Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:20a “And are built upon the foundation. . .”
“Paul loved to mix metaphors (he never took Freshman English), and we are the richer for it” (Hughes). Believers are “fellow citizens,” belong to “the household of God” (2:19), and are stones of a vast building, a wonderful masonry. We become “fellow citizens” and family members by being built–chosen, prepared, and set in place–on a foundation. It is critical for us to know exactly what this foundation is.
Eph. 2:20b “. . .of the apostles. . .”
“The apostles” are the twelve (Matthias in place of Judas) and Paul, men who saw the risen Lord. Charter-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, they authenticated their testimony by displaying a willingness to die for it.
Everything we believe rests on the foundation of the apostles’ testimony. The essence of our faith revolves around the events of a historic weekend. The death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior is the heart and soul of everything, the climax and confirmation of all He claimed and accomplished. Thus, the eye-witnesses and testifiers to the events of this weekend provide the evidence, the testimony, essential for us to believe.
The apostles were also the immediate students of Christ. Thus, the whole structure of Church doctrine rests on the “apostles’ doctrine” (AC 2:42), the teachings of these men whom Christ taught directly.
Our faith and doctrine are traceable to “the apostles.” No wonder the wall of the New Jerusalem “had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (RV 21:14).
Eph. 2:20c “. . .and prophets,. . .”
Three times in Ephesians Paul links “apostles and prophets” together (2:20; 3:5; 4:11). “The prophets” ranked next to apostles in the government of the early church, and shared share some of their functions. The apostles could not be everywhere. Hence, prophets also went forth to spread the truth of God. The prophets received direct revelations from God, and spoke authoritatively to the Church before our New Testament was completed.
These first century “apostles and prophets” are the only believers ever to possess Church-wide authority. The very fact they are “the foundation” proves their functions were limited to the formative period of the Church. Since New Testament days, there have been no other “apostles and prophets.” We loosely use the term “prophet” to compliment a bold preacher, but we do not use it in a technical way, to describe an office. “Apostles and prophets” are no longer needed, for the results of these offices remain in the New Testament. The offices of apostle and prophet are forever closed; their ministry is forever preserved in their written teachings and testimonies.
Some two-thirds of the New Testament preserves the ministry of “apostles”: Matthew, John, Paul, and Peter. The remaining third continues the work of men vitally and closely connected to the apostles, “prophets” such as Mark, Luke, plus James and Jude, the Lord’s brothers.
The teachings and testimonies of these first century “apostles and prophets” are our underpinning. Do not add to this foundation. No one repeats a substructure for the same building. A foundation is laid once and for all. There are no living “apostles and prophets.” These officers have no successors, and their offices cannot be repeated. No one after New Testament days has ever had the right to speak with church-wide authority.
Declarations made after the New Testament era are matters for personal interpretation, and not binding on all the Church. Rejecting this truth has produced untold misery and error for the Church. The immaculate conception, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, infallibility of the Pope, purgatory, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Christian Science–what do all these errors have in common? They are products of people who lived after the New Testament was closed, but claimed to have Church-wide authority.
Do not subtract from the foundation. Some want to delete from the foundation what they dislike. Beware this dangerous position. To peck away at a foundation, one has to be outside the building, a hazardous place to be in this particular metaphor. Suspect anyone who claims to be in the building, but is at the same time trying to undermine the foundation.
Do not bypass the foundation. Truth is the only true basis for unity. All other bases are contrived, artificial, man-made and worthless. The first article of our Baptist Faith and Message wisely states the Bible “is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union.” We desire unity with all believers in Christ, but unity is not something we conjure up. It is a by-product of relationships caused by being fellow stones in a building. One is a part of a building only if he rests on its foundation.
Eph. 2:20d “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;. . .”
The corner stone was the most important structural part of ancient buildings. Before construction began on a site, a huge stone was cut out, perfectly crafted and shaped, and carefully set in place.
This corner stone had to be laid first because every aspect of an ancient edifice was oriented to it. Every measurement and angle determination was made from it. Its location finalized the building’s shape and determined the lay of walls throughout. As stones in the spiritual house of God, believers all relate to Jesus. He determines the selection, placement, and appearance of every stone in the building.
The corner stone was a uniter. A building’s two main walls and their foundations converged, and were fused to one another, at the corner stone. Even so Jesus is the uniter in God’s spiritual house. The Old Testament temple was a divider. Court after court prevented certain people from advancing. The New Testament temple, the Church, is a uniter. Christ tore down the middle wall of partition, and every other divider. Now two walls, one of Jews and one of Gentiles, as it were, are mingled in one spiritual building. Christ is at the corner, fusing the two walls together.
The corner stone bore the ultimate weight of the building. Two walls and two foundations were fused together by being imbedded in the corner stone. The foundation itself was based on the corner stone. Jesus our corner stone is the Church’s ultimate foundation. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus” (1 C 3:11). “The apostles and prophets” wholly depended on Jesus. He commissioned them, and was the theme of their message. They never intended to base the Church on anything but Jesus, and would agree with our Baptist Faith and Message: “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”
The weight of the walls also fell on the corner stone. Weight in a wall presses not only downward, but also laterally. Every stone in the two converging walls would in a way exert pressure toward the corners. Christ is strong enough to support the weight of the whole building of believers.
Orientation, unity, strength–everything depended on the corner stone. For the Church to be perfect in every way, God’s first decision regarding it had to be its corner stone. As the Master Architect designed the building, He looked throughout the Universe in search of the perfect stone, and could find only one. Only One could orient, unite, and carry the weight of all the other stones. Neither glittering angels nor human flesh could pass the test. Only God made man would do: as man, of the same substance as the other stones in the building–as God, able to bear the full weight of the wall.
Oh, but what a tragic scene when the corner stone was laid. Such an event was usually a celebration. People would gather to watch. Men rejoiced, women sang, children danced; but when the chief corner stone of the Church was laid, men smote their breasts, women cried, and children withdrew in horror. “Angels gathered round at the laying of this first stone; and look, ye men, and wonder, the angels weep; the harps of heaven are clothed in sackcloth, and no song is heard. They sang together and shouted for joy when the world was made; why shout they not now? Look ye here, and see the reason. That stone is imbedded in blood” (Spurgeon).
Nevertheless, the stone was planted, and became the chief corner stone. The Psalmist, speaking of David’s early rejection by the leaders of Israel and subsequent exaltation by God, wrote, “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner” (118:22). Jesus applied this metaphorical picture to Himself (MT 21:42). The underlying image is very revealing. Construction on an important building was about to begin. The most important stone to be chosen was the corner stone. One particular stone was looked at, examined by the builders, but then rejected. However, when the final decision was made, the person in charge picked the very stone the builders had rejected as the chief corner stone.
This is what happened in God’s spiritual building, the Church. The leaders rejected Jesus, but God had the last word and chose Jesus as the chief corner stone. No matter what the leaders thought, only One could orient, unite, and bear the load and pressure of being the chief corner stone.
Once imbedded, the corner stone held. It worked. It oriented, united, and held the load. God poured “the foundation of the apostles and prophets” around it, and it did not shift. It stayed steady. God has built the walls of His Church against it, and it has not faltered. I am thankful God one day put this stone of a preacher’s son in the wall, and Jesus held firm.
All who reject Jesus find Him “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 P 2:8), but all who trust Him “shall not be confounded” (1 P 2:6).