The liberal/skeptic hold to this view for the following reasons
- The apostles and their companions would not have had a clear picture of a completed canon.
- The letters were “occasional documents” which were never intended for universal application
- We rarely ever find the term “Scripture” used in the NT in reference to the letters
- The NT letters do not have intrinsic authority; rather the later church placed authority on them. They did this in order to deal with internal and external problems happening to the church.
Are these propositions warranted? What we must do is look into the NT letters themselves to see what the apostles and their companions claimed about their writings. In this post we will look at two of Paul’s claims to see how he viewed his own authority.
In Galatians 1:1 Paul makes a direct statement about how and from whom he received the Gospel revelation. He begins the letter by saying his apostleship is, “not from man nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father”. He uses three prepositions to make his point
- Not from (απο) man; Man is not the source of his Gospel
- Not through (διά) man; Man is not the agency/means by which he received the Gospel
- But through (διά) Jesus Christ and God the Father; The agent who gave him the Gospel is Jesus and The Father.
In fact later in Galatians (compare 1:15-20; 2:6) he further elaborates this point. His understanding of the content of the Gospel was not taken from the apostles. The phrase “they added nothing to me” (Gal 2:6) is not a jab at the apostles for not helping him. Rather, it is a declaration that he did not steal their sermons. That is, what he preaches is knowledge directly given to him by God (1:15-16; 2:7-8). He went to Jerusalem so that everyone else would be able to confirm that they were already on the same page and that was the exact outcome (Gal 2:7-10).
Next we turn to 1st Thessalonians 2:13. Paul brags about the Thessalonian church for the manner in which they received his preaching. They, from the beginning, accepted his preaching as the very “word of God”. In examining this passage, as well as all of 1st Thessalonians, further we can learn a few things:
The phrase “word of God” refers, in the NT, to authoritative apostolic tradition. (e.g. 1st Cor 14:36; Col 1:25; 2nd Tim 2:9). In fact, it is used to refer to Scripture itself (Mt 15:6; Mk 7:13; Rom 9:6; Heb 4:12). This means that what the Apostles preached they claimed was on par with Scripture itself. They didn’t have to use the term “Scripture” in reference to their preaching/writing for the concept was always directly implied if not automatically assumed.
Paul did not exempt his letters from the apostolic authority, which he claimed to preach. Notice the strong statements he makes in 1st Thessalonians 4:2-8
- The commandments Paul preached to them originally were “by the authority of Jesus Christ” (δια του κυριου ιησου)
- Paul considered his preaching as “the will of God”
- If they rejected Paul’s preaching they rejected God not man
The mode of delivery is secondary. Therefore, whatever authority Paul claimed to have while preaching (orally) he retains when he writes. This is common sense; if your boss told you to do something it doesn’t matter if he told you directly or sent you an email.
o “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” (2nd Thess 2:15)
An examination Galatians and 1st Thessalonians shows us that Paul understood that he was writing with divine authority. Not only did he understand but also he came out and directly claimed it. In fact, he stated that if you did not accept it then you were not to be accepted. This is something we will further examine, as we look at 1st Corinthians and other texts in my next post.