NO CONTINUATION OF PROPHETS TODAY
By: Victor T. Stephens
"People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it's served up."
~ George R.R. Martin
Unity in the Faith
Non-cessationists allude to Ephesians 4:11-13 ... claiming that verse 13 means prophets will exist until "we all reach unity in the faith" ... which is when the church is taken to heaven during the rapture. Their understanding of this expression suggests the state of perfection reached during the rapture; and as a result, we thereby all agree on every doctrinal matter. This interpretation, however, is incorrect. Ephesians 4:11-15 actually represents a referential model of unity that Paul had in mind for the church. The rapture is not in view in this passage.
Let's consider Acts 2:42-47:
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
Take note that this passage says, "All the believers were together and had everything in common." Here we see complete unity among the believers at Pentecost. However, these believers were entirely Jewish Christians (Acts 2:1-41). The first Gentile believer was Cornelius (Acts 10).
As the church began to grow, Paul had in view the unity of faith which occurred at Pentecost would be the same unity of faith he wished to continue for future generations of Jews and Gentile believers. Although there were a few Jewish believers at the Church in Ephesus, most believers were Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-12) ... whom Paul was primarily addressing. As many of us know, the Jews regarded everyone who was not Jewish as "uncircumcised".
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (which is done in the body by human hands) --- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Eph. 2:11-12)
Paul's decision to go to Ephesus was very sensible on account that it was a large populated city with multicultural groups of people. It was from this miscellany of cultures that the Ephesian church generated its members. Taking into consideration the small number of Jews within this mixture, we have the emergence of one of the most diverse group conceivable. Suffice it to say, such diversity had a tendency to produce cultural disputes. Just as there was complete unity among the Jews at Pentecost, it was Paul's objective to bring complete unity among the Jews and Gentiles in the Church at Ephesus.
If we refer back to Ephesians 2:11-12 we can observe the commencement of the reconciliation of the Jewish and Gentile cultures under the one headship of Christ. In the past, Gentiles were separated from God and separated from the Jews. However, now that they have found salvation, no such division exists. There is now unity in the faith among the Jews and Gentiles in the church at Ephesus. Let's take a look at the next four verses:
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility." (Eph. 2:13-16)
In the previous passage, Paul tells the Ephesians that as a result of their salvation, circumstances have revolutionized. By which they were formerly separated from God, the redemptive act of Christ on the cross made it attainable for the partition of division to be eradicated. By being "brought near by the blood of Christ", people of all ethnic groups and cultural backgrounds draw near to one another. As a result, Jews and Gentiles have a common union more glorious than any differentiations that formerly separated them. In Christ, a "new humanity" is formed "out of two" ... being united in the faith; and fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28)
To reiterate, today ... as the church continues to grow, it is the Word of God that brings all believing Jews and all believing Gentiles to complete unity in the faith. The completed canon of Scripture contains the teachings of Jesus as revealed by Jesus Himself as well as the apostles and prophets. The power of the Holy Spirit through the systematic teaching and subjection to God's Word produces a process of development and growth to become more like Christ. John 17:20-23 states:
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one --- I in them and you in me --- so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23)
In this passage, Jesus is saying that others will believe in Him as a result of his disciples' message. It is the message of salvation by faith in Christ alone that ultimately brings Jews and Gentiles to "complete unity" as sons of God. Today, the Bible ... God's completed revelation of His Word for the church contains the message of Christ and the disciples. Romans 10:17 says:
"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
Let's take a look at another passage:
Second Timothy 3:14-17 says:
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:14-17)
This passage reveals that all Scripture ... which was revealed through the apostles and prophets ... is sufficient for answering all our needs for guidance from God. The Bible is the completed written message of the apostles and prophets. Therefore, we become fully equipped and built up by being taught in the canon of Scripture. Our unity comes by mutual belief among the Jews and Gentiles in the essential doctrines of the gospel message of salvation by Christ alone.
Now ... those who are egocentric and spiritually immature may have difficulty discerning between non-essential and essential doctrines of the Christian faith. As a result, confusion and bickering often arises when we elevate the non-essentials to the place of essential doctrines. The commonality we have with one another through Jesus Christ overshadows any trivial differences of opinion or social status. We should and can respectfully disagree on non-essential matters and still remain united in the body of Christ. Non-essential doctrines include what to eat, what to drink, worship styles, which day to worship, etc. Essential doctrines include salvation, faith theology, atonement theology, personhood of God, personhood of Christ, personhood of the Holy Spirit, etc.
Disturbances also arise when we elevate personalities (preachers, politicians, etc.) above Jesus and His Word. This is nothing more than idolatry. Just as God's Word speaks of false teachers, it also references false Christians who have a "form of godliness" (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Thus, in order to protect and maintain unity in the faith, divisions are sometimes necessary. This can be accomplished by true teachers of God's Word within the Church; as well as by every believer who accepts responsibility of adhering to the Berean paradigm by searching the scriptures daily to test all teachings (Acts 17:11).
Old Testament or New Testament Prophets
Next in their defense of the continuation of prophecy today, non-cessationists contend that "apostles and prophets" mentioned in Ephesians 2:19-20 refers to Old Testament prophets. Supposedly New Testament apostles enumerated their attestations to that of Old Testament prophets in the revelations they conveyed regarding Jesus.
Such an interpretation by the non-cessationists camp is problematic for the following reasons:
Firstly, the word "apostles" is ahead of the word "prophets". If Old Testament prophets were in view, the word "prophets" should go before the word "apostles".
Secondly, Ephesians 3:4-6 specifically states:
"In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. 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." (Eph. 3:4-6)
This passage reveals that the mystery of Gentile believers being partakers with Israel "was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets." This is further supported in Colossians 1:26:
"the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord's people." (Col. 1:26)
These scriptural references indicate that this mystery was unrevealed to Old Testament prophets. The prophets in view are clearly New Testament prophets. It was to the apostles and New Testament prophets that the mystery "has now been revealed". The New Testament prophets are recognized as inspired counterparts of the apostles ... sharing revelatory truth from the Holy Spirit.
Now thirdly, the expression "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets" (Eph. 4:11) also demonstrates that New Testament prophets are in view in Ephesians 2:19-20. They were given by Christ after His Ascension.