksen’s commentary on this text to support his position, noting Hendriksen’s argument that Paul’s point is that “the entire church should be involved in spiritual labor.”

So also, the MacArthur Study Bible note on the phrase “for the work of ministry” explains that this refers to “The spiritual service required of every Christian, not just of church leaders (cf. 1 Cor 15:58).”

The ESV Study Bible, likewise, comments on v. 12: “Those church leaders with various gifts (v. 11) are to equip the saints (all Christians) so that they can do the work of ministry. All Christians have spiritual gifts that should be used in ministering to one another (1 Cor. 12:7, 11; 1 Pet. 4;10).”

The “Old Paths” Perspective:

One wonders, however, if the removal of this comma is justified. Is it justified on grammatical grounds or has this been theologically driven? Does its removal reflect a modern, democratic, egalitarian interest in “every member ministry” and even a subtle anti-clericalism? Does the pastor exercise his ministry by training non-ordained persons to minister? Or is he himself given “for the work of ministry”? No doubt if he exercises his ministry of word and prayer the saints will be equipped. Retaining the comma by no means negates the fact that each Christian is to find avenues for appropriate ministry and service at home and in the church. But has adding a comma also added an emphasis that is less in view here? In the Greek of v. 12 there are a series of three prepositional phrases. Pastor and teacher are given “for [pros] the perfecting of the saints, for [eis] the work of ministry, for [eis] the edifying of the body of Christ.” There are certainly grounds for arguing that Paul intended three distinct description of the work of pastors and teacher, rather than just two.

This is the way that the old Protestant commentators took verse 12. Examples:

John Calvin in his commentary on v. 12 exegetes each of the three phrases independently. He takes “for the work of the ministry” as a specific reference to pastoral labors, adding, “Paul asserts that a ministry is required, because such is the will of God.”

The Geneva Bible, like the AV, includes the comma in v. 12: “For the repairing of the Saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ.” The note stresses that the verse shows “the end of Ecclesiastical function” as aiming for the unity of the church.

Matthew Henry comments on all three phrases noting that “for the work of the ministry” might be rendered “for the work of dispensation; that is, that they might dispense the doctrines of the gospel, and successfully discharge the several parts of their ministerial function.” Thus, he sees this phrase as relating directly to the pastors and teachers and not the saints in general.

Matthew Poole, likewise, takes “for the work of the ministry” as a reference to the minister’s work in particular. It is “for the work of dispensation, i. e., for dispensing the word, and all those ordinances which it pertains to them to dispense; and so it implies their whole work.” He even suggests that the middle phrase might be transferred to the front of the verse in meaning so that the work of the ministry is the perfecting of the saints and edifying the body of Christ “both in bringing in new members to it, and strengthening those that are brought in already, in faith and holiness.”


So, we see a divide between the old Protestant translations and commentators and the new. The old include the comma and thereby see the reference to “the work of the ministry” as the word and sacrament ministry of the pastor. The new take away the comma and see “for the work of the ministry” as referring to equipping given to all saints. Masters, a conservative Baptist, sides with the new interpretation. As for me, I find that the old is better.



Mr. Koster said...

the KJV is very clear in its meaning, that the five-fold ministry's job is to perfect the saints (not equip), do the work of the ministry, and edfy the church. The old greek does not permit the modern rendering, and therefore the new unauthorized versions are ILLEGAL, AND HERESY.

Anonymous said...

@Mr. Koster, The Greek says πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν or pros ton katartismon, which the KJV says "fort he perfection of the saints. But a no one can perfect the saints but Jesus Christ. So equip or edify is a better translation, it would be transitive, "to cause to be perfected" or "to equip"

Anonymous said...

Except that it could also "repair" as it is in the Geneva Bible--this is the Bible the Pilgrims had on the Mayflower. Regardless, the three clauses are in series, all referring back the main verb "gave." Adverbial clauses may not refer to one another in the ancient Greek. See the homilies of St. John Chrysostom, 4th c. bishop who spoke the original Greek--just like the KJV. NIV is wrong. You are wrong. Anyone who teaches the new version is a LIAR.