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Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV):

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

I've seen cessationists cite this passage to argue that the offices of apostle and prophet were foundational in nature, and since once a foundation is laid one doesn't lay another, they conclude those offices have therefore ceased.

For example, David L. Allen, in his book Hebrews: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, on page 198, when discussing the implications of Hebrews 2:4 (related question), he says (emphasis mine):

The implication of this would be that the sign gifts lasted only so long as the eyewitnesses-meaning apostles and perhaps others who heard the Lord-lived. In the New Testament, the work of Christ and the apostles was "confirmed" by "signs and wonders" (see Acts 2:22:14:3; Rom 15:18-20; 2 Cor 12:12). Jesus is the "cornerstone" of the church, and the apostles and prophets are the "foundation' (Eph 2:20). Apostolic ministry and miraculous gifts are linked together, and the significance of the latter is tied to the foundational nature of the former with respect to the church.'"

Sam Storms (a continuationist), in his blog post EPHESIANS 2:20 - THE CESSATIONIST'S "GO-TO" TEXT (AN ON-GOING RESPONSE TO STRANGE FIRE), quoted a similar cessationist argument:

At the Strange Fire conference, in his session devoted to articulating arguments for cessationism, Tom Pennington stated that “once the apostles and prophets finished their role in laying the foundation of the church, their gifts were completed,” which is to say, they ceased to function and eventually ceased to exist altogether.

Question: Can Ephesians 2:20 be used as to prove the cessation of the offices of apostle and prophet? Does it follow from the text that the offices of apostle and prophet were meant for foundational purposes, constrained to a specific period of history, and since that foundation was already laid we are no longer in need of them?

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  • I am grateful for this continuing series of question about this subject because I have never seen such creative theology that is so divorced from the Bible.
    – Dottard
    Sep 16 at 20:37
  • Can Ephesians 2:20 be used as a proof-text for cessation.” - … if you want it to.
    – Dave
    Sep 16 at 20:42
  • What answer can there be but "yes"? You've already shown that people are making this argument!
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 18 at 4:02
  • @curiousdannii - On the same basis, do you think this question should be closed as well? Sep 18 at 4:18
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator It at least is asking if it can be proved. This asks if it can be used as a proof-text, where neither authorial intent, textual context, or logical arguments matter.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 18 at 4:32
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Does it follow from the text that the offices of apostle and prophet were meant for foundational purposes, constrained to a specific period of history, and since that foundation was already laid we are no longer in need of them?

This is analogical reasoning outside of first-order logic. Analogical reasoning is not 100% proof but it does carry some weight.

Jesus is the "cornerstone" of the church, and the apostles and prophets are the "foundation' (Eph 2:20). Apostolic ministry and miraculous gifts are linked together, and the significance of the latter is tied to the foundational nature of the former with respect to the church.'

This argument does carry a rather heavy weight in my thinking. E.g., if someone today claims to be an apostle, I'd like to see some signs performed by him, 2 Corinthians 12:

12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

Can Ephesians 2:20 be used as a proof-text for the cessation of the offices of apostle and prophet?

To some extent, yes.

For prophets, the test is found in Deuteronomy 18:

22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

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  • This argument does carry a rather heavy weight in my thinking. E.g., if someone today claims to be an apostle, I'd like to see some signs performed by him. - what about prophets? Sep 16 at 15:46
  • Good question. I added :)
    – Tony Chan
    Sep 16 at 15:53
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Given that the "prophets" to which Paul refers in Eph 2:20 are the OT prophets, by the logic of Sam Storms and David Allen, there should have been no more prophets in the NT, but that is false.

Paul's statement in Eph 2:20 is not discussing spiritual; gifts but spiritual legacy of the Church which is the Christian church's inheritance of OT as updated by NT writers. He alludes to this in several places:

  • Rom 9 discusses the Christians who are Israelites but not biologically
  • Gal 3:26-29, "... if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise."
  • Matt 21:43 - Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
  • Eph 2:19 - Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household
  • Rom 11:11-24 discusses grafting Christians into the olive tree of ancient Israel

Thus, Paul sees the Christian church as a continuation Israel and thus was not new - the foundation included OT Israel. Further, "household of God" (Eph 2:19) was, in the OT, applied to Israel, it is not unique to the Christian church.

  • God the Father was seen as the Father of Israel in the OT, Deut 32:15, 18, Ps 89:26, Isa 63:8-10, 16, Mal 1:6.

The material difference in the NT is that metaphor of adoption is extended by the New Testament’s repeated idea of Christ being our brother (Heb 2:11-13, Ps 22:22, Isa 8:17, 18, Matt 12:48, 49, John 20:17, Rom 8:29) following adoption.

Thus, the "foundation" of the apostles and prophets is an extension of the foundation that already existed in the OT. The NT teaching/doctrine established by NT apostles cannot changed but it does not follow that there cannot be further apostles sent to new places to teach and reach people with a Gospel consisted with that of Paul's.

For Sam Storms and David Allen's cessationist argument to be valid, they must demonstrate that:

  • The NT Gospel is new and unique (which it is not)
  • That God was not the Father of the OT Israelite community (which He was)
  • That the promises that the Christian church receives under the new covenant are different from the Old Covenant (which they are not according to Gal 3:29)
  • That "Israel" is completely different from OT Israel which it is not according to Rom 9 and 11.

Rather, the Christian church is the prophesied development of the OT and continues from it.

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  • Are Old Testament persons ever referred to as apostles in the New Testament? Certainly there were new testament prophets. Also, is the foundation laid before or after the chief corner stone?
    – Austin
    Sep 17 at 2:17
  • @Austin - Apostelos is a NT word occurring only once in the OT LXX in 1 Kings 14:6. The "title apostle" was not limited to the original 12 because we have Paul (Rom 1:1, 11:13, etc), Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16;7), James the Lord's brother (Gal 1:19), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), etc.
    – Dottard
    Sep 17 at 5:47
  • Not that OP is right but this case seems wrong, resting completely on "prophets" referring to OT prophets. In Ephesians, every other time "prophets" is used it is clearly in reference to NT prophets. See: Eph 3:5 "which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." Eph4:11-12 "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," Apostles & prophets seem to always refer to NT persons.
    – Austin
    Sep 17 at 8:13
  • @Austin - I did not suggest that "prophets" always denotes OT prophets. Far from it. I suggested it meant this in that phrase in that instance because of the other evidence I cited.
    – Dottard
    Sep 17 at 9:14

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