Eph 4:8  Therefore it says,  “When he ascended on high he captured  captives; he gave gifts to men.”
Eph 4:9  Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth?
Eph 4:10  He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things.
Eph 4:11  It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
Eph 4:12  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ,
Eph 4:13  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God — a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.
Eph 4:14  So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.
Eph 4:15  But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.
Eph 4:16  From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

The Five-Fold authority

In covering theology a huge emphasis is placed on Ephesians 4.  It is thought that Paul is laying out God’s organizational chart of authority.  The apostles and the prophets are the top of the hierarchy with the evangelists, pastors and teachers rounding out the bottom.  Each item is this list represents an office or position.  Most would say that these 5 offices were lost from the church but are now being regained.  The evangelists, pastors and teachers have already been restored through previous movements and revivals.  The prophets were restored recently and now God is putting the final piece back in to place: the apostles.

There is scant biblical or historical evidence to suggest the 5-fold ministries are offices

Paul starts with the gifts God has given us.  It is by this giftedness that we have some that function as apostles, prophets etc…  While I believe the original 12 apostles were distinct the need for this gift in the church has never left us.   The gifts have likely never left us either they just found expression in other modes of ministry.

It isn’t without reason that people would conclude that Paul is speaking of offices.  When Paul writes “he gave some as” there are  two options.  Either these are functions just like care giving with no notion of position associated with it or they are positions to be occupied in the body of Christ.  There is nothing in the text that suggests these functions or offices were ordered in any hierarchy.  The text isn’t clear so we need to look to the rest of scripture.

The word pastor isn’t used to describe a role or position in the church anywhere else in scripture.  The only item on the list associated with any kind of official office is that of the apostle.  In Acts the disciples drew lots to find someone who would take Judas Iscariot’s place (Acts 1:21).  While prophets and evangelists are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament there is no indication that they occupied an office.

There are qualifications for elders and deacons in Timothy and Titus but no mention of apostles, prophets etc…  The council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) was made up of apostles and elders.  If there was an office of the prophet, and they were second in command it probably would have been mentioned.  That by itself doesn’t prove Paul isn’t talking about offices here.

The Didache is one of the earliest pieces of Christian tradition and it directly addresses the issue of apostles, prophets and teachers.  It was so well regarded it was considered for the Canon of scripture.

Chapter 11. Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets.
Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet who speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. But not every one who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And every prophet who orders a meal in the Spirit does not eat it, unless he is indeed a false prophet. And every prophet who teaches the truth, but does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet. And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself does, shall not be judged among you, for with God he has his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets. But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others’ sake who are in need, let no one judge him.

It appears that there were itinerant apostles, teachers and prophets but they did not hold any blanket authority over a congregation.  They were tested in a number of ways.

  • Do they have correct doctrine?
  • How long did they stay?
  • Did they ask for money?
  • Did they hold the ways of the Lord?
  • Did they practice what they preach?

It is clear that people accepted the ministry of apostles and prophets as long as the met certain conditions.  They weren’t given blanket authority to command people in churches.  While the Didache is not considered authoritative in the way that scripture is, it illustrates an understanding of prophets and apostles that is different from the hierarchical approach found in covering theology.  It is very consistent with the way Paul interacted with the Corinthians.  Paul had to persuade them, he didn’t command them.  When he was challenged by the the Corinthians he appealed to many of the same criteria that are listed in the Didache.