On what grounds do we accept the New Testament as part of the inspired Scriptures?
Alan H. Linton, Bristol, England
AT FIRST SIGHT IT MIGHT APPEAR that there is more foundation for accepting the Old Testament as divinely inspired than the New. The Old Testament is accredited by the witness of the Lord Jesus Christ; He recognized that it spoke of Himself. He fulfilled its laws, fed His soul constantly upon it, accepted the history it contained and used it most effectively in refuting His critics. One single phrase sums up His general attitude to Scripture, when in John 10. 35 He said, 'the scripture cannot be broken'; that is, it is impossible for the Scripture to be annulled and its authority to be withstood or denied. No body of literature has ever had its credentials confirmed by a higher authority.
Does this mean that we receive the New Testament with any less authority? Indeed no! The authority of the New may be less immediate but equally definite. We must recognize that the controlling principle in the New Testament is the unique authority of the apostles, an authority given them by the risen Lord. In John 16. 12-14 and many other Scriptures the Lord anticipates both their oral and written ministry. It is clear from the New Testament that these apostles held a unique office among men. Their credentials included a. a definite call by the Lord, Gal. 1. 1; b. the experience of seeing the risen Christ, 1 Cor. 9. 1; c. the power to perform special signs, 2 Cor. 12. 12; and d. to receive divine revelations, Gal. 1. 11-12; 1 Cor. 11. 23; 1 Thess. 4. 15. As apostles they recognized and constantly asserted this authority, 2 Cor. 3. 5-6; 2 Cor. to. 8. They spoke not as men only but as sent from God. For example, we read in I Thessalonians 2. 13, 'For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God . . .' (see also 1 Pet. 1. 12; 1 Thess. 4. 2; 1 Cor. 2. 13). Their writings, embodying the truths they taught, carried the same authority, 2 Thess. 2. 15, and this authority they recognized in one another, 2 Peter 3. 2. Peter, for example, referred to Paul's writings as Scripture, 2 Pet. 3. 15-16, and Paul, 1 Tim. 5. 18, links a quotation from Deuteronomy with one from Luke's Gospel, calling both Scripture.
Inevitably such writings, which made so great a claim upon the readers, were received by the infant churches as having a quality equal to the Old Testament. Even the apostles themselves required that their writings should be read publicly in the churches, 1 Thess. 5. 27; Col. 4. 16; Rev. 1. 3. Not all New Testament writings, however, arc of apostolic authorship. Nevertheless, every part of the canon of the New Testament bears the imprint of the apostles and that which they wrote they received from God. The New Testament results not from a mere selection of writings by the early Church, but from the Holy Spirit's providential preservation of those apostolic writings which He considered adequate for the needs of the Church in all generations. Men of spiritual discernment recognize that these apostolic writings were divinely inspired and therefore authoritative, I Cor. 14. 37. All we know of the Lord Jesus Christ depends on the testimony of these men. Their authority underlies the whole of the New Testament and since, by definition, there can be no apostolic succession, so there can be no additions to the inspired text.