Copyright ©1999, 2003 by Larry G. Overton
Late last September I received an email from a couple I’ve never met suggesting that we exchange links to one another’s web pages. Unfortunately, when I checked out their website I found that I could not in good conscience endorse their teachings. Lesson 22 on their page, “Understanding the Bible” was why. Here, in part, is what it said.
A canon is an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scriptures. In the days of the early Christian church, the Tanakh [the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament] was the only scripture the believers had. It was to these that Paul referred in 2 Timothy 3:15-17. The first century letters that were circulating from church to church were not considered scripture at that time. . .
. . .The process of canonization began in 140 A.D. This means that there was a deliberate attempt by church leadership to establish writings other than the Tanakh as divinely inspired by God.
After reading this, I contacted them again and explained that because of this teaching, I did not believe exchanging links was a good idea. They wrote me back and confessed that they included the lesson “with hesitation, and have removed it for reevaluation.” (They have since reinstated the offending lesson to their web site.) They wrote further that they assumed “the controversy lies in that we do no [sic] believe that the Bible is ‘innerent’[sic].”
I want to briefly respond to the contention that the “first century letters that were circulating from church to church were not considered scripture at that time. . .” Inerrancy of Scripture is the only view of the Bible that accurately deals with the claims and evidence of that same Bible. This Fact Sheet provides verses from the NT which show that the writers of those letters considered their writings to be the Word of God. I will present this list of passages[†] in chronological order, with little or no comment on my part, to clearly demonstrate that this view of NT writings is not just my interpretation; it’s what the writers themselves, the apostles and prophets of the NT, actually believed.
1 Thessalonians 2:13—And because of this also we give thanks to God without ceasing, that, having received the word of report from us of God, you* accepted it, not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God, which also is at work in you* the believing ones.
1 Thessalonians 4:2—For you* know what commands we gave you* through the Lord Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 4:8—Therefore he who is rejecting this does not reject man, but God, who also has given His Holy Spirit to you*.
2 Thessalonians 2:15—So then, brothers, stand firm, and hold fast to the traditions that you* were taught, whether by word or by our letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:6—Now we command you*, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the traditions which you* received from us.
2 Thessalonians 3:14—And if any man does not obey our word through this letter, take note of that man, to not associate with him, in order that he may be ashamed.
1 Corinthians 7:40—But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my opinion. And I think I also have the Spirit of God.
1 Corinthians 14:37—Whoever thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write to you* are commandments of the Lord.
Ephesians 3:3-5—. . . that by revelation He has made known to me the mystery, just as I have written before briefly, 4 by the reading of which you* can understand my insight into the mystery of the Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as now it has been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit…
1 Timothy 5:18—For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox threshing grain” and “The workman is worthy of his wages.” [The two Scriptures quoted here are Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7. Luke’s Gospel was written circa 59 AD, just a few years before 1 Timothy, which was written around 63 AD.]
2 Peter 3:15-16—…and regard the longsuffering of our Lord as salvation, just as also our beloved brother Paul has written to you* according to the wisdom having been given to him, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them concerning these things, in which some things are difficult to understand, which the uneducated and unstable distort (as they do also the rest of the Scriptures) to their own destruction.
Well, there you have it, and in the words of the apostles themselves. They contended that their message, “whether by word of mouth or by letter from us,” was “the word of God” and “the commandments of the Lord.” They were convinced that they wrote “with the wisdom that God gave,” “by revelation” of the “Spirit of God.” To them, these writings were “Scripture.” And the dates of these writings range from 51 to around 68 AD, proving that from the earliest times the NT letters and gospels were thought of and received as Scripture. The New Testament, therefore, is not merely the result of some compilation process begun in “140 A.D.” It is part of the revelation of God to man, showing us who God is and how we may sustain a relationship with Him.
[†] The translation used in each of the Scripture references in this Fact Sheet is my own. Also, please take note of the fact that the rendering “you*” in the verses below is indicative of the second person plural.