Things That Differ: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor-Teachers

When Paul was writing to the church at Ephesus and teaching them concerning the Church as the Body of Christ, he wrote of those who were gifts to the Church and said that the risen and exalted Christ had given “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (Eph 4:11 ESV). Notice that the English translators of the ESV, like those of the KJVJND, and NASB have not placed the definite article “the” before the word “teachers.” We will come back to that later, but notice the different men that were given as gifts to the Church. It is important for us to see that here it is persons who were gifts to the Church whereas in the Corinthian epistle, and elsewhere, gifts were given to persons who then, using their gifts, served in the local church (1Cor 12:7-8; Rom 12:4-8; 1Peter 4:10). Consider how these gifts to the Church differ from each other.

The Apostles

The word “apostle” is from two Greek words meaning “to send away from.” Interestingly, the word “disciple” refers to a learner and follower. Every apostle was a disciple, but not every disciple was an apostle. These special messengers, the apostles, were emissaries, ambassadors, sent out by the Lord Jesus to carry His message to the world. They were official representatives. The word is normally used in a narrow sense of “the twelve,” but there are times when it has a wider sense as in Acts 14:4, 14. “But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out.” (Acts 14:14 ESV). The requirements for apostleship in the narrow sense of the word are delineated in Acts 1:21-22. Paul met the requirements as per Acts 22:14. The apostles were in the foundation of the Church. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:19-20 ESV). Needless to say, we are not now in the foundation stage of the Church. It is interesting to notice in the Acts the shift in responsibility from apostles to apostles and elders, as in Acts 15:4.

The Prophets

Prophets also were in the foundation of the structure that is called a “habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2:19-22). They spoke under the direct leading of the Holy Spirit. Their Bible would have been only the parts of the Old Testament Scriptures to which they and the apostles had access. Essentially, a prophet was a preacher without a Bible. A teacher is a preacher with a Bible. You can see then that the gift of the prophet was replaced by the gift of the teacher.

The Evangelists

The evangelists were those called of God to carry the message of the gospel to the unconverted world. The word is from the same root word as gospel, meaning “good news” or “glad tidings.” One of the words used for “preach” in the New Testament is the verb form of the same word. The evangelist, then, is one who announces the good news of God’s grace as seen in the Lord Jesus. Paul explained the essence of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

Evangelists were not in the foundation of the Church but they are the foundation of God’s work today. You will see this word used in Acts 5:42; 8:4, 12, 25, 35, and in many other places. It is interesting that Philip “opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35 ESV).

There are other words for preach. There is a word that means to be a public herald of the message (Strong’s 2783-4). It seems to place the emphasis on the public proclamation of the gospel whereas the former word (2097-99), puts the emphasis on the character of the message – the good news. Both words are used in Romans 10:15: “And how are they to preach (2784) unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ (2097)” (Rom 10:15 ESV). Paul told Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2099) (2Tim 4:5).

The Pastors and Teachers

Those who are brought into the kingdom of God through the work of the evangelists will need to be shepherded and instructed. To this end, the Lord has given to the Church “the shepherds and teachers” (JNDESV). There are reasons to believe from the grammar that we should read this instead as “shepherds, even teachers.” Note the presence of the definite article before apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds, but its absence before teachers. The shepherds are those who teach. There can be no true shepherding without the Word. Study the two words the Lord Jesus used in His charge to Peter concerning the sheep in John 21:15-17: “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed (1006) My lambs.’ He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend (4165) My sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ and he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed (1006) My sheep’” (John 21:15-17 ESV).

Perhaps you can “give food” (1006) without “shepherding,” (4165), but you can never shepherd without feeding. These gifts to the Church in Ephesians are men of the Book. Note that their work is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12 ESV).

Are there apostles today? No! Are there prophets today? No! (Eph 2:20). Are there evangelists today? Assuredly! Are there pastor-teachers today? Assuredly! Do you see the differences?