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

Let us lay out the cessationist logic in this argument-by-analogy.

Premise #1: The term, “foundation” is necessarily a descriptor of a limited period of time, i.e., a “generation.” Necessarily, then, this “foundation” cannot indicate an “archetypal event” shared by all believers, like a confession, nor can it refer to a normative, replicable “pattern,” say, of ministry. Moreover, “foundation” cannot be a metonymy for the building as a whole.16

Premise #2: Anyone constituting this “foundation” necessarily cannot function past this “foundational” time-frame, either as a person, or as a class of activity that is essentially and characteristically associated with that person, e.g., apostleship or prophecy. The death of those constituting the “foundation” necessarily demands the death of their characteristic gifts, which then, in some sense, are transmuted into a body of enscripturated doctrine.17

Premise #3: Jesus Christ is a constituent part, as the “chief cornerstone,” indeed the very essence, of this “foundation (1 Cor 3:11).”18

Conclusion: Therefore, if the “foundation” is necessarily limited to the first century, then the life and the essential and characteristic “Jesus-class” activities (such as regeneration, justification and sanctification), have necessarily ceased and have been reduced to a body of enscripturated doctrine. On the other hand, if Christ is alive and active in His ministry in the Holy Spirit, then the “foundation” must be stretched to include the present time.19 If either is the case, the cessationist interpretation of Eph 2:20 fails.

Two further difficulties derive from the cessationist argument-by-analogy. 1) The “joining” of all elements of the building/temple in Christ who is the foundation. 2) The clear references to Christ as being the last or final stone in the building/temple.

1) If verses 21 and 22 are normative and canonical for all the church, then the cessationist argument becomes untenable, in that the argument demands that whole church is necessarily limited to the generation of the apostles and prophets. As the text states: “in whom [Christ the cornerstone] all the building is being fitted together (sunarmologoumene) and “in whom [Christ the cornerstone] you also are being built together (sunoikodomeisthe). The metaphor is about the connection of the building growing into a holy temple “in the Lord.” The “foundation,” then, cannot represent a limited time or a generation if “the whole building” is so categorically and individually “in Christ,” “in the Spirit.” If Christ is limited to the first-century “foundation,” then how can subsequent generations of Christians, indeed the whole church, be so emphatically “in Christ”—a typical Pauline expression, which is a characteristic of each and every believer?

2) This insight is further supported by the use of the term, “cornerstone” for Christ in this and in other contexts. Considerable debate20 continues over the placement of the cornerstone, whether as part of the foundation, as the cessationists would insist, or as the high “capstone”21 or “stringer”—a long stone at the corner of a building which holds two walls together as interlacing fingers, that is, the two “walls” of Jew and Gentile.22

Where the NT writers cite Ps 118:22, “The stone which the builders rejected has now become the head of the corner (kephale gonias)” (Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10; Lk 20:17; See also: Acts 4:11; 1 Pt 4:7), it seems abundantly clear that the position is exalted or high and not a part of the “foundation.” The contrast is drawn, on the one hand, between a rejected stone, not included in the building, but likely lying undetectable, on the ground (perhaps hidden in weeds), as a “stone of stumbling” (Isa 8:14, cited in 1 Pt. 2:8, cf. Mt 21:44//Lk 20:18), and on the other hand, as later being chosen to be exalted at the “head of the corner.”23

The cessationist metaphor is hereby faced with a difficulty. Even if we concede that Christ is the “foundation” of the church in Eph 2:20 and 1 Cor 3:11, perhaps derived from Peter’s confession, we also have a Christ who is clearly placed as the “capstone” or “head of the corner.” Since the cessationist argument depends wholly on its understanding of the building stones as persons whose temporally-limited, characteristic gifts and activities die with them, what are we to make of Christ’s appearance at the very “end” of the church’s time-span? Would not the cessationist “foundational” metaphor demand that Christ’s characteristic gifts and activities continue to the end of the church period? If this is true, and if Christ is the most essential element of the “foundation,” then what does that say about the other members of the foundation? Does not this necessarily demand that their “foundational” gifts also continue until the same time? If not, why not?

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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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