Jerry C. Brewer
For about as long as I have been preaching, I have heard men say that the gifts Paul enumerates in Ephesians 4:11 are both, the miraculous of the first century and the non-miraculous that remain today. That is false. Within this context, they are all miraculous.
Paul had just written of Christ’s ascension following His resurrection, saying, “Wherefore, he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (Eph. 4:8). That is a quote from the Messianic prophecy in Psalms 68:18 which says, “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men…” The figure in these passages is of a conqueror returning from his conquest. In Rome, the conqueror would lead a triumphal parade in his chariot, with his captives trailing behind it, and he would distribute gifts to celebrate his conquest.
Paul makes a spiritual application of that practice in Ephesians 4. By His resurrection, Christ conquered death which held mankind in captivity, and in His triumphal ascension He led death captive. David wrote of His triumphal entry into heaven in Psalms 24: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. …Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory” (Psa. 24:7, 10). Thus, when the Lord ascended and was crowned, He, “gave gifts unto men” by the apostles’ baptism in the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:1-4) and their laying on of hands to impart spiritual gifts to others (cf. Acts 8:14-17; 19:6).
The gifts that the triumphant Christ gave to men are then enumerated: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers…” (Eph. 4:11). That these are all miraculous gifts is clearly explained by their purpose in the verses following: “…for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). That all are miraculous is further explained by their duration: “…till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
The above, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, refer to those in the first century who were miraculously endowed. It is true that the church today has evangelists, pastors (elders), and teachers, but none today is miraculously endowed. All of those that Paul lists above were. For instance, when Paul and Barnabas reached the end of their first evangelistic tour at Derbe, “…they returned to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed” (Acts 14:21-23). Paul and Barnabas retraced the course over which they had just passed and converted men to Christ, but the amount of time between their conversion and their ordination as elders (pastors) would not have been sufficient for them to grow into the qualifications for the eldership as men today must. They were miraculously endowed as elders. The same, then, is true with evangelists, and teachers.
That all of these gifts were miraculous is further evidenced by their purpose:
1. “For the perfecting of the saints.” The completion of divine revelation provides us everything we need for perfection in God’s service. The word “perfecting” means “completing” and Paul said, “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When the faith was “once delivered” (Jude 3), everything man needed to be perfect (complete) was made available through the scriptures.
2.“Till we all come in the unity of the faith.” Notice—“the unity of the faith.” That refers to the completion of divine revelation. Paul said he preached the faith (Gal. 1:23), which meant he preached the gospel—the same thing he preached at Corinth (1 Cor. 15:1-2).
3. “And of the knowledge of the Son of God.” That refers to the same thing—the completion of divine revelation and full knowledge of all things necessary to our salvation, and Peter said that has been done: “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3)
The word “till” in Ephesians 4:13 expresses the point of termination of those miraculous gifts. When divine revelation was completed, they ceased, as Paul said in First Corinthians 13:9-10: “For we know in part, and we prophecy in part. But when that which is perfect (“complete,” JCB) is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. “That which is in part” referred to the miraculous gifts bestowed upon men in the first century for the purposes enumerated by Paul in Ephesians 4. There is not a man on earth today who fits the description of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teachers as Paul described in that chapter. Nor is any man today charged with “the perfecting of the saints,” as many churches of Christ say on their websites. To claim such is to claim miraculous gifts today.