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A Comma Can Make All the Difference in the World

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Ephesians 4:11

Sometimes a comma can make all the difference in the world. Consider Ephesians 4:12, for example. The King James Version of this verse says that Christ gave pastors and other church leaders "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." The two commas in this translation divide the verse into three equal tasks. Pastors and other leaders are to do three things: perfect the saints, the work of ministry, and edify the body of Christ.

This threefold translation in the King James Version has had a powerful influence on the church in the last four centuries. Unfortunately, it misconstrues the original Greek, mostly by adding a comma that shouldn't be there. The original language of Ephesians 4:12 says that Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers "for [pros] the equipping of the saints into [eis] the work of ministry into [eis] the upbuilding of the body of Christ." You can see that there are not three equal phrases here, each outlining one duty of pastors and other leaders. Rather, the pastoral leaders have one main task assigned to them: the equipping of the saints. They are to equip the saints for two parallel tasks: the work of ministry and building up the body of Christ. (Or, it could be that these are two different ways of describing the same ministry effort.)

The King James Version, by adding a comma after "saints," led centuries of readers to assume that only apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers were to do "the work of ministry." They were thought to be the ministers. But, in fact, Ephesians 4:12 teaches that the saints (all of God's people) are the ministers, who are to be equipped by the pastoral leaders for their ministry. Thus, contemporary translations of this verse rightly omit the comma once added by the KJV, as in the case of the ESV: "to equip the saints [no comma] for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ."

I know it might seem to you as if I am belaboring the point by spending a whole reflection on one comma. But this comma has had a debilitating influence on the church. It falsely encouraged the view that only the ordained leaders are ministers. It misled "average churchgoers" into thinking that they were the receivers of ministry rather than Christ's ministers. I'm thankful that most contemporary translations of Scripture get it right. They clearly proclaim the good news that all of God's people are ministers. Yes, that's right. You too!

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you see yourself as a minister of Christ? Why or why not? Do you think that calling ordained church leaders "ministers" keeps us from grasping the truth that all of God's people are ministers? How might you live as a minister of Christ today?

PRAYER: Gracious God, may we see ourselves as you see us. May we understand who we are in light of your Word. In particular, help us to see ourselves as your ministers, no matter whether we have "Rev." in front of our names or not. Help us to live our lives each day as people who are fully devoted to you in all that we do. Use us for your ministry, no matter our work, no matter where we are. May we serve you and your redemptive purposes. Amen.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.

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