Saturday, February 03, 2018

A new foundation

Eph 2:20 is a stock cessationist prooftext. Indeed, it may well be their favorite prooftext. Recently, I saw somebody claim "the Church is built upon foundation of apostles and prophets. It's a strange edifice if it has continuous foundations at every floor."

A couple of observations:

i) That depends on what the metaphor was meant to illustrate. For instance, is a foundational metaphor intended to symbolize priority in time or priority in rank?

Cessationists interpret the metaphor chronologically, where apostles and prophets came first, then ordinary church office is subsequent to that. Church office takes over. 

Yet that doesn't make much sense. In Pauline ecclesiology, there were many contemporaneous kinds of ministry. So it's not as if the first stage was prophets and apostles, then that was phased out, to be replaced by church office. For these were operating simultaneously.

Of course, the Apostolate wasn't an ongoing office, yet we know that, not from Eph 2:20 alone, but based on other passages regarding the normal criteria for an apostle. 

If, however, it doesn't mean priority in time, it could mean priority in rank. For instance, apostles were more authoritative than church officers. And that might be true for prophets as well, insofar as they were recipients of divine revelation. Of course, a prophet has authority insofar his revelatory claims can be verified. Otherwise, his revelations are only authoritative for himself.

And that's consistent with cessationism and continuationism alike. 

In addition, that was before the completion of the NT. So we now have a different standard of comparison. In that respect we're in a different position than the mid-1C Christians to whom Paul wrote.   

ii) We always need to be careful in how we interpret biblical metaphors. A metaphor can be developed in many different directions. Absurd consequences follow if we don't confine ourselves to the intended scope of the metaphor. 

In his recent commentary (201ff.), Stephen Baugh, who's a cessationist, points out that the function of Eph 2:20 stands in contrast to the Mosaic covenant. So the foundation of the new covenant replaces the old foundation of the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic foundation has been torn up. Apostles and prophets are representatives of the new covenant. 

If you wish to infer irreversibility from the metaphor, what's irreversible is the finality of the new covenant. There's no going back to the Mosaic covenant. Moving forward (or upward), everything is built on the new covenant. 

And that's consistent with cessationism and continuationism alike. 

1 comment:

  1. Seems to me the "foundational" nature of the office is found in that the apostles and prophets had a uniquely vivid and first-in-time role in revealing the Jew-Gentile nature of the church. That seems to be the emphasis of Ephesians. But that doesn't entail anything about whether prophets have any other roles besides that one, and therefore whether they could continue to exist once that function was performed (which had already been done by the time Eph was written).