Church of Christ Deism: The Ephesians 4 Argument

i_dont_believe_in_miracles_i_rely_on_them_tshirt-p235921785579041865yk07_400While the 1 Corinithians 13 argument is the classic argument that miracles ended at the completion of the New Testament (and not just among the Churches of Christ), some also argument from Ephesians 4. This is from an article by Wayne Jackson in the Christian Courier

This theme is similarly dealt with in Ephesians 4, where it is affirmed that when Christ “ascended on High” he “gave gifts unto men” (vv. 8ff). The gifts were miraculously endowed functions in the church (e.g., apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers). The design of these capacities was “for the perfecting katartismos of the saints.”

The original word denotes “complete qualification for a specific purpose” (The Analytical Greek Lexicon n.d., 220). Or, as Arndt and Gingrich render it, “to equip the saints for service” (1967, 419).

Moreover, the duration of these supernatural governments was specified. They were to continue “till we all attain unto the unity of the faith” (4:13). “Till” is from mechri, and it suggests a “specification of time up to which this spiritual constitution was designed to last” (Ellicott 1978, 95).

The word “unity” (henotes) basically means “oneness” (_The Analytical Greek Lexicon n.d., 119). It derives from the term hen, the neuter of heis, and it emphasizes oneness “in contrast to the parts, of which a whole is made up” (Arndt and Gingrich 1967, 230).

Finally, the expression “the faith” refers to the revealed gospel system (cf. Galatians 1:23; 1 Timothy 5:8).

And so, to sum up: the apostle contends that spiritual gifts would continue until the gospel system, in its individual parts (as portrayed in 1 Corinthians 13), came together in oneness, i.e., the completed or whole revelation (New Testament record) (see MacKnight 1954, 335). Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 13 are wonderfully complimentary.

For this argument to hold water, we’d have to agree that —

* the Christian church has reached unity in the faith

* this happened when the New Testament was written.

I’m not sold. First, Jackson ignores the inconvenient parts of the passage. You see, the gifts have more than one goal —

(Eph 4:13-14)  … 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. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

In the Greek, this is all the same sentence. Truer to the original is the ESV —

13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Is it fair to say that the Second Century church had attained unity, knowledge of the Son of God, maturity to the level of the fulness of Christ, were no longer children tossed to and fro by the waves and no longer fooled by false doctrine? Plainly, no. Indeed, it’s standard cant among the conservatives to mark the Second Century as the beginning of the Great Apostasy.

And there is much truth to it. We’ve found vast stores of heretical materials from the Second Century. No, the completion of the New Testament did not bring about this result. Rather, Ephesians 4 is not speaking about the history of the church-universal. It’s speaking of how the leaders of the church should always be working to bring the church to unity and maturity through works of service.

Paul’s instructions are vital, important instructions for today’s leaders, because we face many of the same problems as the churches in the First Century. Paul correctly diagnoses exactly what’s wrong with the church in 2009 — immaturity, a lack of similarity to Jesus, doctrinal confusion — and he gives the correct remedy: leaders who encourage and equip Christians to do works of service.

(Eph 4:11-12)  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up …

You see, Paul tells us the problem and the cure. The cure isn’t to compile the New Testament (as important as that was). The cure mentioned in this passage is: prepare God’s people for works of service. This is what will build up the body to maturity, love, and Christ-likeness.

Not only does this passage not support Jackson’s argument, it argues to the contrary: that Christ will continue to give us gifted leaders as long as his church needs them.

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2 Responses

  1. Jay,
    In the passage you quoted from Wayne Jackson, he asserts (but gives no evidence for his assertion), “The gifts were miraculously endowed functions in the church (e.g., apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers).”

    I freely concede that the apostles were miraculously endowed, as were at least some prophets. When you understand that the word prophet is not limited to fore-telling or the giving of new revelation, you can see a place for non-miraculously endowed prophets. Such would be “forth-tellers” who boldly speak truth to power in the name of the Lord.

    While it is likely that evangelists were often miraculously endowed, there is absolutely nothing in their work that demands miraculous endowment.

    Ppastors and teachers,” likely were the same individuals. Paul give qualifications for the pastor in 1 Tim 3 & Titus 1. Miraculous endowment is not among those qualifications. IF the teachers are a separate class (which they may well be), 2 Timothy 2:2 gives two qualifications: faithful men who have been taught. Nothing about miraculous endowment there!

    It seems that brother Jackson has a position he wants to prove – and finds proof where there is none. This does not mean that his position is necessarily wrong. It just means that his argument for that position is not adequate to the task he assigns it.

    Your discussion of the setting of that text is more on target, it seems to me.

  2. Jackson’s argument doesn’t follow from the text.

    “he gave gifts unto men” doesn’t distinguish among all the different types of gifts — some of which ended, and some of which remain (as 1 Cor 13 tells us).

    “till we all attain unto the unity of the faith” refers to the Christians (“we”) reaching unity — not to the “gospel system” and not to the completion of the scriptures.

    This certainly appears to be a case of looking for a way to make a passage support a pre-existing position, rather than learning from what the passage actually says.

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