Monday, January 24, 2005

Answering Objection 2: Don't assume the church was founded on the work or the apostles and prophet's

Let's deal with Robert Bowman's second objection.

"Paul states that the church has "been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph. 2:20) and that Christ's mystery concerning the church was "revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit" (3:5 ). These statements indicate that the role of apostles and prophets was fulfilled in the first century."
This objection is based on a common but mistaken interpretation of EPH 2:19-20:
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
How is the church "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets"? Here are two popular assumptions:
  1. The church's foundation has been built on the message of the apostles and prophets; the complete canon.
  2. This foundation has been built on the work of the apostles and prophets; ie the total output of their life and ministry.
We always complete the foundation before we build upon it and the Ephesians have already been built onto the "foundation of the apostles and prophets". Yet, the work and message of the apostles and prophets was still growing. Paul had likely five or ten more years of ministry left and had not finished his missionary journeys or written the Pastoral Epistles. The Book of Revelation (dated ~95 AD) won't arrive for perhaps 30 years after Ephesians(~60AD); that's an entire generation! Therefore these two popular assumptions must be wrong.

(The NIV Study Bible suggests the "foundation of the apostles and prophets" refers only to their early work. That means apostles' and prophets' roles continued a generation after laying the foundation. This actually helps my argument. But as I will show, this early foundation was not built upon work, but message of the gospel, what Paul calls "the mystery of Christ".)

I agree with Bowman that the key to understanding "the foundation of the apostles and prophets" is Eph 3:4-6.
4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
To Bowman, this indicates the apostles and prophets finished their role in the First Century. I'm sorry, I don't see it. But what I do see is Paul explaining exactly what the "foundation" of the Church is.

Here is what I see: the foundation of the Church is the revelation (received and promoted by the apostles and prophets) that the Jews and Gentiles are united into one body by the Gospel. The gospel reveals, not just "Christ crucified" but also that Jews and Gentiles, separated by the Law of Moses, are now united in Christ. This foundation was completed by 60AD but the apostles and prophets continued in a new role.

What was this new role? Paul shows us in Eph 3:7-9
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

Paul, is both servant and administrator of this gospel, this mystery of Christ. The apostles and prophets unique role was to lay the foundation and their second role was to lead in building upon that foundation. I believe that every apostle and prophet throughout the ages would speak with one voice affirming their role is to build upon the Church's one foundation. The role of revealing the foundation is complete, but the lead role of building upon it still remains for today's apostles and prophets.