Founded on the Apostles
“You are…members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (vv. 19–20). - Ephesians 2:18–22
Apostolicity, the fourth aspect of the church confessed in the Nicene Creed,is the subject of our study today. We affirm apostolicity when we say that we believe in the “apostolic church,” declaring that the church is founded on the apostles, a concept taught in Ephesians 2:18–22 and other passages.
To say that the church’s foundation includes the apostles is not in any way to denigrate Jesus as the cornerstone upon which the church rests (v. 20). Actually, to affirm the apostolic nature of the church is to affirm strongly the headship of Christ over His church. The function of the apostle helps us understand how this can be the case. Apostolos is the Greek term for “apostle” and in the first-century Roman world was used of those delegated to speak for a person of authority. The caesar and other ruling officials could send apostles to speak for them in other places, and when these apostles spoke, their words carried the authority of the official who sent them. To reject these apostles was to reject the authority of the one who commissioned them for service; therefore, to deny the apostles of Jesus is to deny the authority of Jesus Himself.
Paul mentions the prophets as part of the foundation of the covenant community (v. 20), a clear reference to Isaiah, Daniel, Amos and all the other well-known men who spoke for God under the old covenant, and whose words were recorded in the books that bear their names. But this grouping of prophets also includes all the authors of the Old Testament, such as Moses, David, and the other unnamed writers of books like Judges and Chronicles. All of these individuals are also prophets because they give us the Almighty’s very Word (2 Peter 1:16–20).
If the prophetic foundation of the church is to be equated with their writings, so too is the apostolic foundation of the church found in the apostolic writings. The Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation carry equally the authority of Christ, for they were written by those our Lord called to speak for Him (Luke 10:1–16; John 14:26). It is a great error to elevate the words of Jesus in the Gospels above other parts of Scripture, for the words of Scripture, no matter where they are located, are breathed-out by God Himself (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
Liberals tend to elevate the words of Jesus (except for the ones about hell), over the rest of Scripture. Evangelicals may not do this knowingly, but there is still a tendency to think the words of Jesus (in red letters) are somehow more binding than the rest of the canon. But God’s words are found in the letters of Paul, the law of Moses, and every other part of the Bible. Take care not to elevate one portion of Scripture over another.
Passages for Further Study
- Deut. 4:1–2
- 2 Thess. 2:15
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