Women, Men, and Five Ministry Gifts in Ephesians 4:11

Yes, women really did function in Christ’s five gifts to his church, his temple, to build it up: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors-teachers. Check out the evidence. (I updated this post.)

I heard three good-hearted men, who like to have a lot of fun and cut up and joke around, but who can also get serious on their youtube channel, say that Christ gave gifts to men (Eph. 4:8); they emphasized the word men, implying that the five ministry gifts in Eph. 4:11 are given only to them, excluding women. They are complementarians, which mean they restrict women from their full ministry.

The Greek noun anthrōpos is pronounced an-throw-poss. (We get our word anthropology from it.) Conservative translations say it mostly (or only) means “man” (singular) or “men” (plural). Other translations say “person/s” or “people” or “human being/s.” Who is right?

Let’s see how the meaning of anthrōpos, appearing 550 times in the NT, is applied to women’s role in the church by looking at two different translations of the Greek text. Does anthrōpos in Eph. 4:8 shut the door on the five ministry gifts for women in Eph. 4:11 or keep the door open?

TWO TRANSLATIONS

The two translations are the New English Translation (NET), which can be accessed at NETbible.org, and the New International Version (NIV) can be found at biblegateway.com. The NET is regarded as conservative, and the NIV is considered more open.

In the table below, look for the word anthrōpos and its translation in bold font and underlined, in v. 8.

Here is the NET:

Ephesians 4:7-13

Greek Text New English Translation (NET)
7 Ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

8 διὸ λέγει·

ἀναβὰς εἰς ὕψος ᾐχμαλώτευσεν αἰχμαλωσίαν, ἔδωκεν δόματα τοῖς ἀνθρώποις.

9 τὸ δὲ ἀνέβη τί ἐστιν, εἰ μὴ ὅτι καὶ κατέβη εἰς τὰ κατώτερα [μέρη] τῆς γῆς; 10 ὁ καταβὰς αὐτός ἐστιν καὶ ὁ ἀναβὰς  ὑπεράνω πάντων τῶν οὐρανῶν, ἵνα πληρώσῃ τὰ πάντα. 11 Καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, 12 πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων εἰς ἔργον διακονίας, εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, 13 μέχρι καταντήσωμεν οἱ πάντες εἰς τὴν ἑνότητα τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς ἐπιγνώσεως τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον, εἰς μέτρον ἡλικίας τοῦ πληρώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, […]

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Therefore it says,

When he ascended on high he captured[f] captives; he gave gifts to men.”[g]

9  Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended[h] to the lower regions,[i] namely, the earth?[j] 10 He, the very one[k] who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. 11 And he himself[l] gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,[m] 12 to equip[n] the saints for the work of ministry, that is,[o] to build up the body of Christ, 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[p] the measure of Christ’s full stature.[q]

  Slightly edited by indenting the quoted Scripture and omitting the bold font except on the word “men.”

Next, here is the NIV and the same Greek text. Once again, look at v. 8 and the underlined word in bold font:

Ephesians 4:7-13

Greek Text New International Version (NIV)
7 Ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

8 διὸ λέγει·

ἀναβὰς εἰς ὕψος ᾐχμαλώτευσεν αἰχμαλωσίαν, ἔδωκεν δόματα τοῖς ἀνθρώποις.

9 τὸ δὲ ἀνέβη τί ἐστιν, εἰ μὴ ὅτι καὶ κατέβη εἰς τὰ κατώτερα [μέρη] τῆς γῆς; 10 ὁ καταβὰς αὐτός ἐστιν καὶ ὁ ἀναβὰς  ὑπεράνω πάντων τῶν οὐρανῶν, ἵνα πληρώσῃ τὰ πάντα. 11 Καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, 12 πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων εἰς ἔργον διακονίας, εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, 13 μέχρι καταντήσωμεν οἱ πάντες εἰς τὴν ἑνότητα τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς ἐπιγνώσεως τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον, εἰς μέτρον ἡλικίας τοῦ πληρώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, […]

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions[c]10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists,  the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

So how important is the difference between the two translations (“men” and “people”) for women in ministry? When Christ ascended, did he give the five gifts to men (alone) or to people generally (including women), in v. 11?

The NET implies that he gave those five gifts to men alone, particularly apostles, pastors and teachers, while the NIV implies that he gave those five gifts to everyone, to people generally, without excluding women.

For the record, the ESV, another extra-conservative translation, says “men,” but it has a footnote which reads: “The Greek word anthropoi can refer to both men and women”  (the ending –oi is masculine nominative plural). The better footnote would read: “The Greek word anthropoi almost always refers to both men and women.” The NET has no such note.

“Almost always”? Let’s look at a Greek lexicon.

GREEK LEXICON

BDAG (short for the four main editors over the decades, Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich over the decades) is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Let’s see how this lexicon defines the noun anthrōpos. (I edit the formatting.) It is used 550 times, so I cannot supply all the references but only the complete number under the third definition

(1). “A person of either sex, with focus on participation in the human race, a human being.” Then they list sub-contexts: (a) with the word “born”; (b) in contrast to animals and plants; (c) in plural with general meaning; Jesus Christ is the anthrōpos who identifies with humanity or people.

(2). “A member of the human race with focus on limitations and weaknesses, a human being“; (a) of a physical aspect, subject to death; (b) according to status, “in a human way, from a human standpoint, from a human standpoint, implying the inferiority of human beings in contrast with God.”

(3). “A male person, man.” (a) “adult male, man.” In contrast to woman. Then BDAG offers only eight references: Matt. 11:8; Luke 7:25; Matt. 25:24; Luke 19:21f; Matt. 19:5; probably Luke 13:19; Eph. 5:31; 1 Cor. 7:1; (b) married person, husband (Matt. 19:10); (c) an immediate descendant, son (Matt. 10:35); a person owned and therefore under the control of another, slave (Luke 12:36; John 6:7). The twelve (or so) references fill out the complete list, according to BDAG.

(4). “practically equivalent to the indefinite pronoun with the basic meaning anthrōpos greatly weakened, someone, one, a person.

(5). “A being in conflict at a transcendent level” […] (a) the outer being […] the inner being; (b) in contrast with old being and new being. By my observation, conservative translations say “old man” and “new man,” but “old being” or “new being” is better.

(6). “A person who has just been mentioned in the narrative, with the article the person.”

(7). “A person perceived to be contemptible, a certain person.”

(8). In direct address, ranging from a familiar tone to an informal one.

(9). “A heavenly being that looked like a person, a human figure.”

And so the vast majority of Scripture references indicate that anthrōpos means a person or human being. The third definition has very few references out of the 550.

Therefore the NIV has the better translation of Eph. 4:8. God gave the five gifts to people. And therefore, the more accurate translation leaves the door open to women receiving those five gifts in the church, as God wills.

REPLIES TO POSSIBLE OBJECTIONS

1.. However, the original context of Eph. 4:8 is Psalm 68:18, and the original context of this psalm excludes women, right? I mean … the OT is patriarchal, right?

Ps. 68:18 says that people–even the rebellious–gave gifts, as God established his dwelling place on Mt. Zion. Ps. 68:11 says that in a throng women proclaimed God’s victory (cf. Exod. 15:20-21; 1 Sam. 18:6-7; Jer. 9:17-20). Why would women not give gifts to establish Mt. Zion? Of course they would. Exod. 35:29 says that women contributed gifts for the mobile tabernacle in the wilderness. Exod. 38:8 also says that  women contributed bronze mirrors and served at the entrance to the tabernacle.

In quoting Ps. 68:18, Paul is now reversing the direction of the flow of gifts–from the people to God (or his temple) in Ps. 68, but now from Christ to his people in Eph. 4:8, who are now the temple (Eph. 2:19-22). And Paul is spiritualizing the gifts to be ministry gifts, not material ones. It is wonderful to think that Christ himself is giving gifts to his own temple–to us, his followers–until we are completely built up. His five ministry gifts are for ministry and building us up.

And so the context of Ps. 68 can include women, not exclude them. So can Eph. 4:11.

The Church Fulfills and Replaces Old Testament Temple

2.. But in v. 13, Paul writes “andra” (from the noun anēr), which means “adult human male, man, husband […] in contrast to woman” (BDAG, 1b). So this is a synonym for anthrōpos in v. 8.

But BDAG says that in Eph. 4:13 the term stands in contrast to a boy, not a woman. In other words, the Greek noun encompasses everyone who needs maturity, which is the entire church. Here NET has the right translation: “person.” So it’s baffling why they restricted their translation to “men” in v. 8, unless the translators had the prior belief that women are excluded from those five ministry gifts. Otherwise, I don’t know what their reasoning was.

3.. However, 1 Tim. 2:11-12 says that women must be quiet and are not permitted to teach nor exercise authority over men.

I attempt to answer this complicated issue here:

Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

At that link, I concluded:

Paul was responding to Ephesian religious culture which fostered domineering female leaders at the temple of Artemis, who no doubt taught people, men and women, about this religion.

This study opens the door to women teachers in the church, and we cannot use 1 Tim. 2:11-15 to prevent them. Paul was merely telling wives who had learned to dominate in the temple of Artemis or who had come under the influence of the temple even if they were not priestesses or who had acquired too much authority through magic–not to dominate men in the assembly or their husbands at home during ministry. […]

I cannot see Paul’s prohibition against domineering teaching as applying to all women for all times, if and only if women teachers receive discipleship and learn where their authority comes from.

4.. However, 1 Cor 14:34-36 says that women must keep quiet in church, not speak nor interrupt the assembly but ask questions at home.

Those verses are also under dispute. I have attempted to answer this complicated issue here (scroll down to vv. 34-36):

Should Women Not Speak One Word in Church? A Close Look at 1 Cor. 14:34-36

A cultural understanding of those verses leaves the door open to women speaking up and even teaching in the assembly. Those seemingly restrictive verses are not timeless (universal). They were culture specific to their times.

5.. However, a plain reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Cor. 14:34-36 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 says that women are restricted and must keep quiet. The plain reading cannot be overcome by the original cultural background. Why complicate those verses with the cultural background when the plain meaning is clear?

Those verses were not written two weeks ago but two thousand years ago. The entire Bible is not one-dimensional or flat. It is imperative that we dig into the cultural background.

Parallel example: Matt. 16:19 and 18:18 talk about binding and loosing. To know what those two activities are, we have to look into Jewish culture (they mean forbidding and permitting).

6.. You turned the translation of anthrōpos into a promotion of postmodern feminism! These texts were written two thousand years ago, not two weeks ago. No modern feminism, please.

I don’t like the progressive direction some quarters of the church is headed. I deplore it and have written against it.

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Danger Signs

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Authority of Scripture

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Marriage and Sex

Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Judgment Is Coming

I used women’s involvement in ministry as a test case to apply the two differing translations to our world today. Translations matter today. The better translation leaves the door open for women to receive those five gifts in Eph. 4:11, as God wills.

7.. Hold on! I agree that women can prophesy (Luke 2:36-38; Acts 2:17; 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5). I agree that women can be evangelists (Mary Magdalene announced the resurrection to the men). But women apostles? No way.

The reply has been moved to this post:

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

At that link, I concluded:

There is nothing really all that controversial about Romans 16:17. Junia was a woman, and the Greek construction says that she was a member of the larger apostolic community; she and Andronicus were within or among them. The pair were conspicuous and stood out among them, but they did not cease being part of the larger apostolic community, for this reason. The pair still remained within it.

I believe that this is Paul’s main, uncomplicated point when he singled out the couple in his list of greetings and acknowledgements in Romans 16.

8.. Hold on! I can agree that women were prophetesses. I can agree that they can be evangelists. But pastors and teachers? No way!

I attempt to demonstrate that they did serve as pastors and elders and overseers, at this link:

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

I concluded (slightly edited):

Therefore, in 1 Timothy 5:9-10, the widows had been functioning as and were elders, pastors, overseers. They had been church leaders who shepherded and pastored and oversaw the people of God, throughout their redeemed lives. Their function (actually doing the work) tells us of their ontology (who they were): they were and did the work of elders, pastors, and overseers of God’s flock in Ephesus (and probably throughout the Christian communities, as in Crete, where Paul sent Titus).

I say that their doing and being “promotes” them to be part of church governance since they could offer much-needed insight from their experience of a lifetime of ministry. After all, they qualify to be registered on an official list precisely and only because of their shepherding and overseeing gifts. I can easily imagine a male elder asking these righteous older women for advice on a sensitive issue. In that case she is directing the affairs of the church. She is a leader, who guides the church. I see no high wall of separation between the male and female elders or pastors or overseers.

9.. Hold on! I can agree that women can be prophets and evangelists. I read the above link about their being elders, pastors, and overseers, and maybe I can concede this last point, though reluctantly because I belong to a church that does not allow female pastors. But teachers of any group other than young women (Titus 2:4)? No way!

We saw in other posts that women really were teachers (if one understands Greek). In Colossians 3:16, Paul writes generically:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Col. 3:16, NIV, emphasis added).

And he writes:

When you come together, each one has a song, has a teaching, has a tongue, has an interpretation—let everything be done for edification. (1 Cor. 14:26, my translation, emphasis added)

The author of Hebrews also uses the general, inclusive pronoun:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Heb. 5:12, NIV, emphasis added)

In Greek, “you” and “each one” is generic, which means everyone in the assembly, that is, men and women. The only way that traditionalists or restrictionists (who call themselves Complementarians) can exclude women from those generic words is to presuppose that women cannot be teachers in the first place. But this is the question under discussion, so let’s not assume the answer in advance.

Further, in 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul lists three gifts to the body of Christ, even numbering them: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers. That verse comes in the context of everyone experiencing the gifts flowing through them as the Spirit distributes them (vv. 4-7). We already saw that the Greek is clear about Junia being an apostle within the larger apostolic community:

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

Women could be prophetesses, not only in the OT (Exod. 15:20; Judg. 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Is. 8:3; Joel 2:26), but also in the NT: Anna (Luke 2:36); all women (Acts 2:17); Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9).

So it is easy to believe that women could be teachers of a broader group than just young women. Priscilla was a teacher, functionally speaking, so her real-life role clarifies Paul’s general instructions in 1 Timothy 5:9-10. Female teachers who clarified doctrines or teachings did exist, though the majority of widows may not have belonged to this group of teachers. Yet functionally, in a household setting, it is easy to imagine, as noted, that at least one widow–particularly former priestesses in the temple of Artemis who had really powerfully converted and learned not to dominate in their teaching–taught some gospel truths on some occasions.

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

As for Titus 2:3-5, please go to this link:

Are Older Women Restricted to Teaching (‘Only’?) Young Women? A Close Look at Titus 2:3-5

At that link, I reached this conclusion:

Women teachers existed in the New Testament. In Titus 2:3-5 Paul was writing from a cultural point of view. Women occupied their own household and had to manage it. And older women naturally taught young women how to manage their own household, to love their husbands, and children and develop the virtues, because young women also occupied the domestic sphere. But we must not over-read Paul’s words, when the church met in their household. It is easy to imagine that when the church service was going on, walls of separation between men and women sharing their faith, their songs, their revelations and their teachings collapsed.

CONCLUSION

The conclusion is rather simple and straightforward. The NET’s translation is needlessly restrictive, while the NIV’s translation is better. The plural dative of anthrōpos really does mean “people” in the context of Eph. 4:7-13. And therefore, this translation leaves the door open to Christ giving those five gifts to people, a broader term than men. And the broader context of the entire NT includes women. They too can receive those five gifts, as God wills.

I find it better to be generous, rather than stingy, when verses clearly leave the door open to women being fully involved in those five ministry gifts, and Eph. 4:7-13 does leave the door open. To be perfectly frank, I cannot wrap my mind around fighting so hard to exclude women. To me, it is better to fight for their full participation, not against it, in those cases. They contribute such blessings to Christ’s temple, which he is building up with those five ministry gifts.

However, whether a church actually allows women to receive any of the five gifts cannot be resolved here in this short post. Maybe these churches believe it is better to be cautious and restrictive than otherwise. These churches can do as they please, as they follow their good-faith interpretation of Scripture.

For what my opinion is worth, I urge churches to open the door to women in public ministry, particularly those five ministry gifts, since Eph. 4:7-13 leaves the door open to them. There is nothing biblical that stands in their way, in those verses.

RELATED

Are Older Women Restricted to Teaching (‘Only’?) Young Women? A Close Look at Titus 2:3-5

Should Women Not Speak One Word in Church? A Close Look at 1 Cor. 14:34-36

Women Really Did Work as–and Were–Overseers, Elders, Pastors: A Close Look at 1 Timothy 5:9-10

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

What 1 Corinthians 14 Really Teaches

Women Teachers: New Translation and Reinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2

 

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