Category Archives: Ephesians 4 ministries

Objections To Apostles Today (Part 3)

by Scott

Currently, I’m dealing with objections that are usually brought forward against the notion that Jesus continues to gift people as apostles in the present day. I have posted two articles thus far: here and here.

In my last post, I specifically dealt with the claim that all apostles were hand-picked by Jesus himself. Not that he had to physically tap them on the shoulder (though, noting Jewish culture, I would not be surprised if he touched each of them in selecting them), but that apostles had to be physically selected by Jesus while he was on earth. I think this is mainly a misunderstanding of passages like Acts 1:1-3.

Again, I believe all apostles are hand-selected by Christ – the twelve, Paul, other New Testament apostles and present-day apostles. There is no doubt, since he is the one who gifts with these ministries (see Ephesians 4:7-16). But such people as Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Timothy, as well as those throughout the centuries who have functioned in such a ministry, might have never had a physical, post-resurrection appearance and selecting by Jesus. But Jesus keeps gifting these people to complete the apostolic work he began. But you can read more in the previous article.

This argument is actually connected to a much larger argument against apostles today: all apostles received a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ. This is mainly built around these words of Peter, which precede the choice of Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot: Continue reading

How Firm a Foundation is the Argument from Ephesians 2:20?

By Marv

Ephesians 2:20 is a verse sometimes cited in support of the assertion that prophecy has ceased–which in turn serves as partial evidence for a more general cessationist position. One problem I’ve had writing on some verses relevant to the cessationist controversy is that I have difficulty seeing an actual basis for argument in the text. I don’t want to say that cessationists’ use of this verse gives proof-texting a bad name, but I am frequently amazed at how cessationism seems to create straw men in defense of it’s own positions.

What I mean is that the argument based on this verse is so weak that I am surprised when cessationists bring it up. The reason I say it is weak is that it requires a string of questionable inferences to get from A to B. A chain with nothing but weak links is manifestly a weak chain, one I wouldn’t care to place much trust in, if I were you.

The verse reads as follows:

…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone… (Ephesians 2:20)

The basic idea in the cessationist argument is that if prophets are said to be a component of the “foundation” that their function is limited to an initial stage of construction–a stage now completed–and therefore should no longer be expected to be present. It is, I suppose, satisfying to the already convinced, but is impeachable at multiple stages.

First inference: Paul is referring to contemporary–New Testament era–prophets.

If Paul is referring to the respective authoritaties in the Old Testament, the prophets, and the New Testament, the apostles, then the verse has no relevance to the question of people prophesying in the church. This understanding enjoys a healthy degree of probablity, in view of the context in which Paul is describing a new unity composed of formerly distinct elements:

 …at one time you Gentiles in the flesh…were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise… (Ephesians 2:11-12)

…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two… (Ephesians 2:15)

It is reasonable then that Paul would be presenting a combo platter, one from column A and one from column B. I actually think this is what is going on, though I do not purport the sampling of data I have cited is sufficient to demonstrate it–only to put into question a cessationist use of the verse.

I should say something at this point about Grudem’s argument on this verse, which in my opinion misuses the Granville Sharp rule. I have to admit I had thought he had long since retracted this argument, since being better informed on the grammatical point by Daniel Wallace. However, though he edited his text to reflect Wallace’s objection, he does stick with it. I think he takes the wrong tack here, the grammar being against it.

To recap what is involved, in Greek, when two nouns share a single article it forms a structure like one box containing two objects. If–and only if–those two nouns are singular, this forces identity of referent, both nouns necessarily indicate the same entity. This does not work if the nouns are plural. And in Ephesians 2:20 the nouns are plural.

Paul’s two-objects-in-one-box grammar does seem to be consistent, however with his both-are-now-together theme:

 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off [Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [Jews]. (Ephesians 2:17)

Furthermore, Paul could well have in mind, by metonymy, the authoritative writings of the two eras, summarized as “the prophets” for the Old Testament, and “the apostles” for the New Testament. This is similar to other phrases which refer to the Scriptures.

  • the Law and the Prophets (Acts 13:15)
  • the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44)
  •  the teaching and to the testimony (Isaiah 8:20)

One objection to what I suggest is the order of the nouns, that if Paul meant the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles he would have said “prophets and apostles” (i.e. chronological order) rather than “apostles and prophets.” I don’t think this is necessarily so from a psychological viewpoint. True, if he’s picturing a historical timeline, he’ll likely say “prophets” before “apostles.” But if he’s picturing his image of a temple with a foundation, he could well be starting at level and working down: this level is the apostles and below them the prophets. Basement and sub-basement, still a natural order.

Second inference: that the metaphor of the foundation implies that prophecy is not used in further building.

Let’s grant for sake of argument at this point that Paul did have in mind people prophesying in the church. The cessationist argument extrapolates from a metaphor. Certainly, Paul would mean that prophecy is foundational to the church. Is it a valid implication of this metaphor that prophecy is only foundational and not useful for building beyond the foundation? What does Paul himself say?

He uses the imagery of foundation and building elsewhere as well. In Eph. 2:20 the word for “built on” is the verb epoikodomeo, the basic word oikodomeo “build” with the prefix epi- “upon.” Note that a different prefix occurs with the same basic form two verses later (v. 22): sunoikodomeo= sun “together” + oikodomeo “build.”

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.(Ephesians 2:22)

We see similar language in 1 Corinthians 3:

 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— (1 Corinthians 3:10-12 ESV)

Each instance of “builds upon/builds on” is epoikodomeo (likewise v. 14). Note also that the metaphor varies. Here Christ is said to be the only foundation, with nothing about apostles or prophets being part of the foundation, as in Eph. 2:20, where Christ is said to be the cornerstone. A metaphor is a metaphor, and serves its purpose in its context. Is there some reason to take Eph. 2:20 as the definitive description? Such an all-encompassing description of reality that we can draw inferences of cessation from it?

Two chapters later we find similar language making a related point.

 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 [oikodome]the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12)

from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up [oikodome] in love. (Ephesians 4:16)

And in the same context:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up [oikodome], as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

Does Paul mean to say that prophecy is limited to foundation laying or does he recommend it for continued building? He makes himself clear on the subject elsewhere:

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up [oikodomeo] himself, but the one who prophesies builds up [oikodomeo] the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up [oikodome]. (1 Corinthians 14:4-5)

The impact of these verses is often obscured by the rendering “edify” in some translations, but this is simply an anglicized form of the Latin aedificare, which means “to build,” like its Greek cousin oikodomeo, with both figurative and non-figurative uses. But at the very least 1 Corinthians 14 calls into serious question the limitations purported for prophecy based on Eph. 2:20.

Third inference: that the metaphor in Eph. 2:20 takes precedence over other Scriptural statements.

I have in mind chiefly Acts 2:17-18:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

But also:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

and

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

as well as

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged (1 Corinthians 14:31 ESV)

Not to mention this pretty important statement:

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Where’s the controlling center to be? In the one metaphor of Ephesians 2:20? Why?

Fourth inference: if prophecy has ceased, being foundational, it is reasonable to suggest that other gifts have ceased.

I’m not saying this one would be asserted in a careful argument, but I can testify to hearing Eph. 2:20 being tossed out as evidence for cessationism in general, though strictly speaking it refers only to apostles and prophets.

It certainly is not from this verse that we learn of the cessation of the gifts tongues, healing, miracles or any of the usual suspects. In fact, if anything the verse would imply that all other gifts continue. If the foundation consists of apostles and prophets, then everything else, including tongues, healing, and miracles are by definition non-foundational. They are building material. The verse then–if we grant the basic premise–is a subtantially useful one for the continuationist perspective.

In point of fact, whereas the foundation of the church is a solid one, Eph. 2:20 makes a poor foundation for a cessationist perspective. It simply cannot support the weight put on it by some who draw from it inferences without logical basis. Let each man be careful how he builds. The wise man does not build upon sand.

Objections To Apostles Today (Part 2)

by Scott

It’s been just over a month since my last post (and I am wondering what Marv is doing as well!), but I want to continue in this series mainly on Ephesians 4 ministries and apostles. Right now I am moving through varying objections to the idea that apostles still exist today. In the last article, I specifically addressed the understanding that says apostles are mainly Scripture-writers. Of course, as I shall always state, those first apostles, and some of their close associates, recorded what is now the God-breathed New Testament Scriptures. Such a role was of great import and is not needed again.

But, I also believe that if we truly study what it means to be an apostle – by looking at the great apostle, Jesus, and the lives of the other apostles of Scripture – we will see that the apostolic ministry gift is not intrinsically tied to Scripture-writing. For those first apostles, their lives were taken up with a lot more than penning what we now recognise as our New Testament canon. Even so, not all apostles wrote Scripture. Only five did. Hence, I believe it is unhelpful to associate apostles as Scripture-writer.

The next argument I want to address is that Jesus physically hand-picked and chose his apostles. Therefore, due to Christ now being physically seated at the right hand of the Father reigning over all heaven and earth, this choosing can no longer happen, and so, no apostles can exist any longer.

So, where do we start with this specific argument? Continue reading

Objections to Apostles Today (Part 1)

by Scott

I am now posting my twelfth article on this larger series in regards to the ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11-13, though I am mainly focusing in on apostles. You can click here to start at the first article and read through the series if you so desire.

And I suppose that there are quite a few more to come. This is a delicate topic, one with lots of misunderstandings, one with lots of baggage, one with lots of abuses. And, so, I feel the need to slowly walk through some things, slowly work some things out.

Sure, I could have posted a handful of articles and get on with other stuff. But I wanted to take the time to really consider things both biblically and theologically. I don’t mean to split the two, but when I refer to things theological, I am more referring to the conclusions that we come to from our reading and study of Scripture. It’s not always as simple as reading black ink on white paper. We read it through a lens, me included. And so I am trying to faithfully look at various portions of Scripture pertinent to the topic at hand, as well as the theological conclusions of such.

Hence, I’m on my twelfth article so far and plan to put out a handful or so more.

With regards to apostles, I said I would address the issues in this order:

  1. Apostles in New Testament Scripture.
  2. Objections to the existence of apostles today.
  3. What an apostle actually is.

So far, I have finished off the first point – looking at apostles in the New Testament. Whereas, when many people think of apostles, they think of the twelve, or possibly the twelve and Paul, Scripture actually lets us know there were a few other apostles at work in those early years following Christ’s resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit of God.

We can definitely confirm that both Barnabas and James were apostles, but I believe there were others alive and well in those early decades – people like Apollos, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, and probably a few others. It’s not so much that the word ‘apostle’ shows up next to their names (although it does in some cases). Rather, these people functioned in an apostolic ministry, what it meant practically and actually meant to be an apostle.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and squawks like a duck, it seems that it’s a duck. And those people mentioned above definitely lived and walked out the ministry of an apostle.

No, they didn’t write Scripture (though Apollos has sometimes been connected with the letter to the Hebrews). But they functioned very much like the twelve and Paul – helping found, establish, build, train and equip the early church to be faithful to Christ and the gospel. I’ll share more of what it means to be an apostle later, though I am hitting on it here and there. But you can read my two articles about apostles in the New Testament by clicking here and here.

But, the second focus is to move on and look at the objections to apostles today. I believe there are four major objections to the notion that apostles exist today (or post-first century). I shall spend some time over a few articles addressing these objections below: Continue reading

Apostles in the New Testament (Part 2)

by Scott

In the last post, I started looking at the specific role and gift of apostle. My plan is to slowly work through these three sub-points:

  1. Apostles in New Testament Scripture.
  2. Objections to the existence of apostles today.
  3. What an apostle actually is.

And, of course, each sub-point will have a few articles. I know it seems slow and tedious, but I think it is helpful to slowly work through some of the concepts and biblical texts that surround this, since I am purporting a not-so-popular-belief that apostles (and prophets) still exist today.

I have decided to start by simply looking at the varying apostles (or probable apostles) in the New Testament, for I think this can be an eye-opener to many. As I stated in the last article, when we think of apostles, we usually think of something like this:

  • The twelve
  • The twelve and Paul
  • Scripture writer

But what we can fail to recognise is that a) there were quite a few more apostles than we originally thought, b) Paul was not specifically tied into the ‘twelve apostles of the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:14), c) nor was Scripture writing the first and foremost calling of an apostle, since many apostles never penned anything and there were a handful of people who did author parts of Scripture but were not apostles. Continue reading