built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.
There are several views about the prophets referred to in this verse:
(1) Some think they were foundational because they proclaimed the words of God, some of which became the books of the New Testament. Since a foundation is laid only once (at the beginning of the church) these prophets have been replaced by the written Bible.
(2) Others say these prophets are a group closely linked with, or else identical to the apostles, as in the first view, but that they did not represent all who had the gift of prophecy in the early church.
see 1 Corinthians 12:10 below
see also Ephesians 3:5 below where the same phrase, "the apostles and prophets" occurs.
In this case, ordinary Christians who had the gift of prophecy in Ephesus:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
and other churches:
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, Thus says the Holy Spirit.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith
...were not part of the foundation but were part of the rest of the building that was being built, that is, the church, and would continue so throughout the church age.
(3) Finally, some think the prophets here could be the Old Testament prophets, though the same words in Ephesians 3:5 point to prophets of the New Testament era.
The mystery of Christ which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:10
to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
prophecy: the word prophecy (Gk. propheteia) as used by Paul in 1 Corinthians refers generally to speech that reports something that God spontaneously brings to mind or reveals to the speaker but which is spoken in merely human words, not words of God. Therefore it can have mistakes and must be tested or evaluated
1 Corinthians 14:29
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything, hold fast what is good.
Prophecy may be very similar to the gifts of preaching or teaching and was used throughout the New Testament churches:
1 Corinthians 11:4-5
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.
1 Corinthians 12:28-29
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
1 Corinthians 13:2
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:8-9
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away, as for tongues, they will cease, as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams,
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy.
1 John 4:1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Prophecy is used to build up, encourage and comfort the church
1 Corinthians 14:3
On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
Prophecy is also used evangelistically to disclose the secrets of the hearts of unbelievers and lead them to worship God
1 Corinthians 14:24-25
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
Because God used this gift to build up the Christian community, Paul urged the Corinthians to value it highly.
1 Corinthians 14:4-5
The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
1 Corinthians 14:39
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.