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Ephesians 2:20 and the “Foundational Gifts”
Cessationists support their view that the gift of prophecy is presently inoperative by their increasing appeal to an argument-by-analogy from Eph 2:20, namely, that since apostles and prophets appear as the "foundation" of the temple/Church, and since the “foundation” can only represent one generation of time, then these "foundation" gifts necessarily passed away before the second generation of Christianity. Non-cessationist Evangelicals so far have either failed to address this argument or have assumed the main premise of the cessationists.
This cessationist argument-by-analogy fails because: 1) "foundation" indicates a "pattern" to be replicated, not a “generation” frozen in time; 2) the “foundation” of Eph 2:20 represents both Christ Himself and the recurring apostolic and prophetically-inspired “foundational confession,” as Peter’s “great confession” (Mt 16:16-18), revealed to all Christians in every era; 3) the cessationist metaphor, in an illogical, question-begging move, confuses the death of early apostles and prophets with the death of their gifts; 4) the metaphor is destroyed if Christ the akrogone (“cornerstone”) is, as is likely, also the “capstone” or “long-high cornerstone” holding the walls together like interlacing fingers (2:21), who is also in contact with each stone; 5) this cessationist metaphor violates the clear teaching of Eph 4:11 and, 6) substitutes the “letter” of the New Testament for the Spirit-revealed experience of Christ Himself as the ultimate foundation.
Status of the Problem
One of the few remaining NT texts to which cessationists appeal for support of their position is Eph 2:20. The cessationist argument-by-analogy is that since apostles and prophets appear as the "foundation" of the "temple"/ church, and since each course of stones in this temple metaphorically represent successive generations of believers throughout church history, then these "foundation" gifts necessarily passed away before the second generation of Christianity.
From the frequency and extent this argument is made in cessationist circles, one would assume that there would be a serious reply from their theological dialogue partners, the Pentecostals and charismatics. Pentecostal or charismatic scholars generally have failed either to treat this cessationist argument to any significant degree, or if so, adequately.
This paper offers a biblical rebuttal to the cessationist use of Ephesians 2:20 as an argument for the cessation of prophecy, and, by extension, the other so-called “miraculous” gifts of the Holy Spirit. After a statement of the issue itself, this paper examines the only significant “anti-cessationist” response offered so far, that of Wayne Grudem, and then goes on to offer some alternative responses of its own.
Wayne Grudem’s Rebuttal to the Cessationist Use of Ephesians 2:20
Wayne Grudem is the only scholar I can discover who attacks the cessationist argument from Eph 2:20 in any detail, so quite reasonably, Grudem’s response stands as the default Pentecostal/charismatic position among cessationists, along with their perceptions about its strengths and weaknesses.
Though he presents his position as an attempt to mediate between charismatics and cessationists, it appears that Grudem’s defense on this point shares traditional cessationist presuppositions about the nature of apostles and of the “foundation” in Ephesians 2:20. Grudem seems to agree with cessationists who argue against the continuation of the gift of prophecy in that the gift is somehow identical with the first generation (“foundation level”) of Christian prophets: that necessarily when these particular prophets died, the gift of prophecy died with them.The same, he would also agree, would be true of apostles.
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