Ephesians 4:11ff reads:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

(Ephesians 4:11–13, American Standard Version)

I have been attempting to view the NT early church as an expression of the DNA of Christ instead of a clear blueprint of what the church should look like today. This is one example of the kind of passage that I have been struggling to understand correctly. Is there an author anyone knows of that might give me this perspective or can anyone tell me from this passage and the context if there does seem to be a very specific blueprint?

  • I'd appreciate your expanding a bit on what you mean by the early church being "an expression of the DNA of Christ." Would you also define "blueprint"? Obviously the church today has no apostles who, as Peter describes them, "accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us . . ." (Acts 1:21). The same could be said of prophets in the early church who, in the absence of a canon of Scripture, spoke forth the word of God without the ability to quote "chapter and verse" (the way we do today) while they taught and preached and prophesied. As for evangelists, well, . . .. Jun 28, 2016 at 11:02
  • "an expression of the DNA of Christ". There are, of course, many who like to go back to the early church to find what the church should be today. Some use the biblical narrative of the rise of the church as a guide what how the church should act. I think all of us must pick and choose which mandates from the new testament are meant for todays church as well. Examples like head coverings and speaking in tongues to greetings with a holy kiss and meals. My example above has to do with church polity.
    – rob
    Dec 9, 2016 at 3:02
  • "blueprint": Structure from NT every denomination creates. Picks and chooses which mandates from new testament are meant for todays church . Examples: head coverings, tongues, communion, church polity, narratives which imply commands of how we should act today. "DNA": The results of Christ's life on earth inaugurated, within Gods plan for history, a new way to be human. Is it possible that the "blueprint" for the church is the life of Christ in his life/death/res(Christs DNA). and the NT "mandates" are only organic expressions of this life? We take note of them as examples only.
    – rob
    Dec 9, 2016 at 3:40

2 Answers 2


The Source of Our DNA

Starting with your analogy of the DNA of Christ, I suggest that all the gifts reside in Christ to perfection.

  • Jesus was the apostle from heaven who was sent by his Father to save the world from sin. In the words of Isaiah, the Son said to the Father, "Here am I. Send me" (6:8).

  • Jesus was the epitome of the prophet, in who are hidden all the treasures of both wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Being God the Son, he, like his Father, is omniscient. To him there are no mysteries. Since he is the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 1:8, 11; 22:6, 13), no one need inform him of what is to come. He alone has perfect knowledge of what was, what is, and what will come to pass.

  • Jesus is the source of the glad tidings which an angel foretold at his birth: ". . . I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10, 11 NASB). Jesus is the Christians' example of an euangelistes--the bearer of good news (see Luke 4:17-19).

  • Jesus is the personification of the perfect pastor-teacher. A pastor leads, cares for, and protects the flock; a teacher provides his sheep with spiritual food as he feeds them God's word, which they in turn assimilate into their spiritual lives. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep (John 10:11, 14). Jesus is a master teacher who through his Spirit instructs his disciples (< L. discipulos, pupil/learner), guiding them into all truth (John 16:13-15).

Gifts as People

Notice that the standard, or measure, to which all Christians are to hew is the Son of God, in whom alone is fullness (Ephesians 4:13). So yes, Christ's DNA resides in the "members" of his body, the Church Universal. All the gifts are embodied in people in ways and in proportions which the Holy Spirit himself sovereignly decides (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, especially v.11).

Interestingly, the people of whom Paul speaks (viz., apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers) n Ephesians 4 are themselves gifts to the Church:

". . . He gave some as apostles . . .."

As a conquering general distributes the spoils of war to the citizens for whom he waged and won the war, so also Christ gives these special people to the church as the spoils of the war he fought and won at the cross.

In the wake of his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, Jesus "led captivity captive" (Psalm 68:18; Ephesians 4:8). As he continues to lead his army in triumph today, his soldiers spread "the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place" (2 Corinthians 14-17). To those who are perishing, that aroma is "from death to death," but to those who are being saved, "an aroma of life to life" (ibid.).

Gifts as Spirituals (1 Corinthians 12:1)

Just as all the gifts originate and are embodied to perfection in Christ to whom was given "the Spirit without measure" (John 3:34), they are also are embodied in people, however imperfect those people may be. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the source and epitome of the spirituals. He alone is the epitome of

  • wisdom
  • knowledge
  • faith
  • healing
  • miracles
  • prophecy (see Revelation 19:10)
  • discernment
  • tongues
  • service (see Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45)
  • exhortation
  • giving
  • leading
  • mercy
  • every good and perfect gift

The Blueprint Is Not the Territory

As for a "blueprint" as to "what the church should look like today" (your words), the only blueprint the New Testament gives us for the polity of each local church (long before the appearance of denominations) is the rule of elders and deacons.

In the first-century churches, there were undoubtedly apostles and the disciples of apostles who exercised leadership in local churches, some of whom were specially called of the Lord to serve a church (or more, as in the case of a traveling evangelist, for example) fulltime (e.g., Paul, Timothy and Titus).

Many, if not most, elders, however, earned a living outside the church (and even the apostle Paul resorted to tent-making when he needed to). The notion of a bureaucracy which exercises leadership and supervision over a network of like-minded local churches was perhaps the furthest thing from the mind of first-century Christians.

This is not to say that bureaucracies and the leadership exercised by vocational Christian workers at denominational headquarters, for example, are anathema to God today. God can--and does--accomplish miraculous works of service through leaders and their followers when like-minded Christians band together to accomplish God-glorifying projects and ministries. God, after all, is not a God of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33), and he expects things to be done "decently and in order" (v.40).

I grew up, for example, within the Plymouth Brethren tradition, and one of the God-glorifying ministries my family and I were involved in was a Christian summer camp for children and families. My father, in fact, was the camp's first Spiritual Director. All told, about 8-10 Plymouth Brethren "assemblies" (our "code" word for churches within our nondenominational denomination!) pitched in to make the camp a reality.

Sixty-plus years later, the various ministries of the camp (which is now a year-round ministry) have seen hundreds (if not thousands) of young people come to faith in Christ and/or grounded in spiritual things, all because the Lord blessed a concerted, collaborative effort of hundreds of dedicated volunteers who contributed time, talent, and treasure to that God-honoring ministry.


In short, in our modern-day fetish for perhaps over-organizing every aspect of church life, whether locally, nationally, or even worldwide, God seems to have been pleased for the last two millennia to bless the efforts of his people, and sometimes almost in spite of themselves!

Are there disadvantages associated with over-organization. I myself have been a member of a church which was run more like a business organization than a spiritual organism, with Christ in charge, and not a minister, a pastor, a bishop, a key elder, or a denominational president.

So many worthwhile and Holy Spirit-inspired visions have died in committees, burdened with unnecessary and overly complicated protocols and red tape.

By the same token, however, wherever there is a critical mass of Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered Christians, God is pleased to bring to fruition what is ultimately His vision for His church, despite the obstacles the enemy of our souls--and sometimes even we ourselves--manage to put in His way. As Jesus said,

". . . I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).

God will always be pleased, I believe, to accomplish his vision for the Church Universal through denominations and the organizations they spawn, until the last "living stone" () is added to the superstructure of his masterpiece, the body of Christ. When his masterpiece is complete, the Church in heaven will then

". . . attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).


"Blueprint" implies that the Church was yet to be constructed, but this is not the case. Its establishment at Pentecost was documented in the Acts of the Apostles, and the Praxapostolos of the New Testament documents its earliest years.

I don't think the allusions to the future (e.g. until we all attain to the unity of the faith) refer to how the Church will look in the future, but rather how each one of us must approach the Church during their life, whenever that might occur. Also, the ASV has diluted some of the stronger wording in the original Greek. Verse 12 does not read, "for the equipping of the saints", but rather "for the PERFECTING of the saints". Verse 13 does not read "until we attain to ... the knowledge of God", but rather "until we attain to ... the FULL knowledge of God", nor does it read "mature man", but rather "PERFECT man". In short, it is in the Church where we strive to attain the perfection that we were commanded by Christ to attain (Matthew 5:48).

One author who can provide a good perspective on the verse is John Chrysostom, who wrote and preached in Greek at Constantinople in the 4th century. I think his commentaries on the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles of Paul are the best available, even after so many centuries. His commentary on the above passage is as follows:

And He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ.

What he said elsewhere, “Wherefore also God hath highly exalted Him” (Phil. 2:9), that saith he also here. “He that descended, is the same also that ascended.” It did Him no injury that He came down into the lower parts of the earth, nor was it any hindrance to His becoming far higher than the Heavens. So that the more a man is humbled, so much the more is he exalted. For as in the case of water, the more a man presses it downwards, the more he forces it up; and the further a man retires to hurl a javelin, the surer his aim; so is it also with humility. However, when we speak of ascents with reference to God, we must needs conceive a descent first; but when with reference to man, not at all so. Then he goes on to show further His providential care, and His wisdom, for He who hath wrought such things as these, who had such might, and who refused not to go down even to those lower parts for our sakes, never would He have made these distributions of spiritual gifts without a purpose. Now elsewhere he tells us that this was the work of the Spirit, in the words, “In the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops to feed the Church of God.” And here he saith that it is the Son; and elsewhere that it is God. “And He gave to the Church some apostles, and some prophets.” But in the Epistle to the Corinthians, he saith, “I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” And again, “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.” (1 Cor. 3:6–8.) So is it also here; for what if thou bring in but little? Thou hast received so much. First, he says, “apostles”; for these had all gifts; secondarily, “prophets,” for there were some who were not indeed apostles, but prophets, as Agabus; thirdly, “evangelists,” who did not go about everywhere, but only preached the Gospel, as Priscilla and Aquila; “pastors and teachers,” those who were entrusted with the charge of a whole nation. What then? are the pastors and the teachers inferior? Yes, surely; those who were settled and employed about one spot, as Timothy and Titus, were inferior to those who went about the world and preached the Gospel. However, it is not possible from this passage to frame the subordination and precedence, but from another Epistle. “He gave,” saith he; thou must not say a word to gainsay it. Or perhaps by “evangelists” he means those who wrote the Gospel.

For the perfecting of the saints unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ.

Perceive ye the dignity of the office? Each one edifies, each one perfects, each one ministers.

Ver. 13. “Till we all attain,” he proceeds, “unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

By “stature” here he means perfect “knowledge”; for as a man will stand firmly, whereas children are carried about and waver in mind, so is it also with believers.

“To the unity,” saith he, “of the faith.”

That is, until we shall be shown to have all one faith: for this is unity of faith, when we all are one, when we shall all alike acknowledge the common bond. Till then thou must labor to this end. If for this thou hast received a gift, that thou mightest edify others, look well that thou overturn not thyself, by envying another. God hath honored thee, and ordained thee, that thou shouldest build up another. Yea, for about this was the Apostle also engaged; and for this was the prophet prophesying and persuading, and the Evangelist preaching the Gospel, and for this was the pastor and teacher; all had undertaken one common work. For tell me not of the difference of the spiritual gifts; but that all had one work. Now when we shall all believe alike then shall there be unity; for that this is what he calls “a perfect man,” is plain. And yet he elsewhere calls us “babes” (1 Cor. 13:11), even when we are of mature age; but he is there looking to another comparison, for there it is in comparison with our future knowledge that he there calls us babes. For having said, “We know in part” (1 Cor. 13:9, 12), he adds also the word “darkly,” and the like: whereas here he speaks with reference to another thing, with reference to changeableness, as he saith also elsewhere, “But solid food is for full-grown men.” (Heb. 5:14.) Do you see then also in what sense he there calls them full-grown? Observe also in what sense he calls men “perfect” here, by the words next added, where he says, “that we may be no longer children.” That we keep, he means to say, that little measure, which we may have received, with all diligence, with firmness and steadfastness.

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