In this post I explore what the Bible teaches about whether apostles and prophets function in the church today.
Paul taught that the apostles and prophets are the foundation upon which the church has been built: 'having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone' (Ephesians 2:20). The foundation is the first thing to be laid when constructing a building. It belongs to the beginning stage of the building and is only laid once. As such, the offices of apostle and prophet, which constitute the church's foundation, belong to the beginning stage of the church’s history. They are not repeated today - the foundation is only laid once.
Ephesians 4:11-13 has been misunderstood as indicating that apostles and prophets are still in the church today. According to this passage, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are to equip and edify the church until we all come to unity and spiritual maturity. However, the apostles and prophets fulfill this role, not by their continued presence, but by the writings they have left for us in the New Testament. Whilst evangelists, pastors and teachers are present in the church today, the apostles and prophets are not.
Does this mean that the gift of prophecy has ceased? Yes and no. It has ceased as a means of doctrinal revelation. The prophets in the New Testament were, along with the apostles, the recipients of God's revelation about Christ (Ephesians 3:5-6). As the stewards of this revelation, they are the foundation upon which the church has been built (Ephesians 2:20). The truths pertaining to this revelation have been preserved for us in the New Testament, which has completed the canon of Scripture. There is no further need for doctrinal revelation, as we have it preserved for us in Scripture. However, prophecy also functioned as a means of bringing strength, encouragement, and comfort to God's people (1 Corinthians 14:3 NLT). In this capacity, prophecy has not ceased. Click for more information on the gift of prophecy.
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Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970.