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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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    [1] For the purposes of this paper, the term, "cessationist" designates one who asserts the demise of the so-called "sign-" or "miraculous" gifts of the Holy Spirit, usually connected with the death of the apostles or completion of the NT writings.For the various descriptions and times of this termination by cessationist writers see R. W. Graves, "Tongues Shall Cease: A Critical Study of the Supposed Cessation of the Charismata," Paraclete 17/4 (Fall 1983): 20-28.By contrast, Pentecostal or charismatic Christians believe that all the so-called “miraculous” gifts of the Spirit have continued in the church.Many in this latter group, however, deny the continuing gift of apostleship.
     [2] E.g., by R. B. Gaffin, Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, Pa: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers, 1979): 93-116;R. L. Thomas, "Prophecy Rediscovered?A Review of The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today,"BibSac 149/593 (Jan-Mar 1992): 83-96;K. L. Gentry, The Charismatic Gift of Prophecy: A Reformed Response to Wayne Grudem (Memphis: Footstool, 1989);R. F. White, "Gaffin and Grudem on Eph 2:20: In Defense of Gaffin’s Cessationist Exegesis," WJT 54 (1992): 303-20;and F.D. Farnell, “Is the Gift of Prophecy for Today?” BibSac 149/595 (July-September 1992), 277-303; 149/596 (October-December 1992), 387-410; 150/597 (January-March 1993), 62-88; 150/598, (April-June 1993), 171-202.This latter series derives from the author’s doctoral work, “The New Testament Prophetic Gift: Its Nature and Duration,” (ThD dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1990). Richard D. Kelso, “An Evaluation of the Biblical Support Presented by Wayne Grudem regarding the Nature, Role and Exercise of Non-Apostolic Prophecy in the New Testament and Today” (M. A. Thesis, Columbia Biblical Seminary and Graduate School of Missions, 1999).R. Fowler White, “Reflections on Wayne Grudem's ETS 1992 Presentation, The New Testament Gift of Prophecy: A Response to My Friends.”TREN, 1993.
     [3] This historicist interpretation of the Eph 2:20 “cornerstone” (akrogone) metaphor has only the most tenuous roots in church history.For example, of about 101 references discovered by the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae CD-ROM, version D, virtually all of the references to the “cornerstone” of Ephesians 2:20, which offer sufficient context to discern its location, show that the “cornerstone” appears as the “capstone,”“keystone,” or the most prominent and highest stone in the building—usually the “final” stone to be placed, completing the structure. One may find a possible exception in the Shepherd of Hermas ANF, II: 49“‘And the stones, sir,’ I said, ‘which were taken out of the pit and fitted into the building: what are they?’ ‘The first,’ he said, ‘the ten, viz., that were placed as a foundation, are the first generation, and the twenty-five the second generation, of righteous men; and the thirty-five are the prophets of God and His ministers; and the forty are the apostles and teachers of the preaching of the Son of God.’” This hardly offers a coherent basis for the cessationist metaphor from Eph 2:20, since the last stones mentioned, apparently the fourth (!) generation represent apostles!
     [4]Gaffin appeals to a “canon-within-a-canon” argument.“The decisive, controlling significance of Ephesians 2:20 (in its context) needs to be appreciated….I Corinthians 14 … has a relatively narrow focus and is confined to the particular situation at Corinth.Ephesians, on the other hand, may well be a circular letter, originally intended by Paul for a wider audience than the congregation at Ephesus.More importantly, 2:20 is part of a section that surveys the church as a whole in a most sweeping and comprehensive fashion.Ephesians 2:20 stands back, views the whole building, and notes the place of prophecy in it (as part of the foundation); I Corinthians and the other passages on prophecy examine one of the parts from within.Ephesians 2:20, then, with its broad scope ought to have a pivotal and governing role in seeking to understand other NT statements on prophecy with a narrower, more particular and detailed focus…”Perspectives on Pentecost.p. 96.  "Ephesians 2:20 figures prominently in this debate.” Charles E. Powell, Dallas Theological Seminary, at the 48th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Jackson, MS, November 1996. http://www.bible.org/docs/theology/pneuma/giftques.htm.
     [5] For example, in Jack Deere’s influential work, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993)there is a brief treatment (p. 248) with the promise of a plan to discuss Eph 2:20 in detail “in my next book.”If Surprised by the Voice of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) is that next book, the passage does not appear in the scripture index, nor am I able to discover any discussion of it.Similarly, in another major work Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer (eds.), The Kingdom and the Power: Are Healing and the Spiritual Gifts Used by Jesus and the Early Church Meant for the Church Today? (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1993), one page is devoted to Eph 2:20 in a chapter by Wayne Grudem (see below).J. Rodman Williams does not treat the cessationist view of Eph 2:20, but rather seems to affirm it, at least with respect to the “original” 13, including Paul (as opposed to “continuing”) apostles.Renewal Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 173.No real critique of the “foundational” argument appears in the extended discussion in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?Ed., Wayne Grudem (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).
     [6] First in the adaptation of his Cambridge Ph.D. dissertation, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982), 82-105.
    [7] Note 2, above.
    [8] “We all (some of Grudem’s cessationist critics and himself) agree that these [italics his] prophets are ones who provided the foundation of the church, and therefore these are prophets who spoke infallible words of God. . . . Whether we say this group was only the apostles, or was a small group pf prophets closely associated with the apostles who spoke Scripture-quality words, we are still left with a picture of a very small and unique group of people who provide this foundation for the church universal.”Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1051, n. 4.
     [9] Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians, 105.Also, his The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Westchester, Ill.: 1989), 45-63 and his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1051.
     [10] E.g., by F. David Farnell, “Fallible New Testament Prophecy/Prophets?A Critique of Wayne Grudem’s Hypothesis,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 2:2 (Fall 1991), 165-77.
     [11] Michael Moriarty states this position clearly.God placed prophets in the apostolic churches to “provide doctrinal insights” only during an “interim period” in which churches “had only portions of the Bible.” The New Charismatics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 231.Farnell, ibid., ## Gaffin appears to hold this view He writes:
      I should emphasize that, during the foundational, apostolic period of the church, its "canon" (i.e., where I find God's word and revealed will for my life) was a fluid, evolving entity, made up of three factors: (1) a completed Old Testament; (2) an eventual New Testament and other inspired documents no longer extant (e.g., the letter mentioned in 1 Cor 5:9), as each was written and then circulated (cf. Col 4:16); and (3) an oral apostolic and prophetic voice ("whether by word of mouth or by letter"[2 Thess 2:15] points to this authoritative mix of oral and written).The church at that time lived by a "Scripture plus" principle of authority and guidance; by the nature of the case, it could not yet be committed, as a formal principle, to sola Scriptura."A Cessationist View," in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? ed. Wayne A. Grudem, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 45-46 fn. 50.
     What Gaffin has essentially done is redefine the canon for the NT church. For them it contains revelation not included in the Scriptures. But now, after the completion of the NT, the canon is simply the Bible. This simply will not do. The canon is either Scripture only or all revelation. It cannot be both; one for the apostolic church and the other for the post-apostolic church. Gaffin's argument seems to be a desperate expedient to preserve both the completion of the canon and cessationism.
     [12] Systematic Theology, 1050.
     [13] It is interesting that when choosing the four dialogue partners for the book Grudem edited, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), neither of the charismatic or Pentecostal participants affirmed the continuation of one of the spiritual gifts: apostleship!See my review in Pneuma Review of Wayne Grudem (ed.),  Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views. Zondervan, 1996 in Pneuma 21:1 (Spring 1999), 155-58.  Also in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society  42:3  (September 1999), 531-32.
     [14] Even today, Roman Catholic apologists appeal to Eph 2:20 as a proof text for Papal authority.Anthony Saldarini, “Chapter 2, Interpretation: Part One: The Biblical Period,” in Papal Infallibility: An Application of Lonergan’s Theological Method, ed. T. J. Teikppe (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1983), 18.
     [15] Marcus Barth takes a related view of this “confession-as-foundation.”  “Most likely the term ‘foundation’ in 2:20 is more fully explicated by 4:7, 11; 6:19-20, i.e., by those verses in Ephesians that speak of the preaching, exhorting and warning activity of the spokesmen of God assigned to the church by Christ.” Ephesians, ABC (New York: Doubleday, 1974), 315-16.
     [16] A premise contradictedby K. L. Schmidt, “themelios,” TDNT, III:6.
     [17] On “foundation” as a deposit of doctrine, see W. Schmithals, The Office of Apostle in the Early Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1969), 43, esp. n. 91.
     [18] E.g., E. Fowler White, “Gaffin and Grudem on Ephesians 2:20,” 304 n.6.  “Strictly speaking, for Gaffin the foundation of the church consists of Christ (Eph 2:20b; 1 Cor 3:11) and the apostles and prophets.The laying of the foundation (Isa 28:16) began with Christ (e.g., Matt 21:42-44) [sic!] and concluded with the apostles and prophets as witnesses to Christ (e.g., Luke 24:44-48).”So Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost, 91-93, 107-08.
     [19] A cessationist response to this syllogism might be that there is a sense in which “Jesus-class” activities might well have “ceased” in one of two ways.First, Jesus’ earthly ministry was “foundational,” since at his ascension and reign, His ministry changed in fundamental ways.So, the analogy would run, apostles and prophets would have an earthly ministry, receiving and issuing “scripture-quality” revelation during the “foundational” period, but after their death, their ministry would continue in their scriptures.
     At this point, however, the analogy would be quite shaky.The ascension of Jesus—the end of his “foundational” period--precipitated a profusion of miraculous, revelatory Spiritual gifts, which then encounteredanother terminating “foundational” period: that of the apostles and prophets.The “foundations” are neither congruent temporally, nor conceptually.Moreover, the point of the cessationist analogy is that the apostles and prophets were, in and of themselves, the gifts of apostleship and prophecy.On this reasoning, Jesus Christ is, in and of Himself, a gift of salvation, which would die when He physically died.
     But these apostles and prophets in no sense continue personally to participate in the lives of believers today via the Spirit as Christ does.Moreover, Christ’s gift does not die with Him, but rather is made viable only in His death. These points open up such a serious disjunction between the foundational members that one must seek another interpretation of the metaphor.
     A better analogy would be: the Church is founded on a blended metaphor of Christ Himself and the Spirit-revealed confession of Christ, the Son of the Living God, a confession like that of the apostles and prophets, i.e., a revelatory experience, which, like the present ministry of Christ, continues through the Holy Spirit.This calls to mind the maxim from the Book of Revelation: “The Spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.”The Spirit of prophecy cannot be simply equated with the unfinished canon of the New Testament!
      A second cessationist rejoinder might be to insist that there is an analogy between the apostles/prophets and Jesus, in that both spoke scripture-quality words until the end of “foundational” period, when the canon was completed.
      Again, for the cessationist “foundation” metaphor to hold, it must treat Christ, as part of that foundation, in identical ways as the apostles and prophets:the central and characterizing expression of Christ, certainly involving the gift of Salvation itself, would need to cease at His death—a position flatly contradicted by the very Scripture cessationism purports to defend.
      "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith not be based on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power" (1 Cor 2:4-5).
     [20] See the summary in A. T. Lincoln, Ephesians. Word Biblical Commentary, 42 (Dallas: Word, 1990), 154.
     [21] G. W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961), 66: “The top-most angle or point of a pyramid, obelisk, etc."
     [22] So Cyril, Is.3.2 (2.397E) and John of Damascus, Hom. 4.30 (MPG 96.632c).
     [23] Elwell expresses a common misconception in that he seems to feel that it is difficult to have a “stone of stumbling” if placed in the foundation as a cornerstone, “but metaphors can be stretched.”The point of two of our passages (Mt 21 and Lk 20) is that the stone cannot be in the building at all if it is indeed, “rejected!"
     [24] I owe this observation to Robert Graves, “That Glorious Day,” Pneuma Review 3:2 (Spring 2000), 45.
     [25] Assuming here that Hebrews is not written by an apostle.Few Evangelical today believe this book to be written by Paul!For our purposes the books written by apostles are:Matthew, John, the Pauline corpus, including Ephesians and the Pastorals, 1,2 Peter, 1,2,3 John, Revelation.
     [26] “Therefore it is necessary to choose on of the men who have been with us the wholetime the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us” [NIV, italics mine].
      [27] As the events of Pentecost appear to do also, since the filling up of the “12” seems to have been actualized, not with the election of Matthias, who is never heard from again, but rather in the 120 as the symbolic community of the New Israel comprised of prophets.
      [28] Mt. 22:43;Mk. 12:36; Acts 1:16; 28:25;Heb. 3:7; 9:8; 10:15;I Pt. 1:11,12;2 Pt. 1:21.
      [29] Robert L. Thomas, “The Correlation of Revelatory Spiritual Gifts and NT Canonicity,” Master's Seminary Journal, 8 (Spr 1997), 5-28.

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