Thursday, May 3, 2018

The New Testament Authority

"After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea" (Colossians 4:16).

How did we get the New Testament? Who decided which books were to be put in the canon of Scripture? (Canon means “rule or list,” and the canon of Scripture is the list of books included as authoritative.) This is an involved question, but we can make a couple of basic points today.

The New Testament writers themselves show that they were aware that Scripture was being produced; in other words, that such new writings had the same authority as the Old Testament. When Paul wrote his letters to the Ephesians, Romans, Colossians, and others, he was not just dashing off notes to friends in other places. Notice in Colossians 4:16, cited above, that he wanted his letters distributed throughout the churches.

The apostle Peter explicitly refers to Paul’s letters as Scripture, on a par with the Old Testament, in 2 Peter 3:15–16: “As our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Paul quotes from Luke’s gospel, and calls it Scripture, in 1 Timothy 5:18: “For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’ ” The first quotation is from Deuteronomy 25:4, while the second is from Luke 10:7. Notice that Paul puts the gospel of Luke on an equal footing with the fifth book of Moses. Notice also that he does not say he is quoting a saying of Jesus that had been passed around in the churches, but he calls it Scripture—which shows he is citing a written source.

It was only later in the history of the early church, when heretics began to challenge the New Testament books, that the orthodox church wrote up a list of canonical books. But the New Testament Scriptures were recognized as inspired from the very beginning.

Both testaments are equally authoritative. However, some people accord greater status to the New over the Old, or to the words of Jesus over Paul. Don’t limit your canon of Scripture. Submit yourself to the whole of God’s Word.