1. Ephesians 4:11 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

Does “shepherds and teachers” refer to one position or two?

Ephesians 4:11 (ESV)

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,

In short

The shepherds and teachers refers to

  1. two positions that overlap; or

  2. one position.

Paul explains that Christ gave gifts to the church including apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. In Greek, there is an article in front of each term except teacher. Thus, it is ambiguous whether Paul suggests there are two roles, shepherd as well as teacher, or if he refers to the one role of shepherd-teachers. So how do we decide between these?

Most likely Paul has in mind two roles that overlap. That is, he is explaining that Christ gifts the church with shepherds, who also teach, as well as teachers who have a disposition toward shepherding. We can deduce this because of the literary style of this section. We already noted that Paul includes the definite article in front of each term except teacher, but the reason he does this is likely for style reasons. It is because Paul is ending this sentence, and not because he wants to suggest that shepherds are the same as teachers, that he leaves out the article. We can deduce this because Paul does something similar in Ephesians 2:20. There, Paul mentions the apostles and prophets, but while he includes the definite article in front of each of these in Ephesians 4:11, in Ephesians 2:20 he only includes the article in front of apostles. This is because the article modifying prophets is implied and therefore redundant. Further, we know that Paul emphasizes the importance of teaching in several passages, and especially 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul tells Timothy to entrust the gospel to faithful men who are able to teach.

Some contend that Paul has one office in mind. There are two reasons for this conclusion. First, in 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul also explains that God gives gifts to the church, and there he offers a similar list mentioning apostles, prophets and teachers. Likely, when Paul mentions teachers in 1 Corinthians 12:28 he has elders in mind who are to teach, and so in Ephesians 4:11 he makes this clear by mentioning the shepherd teachers. Second, we know that elders are the shepherds that Paul has in mind, and that elders must be able to teach (Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 3:2). Thus, the shepherds and teachers signify one role.

The problem with this argument is that Paul does not seem to be explicating a list of offices in Ephesians 4:11. Rather, as he does in other passages, such as 1 Corinthians 12:28, he offers a list of gifts given by Christ. For example, along with the apostles, prophets, and shepherds, Paul mentions evangelists in Ephesians 4:11, and in 1 Corinthians 12:28–30 he mentions miracles workers and those who can heal. Further, in Romans 12:6–8, Paul mentions those who serve, teach, exhort, contribute, and so on. Of course, given the importance of learning sound doctrine, it is no wonder that Christ gifts the church with teachers.

In the end, Paul has in mind two separate but closely related roles. Christ gives those who shepherd the flock, but these should also be able to teach. He also gives teachers, and these should have a disposition toward shepherding.

Interpretation 1:
Shepherds and teachers points to two positions that overlap.


Christ gave special roles for the upbuilding of the church, including shepherds and teachers. By shepherds Paul means elders, and the role of an elder is to care for the congregation and teach sound doctrine. Teachers focus on explaining doctrine, although they should not lack a pastoral disposition.

The church is the body of Christ and Christ ensures that its members will grow in the knowledge of him by providing pastors and teachers. Some are gifted at explaining the gospel and caring for the spiritual needs of the flock, while others are better at teaching doctrine. In either case, the purpose of pastors and teachers is united in caring for the body of Christ.


  • Stephen Baugh

  • Stephen Fowl

  • Trevor Grizzle

  • Margaret MacDonald

  • Thomas Slater

  • Frank Thielman

Minor differences:

Our authors agree that while the roles of shepherd and teacher are different, they overlap. This means we cannot completely separate these roles, but neither should we suggest they are identical. Rather, some are given to shepherd the flock, which includes caring for pastoral needs, but they also must be able to teach. Others focus on teaching doctrine, exegeting Scripture, and explaining tradition, but these should not lack a pastoral disposition.

There is a slight difference between Trevor Grizzle and Margaret MacDonald. According to Grizzle, “teaching was required of all pastors (1 Timothy 3:2), but shepherding was not part of the portfolio of teachers." 1 In other words, the intermingling of roles has to do with the fact that pastors are responsible for both shepherding and teaching, but teachers only teach. MacDonald sees things differently. To her mind, a good teacher was perhaps often a good pastor for the community (nurturing and protecting the community from unhealthy influences). 2 Thus, for MacDonald, the roles of pastor and teacher are separate but equally intermingled.


Interpretation 2:
Shepherds and teachers refers to one position.


The apostle Paul explains that Christ gifted the church with special roles to build up the body of believers. The shepherds are also known as the elders, and these are not only charged with caring for the spiritual needs of the flock, but also acting as sound teachers.


  • F. F. Bruce