A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 2:20-22. c). God’s temple.

Paul now comes to his third picture. Essentially the church is a community of people. Nevertheless, it may be likened in a number of aspects to a building, and especially to the temple. The temple in Jerusalem – first Solomon’s, then Zerubbabel’s, then Herod’s – had for nearly a thousand years been the focal point of Israel’s identity as the people of God. Now there was a new people; would there be a new temple, as Jesus had hinted? The new people was not a new nation but a new humanity, international and worldwide. A geographically localized centre would therefore not be appropriate for it. What then could be its temple, its focus of unity? Here in verses 20-22 Paul elaborates his vision of the new temple in greater detail than elsewhere; it will repay careful study. As he develops his image, he refers to the foundation and cornerstone of the building, the structure as a whole and its individual stones, its cohesion and growth, its present function and (at least implicitly) its future destiny.

First, the foundation. Nothing is more important to any edifice than a solid, stable foundation. And Jesus’ well-known parable of the two house-builders, with which he concluded the sermon on the mount, taught the need for rock. On what rock, then, is the church built? Paul replies: it is *built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone* (verse 20).

Since apostles and prophets were both groups with a teaching role, it seems clear that what constitutes the church’s foundation is neither their person nor their office but their instruction. Moreover, we are to think of them as inspired teachers, organs of divine revelation, bearers of divine authority. The word ‘apostles’ here cannot therefore be a generic term for missionaries or church planters or bishops or other church leaders; instead it must denote that small and special group whom Jesus chose, called and authorized to teach in his name, and who were eyewitnesses of his resurrection, consisting of the Twelve plus Paul and James and perhaps one or two others. What they taught they expected the church to believe and preserve, what they commanded they expected the church to obey. The word ‘prophets’ also indicates inspired teachers to whom the word of God came and who conveyed that word to others faithfully. The couplet ‘apostles and prophets’ may bring together the Old Testament (prophets) and New Testament (apostles) as the basis of the church’s teaching. But the inverted order of the words (not ‘prophets and apostles’ but ‘apostles and prophets’) suggest that probably New Testament prophets are meant. If so, their bracketing with the apostles as the church’s foundation is significant. The reference must again be to a small group of inspired teachers, associated with the apostles, who together bore witness to Christ and whose teaching was derived from revelation (3:5) and was foundational.

In practical terms this means that the church is built on the New Testament Scriptures. They are the church’s foundation documents. And just as a foundation cannot be tampered with once it has been laid and the superstructure is being built upon it, so the New Testament foundation of the church is inviolable and cannot be changed by any additions, subtractions or modifications offered by teachers who claim to be apostles or prophets today. The church stands or falls by its loyal dependence on the foundation truths which God revealed to his apostles and prophets, and which are now preserved in the New Testament Scriptures.

The cornerstone is also of crucial importance to a building. It is itself part of and essential to the foundation; it helps to hold the building steady, and it also sets it and keeps it in line. The temple in Jerusalem had massive cornerstones. Armitage Robinson mentions one ancient monolith excavated from the southern wall of the temple which measured 38 feet 9 inches (about twelve metres) in length. *The chief cornerstone* of the new temple is *Christ Jesus himself*. Elsewhere he is also the foundation stone (cf. Is.28:16; Ps.118:22; 1 Cor.3:11; 1 Pet.2:4-8). But here Paul has particularly in mind the function of Jesus Christ in holding the growing temple together as a unity. For he is *the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows…* The unity and growth if the church are coupled, and Jesus Christ is the secret of both. Since the ‘in Christ’ concept is of an organic union, the most natural metaphors to illustrate it are organic metaphors such as the branches ‘in’ the vine and the members ‘in’ the body. Here the concept is transferred to construction work. As a building depends for both its cohesion and its development on being tied securely to its cornerstone, so Christ the cornerstone is indispensable to the church’s unity and growth. Unless it is constantly and securely related to Christ, the church’s unity will disintegrate and its growth either stop or run wild.

Tomorrow: Ephesians 2:20-22. c). God’s temple (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.