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
The Apostles Who are also Prophets
Another argument by some non-cessationists is that in Ephesians 2:20, two nouns (apostles, prophets) are linked by the Greek word "kai" ("and") which are governed by one article ("the"). To say it another way, the word "the" precedes the word "apostles"; but doesn't precede the word "prophets". Consequently, this means "apostles who are also prophets" are the foundation of the church. In other words, "the apostles and prophets" represent one group of people rather than two distinct groups of people. This is comparable to Ephesians 4:11 where "pastors and teachers" are the same people with two distinct functions. This eliminates the possibility that New Testament prophets were part of the foundation. Thus, there are non-apostolic prophets who continue to function in the church today.
Firstly, as I recently pointed out, in Ephesians 4:11 Paul clearly differentiates apostles and prophets as separate groups.
Secondly, the non-cessationists' errant conclusion was derived from a faulty use of what is known as the "Sharp's rule". This rule states:
"When the copulative kai connects two nouns of the same case, [viz. nouns (either substantive or adjective, or participles) of personal description, respecting office, dignity, affinity, or connection, (sic) and attributes, properties, or qualities, good or ill,] if the article o, or any of its cases, precedes the first of the said nouns or participles, and is not repeated before the second noun or participle, the latter always relates to the same person that is expressed or described by the first noun or participle." (Granville Sharp, Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article in the Greek Text of the New Testament: Containing many New Proofs of the Divinity of Christ, from Passages which are wrongly Translated in the Common English Version)
The misapplication of the "Sharp's rule" by non-cessationists lies in the fact that they have employed only a portion of this Greek grammatical regulation. The remaining stipulations must be met if the two nouns "apostles and prophets" in Ephesians 2:20 are referencing the same group of people.
The "Sharp's rule” further states:
"There is no exception or instance of the like mode of expression, that I know of, which necessarily requires a construction different from what is here laid down, EXCEPT the nouns be proper names, or in the plural number; in which case there are many exceptions." (Granville Sharp, Remarks on the uses of the Definite Article in the Greek Text of the New Testament)
As we can see, "Sharp's rule" has limited applications. In order for both nouns to point to the same association, the nouns must (a) be personal, (b) be singular in number, (c) be common nouns (not proper names) and (d) agree in gender and case.
It should be evident that the non-cessationists' partial application of the "Sharp's rule" to Ephesians 2:20 has resulted in an inaccurate conclusion. They have failed to see that plural nouns are an exception to "Sharp's rule".
Let's take a look at Acts 15:22 and Acts 16:4:
"Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers."
"As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey." (Acts 16:4)
Here, likened to Ephesians 2:20 ("apostles and prophets"), the nouns "apostles" and "elders" are plural; and thus, are exceptions to "Sharp's rule". Furthermore, the article ("the") before "apostles" but not before "elders" is connected by the Greek word "kai" ("and"). However, the apostles and elders are clearly a different group of men. It would be inappropriate to interpret these verses as "the apostles who are also elders". Another example is Matthew 3:7:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" (Matt. 3:7)
Using the same Greek grammatical rules, it should be evident that the Pharisees and Sadducees represent distinct groups of people. Similarly, Ephesians 2:20 refer to New Testament prophets in association with but distinct from the apostles.
Now ... regarding Ephesians 4:11 where "pastors and teachers" are alleged to be the same people with two distinct functions: This cross reference cited by some non-cessationists to bolster the idea that the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20) is the same group of people is without credence; and thus, lacks validity. Again, using proper Greek grammatical syntax, "pastors and teachers" in this verse is referencing two different groups of people. What is the distinction in this case?
Pastors are shepherds who are gifted to teach a local flock of believers. However, everyone who is gifted to teach does not automatically mean they are qualified to shepherd. Pastors are gifted to handle a wider range of responsibilities within the church as compared to those who are exclusively gifted to teach.
Next in their efforts to prove that apostles and prophets represent the same group of people, some non-cessationists appeal to Revelation 21:14:
"The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." (Rev. 21:14)
In this verse, it is alleged that John is assigning the unique foundational role only to the original twelve apostles. Linking this verse with Ephesians 2:20, non-cessationists continue to claim that the apostles had a twofold function (apostles who are also prophets). This interpretation, however, is problematic.
The non-cessationists fail to understand that John's reference only to the apostles is not all inclusive at that point in time. Firstly, Paul the apostle was clearly part on the church's foundation. However, he was not part of the original twelve apostles.
"After that, he (Jesus) was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me (Paul) also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Cor. 15:7-9)
Secondly, if we read Revelation 21 beginning with verse 12, we will discover that the twelve apostles were mentioned in the context of their relationship with the twelve gates, twelve angels, and the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus, verse 14 only gives us a partial view of the church's foundation.