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Upon This Foundation: Ephesians 2:20 and the Gift of Prophecy, by Jon M. Ruthven

On this suggestion, then, that the “foundation” of apostles and prophets represents a parallel expression of Peter’s confession with the subsequent inclusion of the Gentiles, we offer an interpretation of Eph 2:20. Contrary to the cessationist or exclusionist notion that a certain type of revelation accredited the status of apostles and prophets, a much deeper dynamic is portrayed in this passage: that the “foundation of the apostles and prophets” symbolizes a way by which everyone on earth may enter into God’s temple/kingdom/covenant/citizenship/household, that is, by the Spirit-revealed confession of Christ Jesus.

The passage exists not to prove the Papal authority and uniqueness of the apostles and prophets, but rather to express the “foundational” means of entering divine fellowship: “No one can confess ‘Jesus is Lord!’ except by the Spirit.” This confession, then, is the “foundation of the apostles and prophets!”15

Certainly this apostolic and prophetic revelation is not limited to this group in Eph 2:20, unless of course, Paul is speaking of all believers as being “foundational!” In 1:15-23 Paul’s goal for the reader (and not merely for first century Ephesians if this book is to be regarded as canonical for the church), via his prayer, is that “the Father may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know [“experience first hand”] Him better.” Paul continues by further describing “wisdom and revelation”: “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know [“experience first hand”] the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power [dunamis—most often in the NT, “miracle working power”],” which is like God’s resurrection power. Paul wishes the revelation to the reader to move to the extent that they know that Christ is exalted above all powers and nations using the language of Psalm 2. Paul then, seems to be setting the goal for revelation of the inclusion of all nations under Christ, who in the church “fills everything in every way.” In other words, it is clear that both canonically and therefore normatively, all believers are to share in the “revelation” of the Gentile inclusion in the church. Paul does not pray that the reader be given the “New Testament” of “wisdom and revelation,” but the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation,” the content of which is both clear and propositional.

Another passage, 3:14-19, illustrates the normative, shared and continuing revelation expected for all believers. Again, Paul prays, indicating the ideal for the readers, that the Father “may strengthen you with power [dunamis, again] through His Spirit [of revelation and wisdom] in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts [center of spiritual perception] through faith [not in this passage through the NT, but via a subjective awareness/assurance] … that being rooted and established in love [for the Jews or Gentiles?] you may have power together with all the saints to grasp [the extent] of the love of Christ [again, the unity of Jew and Gentile?] … that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Cessationists restrict this kind of outpouring only for the “foundation gifts” of apostles and prophets.

Unpacking the Metaphor, “The Foundation of the Apostles and Prophets”

In what sense is the “foundation” comprised of apostles and prophets? For the cessationist argument to work it must prove that when this “foundation” group died, their scripture-creating authority and gifts necessarily died with them. Several responses are in order.

First, a general observation. Even if the parallel between the archetypal and paradigmatic Petrine confession to the Eph 2:20 passage is denied, and the apostles and prophets are seen as human deposits of Scripture, it remains to be proven that no one could replace them or that their revelatory gifts belong exclusively to them and not to the Holy Spirit. However, the fatal exception to the cessationist argument-by-analogy is the presence of Christ Jesus as the main element in the “foundation.”

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Winter 2002

About the Author: Jon M. Ruthven, Ph.D., passed away April 11, 2022. He spent his entire adult life in ministry, starting with David Wilkerson in Boston and New York City in the mid-60s. After spending a dozen years pastoring, a couple a years as a missionary in Africa as President and Dean of Pan Africa Christian College in Nairobi, Kenya, he ended up teaching theology in seminary for 18 years. Always interested in training and discipleship, Jon sought to develop a radically biblical approach to ministry training that seeks to replicate the discipling mission of Jesus in both content and method. Jon wrote numerous scholarly papers and books including On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Postbiblical Miracles (1993 and 2009) and What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis (2013). He emphasized the biblical grounding for a practical ministry of healing, signs and wonders in the power of the Spirit. Facebook.

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