- Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists (εὐαγγελιστής/euangelistēs, G2099), and the pastors and teachers. (Eph 4:11)
- The terms based on the forms of the Greek root euangel– refer to announcing good news.
The title evangelist occurs only three times in the New Testament and identifies only two people by name, Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Tim 4:5). But its appearance in this gift list indicates a wider distribution than just those two. Indeed, God himself is the first evangelist, who “proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, ‘All nations will be blessed through you’” (Gal 3:8; quoting Gen 12:3; 18:18). Throughout the four Gospels we see Jesus Christ as the evangelist, proclaiming “the Good News” everywhere he went.1Matt 9:35; Mark 1:1, 14; 10:29; Luke 4:18.
In turn, Paul became an apostle whose task it was to serve as an evangelist to the Gentiles (Rom 1:15). The apostles would have been the church’s earliest evangelists, but we note that this gift was given also to an early deacon, Philip (Acts 21:1), and we note that all Christians were evangelists: “The believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went” (Acts 8:4).
Nature of the Gift
But like many other gifts, Christ provides not only a general dispersion of the task to all believers, but the Holy Spirit also provides a special distribution to some members. In this regard, Paul’s list includes this as something we might identify as an office, along with apostles, prophets, and pastor-teachers (Eph 4:11). Indeed, the church eventually came to identify the four gospel writers as the four evangelists.
Present church practice is to recognize itinerant preachers and people who hit the streets witnessing as evangelists. But nothing in the New Testament indicates that being an evangelist is by nature a traveling ministry. All of the apostles were evangelists, and the apostolic wish to build where no one had built before (Rom 15:20) would certainly mean an itinerant ministry; but not all evangelists are foundational apostles.
In turn, most itinerant evangelists today avoid the apostolic task and expect to work through a local church with an already established foundation. Perhaps we should take it one step further, and emphasize the gift of evangelizing as a local church gift, rather than just an itinerant ministry, and seek out and develop evangelists in our own congregations. O’Brien suggests that the task covers a range of activities from primary evangelism and church planting to the ongoing discipling of Christians and development of growing congregations (Rom 1:11–15).2O’Brien, Ephesians, 299.
In Timothy’s case, we see that he received that calling and gift through a prophetic ordination service (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:16, 18). It’s likely that others came into their gifts and offices through similar ordination services (Acts 13:2–3; 14:23).