The Ministry of Edification

©David Peterson (2009)[1]

Any consideration of what Christians do when they meet together must take seriously the New Testament teaching about edification. Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians puts it simply: ‘encourage one another and build one another up’ (1 Thess. 5:11). His comprehensive teaching in 1 Corinthians 14 makes it clear that edifying or building the church should be the touchstone of everything we say or do together (vv. 3-5, 12, 17, 26).

However, it is easy to misinterpret the apostle and to think of edification purely in terms of the spiritual advancement of individuals within the church, or to think of it as a purely intellectual activity. Vielhauer’s important survey of early Christian literature shows how quickly the individualistic understanding of the terminology came to predominate, especially as Christianity encountered Gnosticism.[2] As with many other biblical terms, there is an important theological context to be understood before we can understand the apostolic usage and its meaning.

The verb οἰκοδομέω (‘build’) is employed outside the New Testament quite literally for the building of houses, temples and other structures, and figuratively for the establishment of individuals or nations in some situation or way of life.[3] In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX), it regularly translates the Hebrew banah in contexts where a literal or figurative activity of building is in view (in 2 Samuel 7:11-13 both senses are found). Similarly in the New Testament, both senses of ‘building’ are found in the usage of this verb. The substantive οἰκοδομή (‘building’) is common in Koine Greek, but not in earlier stages in the development of the language. It can refer to the act of building or to the construction that is the result of building (e.g. Mt. 24:1).

The Messiah’s Work of Edification

Promised in Scripture

The idea of God ‘building’ a people for himself is found in Jeremiah 24:6; 31:4; 33:7, where the reference is to the re-establishment of the remnant of Israel after the Babylonian exile. To ‘plant’ and to ‘build go together: the opposite is to ‘break down’ and ‘pluck up’ (Jer. 1:10; 24:6). God does this work by putting his words in the mouths of his prophets (Jer. 1:9-10). Furthermore, he promises that if Israel’s enemies learn the ways of his people and swear by his name they shall be ‘built up’ in the midst of his people (Jer. 12:14-17). This Old Testament usage seems particularly to have influenced the thinking of Paul, as will be seen below.

Amos 9:11-12, with its promise that God will rebuild ‘the dwelling of David’, is the basis for the teaching of James in Acts 15:13-18 about the eschatological restoration of the people of God through Jesus the Messiah.

Fulfilled by Jesus

Matthew 16:18 expresses the idea that the Messiah must build or establish a renewed community of the people of God. Jesus says: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build (οἰκοδομήσω) my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’ (NRSV). The reluctance of many modern scholars to accept this as a genuine saying of Jesus is often due to certain dogmatic presuppositions.[6] Although the word ‘church’ occurs in the Gospels only here and in Matthew 18:17, the idea that the disciples are the ‘flock’ which Jesus shepherds is found in Luke 12:32, John 10:11-18; Mark 14:27-28. Furthermore, it is clear that Jesus spoke about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (e.g. Mk. 13:1-2) and its replacement in some sense with a new ‘temple’ (e. g. Mk. 14:58, ‘not made with hands’).

The false witnesses at Jesus’ trial evidently misunderstood his teaching and took him literally. However, he did not speak of a new building in Jerusalem but of a new fellowship with God that would be established by means of his own death and resurrection (cf. Jn. 2:19-22). ‘The “presence” of God would no longer be linked with the temple, but with him and those whom he had gathered to himself (Mt. 18:20).[7]

Jesus’ use of Psalm 118:22-23 (‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes’) is instructive. In the context of the parable of the vineyard (Mk. 12:1-12), it suggests that his own rejection by the leaders of Israel will be the means by which God establishes his purpose and builds the new community of the people of God (note especially Mt. 21:43; 1 Pet. 2:4-8).

Acts 9:31 speaks of the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria having peace after the conversion of Saul and being ‘built up’. The rest of the verse suggests that this meant being strengthened to go forward ‘in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit’ and thus to ‘be multiplied’ (ἐπληθύνετο). Numerical growth is related directly to the establishing and encouraging of those who are already believers.[4]

Acts 20:32 indicates more specifically that ‘the word of his grace’ or the gospel is the means by which a congregation is built up and given ‘the inheritance among all those who are sanctified’. Human agents have an important role to play in this process, but it is clear from the theology of Acts as a whole that the ascended Christ is actually ‘building’ this new community through the ministry of his word and the work of the Holy Spirit.[5]

A community of believing Jews and Gentiles

Ephesians 2:13-22 proclaims in a variety of ways the wonderful truth that Gentiles have now been included among the people of God. As ‘fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God’, they find themselves in a new relationship with believing Jews and with God himself. In 2:20-22 there is a change of thought: those who have been received into God’s house are no longer described as its inhabitants but are viewed as the building materials of a house in which God himself will dwell. The apostles and prophets are the foundation ‘laid’ by God for this edifice (v. 20, ἐποικοδομηθέντες) and Jesus the Messiah is the cornerstone or keystone.[8] The whole construction (οἰκοδομή), ‘joined together’ in Christ, ‘grows into a holy temple in the Lord’. He is the one who holds the growing temple together as a unity.

The verb ‘to grow’ in Greek can refer to increase in size, number, age, maturity, glory and power. In Ephesians 4:16 Paul emphasizes the responsibility of the church for its own growth, though clearly such growth comes from ‘the head’, who is Christ. So too in 2:21 growth takes place ‘in the Lord’: growth is the gift of God (cf. 1 Cor. 3:6-7; Col. 2:19). Markus Barth rightly observes:

External, numerical growth and internal, personal growth in faith (cf. Col. 1:6, 10) are not excluded. But though these two concepts of growth may be present somewhere under the surface of 2:21, they are certainly not in the foreground. This verse speaks of the life and promise given to the whole church, rather than of the increased number of believers or strengthened personal faith.[9]

To introduce the idea that many churches must grow together to form one complex edifice is ‘to do violence to the spirit of this whole section.’[10] The church in view in this passage is not ‘the church universal’ but a heavenly or spiritual reality.[11] Given the eschatology of Ephesians, the word οἰκοδομή is best understood in an abstract or transitional sense: ‘οἰκοδομή is not the house as built, but the building regarded as in process: we might almost say “God’s architecture” or “God’s structure”.’[12]

The metaphor of growth is used to stress that God’s building activity is purposeful: the goal is ‘a holy temple in the Lord’ (v. 21). In a parallel expression, Paul stresses that Gentiles also are being ‘built together’ (συνοικοδομεῖσθε), presumably in company with believing Jews, ‘into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit’ (v. 22). [13]

As the God of Israel had once taken up residence in the wilderness tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem temple by his name and his glory, so now by his Spirit he makes the fellowship of believers, Jewish and Gentile alike, his chosen dwelling-place. [14]

The heavenly or eschatological reality of God dwelling forever in the midst of his people (cf. Rev. 21:1-4) is anticipated on earth as believers are joined together with the Lord in and through his Spirit.

In summary, we may say that the plan of God is to build or establish a people amongst whom he will dwell forever in the perfection of the new creation. This work of ‘construction’, in which Jews and Gentiles are wonderfully united, is achieved by the Messiah in his death and resurrection and by the consequent outpouring of his Spirit (cf. Acts 2:1-21, 38-39; 10:44-48; 11:15-18).

The Church’s Work of Edification

The Ministry of Apostles

From Ephesians 4:7-11 we learn that Christ builds his church through the people he provides as apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. Priority is given in this context to ministries of the word. Just as Jeremiah was told that the message given to him by God would be the means of establishing his purposes (Jer. 1:9-10), so also the church is established through the preaching of the gospel.

In 1 Corinthians 3:6-10 an agricultural metaphor is employed in the first instance to describe the founding of the Corinthian church: ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth’. The idea that the Corinthians are the ‘field’ which God through his servants is cultivating gives way to the idea that they are God’s building’ (οἰκοδομή, v. 9).[15] With this metaphor goes the notion that Jesus Christ is the ‘foundation’ and Paul the ‘skilled master of works’ (ἀρχιτέκτων),[16] who lays the foundation through his evangelistic ministry, and others build on that foundation.

A warning is then given about the way such further ‘building’ takes place (vv. 10-15). As the ‘sanctuary’ (ναός, vv. 16-17) where God’s Spirit dwells, the Corinthian congregation must be wary of defiling and destroying that dwelling-place of God by party-spirit and quarreling.[17] In such a context, building properly on the foundation laid by Paul will involve faithfully proclaiming and applying the gospel and the traditions that he delivered to them.

In Romans 15:20 Paul speaks of his ambition to preach the gospel where Christ has not yet been named, lest he ‘build on another man’s foundation’. The verb οἰκοδομῶ in this case refers to the work of evangelism. Paul considers that his commission is primarily to be a pioneer missionary or church planter, not to evangelise where a church has been founded by someone else. On the other hand, Paul uses the substantive οἰκοδομή to describe his ‘true work’ as an apostle in a broader sense: the Lord gave him authority ‘for building up and not for tearing down’ (2 Cor. 10:8, 13:10).[18] He claims that all his words and actions have been for the building up of the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:19), suggesting that οἰκοδομή involves a process of teaching and encouragement beyond the initial task of evangelism.

Vielhauer concludes that οἰκοδομή is a metaphor for ‘founding, maintaining and advancing the congregation’.[19] Romans 15:20 emphasises ‘founding’, whereas 2 Corinthians emphasises ‘maintaining’ and ‘advancing’ as the essential meaning of edification.

The Ministry of all Christians

The purpose of the gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11 is outlined in v. 12 in three prepositional phrases: πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων (‘for the equipping of the saints), εἰς ͗έργον διακονίας (‘for the work of ministry’), εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ (‘for the building of the body of Christ). Some would argue that the three prepositional phrases in v. 12 are co-ordinate. Christ gives the particular ministries of v. 11 for three different but related purposes: ‘for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.[20] However, sequence and the change of preposition are significant here. Those appointed by Christ must prepare or equip the saints for their ministry, specifically for building up the body of Christ.[21] It is certainly clear from v. 16, where the expression εἰς οἰκοδομήν occurs again, that all members of the body of Christ are involved in the task of edification in some way.

The building metaphor in this context may suggest growth of the church ‘by substantial additions which it receives rather than produces itself.’[22] Growth by evangelism would certainly be implied by mention of the gifts of apostles and evangelists. However, introduction of the body metaphor allows for more of the idea of the development of the church as an organism from within, by means of its own God-given life.

In Ephesians 4:13 the ultimate purpose of the activities mentioned in v. 12 is outlined. One goal is described by three parallel expressions beginning with the preposition εἰς, following the verb καταντάω (‘meet’). This implies movement ‘towards’ an object (cf. 1 Cor. 14:36), and may suggest in this context a ‘solemn meeting’ with Christ at his second coming, when the church will be conformed to his glory (Eph. 5:27; Phil. 3:20-1; Rom. 8:29-30; Col 3:4).[23] The point of the passage is not to urge us to grow individually, so that each becomes perfect in Christ, nor is it simply to suggest that the church must grow corporately into the likeness of Christ. The ministries given by the ascended Christ to his church (v. 11) are designed for the important present activities mentioned in v. 12, until (μέχρι) the people of God together (‘we all’) meet their Lord and share in his glory (v. 13).

Perfection is not an ideal to be attained by constant improvement in this life but a reality to be met in Christ (cf. 1 Jn. 3:2). The goal is complete unity, maturity and Christ-likeness. Unity is presented in Ephesians in terms of a tension between the already and the not yet:

The unity which has been inaugurated in Christ through the events described in 2:11-22, and which the readers are strongly urged to maintain (i.e., ‘the unity of the Spirit’, v. 3), is here spoken of as a unity to which they are to attain.[24]

‘The mature man’ (͗άνδρα τέλειον) is a corporate entity, referring to ‘the totality of believers as the body of Christ (cf. v. 12).’[25] An eschatological tension is implied by the promise of realising in full what it means to be already ‘one new man’ in Christ (2:15, ͑ένα καινὸν ͗άνθρωπον). Again, the church is already ‘the fullness’ of Christ (1:23; cf. 4:10), but the apostle has prayed that his readers might be ‘filled up to all the fullness of God’ (3:19), and now speaks of attaining maturity ‘measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ’ (NEB).

Put another way, we may say that the purpose of Christian ministry is to prepare the saints to meet their Lord. All ministry should have an eschatological focus and perspective (cf. Col. 1:28-9). God’s goal for his people should be our goal too.

The argument in Ephesians 4:14-16 ‘leads back from the glimpse at eschatological fulfilment to the daily exigencies of the migrating church’.[26] Unstable, immature Christians need teachers who can lead them away from error and establish them in the truth (v. 14). Only in this way can they reach the goal Christ has set for them (v. 13). In this context, the expression ‘speaking the truth in love’ (ἀληθεύοντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ, v. 15) is best taken to mean that all believers are to speak or to confess orthodox doctrine, but always ‘in love’.[27] The growth of the church ‘toward him who is the head’ takes place by means of this confessing and loving.

It is interesting to note that growth comes from Christ (v. 16) to enable the church to grow in every way toward Christ (v. 15), revealing again the imagery of v. 13. It is quite clear from v. l6 that the body literally ‘makes the growth of the body for the upbuilding of itself in love’. However, it only does this because Christ is at work fitting and joining the whole body together,[28] In speaking thus of growth from the head towards the head, Paul goes beyond the physiological notions of his contemporaries to express important theological truths.

Thus, the final emphasis of the passage is on the need for members of the body to be ‘rightly related to one another, each making its own contribution, according to the measure of its gifts and function, to the upbuilding of the whole in love.[29]

Edification occurs when Christians minister to one another in word and deed, seeking to express and encourage a Christ-centred faith, hope and love. Clearly this ought to take place when the congregation meets together, but also as individuals have the opportunity to minister to one another in everyday life situations.

Robert Banks, observing the range of gifts given by God in the New Testament (encompassing every aspect of the community’s life), rightly argues that ‘edification can take place in a number of different, though ultimately complimentary, ways.’[30] Some gifts are primarily directed towards the growth of understanding of the community, some to the psycho-social well-being of the community, some to the physical welfare of the community and some to the unconscious life of the community. Putting it differently, Armitage Robinson stresses that Paul’s primary focus in Ephesians 4 is not on the need for individual growth to maturity, but for individuals to learn ‘more and more to live as a part of a great whole.’[31]

Use of the expression εἰς οἰκοδομὴν ἑαυτοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ (literally ‘for its own upbuilding in love’, v. 16) affirms this corporate focus. The same expression reminds us that although the church ‘has been built (by God) upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (2:20), it is far from being a completed house of God (cf. 2:22). Paul’s ecclesiology is clearly controlled by his eschatology:

In one sense the body of Christ is already complete: it is a true body, not simply part of one. In another sense that body is said to grow to perfection, a process that will be completed only on the final day. The body metaphor reflects the ‘already-not yet’ tension of the two ages. It is both complete and yet it grows. It is a heavenly entity and yet it is an earthly reality. And it is both present and future with a consummation occurring at the Parousia.[32]

Ministry when the church gathers

It would appear from the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:11 that the individual participates in the building of the church by first receiving the παράκλησις (‘encouragement’) of the gospel, as imparted by the apostle (cf. 4:13-5:10), and then passing it on. The command to ‘encourage one another (παρακαλεῖτε ἀλλήλους) is followed by the command to ‘build one another up’ (οἰκοδομεῖτε ε͑ῖς τὸν ͑ένα).[33] Given the most likely dating of Paul’s letters, this is probably the first extant usage of the terminology of edification.

In the expansion of 5:11 in 5:12-22, it becomes clear that edification involves mutual encouragement and admonition, including the giving and receiving of ‘prophecies’. This is not simply the task of those who are leaders but the task of the whole congregation (vv. 12, 14). Although this ministry is concerned with the present life of the congregation, the encouragement Paul bids them give one another as a means of edification has an eschatological focus (4:13 – 5:11). The church is edified by keeping constantly in view the destiny that God has for it.

The terminology of edification occurs more frequently in 1 Corinthians 14 than in any other chapter of the New Testament and is clearly significant in the development of Paul’s argument there about the relative value of prophecy over against tongues. The context indicates that the first issue is intelligibility. Being ‘inspired’ is not enough: when Christians gather together words should convey meaningful truth.

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation (vv. 2-3 ESV).

Only speech that can be understood by others has the potential for edifying the congregation. The tongues-speaker ‘builds up himself’ (v. 4, ἑαυτὸν οἰκοδομεῖ), but the person who prophesies ‘builds up the church’ (ἐκκλησίαν οἰκοδομεῖ). Paul does not rebuke the tongues-speaker for self-edification as such but indicates that this falls short of the primary goal of Christian assembly (vv. 16-17).[34] The apostle is opposing ‘an understanding of worship as a private exercise in which individuals seal themselves off from others and concentrate exclusively on their personal experiences.’[35]

To pursue what is beneficial for the church is to fulfil the opening injunction of 1 Corinthians 14 (‘pursue love’) and to apply the teaching of the previous chapter. In effect, the argument here, as in Ephesians 4:15-16, is that ‘speaking the truth in love’ is the means by which edification takes place. This emphasis is continued in 1 Corinthians 14:6-19, where the focus is on bringing to the congregation ‘some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching’. Public praying and singing must also be intelligible and truthful so that others may be able to say the ‘Amen’ and be edified (vv. 16-17).[36]

It is interesting to note that Paul speaks of the individual being edified in 14:17. Although he is concerned that the Corinthians should abound in spiritual gifts ‘for the building up of the church’ (v. 12), it is clear that such edification cannot take place unless individuals are instructed (v. 19) and encouraged (v. 31). Nevertheless, the chapter suggests that edification involves ministry to the congregation as congregation and not simply as a collection of individuals. More precisely, the very act of ministering the truth to one another should be an exercise of love: only when a church is functioning in this way can it be said that it is being edified. For this reason, Paul concentrates in 14:26-40 on the manner in which gifts are to be exercised in the congregation.

The paragraph begins with the challenge ‘let all things be done for building up’ (v. 26), and concludes with the injunction ‘let all things be done decently and in order’ (v. 40). Order, and not disorder, will be a sign of the Spirit’s presence and control, since ‘God is not a God of confusion but of peace (v. 33). Only one person may speak at a time and only a certain number may speak on each occasion. The majority, including those wishing to contribute, should listen in silence and ‘weigh what is said’ (v. 29). Listening with discernment is part of the task of edifying the congregation, even though it appears to be such a passive role! The aim of these and other controls is ‘that all may learn and be encouraged’ (v. 31). Cullman aptly comments:

It is precisely in this harmonious combination of freedom and restriction that there lies the greatness and uniqueness of the early Christian service of worship. With this high aim of the building up of the community of the body of Christ constantly in view, Paul does not fall into the error of eliminating on principle from the service of worship all the expressions of the Spirit.[37]

In 1 Corinthians 14:21-25 the possibility of ‘outsiders’ (ἰδιῶται) or ‘unbelievers’ (͗άπιστοι) entering the assembly is envisaged. Confronted by tongues-speaking , such people might say that those participating are mad. But they may be convicted and converted by the ministry of prophecy, acknowledging the presence of the true and living God in the midst of his people. Some commentators have given undue emphasis to these verses, concluding that Paul’s over-riding concern in chapter 14 is that of missionary witness’,[38] or that such potential visitors to a congregation provide for Paul ‘the proper yardstick’ for estimating the value of ministries.[39] It is more accurate to say that the apostle’s over-riding concern in the chapter is for the edification of the church in the sense outlined above. However, since the winning of a new member leads to a furtherance of the existing congregation, Paul may, by implication, be extending the idea of ‘building the church’ in this paragraph to include the notion of evangelism.

Ministry in everyday life situations

In 1 Corinthians 8:1, 10; 10:23 there is an important use of edification terminology, indicating the extent to which edification must be a controlling principle in the thinking and behaviour of Christians in the everyday sphere. In the first reference, Paul apparently alludes to a saying of some of the Corinthians (‘all of us possess knowledge’). However, his rejoinder (‘this “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up’, ESV) suggests that the Corinthian ‘knowledge’ had ‘an essentially self-regarding element which was incompatible with love’.[40] It is possible to come to a knowledge that is inadequate (8:2), and such knowledge will not build up. Paul’s use of the terminology in these chapters suggests that it is well known to his readers, having been learned from him but misunderstood and wrongly applied.[41]

In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 the apostle acknowledges that the understanding of some of the Corinthians about things sacrificed to idols is substantially correct. Their doctrine is right but their application of it is not. If every member of the congregation recognized these truths there would be no problem, but since some have a sensitive conscience about eating things sacrificed to idols, those who have liberty in this matter may actually become ‘a stumbling block to the weak’ (vv. 7-9).

In 8:l0 Paul uses οἰκοδομηθήσεται in an ironical and negative sense: ‘if someone sees you who have knowledge sitting at table in an idol’s temple, will not this weak man’s conscience be built up to eat things sacrificed to idols?’ (NEB). This translation rightly indicates that ‘conscience’ is the subject of the verb ‘to build up’ here. However, since conscience for Paul is ‘not a faculty or capacity of man so much as the whole man in reaction against acts that transgress the limits of his created nature’,[42] it is true to say that the person himself is encouraged by the example of another to do what he believes is wrong and so to bring on the pain of conscience (hence ESV ‘will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak?’; TNIV ‘won’t they be emboldened to eat?’).

Were it really the person’s conscience that Paul envisaged as ‘built up’, he would not speak of the person perishing (v. 11): ‘he would no more be perishing than those he imitated.’[43] In fact, by the way in which ‘knowledge was being exercised and expressed in Corinth, the conscience of those who were ‘weak’ was in danger of being ‘defiled’ (μολύνεται, v. 7) or ‘wounded’ (τύπτοντες, v. 12). To do so is to sin against ‘the brother for whom Christ died’ (v. 11) and to sin against Christ (v. 12).

Although the terminology of edification is not used in the concluding verse of 1 Corinthians 8, Paul’s positive teaching there indicates what edification will involve: ‘if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble’ (ESV). Love builds up by having regard for the weaknesses of others and the need to establish and strengthen them in their relationship with Christ. In practical terms, this may involve some restriction of personal liberty (cf. Rom. 14:13-23).

When Paul draws discussion about food sacrificed to idols to a close in 10:23, he apparently quotes some of the Corinthians again (‘all things are lawful’) and responds with two statements. The first (‘but not all things are helpful’) may refer to the outcome for the individual.[44] The second response (‘but not all things build up’) may refer to the outcome for the Christian community. On the other hand, as we have seen in regard to specifically congregational ministry, the strengthening and encouraging of individuals is an important aspect of building up the body of believers.

In the somewhat parallel argument of Romans 14:13-15:6, pursuing ‘what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding’ (14:19) involves each one seeking not to please himself but to ‘please his neighbour for his good, to build him up’ (15:2). It thus emerges from these chapters that the freedom of the Christian is not a freedom to do whatever may be permitted but a freedom to serve the best interests of others and to take one’s part in the edification of the church.[45] The alternative is ‘to destroy the work of God’ (Rom. 14:20; cf. 2 Cor. 10:8)!

Conclusion

The apostle Paul characteristically enlists the terminology of edification to oppose individualism, either in the ethical sphere or in the sphere of congregational ministry. His concern is that Christians should strengthen and encourage one another in faith and love, always having in view God’s purpose for his people collectively. In contrast with secular and religious usage in our time, Paul’s teaching about edification takes on an important theological dimension as he relates his exhortations to the saving work of Christ and to the doctrine of the church. Although edification is a principle that should govern the thinking and behaviour of Christians in all circumstances, Paul’s reference is usually to the activities of Christian assembly. When Christians gather together to minister to one another the truth of God in love, the church is manifested, maintained and advanced in God’s way. Here is the situation in which edification essentially and fundamentally takes place. But even in the affairs of everyday life, as they relate to one another and to unbelievers, Christians should be concerned for the edification of the church.


[1] This is an updated version of an article first published as ‘The Biblical Concept of Edification’, Explorations 2: Church, Worship and the Local Congregation, (ed.) B.G. Webb (Lancer: Homebush West, 1987).

[2] P. Vielhauer, Oikodomé. Aufsätze zum Neuen Testament Band 2 (Theologische Büchere, Neues Testament Band 35; Kaiser Verlag: Munich, 1979), 4-52.

[3] O. Michel, TDNT 5: 137-8.

[4] Cf. D. G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: Nottingham: Apollos, 2009), 317-18.

[5] Michel, TDNT 5:139, suggests that the usage of Acts may be ‘a new and independent development on an OT foundation’, with God rather than the Messiah as the subject. However, in various ways, Acts portrays the glorified Christ as the one through whom this ‘building’ takes place. Cf. Peterson, Acts, 48-9.

[6] Cf. G. Maier, ‘The Church in the Gospel of Matthew. Hermeneutical Analysis of the Current Debate’, in D. A. Carson (ed.), Biblical Interpretation and the Church: Text and Context (Grand Rapids: Baker; Exeter: Paternoster, 1984), 147-60

[7] B. Gärtner, The Temple and the Community in Qumran and the New Testament (SNTS MS 1; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1965), 114.

[8] With most commentators, F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 304-6, takes ἀκρογωνιαῖος to mean ‘cornerstone’. Cf. R. J. McKelvey, The New Temple. The Church in the New Testament (London: Oxford University, 1969), 195-204. However, M Barth, Ephesians 1-3 (Anchor Bible 34; New York: Doubleday, 1974), 317-19, follows Jeremias in arguing for ‘keystone’ as the meaning, suggesting that it is more consistent with the eschatological thrust of Ephesians 4:1-6, where the church ‘grows up’ into the head which is Christ.

[9] Barth, Ephesians 1-3, 323. Cf. H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of his Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 429-46 (especially pp. 432-38 on ‘Extensive and Intensive Upbuilding’).

[10] J. A. Robinson, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (London: James Clarke, nd), 70; Cf. Bruce, Ephesians, 307

[11] Cf. P. T. O’Brien, ‘The Church As a Heavenly and Eschatological Entity’, in D. A. Carson (ed.), The Church in the Bible and the World: An International Study (Grand Rapids: Baker; Exeter: Paternoster, 1987), 88-119

[12] Robinson, Ephesians, 165.

[13] The context suggests that συνοικοδομεῖσθε, which is only used here in the NT, signifies ‘the mutual co-ordination and support of the reconciled Jews and Gentiles’ (Barth, Ephesians 1-3, 273).

[14] Bruce, Ephesians, 307.

[15] In my view, C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (2nd ed.; London: Black, 1971), 86, wrongly takes οἰκοδομή in a concrete sense here. The context suggests that a building activity is in process

[16] Barrett’s translation (p. 86), based on the observation that in Plato, Statesman 259E, 260A, an ἀρχιτέκτων contributes knowledge, not manual labour, but also assigns tasks to individual workmen.

[17] Cf. R. Y. K. Fung, ‘Some Pauline Pictures of the Church’, Evangelical Quarterly 53 (1981), 101.

[18] Cf. R. P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (Word Biblical Commentary 40; Waco: Word, 1986), 310· for the possible meanings of καθαίρεσις (‘tearing down’) in this context.

[19] Vielhauer, Oikodomé, 72.

[20] P. T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Leicester: Apollos, 1999), 302-3, cites several authors who hold this view, but argues convincingly against it.

[21] Cf. M. Barth, Ephesians 4-6 (Anchor Bible 34A; New York: Doubleday, 1974), 439.

[22] Barth, Ephesians 4-6, 440.

[23] Cf. Barth, Ephesians 4-6, 484-88.

[24] O’Brien, Ephesians, 306.

[25] O’Brien, Ephesians, 307.

[26] Barth, Ephesians 4-6, 441. He notes that vv. 14-16 form the second half of a long sentence running from v.11. The dependent clause in v. 13 describes the goal towards which the church is moving and the second dependent clause in vv. 14-16 puts the focus back on present responsibilities

[27] Eph. 4:15 does not simply mean ‘tell the truth to one another lovingly’. Barth rightly observes: ‘the passage calls for the right confession and it urges the whole church and all its members to be a confessing church’ (Ephesians 4-6, 444). Nevertheless, Eph. 4:19, with its emphasis on the right choice of language suggests that everyday conversation amongst believers can be the means of building up one another in Christ.

[28] O’Brien, Ephesians, 314-16, discusses in detail Paul’s complex physiological imagery here.

[29] Fung, ‘Pauline Pictures’, 95-6.

[30] R. J. Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community (Sydney: ANZEA, 1979), 117-18

[31] Robinson, Ephesians, 102-3.

[32] O’Brien, ‘Church’, 111.

[33] I have argued in The Ministry of Encouragement that Paul’s use of always relates to the work of παρακαλέω and παράκλησις always relates to salvation in Christ and the hope which it makes possible. The ministry of encouragement which is the responsibility of all Christians involves moral appeal and consolation on the basis of gospel truths in the manner of the apostle’s own teaching. The phrase ε͑ῖς τὸν ͑ένα is unusual and ‘probably of Semitic origin’ (E. Best, A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, [BNTC; London: Black, 1972], 220). It appears to be equivalent to ἀλλήλους (‘one another’). Although a person-to-person ministry may be implied, the welfare of the congregation as a whole is in view in 1Thess. 5:12-22. So also Vielhauer, Oikodomé, 95-6

[34] So W. Richardson, ‘Liturgical Order and Glossalalia in 1 Corinthians 14:26c-33a’, NTS 32 (1986), 147. Contra E. Schweizer, ‘The Service of Worship’, Interpretation 13 (1959), 404, who overstates his case by arguing that ‘Paul never speaks of edifying oneself; he always means edifying the congregation.’

[35] R. P. Martin, The Spirit and the Congregation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 70.

[36] Barrett, First Corinthians, 321, suggests that ὁ ἀναπληρῶν τὸν τόπον τοῦ ἰδιώτου in v. 16 means one who is ‘forced into the role of an ἰδιώτης (outsider) as the gift of tongues goes round’. The word ἰδιώτης is not used of someone who is literally an outsider or unbeliever until vv. 23-4.

[37] O. Cullmann, Early Christian Worship (London: SCM, 1983), 33.

[38] Richardson, ‘Liturgical Order’, 147.

[39] E. Schweizer, Church Order in the New Testament (Studies in Biblical Theology 32; London: SCM, 1961), 226.

[40] Barrett, First Corinthians, 189-90. He goes on to say: ‘It was not merely a body of doctrine (which Paul himself might hold) but an approach to life and to religion which was acquisitive (erotic in the broadest sense of the term) and therefore inconsistent with love (ἀγάπη; see chapter xiii)’. Vielhauer, Oikodomé, 89, cites the observation of A Schweitzer that ‘the true gnostic is the person who lets his knowledge rule over love’

[41] Vielhauer, Oikodomé, 92-3. He notes that this must be so particularly because of the ironic use in 8:10

[42] C. A. Pierce, Conscience in the New Testament (Studies in Biblical Theology 15; London: SCM, 1955), 81. See also pp  66-74.

[43] Pierce, Conscience, 82.

[44] Barrett, First Corinthians, 239, who says that the one who acts as if free to do anything ‘is in danger of losing his freedom through becoming enslaved to practices for which he feels himself to be free.’

[45] Vielhauer, Oikodomé, 94-5. Cf. pp. 108-10.

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