Interpreting Ephesians 4: The Five-Fold Giftings


There is such a better view of the Kingdom of God and of the church when we are releasing all five gifts

[This post is part of the A.P.E. Theology series. Read the rest of the posts here!]

When it comes to interpreting Ephesians 4 and the five-fold giftings mentioned in verse 11, it is important to know that two main lines of thinking has crept up over the years.

1. Apostles and Prophets were just for the founders of the church (the 12)

2.The five fold ministry does exist today but only for leaders in the church. Not for everyone.

So if you come from a camp that believes one of those thought lines, or are going to a church with these beliefs, you are not going to hear teaching on the five –fold gifting much at all. If it doesn’t exist today, point one, then why teach on it? If it is only for leaders, then if it is talked about at all, it will be talked about with those leaders. Not with the common man or woman in a common place like Sunday morning worship.

This is just a shame and an inaccurate reading of Ephesians 4. It leaves us at 40% capacity and only empowering shepherds and teachers with a tiny bit of evangelism sprinkled in.

[I will write another article about these beliefs and unpack a bit more where they come from…stay tuned]

But for now, let me present to you an alternative way to read Ephesians.

How we need to read Ephesians

First of all, the book of Ephesians is not written to leaders! So any theology that arises saying that the five-fold ministry in Ephesians 4 is for leadership in the church is not correct. Nowhere in Ephesians does Paul mention leaders or that he is talking to the leaders in the church. In fact, in verse one of chapter one, he is clearly talking to the every day common person.

“1 This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.

I am writing to God’s holy people in Ephesus, who are faithful followers of Christ Jesus.”

Paul addresses the letter to the “faithful followers of Christ Jesus.” This is you and me and your cousin and uncle. This is not some super hero of the faith or some elder council. Therefore, the five-fold ministry in chapter 4 is also addressed to the every day common believer and we need to take it as such.

Staying in verse one, we can also debunk the argument that apostles and prophets were only intended as founding gifts and therefore only for the first apostles. Last I checked, Paul was not an original apostle called by Jesus himself so I don’t know how we get this theology.

If you are going to say that Paul is part of this “founding” group and it extends beyond the 12, that is fine. But you cannot say then that the apostolic gifting is not for today and that it stopped at some arbitrary point in time! It just is not Biblical.

  • Paul was not one of the original 12 yet calls himself an apostle
  • Scripture doesn’t say Apostolic or Prophetic giftings stop. In fact it encourages it forward here in Ephesians and also in Corinthians
  • The word apostle appears 85 times in the NT and many other Apostles are mentioned along with Paul and the founding 12. Prophet is mentioned 150 times in the NT.
  • 4:13 says that these gifts and equipping will continue until we reach unity in the faith and “measure up to the full and complete standard of Christ”. That has not happened yet!

The Burden of proof is on those that say apostolic and prophetic it is not for today.

Ephesians 4

But if we just stick in Ephesians 4 there is plenty to make a case with here.  Let’s break this down. You can divide Ephesians 4:1-16 into three parts

  • Verses 1-6
  • Verses 7-12
  • Verses 14-16

Verses 1-6 talk all about unity in the faith. We are of one spirit and baptism and we are to strive for our worthy calling. All great stuff that we talk a lot about today in church. In fact, the whole theme of Urbana 2009 was this very first verse in Ephesians 4! No one contests this part of scripture.

Verses 14-16 are all about maturity and obtaining this through each part doing its work. Paul uses body imagery and talks about Christ as the head and we as a body being knit together as we do our parts. We love talking about this in church too! No one argues this part of scripture.

But we hardly ever talk about verses 7-13!

How can this be, seeing that it is sandwiched right in between two chunks of scripture that we never question and they are sewn together with this part? In fact verses 14-16 are built right on the back of 7-13. You cannot believe in and talk about verses 14-16 if you don’t take verses 7-13 seriously.

The Five-Fold gifts are given for the full reflection of Jesus

What Paul is teaching us in verses 7-13 is that Jesus is the full expression of the church and in him you can find all five giftings. Jesus is the fullest expression of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher. In him all the gifts are wrapped up and fully seen in the gospels. In us we are fragmented parts of Jesus as some of us carry part of the picture while others carry the rest. We need each other to show the full expression of Jesus and to know him fully!

Verse 9 makes it clear that Jesus was ascending and descending between earth and heaven and when he left at the resurrection, he gave us five gifts to fully reflect his personhood and the church. Paul is imploring us to use these five gifts to build up the church so we can come to full maturity in our knowledge and understanding of Christ.

If Jesus is the full expression of the five-fold ministry, and the church was given these five gifts by Him, then we need unity and maturity to become a full reflection of Jesus.

Just by doing some simple observation and inductive study, it becomes very clear that this maturity and unity that Paul is talking about…this knitting together of the body, is directly linked to the way we empower and use the five fold gifts in ministry.

“14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching.”

It is very clear that the “Then” in verse 14 is pointing to verse 12 where he says,
“their responsibility is to equip God’s people…” If we want to be mature, united and not tossed around by new false teachings, we better start empowering the five-fold ministry and equipping the church fully!

I long to see the A.P.E. leaders released. Perhaps we wonder why the church is lacking a spirit of risk, adventure, concern for the poor and zeal for the lost in our country.

What is the difference between an evangelist and an apostle?

The gifts and functions of the church that would catalyze us towards those ends are being stuffed!

It is also no wonder we have made Seminary THE THING for aspiring Christian leaders to obtain and we have overly intellectualized the church (knowledge seems to be more important in Western churches than obedience). We have overly emphasized the teacher role. All this happens when we don’t empower the whole council of five-fold giftings. Some get dropped and others get propped.

When you operate at 40% (2/5) capacity, there just isn’t much power.

Therefore, just as Paul warned us…the church is getting tossed around.

Do you agree with this reading of Ephesians 4? What else would you add? Leave a comment and let us know

[This post is part of the A.P.E. Theology series. Read the rest of the posts here!]

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About Beau Crosetto

Beau is the author of "Beyond Awkward: when talking about Jesus is outside your comfort zone". He is called by God is to raise up and release people that want to start new ministries (apostolic) as well as people that want to share their faith (evangelists). He currently is the Greater Los Angeles Director for Greek InterVarsity and in charge of specifically seeing new Greek (fraternity & sorority) InterVarsity chapters start on college campuses. Beau is married to Kristina and they have three kids: Noah (7), Sophia (5) and Wesley (3).


  1. I submit that since Apostles and Prophets have been largely ignored by the mainstream evangelical “church,” we currently do not have a valid expression of evangelists, pastors, or teachers. Apostles and prophets are foundational ministers (1 Corinthians 12.28). If they do not do their work, then at best we will have a radically distorted view of evangelists, pastors and teachers.

    • Morgan,

      That is a great point! Very well said. I especially think this is true when pastors try to expand their role to include some of these functions without naming it so. If churches and pastors were empowering A.P.E. fully then pastors would pastor and feel more free and focused in that role. Again, great insight!

  2. Great post, Beau! I feel like the average parishioner in today’s churches are so underutilized. It’s easy to just rely on the pastor to orchestrate everything… and I think it’s easy for leadership in churches to just do everything rather than risk entrusting leadership and investing the time training their members.

  3. Hi Raph here.. Thank you for this post which I was awaiting to read since my question at the Jesus Creed post. Could you kindly elaborate how you understand the foundational role of Apostle and Prophet mentioned in Ephesians two with the continuing ministry of apostles and prophets in the light of Ephesians 4 please. I guess the assumed position amongst evangelicals and reformed folks has been that since Apostles and Prophets are uniquely part of the foundation laid, the continuing ministry of Aposltles and Prophets is no longer to be sought or promoted. Even Wayne Gruden who tries to defend the ongoing ministry of prophetic gifting says away from ongoing apostles in the light of Ephesians 2. I expect part of the problem is a definitional one concerning apostles and prophets and the fear of attributing canonical authority to any claims to continuing apostolic and prophetic ministries. I would be most helped if you could help clarify how to reconcile Eph 2 with the gifts of the ascended Christ in Eph 4 please. Alas, commentaries I have consulted seem not to address this and assume the cessation of at the very least apostles.

    blessings, Ralph

    • Ralph,

      That is a great question and I am preparing a post at this moment on that question. I want to address Ephesians 2 and talk about this. I will wait for the post to tell you what I think 🙂 In the mean time, if you have more questions or suggestions on what you want answered, please comment again. I would love to shape the post based on what readers like you want to know.

    • Ralph,

      Great Question!!! I am writing a post to answer this soon!

      Here a few thoughts and questions for you.

      – Why is Ephesians 2 mentioned as “founding” and then we have Ephesians 4 imploring apostles and the rest of APEST to equip the church. That tells me they are ongoing?
      – What in scripture tells us that Apostle is not for today or that it ceased?
      – there is a difference between founding apostles and ongoing apostles. NO one is trying to say that the original 12 plus 1 weren’t founders
      – I am not saying that apostolic and prophetic has jurisdiction to extend the cannon. On the contrary, we are called to carry it out.

      I hope to write a post next week talking about your questions and answering them better.

  4. I definitely agree we need to release the APEs. They are alive and well and need to be sent to plant churches in every place and for every people group.

    The question is who are the APEs? To say that everyone as one of the Eph 4:11 equipping gifts is a huge stretch in my opinion. Yes, Eph. is written to all Christians, but not everything applies to all Christians. You have to study the immediate context fo the verses.

    It seems apparent that Eph. 4:11 gifts are leadership gifts given to equip the saints (all Christians) to build the body of Christ. It also seems that APES are primarily speaking gifts. What about those with serving gifs, I Pet. 4:10-11? Are they important too? Paul’s point in I Cor. 12: 27-30 is that not all are apostles, prophets, or teachers, etc.

    The Eph. 4:11 equippers help every member of Christ body discover, develop, and deploy their unique gifts to build up the body of Christ. Some are given up front leadership gifts and some are given behind the scenes serving gifts. Let’s affirm and celebrate all the gifts.

    Remember the emphasis in the NT about gifts is that gifts differ and that all are needed for the body to function properly. God distributes them as he wills. Rom. 12;6; I Cor. 12:, 7, 11-26

    Dr. John Worcester,

    • John,

      Thanks for the comment and you bring up some great points that probably demand a new post 🙂

      Here is a quick shot at what you raise?

      – I think it is an incredible stretch to say that the five vocations in Ephesians 4 are just for leaders! Where do you get that idea? Where in this book does Paul divide the vocations between leader and common person? Please answer me that. That is a western overlay in my opinion. Why are these verses just for leaders?

      – I do think there are APEST leaders however. I just think that all people are wired by God for one or multple APEST giftings. I would say, all people are gifted with some combination of APEST but SOME are actually leaders and have more of a role in the equipping. But I do not think Ephesians 4 divides between leaders and common people. Jesus did not give us “gifts” and decide between leaders and common people. There is actually leadership gifts, like mentioned in Romans, and that is laid on top of the APEST framework. It is my fundamental belief, with taking context and scripture into hand, that Ephesians 4 is a framework for all people.

      – APEST does not only favor those that “speak well” as you say. There are all kinds of apostles, teachers, etc. Some are great up front, others one-to-one. I know some phenominally gifted teachers that are incredibly shy and would die before giving a talk in front of people. But you put them in front of one person or a small group and they shine. It is short sighted to label these as “extroverted” or “speaking” gifts in my opinion.

      – Yes there are many gifts mentioned in the NT and those need to be considered in our wiring. I am speaking on APEST here in this blog and calling people to account for those. Our problem isn’t overlooking hospitality gifts, or leader gifts or discernment gifts in our churches. Our problem is taking Eph 4 seriously and helping ALL PEOPLE to take their gifting and vocation from Jesus seriously. I think there are serving teachers or serving evangelists, etc. I think those other gifts are in agreement with and integrated with the APEST framework. Those do not mutually exclude each other. A person with a serving gift is also gifted by GOD in someform of APEST too.

      Grateful for your dialogue! Love it!!

  5. More important are those passages where “apostle” takes on a more technical sense through the qualifying phrase “of Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; 11:13; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Thes 2:6; cf. Rom 1:1). The “sent one” is the “sent one of Jesus Christ” (Rom 16:7; 1 Cor 9:1, 5; 12:28; Gal 1:17, 19; also use the word in this absolute sense). In the statements where Paul claims his own right to this title, he argues along lines assuming the same basic apostolic concept that Jesus had. He consistently links this claim to a specific event in the past in which the risen Lord had appeared to him (1 Cor 9:1; Gal 1:12, 16). This appearance he ranked alongside those of the Easter witnesses (1 Cor 15:3–8). Paul understood his experience outside Damascus (cf. Acts 9:1–19a; 22:6–16; 26:12–18; Gal 1:17) as a lifelong commission to preach the now-resurrected One (1 Cor 1:17; 2:1, 2) chiefly among the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 22:15; 26:17, 23; Gal 1:15, 16). It was through his preaching ministry that Christ continues to work, creating the new people of God (1 Cor 9:1b, 2; Gal 2:8). Here again the background of the shaliach is in view.

    Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (133). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

  6. My mentor, Apostle Tim Early (RIP) once said,

    “Whatever the ascension ministries are given for in the church, God broadens the principle with a clear understanding of our purpose in the earth. Whatever your purpose and calling is, or what your heartfelt desire is to be, the ministry and spirit of the Ascension ministries of Ephesians 4 produces a substance in you to fulfill your destiny through the very nature for which the ascension ministries are given.

    1 Meaning, you can function in the spirit of the apostolos and apostello without becoming an apostle.
    2 You can walk in the prophetic dimensions of the Spirit without becoming a prophet.
    3 You can herald the good news of the gospel without becoming an evangelist.
    4 You can shepherd and disciple others whom the Lord leads you to, without becoming a resident care pastor/shepherd.
    5 And, you can teach the Word in various degrees without becoming an ascension gift teacher.

    With this in mind, whatever the distinct grace and anointing of the Ascension Ministries is, can actually become the corporate anointing and transference for saint’s world over. And since the saints are being perfected or matured for the work of the ministry, then it must also be noted that the bulk of our ministry will not be secured behind closed doors of church buildings.”

    I have always said something similar myself.

    “I personally believe that though “Not all [are] Apostles. Not all [are] prophets, Not all [are] teachers …” (1 Cor. 12:29) in the sense that not all in the church HOLD THE LEADERSHIP RESPONSIBILITY, I DO believe that “… EVERY ONE OF US [EVERY ONE IN THE BODY of Christ] is given grace [a gift–at least one five-fold gift] according to THE MEASURE of the gift of Christ” and “… gave gifts unto men” (Eph. 4:7-8). That means every believer on one level or another in their spiritual walk and growth in the Lord has …

    1. Either the five-fold GIFTING (30FOLD for all and every NEWLY conceived babe in Christ),
    2. Or the five-fold MINISTRY (60FOLD for all who have matured a bit and are starting or actively in some kind of contributing ministry),
    3. Or the five-fold LEADERSHIP (100FOLD for those who are God appointed, anointed, and ordained equipping leaders in the Body of Christ and Kingdom of God).”

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