Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The New Testament is Not "Scripture"

Contrary to what many think, the New Testament is not Scripture; that honor belongs to the Old Testament alone.  In Romans 3:2, speaking of Israel, the Apostle Paul said, “...they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”  Needless to say, this unScriptural view of Scripture has made its way into most denominational confessions and statements of faith.  This error is the root cause of much division in the church due to the regular practice of exceeding what is written in Scripture - making mountains out of things in the New that are unverifiable by the Old (1 Cor. 4:6).

To say "the New Testament is not Scripture" is not to say the New Testament is not vital to our understanding of the Gospel; it is, but only in a clarifying way.  The New Testament is a compilation of letters and testimonies explaining Christ from the Scriptures.  Christ Himself said about the Scriptures, "...it is these that testify about Me..." (John 5:39).  Nevertheless, these letters and testimonies only become authoritative in the sense that their statements can be validated by the Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament.  Just because someone may be an Apostle, this doesn't qualify his words as Holy Writ.  What you, me, or an Apostle says must be verifiable by the Scriptures to be valid as from God, and even then it still does not become Scripture.  I can write a manual explaining everything in detail about my car.  The manual may help me gain a better understanding of my car, yet my manual can never become my car. 

This view of Scripture was the view of the early church.  In Acts 17:11, the Bereans were characterized as more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica because they would not unequivocally receive the words of the apostles without first verifying what they said by the Scriptures.  This was also the position of early Reformers like John Calvin who commenting on the Bereans said, "For since the Spirit of God commends the Thessalonians, in their example He lays down a rule for us.  But an inquiry from the Scriptures would be useless, if they did not have sufficient light to teach us.  Therefore let this firm axiom stand, that no doctrine is worth believing except as we perceive to be based on the Scriptures."  You and I should be holding the writings of the Apostles to the same standard.

The Apostle Paul in writing to Timothy in his second letter said, "All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."  The Apostle was referring Timothy to the only Scripture in town - the Old Testament.  Interestingly, this Old Testament instruction was the highly-commended youth ministry that Timothy had undergone.  Calvin commenting on this passage said, "In speaking of the Scripture Paul means what we call the Old Testament; how can he say that it can make a man perfect?  If that is so, what was added later through the apostles would seem to be superfluous.  My answer is that as far as the substance of the Scripture is concerned, nothing has been added.  The writings of the apostles contain nothing but a simple and natural explanation of the Law and the Prophets along with a clear description of the things expressed in them.  Paul was therefore right to celebrate the praises of the Scripture in this way, and since today its teaching is fuller and clearer by the addition of the Gospel, we must confidently hope that the usefulness of which Paul speaks will become much more evident to us, if we are willing to make the trial and receive it."

“Scripture” properly defined, is exclusively what we would call the Old Testament.  The New Testament can be considered the Gospel, or the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Both the Old and New Testaments are rightly considered the word of God, but the Scriptures have been designated by God to be the authoritative Standard by which all things are to be judged, including the Gospel.  The New Testament writings are not "Scripture",  nevertheless, they are invaluable to us if we would make use of them in a God-ordained way.  "Trust but verify" is a maxim that aptly applies.  A much more unified and Christ-honoring Bride would be the result.