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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are the Right Books in the New Testament?

Don Stewart :: Why Should the Present New Testament Books Be Accepted as Authoritative Writings?

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Why Should the Present New Testament Books Be Accepted as Authoritative Writings?

Are the Right Books in the New Testament? – Question 14

The New Testament writings were authoritative the moment they were written. Although the Bible does not speak of a completed New Testament canon, it does provide internal testimony to authenticate the writings that now make up the New Testament. Consequently, there are a number of reasons as to why the present New Testament books are demonstrated to be authoritative.

1. The Four Gospels Are All Linked to Jesus

To begin with, the writers of the four gospels all have direct links to Jesus. We discover this in the following ways:

Matthew Was an Apostle (Matthew)

Matthew, the writer of the first gospel was one of Jesus’ apostles. He records his own conversion as follows:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9 NET)

Matthew writes as one who heard the sayings and viewed the events of Jesus’ ministry as an eyewitness. Therefore, his testimony is of the highest authority.

Mark Wrote Down Peter’s Teachings (Mark)

Mark, or John Mark as he is also known, was not one of the apostles. However, according to early testimony, Mark wrote the account of the life of Jesus from the perspective of Simon Peter. Indeed, in his first letter, we find Peter calling Mark “my son.”

She who is in Babylon, also chosen, sends you greetings, as does Mark, my son. (1 Peter 5:13 HCSB)

The New Revised Standard Version says:

Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark. (1 Peter 5:13 NRSV)

This gives further testimony to the close relationship of John Mark to Peter. Thus, Mark’s gospel would have the authority of Peter behind it. This, of course, would have a direct link to Jesus.

It is also possible that Mark was merely recording Peter’s speeches. Thus, what we have in the gospel of Mark are the words of Peter faithfully recorded by Mark. If this is the case, then the gospel, being the words of Peter, would carry the utmost authority.

Luke, Paul’s Traveling Companion, Recorded Eyewitness Testimony (Luke/Acts)

Luke, the traveling companion of Paul, compiled his gospel from a number of sources. In his prologue, he explained his use of sources:

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. (Luke 1:1-4 NKJV)

While Luke was not one of the apostles, his writings (Luke/Acts) were accepted because of his association with Paul—an Apostle. On one occasion, Paul called the writings of Luke, “Scripture.” He wrote as follows:

For the Scripture says, “Do not keep an ox from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:18 NLT)

“Those who work deserve their pay” is a quotation of Jesus’ words found in Luke 10:7. Therefore, Paul cites Luke’s writings as Scripture.

John Was One of the Twelve (John)

John was an Apostle and eyewitness of the events he recorded. He wrote:

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24 TNIV)

John wrote the things that he had seen and heard. Consequently, each of these four writers was in a position to write an accurate, authoritative account of the life of Jesus.

2. Paul’s Writings Were Testified to by Peter

The next witness is Paul. He made it clear that he was an Apostle. He wrote to the Corinthians:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1 TNIV)

In one of Paul’s earliest letters, usually dated around the year A.D. 51, he contended that his words were to be received as the words of God:

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 NRSV)

Peter acknowledged Paul’s writings as Holy Scripture. He wrote:

And remember, the Lord is waiting so that people have time to be saved. This is just as our beloved brother Paul wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him-- speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters around to mean something quite different from what he meant, just as they do the other parts of Scripture-- and the result is disaster for them. (2 Peter 3:15-16 NLT)

Peter, as well as the other apostles, had been given the same authority as Jesus. Consequently, he could make this authoritative statement regarding Paul’s writings. Peter said that Paul’s writings should be considered Scripture.

3. James Was an Apostle and Jesus’ Brother (James)

The writer of the Book of James was probably not one of the two men named James who were among Jesus’ Twelve Disciples. They were James the son of Zebedee, and brother of John, and James the son of Alphaeus. The James who wrote the book that bears his name was most likely the half-brother of Jesus.

While not one of the Twelve, James was considered an Apostle. When Peter escaped from prison he wanted James notified:

He gave them a signal with his hand to be quiet and then related to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. He said, “Tell James and the brothers these things,” and then he left and went to another place. (Acts 12:17 NET)

Paul stated that James was an eyewitness to Christ’s resurrection. He wrote:

After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:7 KJV)

To the Galatians Paul wrote:

But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:19 NKJV)

At the council of Jerusalem, it was James who seems to have made the authoritative decision about the situation concerning the Gentiles. The account reads as follows:

After they stopped speaking, James responded: “Brothers, listen to me! Simeon has reported how God first intervened to take from the Gentiles a people for His name. And the words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written: After these things I will return and will rebuild David’s tent, which has fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins and will set it up again, so that those who are left of mankind may seek the Lord-- even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does these things, which have been known from long ago. Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those who turn to God from among the Gentiles.” (Acts 15:13-19 HCSB)

These passages show that James was considered to be an apostle as well as a figure of authority in the early church.

4. Peter Was One of the Twelve (First and Second Peter)

First and Second Peter were written by the apostle Peter. He wrote the following introduction to his first letter:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1Peter 1:1-2 TNIV)

He also identifies himself in his second letter:

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours. (2 Peter 1:1 TNIV)

As the most prominent of Jesus’ apostles, his authority was unquestioned.

5. John Was One of the Twelve (1,2,3 John)

The letters of 1,2,3 John were written by the Apostle John. In First John, the author does not identify himself. However, in Second John, he does not use his name, but rather the term, “the elder.” He wrote:

From the elder, to an elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth (and not I alone, but also all those who know the truth), because of the truth that resides in us and will be with us forever. (2 John 1:1-2 NET)

In Third John, the author also introduces himself this way:

From the elder, to Gaius my dear brother, whom I love in truth. (3 John 1:1 NET)

The same author wrote all three letters. John, being one of the Twelve, had Jesus’ unique authority.

The Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation names John as the author. It says:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John. (Revelation 1:1 TNIV)

Seven times John uses the phrase, “the one who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). As one of Jesus’ inner circle of apostles, he would have written with the utmost authority.

6. Jude Was Jesus’ Brother and Probably an Apostle (Jude)

Jude may have been an Apostle. However, in his introduction, he was associated with James—who was an Apostle. He was most likely the half-brother of Jesus. He introduced himself as follows:

From Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, wrapped in the love of God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ. (Jude 1 NET)

It is possible, even likely, that the resurrected Jesus made an appearance to Jude that was not recorded in the New Testament. This may be hinted at by a statement made in the Book of Acts:

The apostles often met together and prayed with a single purpose in mind. The women and Mary the mother of Jesus would meet with them, and so would his brothers. (Acts 1:14 CEV)

The fact that more than one of Jesus’ brothers was there with the church indicates that they had come to believe in Him as the Messiah. We are told that before His death they did not believe in Him. John wrote:

For even his brothers did not believe in him. (John 7:5 RSV)

The fact that His brothers believed in Him after His resurrection may well indicate that He appeared to each of them. However, we simply do not have enough information to say one way or the other.

7. Only Hebrews Does Not Have a Known Connection with Jesus

The only New Testament book without an obvious direct link to Jesus, or His apostles, is the Book of Hebrews. The problem is that we do not know the identity of the human author. The early Christians did not have this problem because the author was familiar to them. Unfortunately, his identity is not presently known.

However, many accepted Hebrews based upon the idea that Paul wrote it. Others, while rejecting Paul’s authorship, still believed Hebrews had apostolic authority, and thus ultimately God’s authority.

It must be emphasized that the teachings of the Book of Hebrews are consistent with other New Testament revelation. The book certainly adds to our knowledge about the Person and work of Christ without contradicting anything that has been previously revealed.

There Are Two Basic Questions That Need Answering: Authorship and Date (Who Wrote the Work and When Did They Write It?)

There were two basic questions with respect to the genuineness of New Testament writings—the authorship and date. Did genuine apostles write the books? Was the writing composed at the time these men were still alive? Since only these men were given the unique authority of Jesus, these two questions had to be addressed.

Because these writers were uniquely chosen by Jesus, His authority stands behind the books they wrote. Consequently, His authority stands behind the entire New Testament.

Summary – Question 14
Why Should the Present New Testament Books Be Accepted as Authoritative Writings?

Although there is nothing directly stated in the New Testament with respect to the extent of the canon, there is sufficient evidence for trusting those books that have been included. With the exception of the Book of Hebrews, all of the New Testament writings have an obvious direct link to Jesus.

Of the four gospels, Matthew and John were numbered with Jesus’ Twelve Disciples. Mark wrote Peter’s testimony of Jesus’ life and ministry while Luke based his work on historical investigation of the eyewitnesses and their evidence. Luke is connected to the inner circle of New Testament leaders by his relationship with Paul. Paul called Luke’s gospel, “Scripture.” Luke also wrote the Book of Acts—a brief history of the early church.

Paul claimed that his writings had God’s authority behind them. Peter confirmed Paul’s writings as Scripture. In addition, Peter himself wrote two letters that are part of the New Testament. The other writers, James and Jude, were probably the brothers of Jesus. James was called an Apostle. Finally, John the Apostle, the writer of the fourth gospel, wrote three additional letters as well as the Book of Revelation. His authority was unquestioned.

If the writings came from an apostle, in which they wrote in their role as an apostle, then it would have guaranteed their authority. Paul, as an apostle, affirms Luke while Peter affirmed Paul.

Therefore, each of the books of the New Testament can be directly traced back to those who intimately knew Jesus (Matthew, Peter, John, James, and Jude), one who was specifically called by him (Paul), and one who was aligned with Paul (Luke). Only the Book of Hebrews does not have this direct link that we are aware of. However, in the early church, there were many who linked Paul, in some manner, with the Book of Hebrews. Consequently, there are excellent reasons to accept each New Testament book as being divinely authoritative.

How Do the Earliest Complete Greek Manuscripts Help Us Understand the Extent of the New Testament Canon? ← Prior Section
Is There a Certain Form of the New Testament Text That Should Be Considered Canonical? Next Section →
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