Introduction to the Biblical Office of Teacher

Travis Fentiman



The Main Text: Eph. 4:11-12
Further Biblical Evidence: Mt. 23:2-3,34
The Old Testament
The New Testament
Reformed History
What does the Biblical Office of Teacher look like (in Society)?


1 – The Greek of Eph. 4:11
2 – What does the Biblical Teacher Look Like (in Scripture)?
3 – The Order of the Offices
4 –  Distinguishing the 3-Office and 4-Office Views



Introduction to the Biblical Office of Teacher



Have you ever studied whether there is a distinct Office of Teacher in Scripture before?


Virtually all of the historically reformed churches and theologians of the reformation and puritan eras believed, with careful and detailed Biblical consideration, that the Bible described an Office of Teacher, which was distinct from the Office of Pastor.  An office (as implicitly defined in Larger Catechism #158) is an authoritative position appointed by Christ in scripture for the government of His Church that has distinct gifts, functions and a specific authoritative calling.   If there is an Office of Teacher in scripture, with distinct gifts, functions and authoritative calling, then we are missing out on some of the blessings of Christ’s government if we do not recognize and put this into practice.

There are many passages and interpretative issues to consider when inquiring into the subject.  The most pertinent question to answer is whether it can be clearly ascertained in scripture whether there are Teachers that are not Pastors, and thus have distinguishable gifts, functions and authoritative calling.  The linchpin passage is Eph. 4:11, which mentions both Pastors and Teachers.  If it can be clearly demonstrated from this passage that Teachers and Pastors are distinct groups, though related, then it will set an interpretive grid for understanding the other passages in the New Testament that speak of Teachers.  We will further show, in confirmation with our interpretation of Eph. 4:11, that there are clear examples in scripture where Teachers are not Pastors.  If this is demonstrated, then there is a distinct Office of Teacher in scripture.  


The Main Text


“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry…”

Eph. 4:11,12


Eph. 4:11 is a list of the teaching offices in the Church of Christ (for more on this passage, see Appendix 3).  The verse mentions “pastors and teachers”.  Most commentators and theologians today take these two offices to be the same due to the passage’s peculiar Greek grammatical construction.  The grammatical rule that would interpret these two groups of people as the same is called the Granville Sharp Rule.  It was discovered in the early 1800’s.  However, the Granville Sharp Rule was never intended to apply to Eph. 4:11, nor does it, due to the different grammatical structure of Eph. 4:11.  This careful, four page article by Rev. Bruce Baker explains why: Granville Sharp’s Rule.

Daniel Wallace is a leading authority on Greek grammar today and on the Granville Sharp Rule in particular.  He has written numerous academic journal articles on the this particular topic, and he affirms that the Granville Sharp rule does not apply to Eph. 4:11.  Wallace has also performed further exhaustive, grammatical research and statistics on the peculiar grammar that does apply to Eph. 4:11.  It is found in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics,  Buy  Zondervan, 1996, p. 270-283.  Please see his work, which is the most extensive treatment available on the topic, for a full discussion of the grammar.  

The statistics demonstrate that when the specific Greek construction which is found in Eph. 4:11 is used in the New Testament, it never means that the two groups are the same group.  On p. 283 Wallace gives his interpretation of Eph. 4:11, which is a “similar conclusion” to John Calvin’s (who held to 4 offices: Minister, Teacher, Ruling Elder, Deacon).  For a debriefing on the somewhat complex Greek grammar and the particulars of the statistics, as well as Wallace’s conclusion and John Calvin’s commentary, see Appendix 1 below.

Wallace’s exhaustive linguistic analysis of Eph. 4:11 demonstrates that while Teachers and Pastors are related, they are not the same.  For a further examination of the 3-Office view of this passage versus the 4-Office view, see Appendix 4 below.


Further Biblical Evidence

There are numerous passages in the New Testament besides Eph. 4:11 that speak of Teachers and the function of teaching (1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:7; Acts 13:1; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 1:7; 2 Tim. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:1; James 3:1; etc.).  The question is: Do these passages about teachers always refer to Pastors?  There is at least one example where the answer is clearly: No.


“The scribes and pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe and do”

Matt 23:2,3


The interpretation given here of Matt 23:2-3 is that of John Calvin in his Commentary on the passage.  

Matt 23:2-3 mentioned scribes and pharisees sitting in Moses’ seat.  The scribes were literate, trained scholars, who studied and taught the doctrines of God’s Law.  The pharisees were generally only a covenanted association of lay persons who kept the law with man made strictness, though many of them were scribes and teachers of the law as well.  Many of each group taught in religious schools, had disciples, and had publicly and ecclesiastically recognized positions as Teachers.

Jesus said that the scribes and pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  The scribes and pharisees did not hold the office of Priest in the temple.  Nor did they have the office of Levite, which served in the temple and had other responsibilities.  Nor were they all Ruling Elders.  Nor were they Prophets.   

Yet Jesus says that they, as ecclesiastically recognized Teachers, sit in the seat of Moses, and have his authority in that office.  The pharisees and scribes were not Pastors, nor approached anything like the office of Pastor.  

Nor was the authority of the pharisees and scribes simply that of private individuals who counsel in or teach God’s Word.  Such private individuals only have the authority of the Word to appeal to.  However, the pharisees and scribes, according to Matt 23:2-3, were clearly over the people in authority, and held that authority from Moses, in the place of Moses.  Their authority was not simply that of the Word of God, but also that of divine institution and office.  That is why Jesus says to obey whatsoever they teach and exhort, because of the authority of Moses, which cannot be said of private individuals.  

Thus, ‘scribes,’ or Teachers, ruled with elders in their governing assemblies, Acts 4:5; 6:12; Matt 2:4.

That this office and function of Teacher, having the authority of God, continues into the New Testament is evidenced later in this same passage by Matt 23:34:


“Wherefore, Behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:”


These “wise men and scribes,” being Teachers, are a direct continuation of those persons who held teaching authority in Matt 23:2-3.  They are ‘sent’ (commissioned) by Christ, and continue into the N.T. age (Matt 23:3413:52).



The Old Testament

Calvin believed that all four regular New Testament offices were proto-typed in the Old Testament.  The Levites corresponded to Deacons.  The Priests corresponded to Ministers.  The Ruling Elders of the Old Testament corresponded to the Ruling Elders of the New Testament and the Prophets of the Old Testament corresponded to the Teachers of the New Testament.  

For Calvin’s full thoughts on church government, see his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Chapter 3.  See specifically sections 4 & 5 of Chapter 3 (two pages long) on his discussion of the Office of Teacher.

While in the Old Testament the Prophets had both prophetic and teaching functions, in the New Testament those prophetic functions dropped away and the teaching functions remained.  The prophets of the Old Testament before the inter-testamental age may have ordained authoritative teachers, who were not prophets, to continue their regular teaching ministry when special revelation would soon cease with the close of the O.T. in Malachi’s time.  Notice Ezra’s authoritative position as a scribe (Neh. 8:1-9).  For what Jewish tradition is worth, the scribes and teachers of the Jewish New Testament age claimed to have descended from the authoritative position set up by Ezra (see Chapter 8 of the Introduction to Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus Christ the Messiah).  This would account for the lineage of the authoritative teaching function of the scribes and pharisees in the New Testament as evidenced in Matt 23:2-3.  


The New Testament

Given that Jesus recognized the official office of Teacher in Matt 23:2-3, was recognized as a Teacher Himself (John 1:38,49; 3:2; 6:25; Mark 12:35; John 7:14,28; 8:20,28; 18:20), and everyone in Israel recognized and was familiar with Teachers (who were not pastors) as well, it is no wonder why Teachers are mentioned in the rest of the N.T. with no further explanation (1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:7; Acts 13:1; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 1:7; 2 Tim. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:1; James 3:1; etc.).  The position in the church was well understood, and carried directly over from the Old Testament economy into the New Testament.   


Reformed History

It is no wonder then that virtually all the reformers and puritans recognized the Office of Teacher in scripture (and many of them held the position).  While the reformers and puritans did not know of the Granville Sharp Rule, they did know of the interpretation that “pastors and teachers” were the same in Eph. 4:11, and they were persuaded against it for numerous exegetical, systematic and interpretative reasons.  

The best short treatment of the Office of Teacher, which weighs much of the Biblical evidence and arguments, is the 12 page chapter from congregationalist John Owen, entitled, Of the Office of Teacher in the Church, in his True Nature of a Gospel Church in volume 16  Buy  of his works. 

For a brief summary of the historical evidence for the Office of Teacher in the reformation and post-reformation churches, from confessions and other primary source documents, see the article by R. Andrew Myers, Office of Doctor (10 pages).

For a fuller history of the Office of Teacher in the reformation world, see the excellent book on the subject by Robert Henderson, The Teaching Office in the Reformed Tradition: a History of the Doctoral Ministry  Buy  1962  277 pp.

When the whole historic reformed world was united in their understanding of scripture on a particular point, it should give us second-thoughts if we disagree with it.  Nor is it ever a good practice to hold to a minority view of God’s Word until one has fully searched out all the reasons for the majority view.


What does the Biblical Office of Teacher look like?

There were different ideas about what the Office of Teacher looked like in the reformation and post-reformation churches.  Some held that the Teacher was only a school teacher or seminary professor (the Scottish Church).  Others thought the Office of Teacher was restricted to the local church and that he was able to preach and administer the sacraments (English and New-England Congregationalists).  Every position in-between was held as well.  

It seems that the Biblical evidence is that of the middle ground, including all of those functions:  The Teacher is a “presbyter”, ruling in the church courts, needs a call from a local congregation, but can and should also function in the body of Christ at large (including schools and seminaries).  This was the consensus view of the Westminster Assembly in its Form of Presbyterial Church Government, under the head “Teacher or Doctor.”  For a Biblical demonstration of this view of the Office of Teacher, see Appendix 2.



Teaching at christian schools, seminaries and being professors at universities would all be appropriate functions of the Teacher.  The Teacher could also be the primary officer over the responsibility of teaching the families in the congregation, holding Bible studies, Sabbath school classes, catechizing, visiting homes, etc.  Such an office would greatly relieve the work-load of many pastors, and people who are gifted for teaching but do not have the gifts of a pastor would find useful work.  The potential applications of this Office of Teacher to the modern Church is tremendous.  

The need for teaching in Christ’s church and the society at large is more than we can imagine.  The early church, medieval church and reformation church recognized the office and the need.  If the modern church does not recognize the office, the overwhelming need is still there.  Presently it is largely being filled by lay teachers who are ungoverned by the church.  The Office of Teacher would serve as a comprehensible way to meet and fulfill the very present need which exists, whether we recognize it or not.

Let us learn from Teachers more godly and knowledgeable in the scriptures than ourselves.  Study and look into these things as you have time and ability throughout the rest of your life.  May we be the gentiles that scripture prophesied of, saying, “Come, and let us go up to… the house of the God of Jacob; and he will Teach us of His ways.”  (Micah 4:2)



Appendix 1 – The Greek of Eph. 4:11


“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry…”

“τοὺς δὲ, ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους”

Eph. 4:11,12


What is the relation between “pastors and teachers” in Eph. 4:11?  

For the most exhaustive discussion of all the relevant Greek grammatical information and statistics on Eph. 4:11, see Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics  Buy  p. 270-283.  The following is a brief, simplified summary:

Wallace says on p. 270, “In Greek, when two nouns are connected by ‘and’ and the article precedes only the first noun, there is a close connection between the two.  That connection always indicates at least some sort of unity.”  

In plural constructions of substantives (such as in Eph. 4:11) there are five possibilities of relationship (see p. 278-283):  (1) Distinct groups, though closely related or united, (2) Overlapping groups, (3) First group a subset of the second (4) Second group a subset of the first (5) Both groups identical.  

There are 62 clear and unambiguous instances of such constructions of substantives in the N.T.  In 29 of them (47%), the two groups are identical.  However, none of those instances are of constructions with plural nouns (as in Eph. 4:11).  That means, out of 62 similar instances, there are none where, in such a construction of plural nouns, the groups are identical.  There are 13 instances of exactly the same plural noun construction in the N.T., and in none of those instances do the two groups have the same referent.  Wallace in a footnote on p. 282 gives persuasive linguistic reasons why substantives in such a construction may have the same referent but why nouns do not.  

Seeing that the construction in Eph. 4:11 is of plural nouns, and there are exactly zero instances in the New Testament where the two groups of such a Greek construction have the same referent, this is about as conclusive grammatical evidence as it gets that the groups of Pastors and Teachers are not the same, but are distinct.  The claim that Pastors and Teachers are the same in Eph. 4:11 is grammatically indefensible.

That being said, the two groups are related.  Of the 13 clear, exactly similar instances to Eph. 4:11, eleven are (1) Distinct groups that relate, and two instances are of the category of (3) the first group is a subset of the second.  While grammar alone cannot tell us how exactly the groups of pastors and teachers relate, it does tell us definitively that they are not the same.  

On p. 283 Wallace gives his interpretation of Eph. 4:11, that it falls into category (3) the first group (Pastors) is a subset of the second (Teachers).  This means that all Pastors are Teachers, but not all Teachers are Pastors.  

This is also the position of this article and of the historic, Reformation view.  Here is John Calvin on Eph. 4:11, from his Commentary:  

“Pastors and Teachers are supposed by some to denote one office, because the apostle does not, as in the other parts of the verse, say, and some, pastors; and some, teachers; but, τοὺς δὲ, ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, and some, pastors and teachers Chrysostom and Augustine are of this opinion; not to mention the commentaries of Ambrose, whose observations on the subject are truly childish and unworthy of himself. I partly agree with them, that Paul speaks indiscriminately of pastors and teachers as belonging to one and the same class, and that the name teacher does, to some extent, apply to all pastors. But this does not appear to me a sufficient reason why two offices, which I find to differ from each other, should be confounded. Teaching is, no doubt, the duty of all pastors; but to maintain sound doctrine requires a talent for interpreting Scripture, and a man may be a teacher who is not qualified to preach.

Pastors, in my opinion, are those who have the charge of a particular flock; though I have no objection to their receiving the name of teachers, if it be understood that there is a distinct class of teachers, who preside both in the education of pastors and in the instruction of the whole church. It may sometimes happen, that the same person is both a pastor and a teacher, but the duties to be performed are entirely different.”

For more on Eph. 4:11, see Appendix 3 – The Order of the Offices.  For more on the definition of office and the distinct functions of Pastors from Teachers necessitating different offices (though related), see Appendix 4 – Distinguishing the 3-Office and 4-Office Views, below.  



Appendix 2 – What does the Biblical Teacher Look Like?

Here is a Biblical demonstration of the nature and functions of the Office of Teacher according to the consensus view of the Form of Presbyterial Church Government, 1645.  

(1)  It appears (as the congregationalists argued) that the Teacher is very tied to the local church.  This is seen in 1 Cor. 12:28:

“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”

The whole chapter is about the body of Christ universal and the different gifts in it, and specifically the local church at Corinth.  Teachers are an integral part of the local church and if they serve the local church, have authority over the local church (on the Session), and have responsibilities to the local church, then they should be called by the people of the local church.

(2)  It also appears that Teachers sit in the regional presbytery, govern the churches and ordain fellow office-bearers.  Acts 13:1-3:

“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”

Therefore, Teachers, being at the regional level, are to serve the church universal.  They have a special function as theologians of the church at large, should be able to vote in presbytery and general assemblies (just as in the early church and middle-ages), teach at Christian conferences, and train other Teachers and Pastors in seminaries.  Their functions include teaching the universal church at large both in public and private, contrary to congregationalists.

(3)  It is clear that Teachers are denominated under the term “presbyters,” or, as translated in the Bible in English, “elders.”  1 Tim. 5:17:

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

Teachers were part of regional governing bodies (Acts 13:1-34:56:12; Matt 2:4) and part of the government of the church universal (1 Cor. 12:28).  Thus, the whole governing body, being denominated “elders” (Acts 20:17), must have included Teachers.  This is confirmed in 1 Tim. 5:17 as some of the elders were also teachers, which would have included Teachers and Pastors, had additional functions beyond that of Ruling Elders.  

Thus, Ruling Elders, Teachers and Pastors were all denominated by “elder,” (in Greek: “presbyter”) as together they formed the presbyterial ruling body (1 Tim. 4:14).  A corollary of this is that the qualifications for Teachers would be those described for “elders” in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1:5-9

The Teacher, teaching doctrine with authority over the congregation would naturally be a member of presbytery (as opposed to the local congregation, as Ruling Elders are), and subject directly thereto, to other Teachers and Pastors with the same authority, functions and gifts.  

(4)   It also appears that Teachers taught outside the normal confines of local congregations.   Acts 19:8-10:

“And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.

But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

And this continued by the space of two years”

Here Paul left the synagogue (the preaching and teaching classes of the local congregation) and went to a school of a certain Teacher.  Whatever the nature of the school was, Paul was teaching there regularly for two years while he was not teaching regularly in the local congregation (which had rejected him).  It would seem appropriate that the Teacher could and should teach in seminaries, Christian schools, universities and colleges (Christian or not), public schools, etc.

(5) There is a question of whether Teachers would have the power of the sacraments.  The English largely said Yes; the Scots said No.  

For the Scots, their Teachers, perhaps due to circumstantial reasons, for better or worse, were only public school teachers and principals of public schools.  One can understand why they would not want them administering the Lord’s Supper.  They also largely believed that Teachers could teach, but not preach.  Thus, their Adopting Act,1645, for the Westminster Form of Presbyterial Church Government (which advocates Teachers administering the sacrament), included the phrase,

“Provided always, that this act be no ways prejudicial to the further discussion and examination of that article which holds forth, The doctor or teacher hath power of the administration of the sacraments, as well as the pastor… but that it shall be free to debate and discuss these points, as God shall be pleased to give further light.”

The congregationalists, on the other hand, largely believed that the Teachers, having the ministry of the Word (though not shepherding responsibilities) could therefore preach.  And if they can preach, then Matt 28:19-20 says they can, and should, baptize.  If they can baptize, they can administer the Lord’s Supper.

In looking at the question of whether Teachers should administer the sacraments, let us consider two things:

(1) In scripture, preaching, while containing the function of teaching, is much more than teaching.  The two are conceptually distinguished.  Thus preaching not only communicates knowledge such that the hearers learn, but it also involves exhorting, reproving, rebuking, persuading, beseeching, reconciling, etc. (1 Tim. 6:2; 2 Tim. 4:2; 2 Cor. 5:11,20; Rom. 12:1, etc.).  

Preaching also involves an authoritative heralding and commission (Rom. 10:14,15; Isa. 52:7, Matt 10:1,7; Eph. 3:8; Gal. 1:15-16; etc.), which is something more than one simply being “apt to teach.” (1 Tim. 3:1,2).  

The distinction between preaching and teaching is true both by special revelation and by natural knowledge.  There is a large place in regular life for teaching without preaching, and we are all too keenly aware of persons who are good teachers, but are not good preachers.

(2) This distinction, of Teachers who teach without preaching, is exampled in scripture in Matt 23:2-3, Acts 19:8-10, and in the gospel accounts that speak of lawyers, doctors, scribes and others who were Teachers, such as Nicodemus and Gamaliel (John 3:10; Acts 5:34; 22:3, in light of Matt 23:2-3), and yet were not preachers (as the twelve apostles were, Matt 10:1,7, and those regularly ordained by their same commission to preaching, 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:2). 

If this is the case, that one can teach without having the authority to preach and administer the sacraments, then it follows that though Teachers have the ministry of the Word in Teaching, yet they do not inherently have the authority for preaching or administering the sacraments, which things are something more than teaching.  This is in accordance with the practice of the Jewish Teachers of the inter-testamental and the N.T. ages which did not not have authority to dispense sacraments (only the Priests did).

This was also the position and practice of the Reformation, French reformed churches:

2nd Synod of Poictiers (1560), ch. 4  in John Quick, Synodicon (London, 1692), vol. 1, p. 15

“Article 13…  The doctor in a church may not baptize, nor administer the Lord’s Supper, unless he be ordained a minister as well as doctor at the same time.”

For further clarifications on the authority and functions of Teachers, see Appendix 3.



Appendix 3 – The Order of the Offices

The historic, reformed view of the Reformation era is that there is an order to the offices of Christ’s Church.  

This comes from a proper understanding of Eph. 4:11, the book of Acts, the epistles, as well as other indicators throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  The higher offices contain all the lower offices, though the lower offices do not contain the higher offices.  This was exampled in the O.T. in that Prophets, the highest office in the Church, were able to offer sacrifices as the Priests (1 Sam. 7:9; 1 Kings 18:30-33; etc.).  The Priests were able to do all the functions of the Levites.  Though, the lower offices were not able, and did not have the authority, to perform the functions of the higher offices.  More evidence of this from the N.T. is given below.

The order of offices in the N.T., according to Eph. 4:11, is: (1) Apostles, (2) Prophets, (3) Evangelists, (4) Pastors, and (5) Teachers.  With regard to the teaching of the rest of the New Testament, the list continues: (6) Ruling Elders, (7) Deacons.

Thus, the twelve Apostles, who Jesus Christ specifically called (Matt 10:1), breathed on with the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), and in a special way commissioned (Matt 28:18-20), had, in some sense, a higher authority over the whole government and all the offices of the Church.  

The Apostolic office contained all the authority and functions of all the other offices, and thus the Apostles could personally ordain all the other offices (Acts 6:5-6; 14:23) as needed during the expansion of the New Testament Church.  Regional, church planting Evangelists (such as Philip and Timothy, Acts 21:8, 2 Tim. 4:5), acting has helpers to the Apostles, could thus also personally ordain elders in every city (Titus 1:5) during the extraordinary times of the first expansion of the Church.

The Apostolic office was peculiar to those whom Christ had directly appointed in His earthly ministry and from heaven (Acts 1:21; Gal. 1:12), and thus fell away with the death of those men.  The prophetic office ceased with the cessation of special revelation in the first century (Heb. 1:1-2; 1 Cor. 15:8; Dan. 9:24; Isa. 8:13,20; etc.).  The office of Evangelist, as being personally ordained by the Apostles, and being extraordinary to the time of the expansion of the early church in order to establish regular presbyteries, fell away in the first century as well.  Presbyteries of elders were set up by the later period of the N.T. (1 Tim. 4:14) with specific divinely appointed instructions for the regular ordination of, and continuation of, the ministry (1 Tim. 3, Titus 1:5-9, etc.).  For more on the extraordinary officers of the New Testament Church, see Thomas Smyth’s Ecclesiastical Catechism, Chapter 3, 1841.

The regular offices of the Church that remain perpetually, are, in order: (1) Pastors, (2) Teachers, (3) Ruling Elders, and (4) Deacons.  Thus, in the historic reformed view, and in accordance with the Greek grammar of Eph. 4:11 as noted in Appendix 1, Pastors have all the authority, responsibility and functions of Teachers, Ruling Elders and Deacons.  Teachers have all the authority, responsibilities and functions of Ruling Elders and Deacons.  And Ruling Elders also have the authority, responsibility and functions of Deacons.

Scripture also teaches the principle of parity (equality) between the offices in governing (1 Pet. 5:12 John 1:13 John 1:1Acts 15:2,4,6,13,2213:1-321:18-20; etc.).  Thus in legislative assemblies (Sessions, Presbyteries, General Assemblies), all elders (Pastors, Teachers and Ruling Elders) are on the same level and have an equal vote.

The lower offices do not have the authority, calling, gifts or functions of the higher offices.  This is seen, amongst other places, where Korah, of the office of Levite, did not have the authority to perform the functions of the higher office of Priest (though the Priests could do, and supervised, all the functions and responsibilities of the Levites).  Korah was killed for performing the functions of a higher office that he did not have authority for (Num. 16:1,7,35).  So we are not to usurp the office and functions that God has not called us to (Heb. 5:4).  

Thus, Deacons are not able to perform the functions of the higher offices, such as ruling in church courts, precisely because they are not ‘overseers,’ but are servants to them (Acts 6:2-6).  In accordance with the Greek grammar of Eph. 4:11, as explained in Appendix 1, Ruling Elders, who are to be apt to teach generally, yet mainly govern in church courts (1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:8), and do not have the calling for the Ministry of the Word by preaching and sacraments.  Teachers, while having shepherding responsibilities with Ruling Elders and Pastors (as all Pastors, Teachers, and Ruling Elders are ‘presbyters,’ which is synonymous with ‘bishop,’ or ‘overseer’), yet do not have authority for preaching or the sacraments.  Pastors have all of the lower functions, but do not have the functions of the higher extraordinary offices (though Pastors are to evangelize generally, etc.).

An implication of this touches on the laying on of hands during ordination.  An officer cannot bestow an authority that he does not have.  Thus, Ruling Elders would not be able to lay hands on a Teacher for ordination, though other Teachers and Pastors could. 

For greater articulation and details on the differences between Pastors and Teachers, see Appendix 4.



Appendix 4 – Distinguishing the 3-Office and 4-Office Views

The principle consideration that will distinguish how many regular offices there are in Christ’s Church is the definition of what an office is.  An office (as implicitly defined in Larger Catechism #158) is an authoritative position appointed by Christ in scripture for the government of His Church that has distinct gifts, functions and a specific authoritative calling. 

The three-office view consists of (1) Pastors, (2) Ruling Elders and (3) Deacons.  That the Pastor and Ruling Elder are separate offices, though both ‘elders’ (in Greek: ‘presbyters’), see the Westminster Form of Presbyterial Government, and the defense of this view in Rev. Sherman Isbell’s article Order in the Offices, a Book Review (13 paragraphs).  

The four-office view consists of (1) Pastors, (2) Teachers, (3) Ruling Elders and (4) Deacons.

In the 3-Office view, within the office of Pastor, there can be providential situations such that certain pastors focus on teaching while not performing the other functions of their office (for instance while teaching at a seminary, etc.).  All teachers must be qualified, have the gifts of, and be called to be a Pastor.  Thus all teachers could, and normally should, pastor.

The 4-Office view is that all Pastors can teach and perform all the functions of Teachers (the Pastoral Office containing all the necessary qualifications, gifts and functions of teachers, see Appendix 3 above).  However, there can be men who only have the gifts, qualifications and calling of a Teacher, and do not have the gifts, qualifications and calling to being Pastors.  Thus they could be Teachers and not be Pastors.  

Are there three regular offices or four regular offices in the New Testament?

It should be noted that, as described in Appendix 1 on the Greek grammar of Eph. 4:11, and more fully documented in pages 270-283 of Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics  Buy, there is evidence in the N.T., relating to the peculiar construction of Eph. 4:11, for the grammatical category that all Pastors are Teachers while not all Teachers are Pastors (the 4-Office view), but there is no evidence for the grammatical category that all Teachers are Pastors (the 3-Office view). 

That there are Teachers that do not Pastor is further demonstrated (as more fully discussed in the article and appendices above) in the New Testament by Matt 23:2-3, Acts 9:8-10, the gospel accounts that speak of lawyers, doctors, scribes and others who were Teachers, such as Nicodemus and Gamaliel (John 3:10; Acts 5:34; 22:3), and yet were not preachers or pastors.  

Thus, if the definition of office includes distinct gifts, functions and authoritative calling, and the gifts, functions and authoritative calling of Teachers is distinguishable in scripture from that  of Pastors, such that not all Teachers do, or can do, the Pastoral office, then there are four regular offices in Christ’s Church, not three, as recognized by the whole historic, Reformation world.





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Related Pages

The Government of the Church

The Offices of the Church

The Office of Teacher