Episode 187 - Did the New Testament Authors Believe They Were Writing Scripture?

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One of the convictions that we, as Christians, hold to is that the scriptures are the word of God. They are God's revelation to us. They are infallible. They are inerrant. They are authoritative. They tell us about ourselves and God and the world around us. They're the lens that we should interpret everything else through. Scripture is really important. Jesus had a high view of scripture. He should because He wrote it. It is God's revelation to us.

Now, one of the interesting things when we start talking this way is we may go to the New Testament to help support this idea, to, say, a passage like 2 Timothy 3:16, which says, "All scripture is God-breathed and useful teaching and correction and reproving and training in righteousness, that the workmen of God may be capable and equipped for every good work." It is sufficient for what we need. That's another doctrine about scripture that we should hold to. It's perhaps one that is under assault today in practical ways. The sufficiency of scripture, that we are capable and equipped because of what we find in scripture.

But, as soon as we start reading in the New Testament, and seeing the word scripture, yes we can apply this to all of the Bible, but in a technical sense, the authors often have in mind the Old Testament. And so, some people will push us on this and say, "Well, when the New Testament is talking about the scriptures, that was a formal sort of thing and it referred to the Old Testament." There's a lot of truth to that, actually, that the way they talked about, literally the writings, which we translate in our modern translation as the scriptures, generally refer to the Old Testament.

So how would we defend the idea that the New Testament, even while it was being written, was viewed as scripture? Well, there are a few lines of argument and evidence that I want to give you today so that we can demonstrate that even at the time the New Testament was being written, it was viewed both by its writers, and those who received it, and by other apostles, that it was in fact scripture on par with the Old Testament just as authoritative, just as much God-breathed, just as much the word of God.

There's a passage that I find encouraging for a few reasons. One of them because it demonstrates that what Paul wrote was considered, even by Peter, to be scripture, but also because it tells us that Peter often struggled to understand what Paul wrote, too. And so let's look at 2 Peter 3:16. Starting in verse 15, it says, "And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some things in his letters are hard to understand," can I get an amen?, "things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction," and here's the key part, "as they do the rest of the scriptures."

Now, I will say also that this sentence from Peter is a little difficult to understand. It's chunky and complex. But, he's saying that Paul wrote to them and his letters are twisted, just as people twist the other scriptures, the rest of the scriptures. Peter is including what Paul has written in the category of the scriptures. So, in the same time period, to the same people who have received Paul's letters, Peter is affirming that what Paul writes is scripture. That these letters that we have in our canon today, in our Bible today, were viewed even by Peter, and those at the same time, as scripture. Isn't that interesting? And even people were twisting them back then. That's a key point that often we don't think of, that scripture is under attack today. There's false teaching today. There was false teaching in the time of Paul and Peter and Jesus. In fact, much of the New Testament is written as a corrective against false teaching. There's nothing new there.

But all that to say, from this passage, we see that one, Paul is often difficult to understand. I think many of us have felt the same way. Glad to know we're in good company with Peter. And two, that people were twisting Paul's letters as they did the rest of the scriptures. In other words, Paul's letters were considered scripture.

Let's go to another passage where Paul is writing to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:18. This is what he says, "For the scriptures say, 'Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out grain,' and, 'The worker deserves his pay.'" Well, where do the scriptures say that? Well, the passage that says, "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out grain," is a quote from Deuteronomy 25. The second part, "The worker deserves his pay," is only found in Luke 10:7. Paul, here, quotes what Luke says, and says that it is scripture. Now, Paul may have also arrived at this from some independent sort of tradition where maybe this was a Jesus saying that had been passed around, but I do think there's a good case to be made that he's also quoting what Luke had written in saying, "This is scripture." So, once again, Peter says that what Paul writes is scripture. Paul is saying that what Luke writes is scripture. And Luke was a traveling companion of Paul so he would be acquainted there, also.

So it's not just, though, that the New Testament writers affirm that other New Testament writers are writing scripture. The way the New Testament writers treat what they write shows that they viewed it as scripture, and they expected their audience to view it as scripture, too. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, let's look at Colossians 4:16 which says, "And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church in Laodicea." Why is that noteworthy? Well, one, Paul expected the church, the assembly, the gathering of Christians, to read his letters together when they came together for worship. The thing that the church usually read together, when they came together for worship, was scripture. And Paul wants his letter to be read with the scriptures. In other words, he views it to have the same sort of authority over that group of Christians, as the Old Testament did.

But, it's not just that he wants them to read that individual letter that he wrote to the church in Colossae. He wants to have it read in the church in Laodicea. He wants to take what he has written to them and read it in that other church so it will be edifying to them. But, once again, this is a second church that should be publicly reading what Paul wrote in a setting where what was publicly read in church was scripture. So, Paul viewed what he was writing as scripture, and he wanted his audience, these churches, to view it as scripture, too, to be just as authoritative as the other scriptures.

But, here's another example of this. In 1 Thessalonians 5:27, Paul says, "I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers." Once again, he wants this letter that he's writing to be viewed as scripture and read to all of the church. And once again, Paul, in 2 Corinthians, in 10:9, says, "I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters." He had written them multiple letters, and this letter was to the church, and he expected that the other letters had been read to the church, once again, something that only would be done with scripture.

Now, this practice is actually carried on. It's not just that we see this in the New Testament. I mean, it's really easy on the one hand for someone to say, "Well, yeah, Paul thought it was scripture, but that doesn't mean anyone else did." Well, the fact is, that even the earliest Christian writings we have from outside of the New Testament reference the fact that the Gospels, or sometimes called the Memoirs of the Apostles, and also the letters of Paul, were read in their Christian setting, just like they would've read, and did read, the Old Testament scriptures. So even the church writing of itself, not just the apostles and other Bible writers, but the church, those who received the documents, treated them as scripture by their own admission and incorporated them into their worship services like they did the scriptures.

Now, they didn't just read anything in these services, because there are discussions that are recorded of disagreements about what should be read and what shouldn't be. There were some things that were viewed as helpful to the Christian life that were not read because, once again, they weren't seen to be scripture. We read things today that are helpful to the Christian life but aren't scripture. There are some commentaries and devotionals and books on theology. these are great, but we're not going to read them publicly like they're authoritative in the same way that we are scripture, or at least we shouldn't.

Now, I'm not claiming that everyone in the early church got everything right, but I am saying that there is this pattern where only the biblical books were read in the church by and large, and they were regarded as authoritative, and just as much scripture, just as much God-breathed, as the Old Testament.

So, we've seen that Peter views Paul as writing scripture. Paul views Luke as having written scripture. Paul expects his letters to be read publicly, and we know this from other writers, too, that they expected their letters to be read publicly like you would've done with scripture and only scripture, at the gathering of the church. We know from non-biblical, extra-biblical sources that the church actually received these letters and read them as a part of their worship service. But, there's something else that's interesting. I wouldn't hang my whole argument on this point, but I find it kind of curious and interesting. In 2 Timothy 4:13, Paul says, "When you come," writing to Timothy, "bring with you the cloak I left in Troas, with Carpus, and the scrolls, especially the parchments."

Now, what's he talking about here with scrolls and parchments? We think of parchment, often we think of just kind of papers together, but what's interesting is while the New Testament was written in Greek, this word for parchments is not actually an original Greek word. It's borrowed from Latin. It means a codex, kind of like a book. It's a group of pages put together with some sort of binding. Okay? Now, what we also know from our study of history and archeology is that the early church was perhaps one of the first to start binding documents together in a binding, not using a scroll, but they had too many documents to use a scroll so they needed something that could hold more documents together, more pages. And so they adopted the codex, kind of like our modern book. That is what is being referred to with this word parchments.

Now, you wouldn't have bundled the Old Testament scriptures together in that way. That's most likely the scrolls that Paul was talking about. So, what is this parchments? Well, there's a really good argument to be made from other places we don't have time to get into today, that Paul kept a record of all of his letters. And perhaps one of the reasons why we have them today, and how they got circulated around, is because when Paul would write it, or have it written by his secretary, he would have a copy written. He always maintained a copy of his letters. It's very likely that he bundled these together in a codex, perhaps with other letters from Peter, because as we've seen, Peter knew about Paul's writings. It's very reasonable to assume that Paul knew about Peter's writings and Luke's writings. And so, when he uses this word parchments, it comes from Latin not from Greek, and it refers to kind of like a bound list of documents. That is what we also know the New Testament church used to collect its scriptures, its New Testament scriptures, specifically.

Now, like I said, is that determinative? Would I hang my hat on that, my whole case on that? No. But, it is another data point, along with the ones we've looked at, that show that even Paul viewed his letters as scripture, that he kept them, he expected other people to read them. His writings were regarded by Peter as scripture, and other New Testament writers regard other New Testament writers as writing scripture. And the whole community received it this way, by and large. I'm not saying there aren't exceptions, but on the whole, on the aggregate, this is how the New Testament writings were received, even back then.

Now, drawing all of this together, going back to the fact that oftentimes, and the majority of the time, when the Bible talks about the scriptures, it's often talking about the Old Testament scriptures, which were viewed as authoritative for the New Testament church. That doesn't mean everything under the Old Testament law applied in the same way to the New Testament scriptures and the New Testament Christian, but the Old Testament scriptures were the authoritative revelation of God. It tells us about Him, His moral law, we can't just jettison that. We can't just unhook from it. So, while that term is used of the Old Testament, we also see that since the Old Testament scriptures were the word of God, anything that is said about the word of God and the type of thing it is, can equally apply to what was written in the New Testament because, as we've seen, it is also Scripture. It is God-breathed. It is inspired. And since it is, and since anything that God has inspired, God has spoken out, is authoritative and inerrant, and infallible, and it's sufficient. We should view all of it the same way.

So, while in a technical sense, it may just be referring to the Old Testament at some point, when it says that not a jot or a tittle, a stroke of the pen, will fall away from the scriptures of the law, they'll always be true, we can apply that to the New Testament. When it says that the Old Testament scriptures are sufficient for teaching, reproof, and correction, we can apply that to the New Testament because it is also equally God-breathed and scripture. So, it ties together in that way, if even the people who were writing the documents viewed them as scripture.

I hope this has been encouraging to you, and perhaps helped equip you, too, to discuss this with friends in a conversation. When maybe they doubt that the New Testament was viewed the same way as the Old Testament, we can show them that it was.