Ephesians 4:11-12:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [ESV]

11 And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ; [NASB]

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: [KJV]

11 and He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] proclaimers of good news, and some [as] shepherds and teachers, 12 unto the perfecting of the saints, for a work of ministration, for a building up of the body of the Christ, [YLT]

What are the differences between these five (or four?) offices? Are their functions, responsibilities and associated gifts formally defined somewhere?

  • I am not sure I understand the question - this is merely another of Paul's list of spiritual gifts for the church to "build up the body of Christ". So, what are you asking - a definition of each Greek word here?
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 11:43
  • 2
    While the words can be defined, the NT never formally defines these functions/officers.
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 11:45
  • @Dottard - I'm rather interested in Paul's definition of those offices. Here Paul is just alluding to these offices' existence, but how would Paul have defined them?
    – user38524
    Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 11:48
  • 1
    We are not told. All we can say is what the words mean.
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 12:05

3 Answers 3


Here are the meanings of these words as derived from the NT text and based on the data in BDAG:

ἀπόστολος (apostolos)

of messenger with extraordinary status, especially of God's, messenger, envoy

This noun is applied to prophets in Luke 11:49, Rev 18:20, Eph 3:5; and Christ Himself in Heb 3:1 but predominantly in the NT of a group of believers with a special function as God's envoys ...

Unlike some of the other NT officers, there is no record of apostles being appointed by the church but only chosen by God/Jesus (Matt 10:2 etc) for the special gifts they receive. Paul was an apostle to the gentiles and thus had to move and travel widely. He established new churches in new areas, a function that today might be called a "missionary".

προφήτης (prophetes)

a person inspired to proclaim or reveal divine will or purpose, prophet

This term is applied to prophets in the OT (Matt 2:17, etc); John the baptist (Matt 14:5, etc); Jesus Himself (John 4:19, etc); Christians endowed with the spiritual gift of prophecy (Acts 15:32, etc).

Again, prophets were not appointed by the church but chosen directly by God for this special service.

εὐαγγελιστής (euaggelistés)

proclaimer of the gospel, evangelist

The word only occurs in Acts 21:8, Eph 4:11, and 2 Tim 4:5. The fact that both Timothy and Philip are so designated confirms that this and the other titles overlap in their function and work: Philip was one the seven deacons; Timothy was an assistant apostle and pastor.

It is not clear if "evangelist" was a separate title or just a function fulfilled by other people such as pastors, apostles and elders. I am inclined to the latter.

ποιμήν (poimen = shepherd)

one who serves as guardian or leader, shepherd (figuratively) of those who lead Christian communities/congregations/churches

[Note: our English word "pastor" comes directly from the Latin, "pastor" meaning "shepherd".]

The word is used VERY infrequently in the ecclesiastical sense. It is used of Christ (Heb 13:20, 1, Peter 2:5, see also John 10:2, 11, 11, 12, 14, 16, Mark 14:27, Matt 26:31) and in Eph 4:11. No one in the NT has the title "pastor" and no qualifications are given.

However, the cognate verb is used in Acts 20:28 as a function fulfilled by elders (V17) and in John 21:16 of Peter.

διδάσκαλος (didaskalos = Teacher)


The word is extremely common and is applied to "teachers of the law" (Luke 2:46, John 3;10), Jesus (Matt 8:19, etc), and an "official" in the Christian church (Acts 13:1, 1 Cor 12:28, Eph 4:11, 2 Tim 1:11, James 3:1, etc). There is no record of who appoints teachers in general apart from our two prominent texts: Eph 4:11 and 1 Cor 12:28 where teachers are appointed by the Holy Spirit Himself!

The material that is taught is spiritual truth as per the apostles' teaching, the prophets' teaching, the message of Scripture, and thus they tell the good news (ie, are evangelists) that help to lead (shepherd) the church. Again, all these functions overlap.


As shown above, all these functions overlap somewhat but are ultimately the recipients of God's special spiritual gifts (in some cases more than one!) as taught by Eph 4:11 and 1 Cor 12:28. The purpose of all these spiritual gifts is for strengthening and building up the church.

  • Well articulated and well supported!
    – Dieter
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 23:26

Great question.

We might start by breaking these offices/works into two groups:

  1. Apostles and Prophets
  2. Evangelists, pastors and teachers

The first are present to serve the church universal, while the second serve the church local. We see this earlier in the same letter when Paul makes the distinction of the work of apostles and prophets jointly:

Ephesians 2:20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone

Apostles (aka ambassadors, "those sent") are the men chosen by Jesus to received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (John 14,15,16, Acts 2) and to establish the church. Prophets most likely refer not to the prophets of the OT but those upon whom the Apostles laid hands and were given the gift of prophecy.

Consider how this might work: Matthew, John, Peter and Paul were apostles who wrote a large part of the texts that became the NT. Mark, Luke, James and Jude are prophets who wrote additional parts of the NT. Together, they brought us the NT, the writings that then serve to establish the church throughout time (1 Timothy 3:15).

The second are mentioned in the context of the local church. Evangelists (aka preachers) serve the local church as seen in the work of Titus or Timothy. They "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2). Pastors (aka elders, overseers, shepherds) are appointed within the local church (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). Finally teachers are present when a local church is established (1 Timothy 1).

One might also distinguish these works by their qualifications.

  • Apostles - Qualifications are mentioned in Acts 1:21-22. They are men who walked with Jesus from the baptism of John to the ascension of Jesus (Paul being the exception)

  • Prophets - Qualifications are inferred to be the laying on of hands by the Apostles, as seen in Acts 8:16-17

  • Evangelists - Qualifications are discussed in 2 Timothy 2:23-25

  • Pastors - Qualifications are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9

  • Teachers - Qualifications are discussed in 2 Timothy 2:23-25 (James 3:1-2)

  • 3
    Dottard - thanks for the feedback. You are correct to say that Paul too is an apostle, but the evidence is not there for any others (perhaps Barnabas). Your citation of Romans 16:7 actually does not indicate that they were apostles. One cannot escape that the Apostleship was limited to only those qualified based on Acts 1. Consider too Revelation 12:14 if you would; it too speaks to a limited number of Apostles. It is an inescapable conclusion that the Apostleship was limited based on qualifications, works and descriptions
    – Brainardo
    Commented Sep 23, 2021 at 17:30
  • 1
    (Cont) As well, perhaps I was not clear, but the work of laying on of hands is BY the Apostles, not ON the Apostles. Consider Acts 8:14-18; there we are specifically told that only the Apostles could lay hands on men to receive the miraculous gifts. This is spoken of by Paul in multiple places (Romans 1:8, 2 Corinthians 12:12). As for Paul and qualifications, he acknowledges his unique circumstance in 1 Corinthians 15:8 by using a term that likely harkens back to his ancestor Benjamin, that of the apostles he was one born out of due time.
    – Brainardo
    Commented Sep 23, 2021 at 17:35
  • 1
    (Cont). Finally, as to the matter of evangelists, I would suggest looking at 2 Timothy 4:5 (" do the work of an evangelist") as evidence that (1) Philip is clearly not the only evangelist in the NT, and that contextually therefore 2 Tim. 2 is speaking to qualifications of an evanagelist. I do appreciate your inspection and responses. I hope I have clarified your observations.
    – Brainardo
    Commented Sep 23, 2021 at 17:40
  • 3
    Dottard - all good points. You are correct that if there are no more Apostles, there is no passage of the (gifts of) the Holy Spirit. I think where you and I are in contrast is what that means. It is not the case that the Apostles laid hands and passed on the Holy Spirit, but the GIFTS of the Holy Spirit. I know that this is confusing, as sometimes it simply states "Holy Spirit" as these gifts were passed. But if you take an honest look, you will see that laying on of hands in the Apostolic NT was always about passing on miraculous gifts, which we are told would cease (1 Cor. 13:8).
    – Brainardo
    Commented Sep 23, 2021 at 22:13
  • 1
    You are correct that this where we differ - I simply take the text for what it says - these people were given the Holy Spirit and it was the Holy Spirit ONLY who decides what gifts are to go to each person. See 1 Cor 12:3-11 which emphasizes this point repeatedly!
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 23, 2021 at 22:17

It's a tough subject

This is a challenging area of interpretation due to the limited number of New Testament passages which include these terms, as well as the diversity of opinions on this matter. There is a troubling tendency for every Christian tradition to teach that its own formation of leadership is identical to that described in the New Testament, and so it is necessary to consider how these terms were understood in the context of the early church.

When I was exploring this topic personally I found it very helpful to examine how these were treated by early Christian sources just beyond the New Testament - ie the earliest recipients of these texts, who also had oral witnesses and traditions that had been passed down from the Apostles. For this reason I have supplied a few useful references from within the first hundred years after the Apostles' deaths.

How were these terms understood by early Christians?

It tends to be only charismatic denominations which refer to these as 'offices', so if we use the term as a starting point we risk reading ideas into the text that may not be original to the author. In many patristic texts the 'Apostles' was a summary term for 'apostolic' texts (e.g. the New Testament letters) and traditions, 'Prophets' for Old Testament texts, 'Evangelists' for the four Gospels, and then the 'shepherds and teachers' were the present-day leaders.

In to the Philadelphians, Ignatius (35-107 CE) treats Prophets and Apostles as historic phenomena, not contemporary events:

"The priests likewise are noble, but the High Priest who has been entrusted with the Holy of Holies is greater, and only to him have the secret things of God been entrusted. He is the door of the Father, through which enter Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the Prophets and the Apostles and the Church. All these things are joined in the unity of God. But the Gospel has somewhat of pre eminence, the coming of the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, his passion, and the resurrection. For the beloved prophets had a message pointing to him, but the Gospel is the perfection of incorruption." - Ignatius to the Philadelphians, IX

Similarly, Clement (35-99 CE, himself a disciple of Peter) only talks about Apostles in the past tense:

"The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order." - 1 Clement 42

Indeed, if you survey all the texts following the New Testament, nobody ever seemed to believe or expect that Apostles were a continuing role within the church after the close of the first century, so it's difficult to maintain a view of contemporary Apostleship when we have 1700+ years after the death of the Twelve (+ Paul) and others seeking to take up the same title.

Evangelist is a more difficult term to find in early Christian writings, but tends to refer exclusively to the Gospels. Ignatius only uses the term Evangelist on one occasion, clearly referencing John:

"The Evangelists, too, when they declared that the one Father was “the only true God,” did not omit what concerned our Lord, but wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." - Ignatius to the Antiochians, IV

In fact, the most decisive quote is from Irenaeus (130-200 CE), who uses all three terms together quite clearly in this sense:

And it is not only from the writings of the evangelists and the apostles that they endeavour to derive proofs for their opinions by means of perverse interpretations and deceitful expositions: they deal in the same way with the law and the prophets. - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 6

On the other hand, the Didache (effectively a first century church manual) does have a section discussing 'apostles' and 'prophets' as contemporary phenomena, which may be evidence that the text was either written very early (prior to the Apostles' deaths) or preserves a variant reading of these terms.

Which terms were definitely leadership roles in the early church?

This then just leaves the terms shepherd/pastor and teacher for actual roles which all agree occurred in the church continually, which are a bit simpler to handle:

Shepherd is a warm pastoral term for a leader, and seems to be a catch-all term for those with leadership responsibilities, such as bishops or elders. This term is unique in that outside of Ephesians 4:11 it is only otherwise applied to Jesus or literal shepherds, and so there is no further New Testament evidence to understand exactly how this was understood.

Teacher is a more generic term, and could be understood to encompass the wider range of those providing teaching or training in the church context. This is the same word used for 'teacher' throughout the New Testament, and does not seem to have any particularly noteworthy nuance to it.

  • Curious about the -1. Any feedback on what should be improved?
    – Steve can help
    Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 14:02
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Sep 23, 2021 at 8:00
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - I've expanded the answer further to include clearer dates and detail, to be as complete as possible. Is there anything else I've missed which you would find helpful?
    – Steve can help
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 12:50
  • Steve, An immediate -1 seems to be a curious tradition here that I've never understood. My guess is that the person who down-voted your post is deeply concerned that with such an excellent post, you might be tempted toward the stumbling block of pride. ;-)
    – Dieter
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 23:31
  • Haha, thanks @Dieter - I don't mind downvotes, they're just not very helpful without a Comment to explain :)
    – Steve can help
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 11:58

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