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Cessationist Misuse of Ephesians 2:20, by Sam Storms

Most cessationists believe that tongues is also a revelatory, and therefore prophetic, gift (this is a major contention of Reformed Cessationist Richard Gaffin, who contributed to the book for which I also wrote: Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views [Zondervan]). But if this were true we would have non-canonical revelation coming to individual Christians for their own personal edification, not to be shared with the church at large in the absence of an interpreter (1 Cor. 14:28). How could such private revelation in any way be conceived as contributing to the once-for-all foundation of the church at large?

Paul anticipated that every time Christians gathered for worship that, at least potentially, “each” believer would come with or contribute, among other things, a “revelation” (1 Cor. 14:26). He anticipated that a normal part of Christian experience was receiving revelatory data or insight from God. It is difficult to read his instruction for corporate worship and conclude that he viewed all revelatory, and thus prophetic, ministry as foundational for the universal church. There must have been thousands upon thousands of revelations and prophetic utterances throughout the hundreds of churches over the course of the years between Pentecost and the close of the NT canon. Are we to believe that this multitude of people and their even greater multitude of prophetic words constituted the once-for-all foundation of the church?

The cessationist seems to believe that once apostles and prophets ceased to function foundationally, they ceased to function altogether, as if the only purpose for apostles and prophets was to lay the foundation of the church. Nowhere does the NT say this, least of all in Ephesians 2:20. This text need say no more than that apostles and prophets laid the foundation once and for all and then ceased to function in that capacity. But nothing suggests that they ceased to function in other capacities, much less that they ceased to exist altogether. Certainly it is true that only apostles and prophets lay the foundation of the church, but it is anything but certain that such is the only thing they do.

In a word, the portrayal in Acts and 1 Corinthians of who could prophesy and how it was to be exercised in the life of the church simply does not fit with the cessationist assertion that Ephesians 2:20 describes all possible prophets, every one of whom functioned as part of the once-for-all foundation of the church. Rather, Paul is there describing a limited group of prophets who were closely connected to the apostles, both of which groups spoke Scripture-quality words essential to the foundation of the church universal.

I conclude that nothing in Ephesians 2:20 (or any other biblical text) suggests, much less requires, that we believe the gift of prophecy ceased following the foundational period of NT church life.


This essay, originally titled “Ephesians 2:20 – The Cessationist’s ‘Go-To’ Text,” is reprinted with permission of the author from—the-cessationists–go-to–text–an-on-going-response-to-strange-fire-.


Further Reading:

Are Pentecostals offering Strange Fire?” The panel discussion at about John MacArthur’s Strange Fire


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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Winter 2014

About the Author: Samuel Storms, PhD, is a pastor, educator, and author. See his ministry website for a complete biography:

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