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Jon Ruthven

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Jon Ruthven is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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Articles > Charismatic Theology > Ephesians 2:20 and the “Foundational Gifts”

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Grudem, however, ingeniously tries to deny the death of prophecy by claiming that only a special category of prophets is described in Eph. 2:20, namely, that they are “foundational,” and hence, cease because these particular prophets are in fact, apostles! He also offers an alternate possibility that perhaps these “foundational” prophets were an elite group that received and uttered apostolic-level revelation.He agrees, then, with cessationists that apostles, at least the original twelve (or thirteen, if we include Paul) stood to be unique in that they that they are seen as the authoritative bearers of foundational Christian doctrine, which they wrote into scripture. Accordingly, Grudem sees the apostle/prophets of Eph 2:20 as the equivalent of the canonical prophets of the Old Testament, whose pronouncements and writings also held ultimate religious authority in that they later became scripture.[8]

On this view, and to preserve the continuation of Christian prophecy, Grudem must then define NT prophecy in two categories. 1) Agreeing with traditional cessation­ists, the first class of prophecy, which was to cease within the first generation, was a kind of interim canon awaiting its written form, while,2) the second class of prophecy was represented by the “less authoritative type of prophecy indicated in 1 Corinthians.”[9]

Understandably, this novel defense has received a heated response from cessationists, who wish to deny any “two-level” gift of prophecy that Grudem describes.[10] Without going into their argument in detail, they seek to prove that all manifestations of the gift of prophecy in the first generation will cease together, since prophecy is divine revelation, and such revelation must necessarily be enscripturated.[11]

Grudem therefore finds himself in an interesting dilemma: on the one hand, since he sees apostles (and this first class of NT prophets) as the New Testament counterparts of Old Testament prophets and therefore “were able to speak and write words that had absolute divine authority,”[12] that is, in the canon of scripture, it is crucial to restrict this class of men to the “foundational” and unrepeatable. Because of the central apostolic role as scripture writers, and because the canon of the NT is closed, the gift or “office” of apostleship must necessarily cease.[13] On the other hand, “apostleship” is seamlessly listed along with the other “miraculous” spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12:28 and Eph 4:11, gifts which Grudem insists must continue in the church! In short, Grudem’s views of apostleship, prophecy, revelation and scripture leave him vulnerable to the charge that he is fatally inconsistent in his defense of continuing spiritual gifts.

But does scripture itself view the NT apostles and prophets as conscious repositories of unwritten or uncanonized scripture? Or is this notion of these biblical figures held by Grudem and his cessationist counterparts anachronistic and too narrow?

The Protestant Tradition and Its Bearing on the “Foundation of the Apostles and Prophets” in Evangelical Interpretation

While we may lay out several responses, a brief review of the historically conditioned origin of “foundational” cessationist doctrine may be illuminating. It appears that this Evangelical cessationist tradition underlying this view of Eph 2:20 has been uncritically passed down from the polemics of the Reformers against the Papacy.

To undercut Papal claims to ultimate religious authority via apostolic succession,[14] the Reformers failed to examine adequately the NT roles of apostle and prophet. Rather they assumed the premises of Rome and simply transferred the crown and the authority of the 16th century Pope to the first century apostles! The apostles, then on this view, the receivers of unique divine revelation, canonized their ultimate ecclesiastical and doctrinal authority, not in papal encyclicals, but in the New Testament. The Reformers, and particularly the scholastic theologians who followed them, further protected the “Papal” authority of the New Testament by denying any additional divine revelation based implicitly on the “foundational” role of prophets in Eph 2:20.

In this context, then, to Protestants, the notion of a continuing gift of apostleship, or a gift of divine prophetic revelation, is anathema. The former represents the specter of apostolic succession and the Papacy, while the latter implies the claim to ultimate, but constantly evolving and increasingly contaminated, ex cathedra doctrinal authority over the Church. For this reason, and not for biblical reasons, have the cessation of apostles and prophets become a “foundational” doctrine for traditional Protestant theology. The application of this polemic, then, could be easily and uncritically transferred to anyone advocating the continuation of spiritual gifts, particularly explosive being those of apostles and prophets.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Footnotes

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