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.


Joe said...

How then do you take the term "other" in 2 Peter 3:16. The clearest reading of that passage has Peter calling Paul's letters "Scripture".

Doug said...

Good question! If we view this verse in isolation from the other abundant passages regarding the Scriptures, we could very well get the impression that Peter is including Paul's “letters” in class with the Scriptures. I don't think he is. Notice that he calls them “letters”. This is the way the apostles referred to their own writings (1 Thess. 5:27, 2 Thess. 3:14, etc.). We could get the same impression from 1 Timothy 5:18 where it seems Paul is attributing two quotes to the Scriptures: “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” which clearly is from Deuteronomy 25:4, and “The laborer is worthy of his wages” which is not an explicit quote from the Old Testament (although the principle is clearly taught). Some think that Paul is quoting Jesus from Luke 10:7; other commentators deny this. Calvin says, “He does not quote 'The labourer is worthy of his hire' as a passage of Scripture but as a proverbial saying which common sense dictates to all. In the same way when Christ said the same thing to His apostles, He was expressing something which common consent acknowledged to be true.” This may have been a saying common in those days, just like we have many in our day.

Isaiah 40:8 proclaims “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” He was referring to the Old Testament. Peter stresses this verse and its implications in the opening chapters of his first letter, where he quotes the verse verbatim and then states, “and this is the word which was preached to you.” True apostolic gospel preaching is simply Old Testament exposition. Christ made the same point in Matthew 5:17,18. He was clearly referring to the “Law and the Prophets”, another name for the Old Testament. Old Testament Scripture is what is meant by the phrase “it is written” heavily dispersed throughout all of the New Testament writings. The early church was a Jewish church and anything that was outside the Scriptures would have been rejected, and rightly so. God's gift of the Old Testament Scriptures is the basis of Gospel discernment. I would not let one or two questionable passages override what the New Testament taken as a whole, abundantly upholds.

God Bless

Joe said...

I want to make sure you don't dodge my question.

The facts are that the term Scripture (graphe) appears 51 times in the NT. 49 of those refer to the OT and two of them refer to the New Testament. One of the mentions is here in 2 Peter 3:16 which cannot be interpreted any other way than Peter calling Paul's writing Scripture. The word "other" in both Greek and English denote part of a whole. The second spot (that you mention in your comment) is in 1 Tim 5:18 where aside from a slight word order switch is an exact quote of Jesus from Luke.

So what the New Testament teaches is that the Old Testament is the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative word of God and that the early church saw what we now call the New Testament as Scripture from a very early date.

Your argument is one from silence. Mine is from citing two direct New Testament quotations.

But I'm more curious of your direction in writing your post. Are you teaching that the NT is less authoritative, inerrant, or inspired than the OT? Are you suggesting that your readers should doubt the credibility of the New Testament? Should parts of the NT that don't have direct OT backing be dismissed as helpful but not as authoritative as the OT? Do please elaborate on your intention because it is not clear from your post what you're teaching to your readers.

Doug said...

Sorry for the lack of clarity. The answer to all your questions is not yes or no, but corroborate.

To elaborate as you suggested...

My intention in writing the post was to clearly define what is meant by the term “Scripture” used extensively throughout the New Testament. The long-entrenched error of including the New Testament in the definition of “Scripture” has had, and continues to have, a devastating effect on the Church. It is a root cause of ever-flourishing disunity among members of Christ's Body and has led the Church to moral bankruptcy. It has disabled our ability to propagate a unified version of the Gospel, while at the same time it has propagated a fragmented image of the Church. Consider how an Old Testament-only view of Scripture would effect the positions we hold so dear as to effect fellowship between one another? If we were to return to the proper Old Testament-only definition of “Scripture”, the denominational disaster that has been our national historical heritage would become just that – history. The problem is, the denominational superstructure has created a trap and a fortress against correction.

“Scripture” is exclusively the Old Testament. This is the most natural definition given the fact that the early church was almost exclusively Jewish and would not have accepted anything else. The scribes and pharisees were dedicated to insuring this. The Old Testament-only definition is further substantiated by the overwhelming usage of the term as you pointed out, by both our Lord and His apostles. The two questionable passages you mentioned are the only exceptions, and normally, the overwhelming weight of clear evidence would lead one to believe that there must have been something lost in the translation of the two verses under question, or perhaps we are interpreting them wrong?

In Matthew 5:18, Christ stated, “...until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” He was explicitly talking about the Law and the Prophets, not the New Testament writings. In Romans 3:2, Paul explicitly says that the Jews were “...entrusted with the oracles of God.” The Old Testament is explicitly referred to in EVERY New Testament use of the phrase “it is written” (60-plus times!). I say this only to draw a distinction between what God Providentially put in writing as a Standard, and what He through the ministry of the Holy Spirit had preached.

Our Lord uses the multiplicity of corroborating witnesses to propagate His Gospel, and it is primarily through the avenue of preaching that this is accomplished. Nowhere does God's word teach the infallibility of an apostle. Paul paints the distinct opposite picture in the second chapter of Galatians where he relates how he had to rebuke a few apostles as he said, “...when I saw they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel...” Apostles could and did err, and it was the Spirit-indwelling Body function that kept them in line. Therefore, the “noble” Bereans were not out of place by putting the apostle's words to the test, and it is owing to the Providential goodness of God that He had already provided a Standard by which they could judge. That Standard was the Old Testament Scriptures. Likewise, Paul said, “...if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” and his gospel as he described it in 1 Corinthians 15 was “according to the Scriptures”. That came from Paul the Pharisee. Therefore, we have clear precedence to put the apostle's writings to the test of Scripture, and it stands to reason, that if “Scripture” included their writings, the validating function would be null and void. This is where we stand today, and it is my prayer that the Lord of Scripture would bring about a change. Scripture is exclusively the Old Testament. The New Testament is the Gospel, or Revelation of Jesus Christ.


Joe said...

I want to be clear, I'm not arguing that the OT isn't Scripture. Of course it is. But you're making this into an either-or question when the clear teaching of the New Testament makes it a both-and. The OT is Scripture and the NT is Scripture. You're dismissing two very clear NT passages that teach this.

We should always go with the clearest, simplest teaching of the Bible unless we have a good reason to not do so. 2 Peter 3:16 and 1 Tim 5:19 clearly call NT writings Scripture. In doing this they aren't discrediting the clear authority and value of the OT but they are surely confirming that the writings of the NT are also on that level. Calling the NT "Scripture" does not detract anything from the OT. Though I think from your argumentation above that you think it might.

And nowhere (that I know of) in church history has anyone ever suggested the inerrancy of an Apostle.

Could it be you're frustration with denominations is causing you to misread the New Testament to support what you want it to say rather than what it does say?

I'm still waiting for you to answer my questions above.

Are you teaching that the NT is less authoritative, inerrant, or inspired than the OT?

Are you suggesting that your readers should doubt the credibility of the New Testament over against the Old Testament?

Should parts of the NT that don't have direct OT backing be dismissed as helpful but not as authoritative as the OT?

Doug said...

I have to disagree with you on the two verses being clear.

As for 1 Timothy 5:18, I already quoted Calvin where he says, “He does not quote 'The labourer is worthy of his hire' as a passage of Scripture but as a proverbial saying which common sense dictates to all. In the same way when Christ said the same thing to His apostles, He was expressing something which common consent acknowledged to be true.”

As for 2 Peter 3:16, even if we were to accept as undisputed that it equated Paul's writings with the Scriptures, it would only establish the writings of Paul as Scripture. How then would we justify including as Scripture the other New Testament writings as well? I simply tend to believe there has been a grammatical breakdown somewhere in translation links over time. In no way does this obscure what Peter was trying to say, which may have been “some things Paul has written are hard to understand. The unstable and untaught distort his hard sayings, just like they distort the hard sayings in the Scriptures.” If “other Scriptures” was really meant, why don't we see any other use of the same phrase in the New Testament? Christ reiterated Deuteronomy 19:15 which states, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.”

As for your questions, I think I answered them in the blog post, specifically in my closing paragraph. I hope to address the questions directly and in greater detail in a future post, but as for now I'm trying to stay on the subject of defining what is meant in the New Testament by “Scripture”.