Skip to content

Greek Myths 1: "Pastor-Teacher"

August 12, 2006

“Producer-Director,” “Founder-CEO,” and surely you’ve heard of “Pastor-Teacher.” There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a hyphenated title like this, unnecessary as it may seem in view of teaching being an expected part of a pastor’s duties. However, this particular item has come into regular use in some circles, and is said to reflect New Testament phraseology. In fact this notion is an example of what I am calling “Greek Myths,” a concept that originally arose out of a sloppy or spurious application of the structure of New Testament Greek, and through uncritical acceptance and repeated use has taken on a life of its own.

This particular example does not in itself have earth-shattering theological consequences. Its worst effect may be the nails-on-chalkboard my nervous system is subjected to whenever I hear it (occupational hazard of being a Greek wonk). However, I have chosen this first “Greek Myth” as what I intend to be the first in a series, illustrating a sad state of affairs in which Greek in used in sermon preparation to discover shiny “nuggets” that brighten up a dull message or lend authority to an otherwise unlikely proposition. The result is an collection of “stupid Greek tricks,” or “myths” about what the Greek language, the use of which obviates any need for actual fresh interaction with the text.

To be fair, how can the average pastor possibly be expected to gain or maintain real proficiency in the Biblical languages? Yet he is expected to occasionally unveil a secret from “the original Greek,” and so a word or two dropped at a strategic point or a quasi-arcane explanation of a grammatical subtlety creates a distinct impression of expertise.

To return to our specific focus. The phrase “pastor-teacher” is based on Ephesians 4:11, which reads (in the ESV):

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

Now here is how it works in the Greek: note five different offices or church leaders: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Yet there are only four instances of the definite article (translated “the” in English), with “pastors” and “teachers” sharing a single definite article. There is clearly a different structure with the last two titles than with the others.

Now let us go elsewhere in the Bible (2 Peter 1:1):

…the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…

This English translation does give the correct impression that we are speaking of one person, i.e. Jesus Christ with is (1) God and (2) Savior. In Greek this is signaled by a shared definite article (which is not visible in the English translation), reading: “the God of-us and Savior Jesus Christ.”

So we have one of several texts clearly calling Jesus God by using this structure. Others include Acts 20:28, Ephesians 5:5, 2 Thessalonians 1:12, 1 Timothy 5:21, 2 Timothy 4:1, Titus 2:13, and Jude 4. What I am illustrating here is called the Granville Sharp rule (and I am indebted here to my teacher Daniel Wallace, who is, I suppose, the world’s foremost authority on the Granville Sharp rule. [“Sharp Redivivus? A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule” ( ]

Around the end of the eighteenth century a New Testament scholar named Granville Sharp observed an aspect of New Testament Greek that he claimed was essentially without exception. To slightly simplify (and in English terms): The+Noun+and+Noun, both nouns refer to the same individual. So in 2 Peter 1:1 the “rule” shows that “God” and “Savior” both refer to Jesus Christ. There is no possibility of the Greek text here meaning (1) God the Father, and also (2) Jesus Christ our Savior. This rule has stood the test of time, and seems to be a strong and valid argument for the divinity of Jesus in the Bible.

Now, what about Ephesians 4:11? This also shows the structure “The+Noun+and+Noun,” doesn’t it. The problem is, just as I gave a very imprecise version of the rule, it has not been disseminated with the care it should have. Specifically the rule only applies as long as neither noun (or substantive) is (1) impersonal, (2) a proper noun, or (3) plural (Wallace, ibid.). In other words, it doesn’t apply to thing A and thing B, to Bob and Tom, or to these and those. What about “pastors” and “teachers?” We have two plural nouns. Clearly the Granville Sharp rule does not apply to them.

Counter-examples are legion: in Matthew 3:7 for example “the Pharisees and Sadducees” is exactly this structure, “The+Noun+and+Noun,” but the nouns are plural. Besides they were clearly distinct groups. No one would suggest we translate this phrase: “the Pharisee-Sadducees.” The phrase “Pastor-Teacher” has no more justification than this (though one might argue that pastor is a subset of teacher).

What do we make of the particularity of Ephesians 4:11. The two offices were grouped together for some reason. Certainly. For instance, one explanation would be that pastors and teachers were basically local church leaders, and fall in a common category, as distinguished from apostles, prophets, and evangelists, who had trans-local ministries. At any rate imagine five different leaders: an apostle, a prophet, and evangelist, a pastor, and a teacher in one church, but there are only four rooms for them to office in. Well, the pastor the teacher share an office.

So “Pastor-Teacher” is a phrase of spurious origin, based on an insufficiently careful application of a grammatical rule. It has made its way, for example, into The Message:

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work…

The Message is the only version I am aware of that goes with “pastor-teacher” here. (This instance is frankly a significant reason to call into question Eugene Peterson’s competence to carry off his translation work single-handed. He ought to have known Granville Sharp better as well as Wallace’s work on the subject.)

To my chagrin, I have just noticed that even my preferred version, the ESV includes a footnote to Ephesians 4:11: “Or the pastor-teachers.” At least it’s only a footnote.

The foregoing is an illustration of the truth “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” My conclusion: please, stop using “pastor-teacher” out there. I suppose you could start referring to Jesus as our God-Savior, but I wouldn’t really recommend it.


For further edification on this subject I here present Daniel Wallace’s Q and A on the subject (much less grumpy and more succinct than mine) from

In Ephesians 4:11 where Paul links pastor-teacher, is this a valid link due to the “kai”? Some say that there are exceptions to this rule and that pastor and teacher can be seperated in this verse. Does the exception apply to this verse?

Thanks for the question. You are alluding to the Granville Sharp rule. That rule says that when two nouns are joined by KAI, and the first is preceded by the article, they refer to the same person if:

1. both nouns are singular
2. both nouns are personal
3. both nouns are not proper names.

In Eph 4.11, the nouns are not singular. In no instance in the New Testament do plural nouns fit the rule; that is, there is no clear example in which plural nouns in the Granville Sharp construction refer to exactly the same group of people. For example, in Matt 3.7 “the Pharisees and Sadducees” are in this construction, but no Pharisee was also at the same time a Sadducee.

In Acts 17.12 we read of “the women… and men”! When participles or adjectives are in the construction in the plural, the dynamics are different. Plural participles always refer to the same group, as far as I can tell; adjectives in the plural frequently do.

The practical ramifications of your question though are a bit different. When the construction is in the plural, three broad semantic notions are possible:

(1) one group overlaps with the other in some sense (either partial overlap for both or one is a subset of the other); (2) the two groups are completely distinct; (3) the two nouns refer to the same group. As I said, the last option is not likely for nouns, since there are no clear examples of such in the NT (and very few elsewhere). I believe that in Eph 4.11, we are dealing with the first semantic option: some kind of overlap. Without going into the detailed arguments for such (you can read my Ph.D. dissertation on the matter, if you’re so inclined!), I believe that the first group (pastors) belongs to the second group (teachers). That is, all who have the gift of pastor also would have the gift of teacher. This does not mean that someone with the office of pastor has the gift of teacher necessarily, though presumably one had the office of pastor should also have the gift.

For more information on Greek grammar and the Granville Sharp rule: See the author’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: