Commas Matter

by The Ecclesiologist

Recently pastor Jon Tyson (the “missional” minded planter of Trinity Grace in Manhattan) tweeted,

“When people called to equip the saints, ‘do’ the ministry instead, they are responsible for perpetually keeping their people in immaturity.” 

This is an impressive and provocative use of 140 characters.  It sums up a lot of “missional pastoral theology” today.  While I am a follower of Tyson’s thought and practice and I have learned a lot from him and from Trinity Grace, I am concerned about this tweet.

This quote is based off of a particular reading of Ephesians 4:11-14, which argues that every member of the church is to be doing ministry.  The job and calling of the vocational pastor is to equip the members of the church to do the important and real work of the ministry.

While I respect Tyson’s reading of this passage, I hope he knows that many people throughout the history of the church have not read this passage the way he has.  The more traditional reading is reflected in the KJV, which translate the passage this way (note the commas in verse 12):

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:

This reading argues that God has gifted the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers for three reasons 1)to equip the saints, 2)for the work of ministry, and 3)for building up the body of Christ.

Tyson’s reading argues that God gifted the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers for two reasons 1)to equip the saints for the work of ministry, and 2)for building up the body of Christ.  Tyson’s reading fits nicely into his missional theology, but is this “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” a defensible reading?

In a 1994 JETS article, T. David Gordon challenges this type of reading of Ephesians 4.  (The article can be read here).  He writes,

My belief is that the “equipping lay ministry” translation is indefensible. There is not a single, nor even a twofold, but a triple difficulty with translating Eph 4:12 in such a way. To sustain such a translation, three things must be proven: (1) that the three purpose clauses, so obviously parallel in their grammatical structure, have different implied subjects (thereby disrupting the parallel); (2) that katartismon is properly translated “equip” here; and (3) that ergon diakonias [work of the ministry] refers not to acts of service, in the general sense, but to the overall “Christian ministry.”

Though Gordon’s article is quite academic, it is certainly worth reading in its entirety for  “missional thinkers.”  Gordon’s concluding thoughts on Tyson’s reading of Ephesians 4 is provocative:

We cannot account for the popularity of the ‘equipping’ view of Ephesians 4 on Scriptural grounds. The ‘equipping’ view is so contrary to the natural grammar of the passage, and so strikingly contrary to the teaching of the remainder of the NT, that we cannot account for its popularity on the basis of careful Biblical study. Rather, we must attribute it to the egalitarian, anti-authoritarian, populist Zeitgeist so well documented by Nathan Hatch.  (Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University, 1989).

Again, the article can be read here:  T. David Gordon, ” ‘Equipping’ Ministry in Ephesians 4?” JETS 37 (1994): 69-78.

While it is not my intention to argue that Tyson’s reading of Ephesians 4:11-14 is “egalitarian, anti-authoritarian, populist Zeitgeist,” I do hope Tyson’s followers and “retweeters” are convinced of his reading.  My fear is that many just simply assume his reading to be true.

If Gordon’s reading is correct, Tyson’s tweet may need to be changed:

“When people called to equip the saints, ‘do’ the ministry as well, they are faithful to Paul’s instructions and mature the church.”