Sunday, 7 August 2016
…having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, Ephesians 2:20
Paul now more fully develops the words of the previous verse which noted that the Gentiles are now “members of the household of God.” This household is being built into an edifice. The nature of the edifice will be explained in the next verse, but for now it is noted that this household was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.”
The meaning of these words is generally taken as the Old Testament prophets and the apostles, but this is not the full sense of the words. First, if this were so, it would have reversed the order saying, “…the prophets and apostles.” Secondly, Paul uses this same term two more times in this same epistle –
“…which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets:” Ephesians 3:5
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…” Ephesians 4:11
The edifice which is being built is upon a foundation of these two categories. As apostles are a New Covenant concept, they are in the preeminent place, being noted first. However, it would be incorrect to assume that only New Covenant prophets are being designated here by Paul as will be seen.
But this brings in a seeming contradiction to 1 Corinthians 3:11 –
“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
In that verse, Paul calls Jesus Christ the foundation. How can this be resolved? It becomes discernible by Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 –
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
In that verse, Jesus was not referring to Peter as the rock (meaning the foundation). The words of the verse do not agree in gender, and thus it is not Peter who is being referred to. Rather, it is the proclamation that Peter had made in a preceding verse –
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16
Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) is what the church is built on. Understanding this, the words of Paul become clear. The term “apostles and prophets” is not speaking of the individuals, but rather the proclamation of the individuals. The proclamation of the apostles, and the prophets (of any age) whose words point to Jesus as the Messiah, are what Paul is referring to. The prophets of old anticipated Christ Jesus; the prophets of the church expound upon this truth. Therefore, there is no need to exclude the OT prophets from this verse, even though that is not an unrealistic possibility.
Next Paul says that, “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” This is a concept which goes back to the 118th Psalm –
“The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.” Psalm 118:22
Jesus ascribed this verse in the psalms to Himself in each of the three synoptic gospels. Peter referred to it in Acts 4:11, and a similar OT verse, which is found in Isaiah 28:16 is used by Peter in 1 Peter 2:6, 7. Paul also refers to this stone in Romans 9:33.
The cornerstone of a building is considered the most important of all. It is the first laid and it is that upon which all else is built. Everything else rests upon its surety as a foundation stone. This stone is that which is most honorable therefore, and it is that which is most evident. Such is Christ in the edifice which God is building.
The chief cornerstone is Christ, and the foundation is the proclamation concerning Christ. From there, everything else will find its proper place within the edifice.
As a final side note, if Peter were the foundation of the church as Roman Catholics incorrectly claim from a misinterpretation and misuse of Matthew 16:18, then Paul would have at least mentioned him in a separate category here. He does not. Peter was one of a select group, but by no means was he elevated to any high place or honor among them.
Life application: Verses like this one need to be carefully considered in order to avoid misinterpretation of them. This verse has been used by some to allege there is a contradiction in Scripture, something which is incorrect. It has also been used by nutty people to make unfounded claims that they are prophets of God, and thus a more important part of the church than others. Again, this is something which is incorrect. It is Christ who alone is to be elevated in the church, and His word is free of contradiction.
Heavenly Father, as we contemplate the marvel of Your creation, how can we come to any other conclusion than that everything is perfectly arranged and everything is interconnected by Your wisdom. All things are leading to a marvelous reconciliation of what You originally intended for Your people. Each thing that occurs brings us a step closer to that coming about. Even the things which seem evil are being used by You for a good end. Your word tells us it is so, and the progression of time and history reveals it to be true. Thank You that all things are coming to a wonderful time of reconciliation and restoration because of Jesus the Lord! Amen.