The Challenging Comma
It might come as a surprise to many who regularly read their bibles to learn that many of the ancient Greek copies of the New Testament contained no punctuation marks. It might also surprise some to learn that the chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original autographs or the copies that our translations have come from. The first English version of the New Testament to utilize chapter and verse divisions was made in 1557.
When one studies scripture it is a given fact, that one will engage in what we know as “interpretation.” We must begin with the premise that there is “no private interpretation” of Scripture. We must apply certain hermeneutical rules in order to arrive at the meaning of the text intended by God and the author of a particular text. Normally we begin with observation. We observe everything we can from a particular paragraph of Scripture. After careful observation of words, phrases, nouns, historical background, cultural references, and the occasion we move to interpreting what we have observed. Observation answers the question of what did the text say and interpretation answers the question of what the text mean did? We then move from interpretation to application; this answers the question of what do I now think or do about what I have observed and interpreted.
Periodically we will come to some interpretative challenges as we study our text. One challenge we may encounter includes the placement of certain punctuation marks. One such challenge that many believers and especially churches have is where to place the comma in Ephesians 4:11.
Many translations unfortunately have a comma which separates “saints” from “the work of the ministry.” This misplaced comma has been called the “fatal comma.” If you leave out the comma, the verse reads like this:
“And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, FOR THE EQUIPMENT OF THE SAINTS FOR THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY…” (Ephesians 4:11, RSV)
Many translations read:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….” (Ephesians 4:11, ESV)
Why is this “comma” of such importance? The work of the leadership of the local church is to prepare God’s people to serve and to minister. Many churches believe that when the “hire” a minister or pastor it becomes his job to do the work of the ministry. Many Elders or pastors find themselves do all the work, such as preaching, teaching, baptizing, visiting, evangelizing, and representing the church. Understanding the passage correctly it becomes clear that as the leadership trains, develops, prepares, and/or equips Gods’ people, the congregation is responsible for the work of the ministry.
Two monumental mistakes are made when the burden and expectation of all the work of the ministry is to be done by the pastor (s).
First, performance expectations are greatly skewed which leads to devastating results. In other words, pastors are expected to live up to a standard of performance. If he does he is praised and “kept” if he doesn’t he is typically “fired” or let go. Secondly, the pastor becomes a “private chaplain” to a congregation. Since his “salary” or support comes from the congregation he is expected to minister to them primary or in total as the congregation sees fit and the community remains unreached.
The work of Christian leadership is clearly defined as the preparing of God’s people to minister.
To be continued…