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Q256 : Verifying New Testament Teaching Prior to the Close of the Canon

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Q256 : Verifying New Testament Teaching Prior to the Close of the Canon

I have an historical question. I was wondering what kind of teaching the apostles had and especially the apostle Paul. I realised when Paul wrote 2Tim.3:16-17 :

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.1

he only talked about the OT. There were maybe some letters in circulation but not that many. We read from the Bereans that they were nobler than those of Thessalonica because they searched the Scriptures to find out if these things which they heard were true (Acts 17:11). I think this isn't a problem for what the Old Testament revealed concerning salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.

But what about the teaching about the Church or the teaching about the mystery? How could they check that? They couldn't compare Scripture with Scripture because there wasn't a New Testament.

How could the Jewish Christians know the apostles were right about the end of the old covenant? They didn't have the letter to the Hebrews, Galatians or Romans at that time.

So how did the apostles and others use the Old Testament because I think that's what Paul is talking about in 2Tim.3:16-17. Or do I miss something?


Endnotes:

1.NKJV, 2Timothy 3:15-17


Sources:

NKJVUnless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A256 : by Tony Garland

It is clear from both the context of 2Ti. 3:16-17 and the time when the letter was written (circa 66-67 A.D.1), that Paul's words to Timothy concern the Old Testament.

and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.2

As a child, Timothy had come to know the “Holy Scriptures” (ἱερὰ γράμματα [hiera grammata]) under the tutelage of two godly women, his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2Ti. 1:5).3 As you noted, these “Holy Scriptures” were the Hebrew Old Testament.

How did the Apostles and others use the Old Testament?

As you observed, Jesus and the Apostles referred to the Old Testament to demonstrate that the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus conformed to the predictions made in the Old Testament concerning the predicted Jewish Messiah.4 Since the Church was a mystery (not revealed in the Old Testament, Eph. 3:3-6; Col. 1:26-27), the Old Testament does not provide revelation on this topic. Instead, additional revelation had to be given to the Apostles concerning the formation, nature, and purpose of the Church.

Even so, it is important to realize that the Old Testament still played a role in evaluating this new revelation. This is because Apostolic teaching, which eventually contributed to the New Testament canon, had to be compatible with the Old Testament. So the role of the Old Testament remained extremely important as a means for judging the compatibility of New Testament teaching with what God had already revealed (e.g., compare the OT passages of Jer. 31:31-34 and Mal. 3:1 with the NT passages Mat. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1Cor. 11:25; 2Cor. 3:6; Heb. 7:22; 8:6-13; 10:9,16; 12:24).

How could the Jewish Christians know the Apostles were right about the end of the Old Covenant?

There were two primary means by which Jewish Christians could know to trust the Apostolic teaching concerning the end of the Old Covenant. First, as mentioned above, New Testament teaching concerning the end of the Old Covenant had to be compatible with what the Old Testament itself predicted. The Old Testament clearly indicates that Israel repeatedly broke the Old Covenant (Deu. 31:16-20; Isa. 24:5; Jer. 11:10; Eze. 16:59; 44:7; Hos. 6:7; 8:1). It also predicted the need for a New Covenant which would supersede the Old (Jer. 31:31-32). Second, the Apostles performed mighty works and miracles by which God confirmed their divine authority (Acts 2:43; 5:12; 2Cor. 12:12).

For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?5

Just as with Moses and Aaron during the Exodus (Ex. 4:1-9), God granted these men miraculous powers, not for the purpose of gaining a following or attesting to themselves (Acts 3:6-12; 14:11-18), but to certify the divine authority of their message.

These miracles were especially prevalent in the book of Acts: a formative time for the Church when God was establishing the authority of the Apostles in the absence of Jesus, Who had just departed (Acts 1:9).

The miracles of the Book of Acts are also impressive for their great variety, covering at least eleven different categories: first the miracle of Christ's ascension (Acts 1:9-10); second, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with its attendant phenomena (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-46); third, healing of the diseased and infirm (Acts 3:1-10; 28:7-9); fourth, the casting out of demons (Acts 5:16; 16:16-18); fifth, raising the dead (Acts 9:36-42; 20:7-12); sixth, physical wonders (Acts 4:31; 8:39); seventh, miraculous deliverances (Acts 5:19-22; 16:26); eighth, immunity from ordinary hazards (Acts 27:23-26; 28:3-5); ninth, direct and tangible angelic ministry (Acts 12:7-8,23); eleventh, miraculous visions and communications (Acts 9:3-6; 10:9-16).6

A third reason could perhaps be given. It would seem that perceptive Jewish Christians could have recognized the need for a New Covenant as evident in the flawed nature of man and by recognizing their own inability to keep the Law (John 7:19; Acts 7:53; 13:39; 15:10; Rom. 8:3-7; Gal. 3:10; Heb. 7:18). Due to the weakness of humanity, the law proved impossible to keep. Because of this, one of the roles it served was to convince men of the need for a different means of reconciliation with God: the New Covenant, made possible only through the death and resurrection of Christ (Gal. 3:19-24).

The Authority of Apostolic Writing

Although the Apostles could not appeal to the New Testament canon in support of their teaching because it did not yet exist, there is clear evidence that Peter understood the writings of Paul as having an authority on a par with that of the Old Testament:

. . . consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written ἔγραψεν [egrapsen] to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures τὰς λοιπὰς γραφὰς [tas loipas graphas]7

Remarkably, Peter associates Paul's writings with the Old Testament Scriptures in their authority and in being subjected to attack and distortion by untaught and unstable people who would corrupt the gospel. Peter indicates that the penalty for distorting Paul's writings matches that of distorting other portions of God's Word: personal destruction.


Endnotes:

1.Rev-0089, xxxii
2.NKJV, 2Timothy 3:15-17
3.One is tempted to discuss the importance of a godly upbringing and the critical role that many women have played instilling the Scriptures into their offspring. But that is a subject for another time.
4.A small sample from among many passages which could be cited includes: Mat. 1:23; 2:5; Mark 12:36; Luke 24:27; Acts 1:16; 2:16,29-31; 3:18-24; 8:27-35; 17:2; 18:28; Rom. 1:2; 1Cor. 15:3-4; Gal. 3:8.
5.NKJV, Hebrews 2:2-4
6.Ref-0183, 408
7.NKJV, 2 Peter 3:15-16


Sources:

Ref-0183Alva J. McClain, The Greatness Of The Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1974, c1959).

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