All Scripture

A popular argument against the New Testament today is that the apostles did not intend their writings to be received on the same level as the books given before Christ came.  The point is made that the canon of the New Testament (the determination of which books actually were Scripture) came about centuries later during Church councils, and as far as that goes, they are right.  Just as there are many apocryphal ‘gospels’ and forged books today, there were such books back in the First Century.

Yet still the argument persists: did the apostles intend for their writings to be held as Scripture.  Paul told Timothy that “all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable,” but did he include his own writings in that (2 Timothy 3:16)?  It is a viable question, one that has great implications for our lives today.

As we examine the epistles of the New Testament, we do begin to see that the apostles believed their writings had at least some higher level of authority.  In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul charged them to not become “distressed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the Day of the Lord has come” (2 Thessalonians 2:2).  He gives more authoritative weight to his own writing than to those of others, and this sense of authority can be seen in several of his other writings.

For example, Paul told the Colossians that he wrote the final greeting in his “own hand” (Colossians 4:18).   In urging the Galatians to receive the authority of his teaching as opposed to false teachers who had crept into the Church, he pleads, “see with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand” (Galatians 6:11).   This was his “distinguishing mark in every letter” (2 Thessalonians 3:17).  He signed each letter he sent to the Churches or to specific individuals to show that it was authentic and authoritative.

Now Paul was not the only person who believed that his writing was authoritative.  In fact, Peter takes it to the next level.  He commended the letters of Paul to the believers, noting that in them were “some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Peter had been calling his readers’ minds to the Old Testament prophecies of Christ, of whose fulfillment he had been a witness (2 Peter 1), and warned the Church of false teachers who would come (2 Peter 2).  So by his words in chapter 3, he showed that he believed Paul’s teaching was authentic, sound, and authoritative, carrying as much weight as any book of the Old Testament.  What a statement.

In his first letter to the Church in Thessalonica, Paul echoed this concept by noting that the believers in that city had received his teaching “not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).  It has the same idea that Peter said guided the writers of the  Old Testament: “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).   Paul firmly believed God was speaking through him as he instructed the churches through his preaching and his writing.

And not just him alone.  In a letter of instruction to Timothy, Paul instructed him about how he as to treat the elders, the pastors, of the church in Ephesus.  He tells him,

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 

1 Timothy 5:17-18

The first reference Paul cites is from the book of Deuteronomy. The Lord was giving Moses instruction about the principles of justice that would guide His people Israel, and He included this command about allowing the animals to take part in the work they were set to by sharing in its fruit (Deuteronomy 25:4).  We would expect Paul to cite the Old Testament when giving support for his instruction, so the first line of support is not surprising.

But when we look at the second, we find something quite different.  Although we find the principle behind the command in the Old Testament, the quotation Paul used did not come from there (Ryrie 77).  Instead, the quotation came from Jesus’ instruction to His disciples in Luke 10:7.  The Lord was telling the seventy He was sending out how they were to receive their living from those they preached to, and He gave the reasoning that “the laborer is worthy of His wages.”  He was not quoting a previous command, but was giving a clearly new instruction.

The implications of this removes any doubt about how the New Testament authors saw their writings.  They believed they were authoritative, not because they wrote them on their own, but they were guided by the Spirit.  God spoke through them just as He did through the Old Testament prophets.  For that reason, they firmly believed their writings had as much authority as any book of the Old testament and should be accepted as such.

What bold claims, but how true.  The Lord has inspired the entirety of the Bible.  Books were not added later as men twisted the writing of the apostles, but they were Scripture the moment the Holy Spirit led them to put pen to parchment (or vellum).  They are the final authority for our lives, and we can have assurance of the witness they give of Christ and of the instruction they provide.  “All Scripture,” Paul said, “is inspired by God and is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16).  Let us treasure it and walk according to the Light it gives.

Works Cited

Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology, Kindle Edition, Moody Publishers, 1986.

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