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Don Stewart :: What Do We Learn from the New Testament Itself about the Need for a New Testament Canon?

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Don Stewart

Those who lived at the time of Jesus had the Old Testament as their divinely authoritative Scripture. However, as we look at the New Testament, we can learn a number of things about the possibility of further Scriptures that would add to the Old Testament.

1. There Was An Expectation For More Scripture

The Old Testament canon closed with the expectation of more revelation to come. No more Scripture could be written until the expectation was fulfilled. The Lord said.

See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse (Malachi 4:5,6).

Elijah was to come before the Messiah arrived. Elijah did come in the person of John the Baptist. The expectation of the coming Messiah was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His life and ministry would eventually necessitate a New Testament to be written.

2. Jesus' Words Were Absolutely Authoritative

The moment Jesus began His public ministry His words were regarded as absolutely authoritative. We find Jesus comparing His words to those who had gone before Him.

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27,28).

Matthew wrote.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law (Matthew 7:28,29).

The words of Jesus were enough to settle any matter. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about how to conduct the Lord's Supper he referred to what he had been taught by the Lord.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you (1 Corinthians 11:23).

3. Jesus Gave His Apostles His Authority While He Was Here On The Earth

Jesus gave His authority to His hand-picked disciples while He was here on the earth. When Jesus first sent out the twelve disciples He gave them absolute authority.

He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness . .. As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons (Matthew 10:1,7,8).

The words they would speak would come from the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised them.

When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say (Luke 10:11,12).

The authority that Jesus gave was not limited to the twelve disciples

On another occasion, Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples with His authority and His miraculous power.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go . . "Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you'" (Luke 10:1,9).

They came back testifying to God's power.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:17-19).

4. Jesus Said That He Would Tell His Disciples More Things After His Death

Jesus promised that more truth would be revealed after He left the world. He said to His disciples.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now (John 16:12).

This set the stage for further revelation to come.

5. The Promise Of Jesus Of The Holy Spirit

Before Jesus died, He promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come and teach them all truth.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. he will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you (John 16:13,14).

Jesus also promised that the Holy Spirit would bring back to the remembrance of the disciples all things that Jesus had taught them.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).

He also said that the Holy Spirit would testify of Him.

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me (John 15:26).

6. Jesus Give Them The Same Authority After He Left The Earth

When Jesus appeared to His disciples on the day of His resurrection He again gave His apostles the same authority as Himself.

After he [Jesus] said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21,22).

In the same manner that the Father had commissioned Jesus, so Jesus gave this authority to His disciples. They were given unique authority to proclaim His Words and deeds. Consequently they were more than mere teachers and preachers of Jesus' message - they were authoritative channels of God's Word.

The unique authority that Jesus had given His specially selected disciples before His resurrection was also given to them after His resurrection.

7. There Were Special Credentials Necessary For An Apostle

The Apostles were drawn from a group that had special credentials. They had to have been with Jesus from John's baptism to Jesus' ascension. This became evident when the traitor Judas was replaced.

Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22).

They would have to be able to testify as to what they saw and heard. John wrote.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3).

Only these select people had this unique authority of Jesus. There is no evidence that it was passed down to a second generation.

8. The Apostles Spoke And Acted With Jesus' Authority

After Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, those who had been His intimate disciples spoke with the same authority as their Lord. Everything could be subject to their authority. Peter said to a lame man.

Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong (Acts 3:6.7).

Their authority was even recognized by the unbelieving religious rulers.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus (Acts 4:13).

9. There Was A Body Of Truth From Beginning

From the beginning, there was a body of truth that was taught by these men. This is known as the Apostles' doctrine. The following was said of the early church.

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).

God bore witness to this truth. The writer to the Hebrews said.

How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:3,4).

10. The Apostles Wrote With The Same Authority As They Spoke

Not only did the Apostles speak with authority, they also wrote with authority. We find that the writers of the New Testament wrote with the same authority in which they taught. Paul declared.

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:3,4).

Paul told the Corinthians

If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command (1 Corinthians 14:37).

He wrote to the Thessalonians

Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:8).

Paul then said to them in his next letter.

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

The Apostles Issued Commands In The Name Of Christ

Paul issued commands in the name of Christ.

Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Paul also wrote.

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame (2 Thessalonians 3:14).

The apostles were also needed to verify or deny rumors. For example, a rumor arose that Jesus promised John that he would not die. John himself corrected that rumor.

Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?" (John 21:23-24).

The Apostles Had The Same Authority As Old Testament Prophets

Those who held the office of apostle claimed the same authority as the Old Testament prophets. Peter wrote.

I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles (2 Peter 3:2).

Paul Said It Was The Holy Spirit Who Revealed Truth To Him

He said the Holy Spirit revealed this truth to him.

But, as it is written, what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him - these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God (1 Corinthians 2:9,10).

Consequently the commands that Paul gave to the church were not his own but rather the Lord's.

The apostles, therefore, had the authority to speak, as well as write down, God's own words. These words had the same authority as Old Testament Scripture.

11. The Words And Writings Of The Apostles Were Received With The Same Authority

The spoken words, as well as the writings of the Apostles, were received by the church as having ultimate authority. The account of Ananias and Sapphira shows that lying to the apostles was the same as lying to God.

Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? . . . What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God" (Acts 5:3,5).

The writings of the apostles were received with the same unique authority as their spoken ministry. Paul wrote.

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

12. The Writings Of The Apostles Were Read Out Loud Like Old Testament Scripture

In the Old Testament, it was the custom to read the sacred writings out loud.

Then he [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey" (Exodus 24:7).

Joshua read God's Word to them.

Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law - the blessings and the curses--just as it is written in the Book of the Law (Joshua 8:34).

Ezra read the Scripture to the people.

They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading (Nehemiah 8:8).

They Were Commanded To Be Read To Everyone

This same practice was carried over in New Testament times. The Apostles commanded that the New Testament letters be read out loud.

I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters (1 Thessalonians 5:27).

The letters were to be read to every believer. To the church at Colosse Paul wrote.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea (Colossians 4:16).

Apostolic writings were used in public worship. Paul exhorted the books to be read.

Command and teach these things. Don' let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:11-13).

John wrote

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near (Revelation 1:3).

Since the New Testament Scriptures were to be read out loud, it was necessary to realize which of those writings were divinely given.

13. The New Testament Documents Were Sent Out To More Than One Church

The New Testament documents were sent to more than one congregation. In the Book of Revelation Jesus said.

Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (Revelation 1:11).

The truth was authoritative for all believers unless otherwise stated.

The Letters Were Circulated Among Believers

These letters were circulated. For example, James wrote to the twelve tribes.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations (James 1:1).

Peter wrote to the exiles.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1).

Peter's letter was addressed to the exiles. It was not written to any one individual or any specific church.

Ephesians Was Likely A Circular Letter

The Book of Ephesians was most likely a circular letter. The earliest manuscripts lack the words, "in Ephesus." In a second century list of Paul's letters from the heretic Marcion, Ephesians is called the "Letter to the Laodiceans." This is further testimony that it was originally circulated to a number of churches.

14. The Believers Were Warned Against Forgeries

Luke mentioned that a number of writings were in circulation when he wrote his gospel.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us (Luke 1:1).

Since the writings of the Apostles were authoritative, some took it upon themselves to forge their writings. The New Testament writers warned the churches against forgeries. Paul wrote.

Not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come (2 Thessalonians 2:2).

Steps Were Taken To Guarantee The Authenticity Of Each Letter

It seems that false letters were already circulating at an early date. To combat this, every letter of Paul had his unique mark to guarantee its authenticity.

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all (2 Thessalonians 3:17,18).

Also a well-known messenger carried each letter.

These Factors Set The Stage For A New Testament Canon

Consequently we learn a number of things from the New Testament that set the stage for adding to the existing Old Testament Scripture. All of these factors began to create the need for a New Testament canon.


From the New Testament itself we find there were a number of things that began to create the need for a New Testament canon of Scripture. First, the Old Testament end with the expectation of more divine revelation - the Word of God to humanity was not complete.

We also discover that the teachings of Jesus were authoritative the moment He gave them Before He left the world Jesus promised that he would send His disciples another teacher - the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God would perfectly remind them of all the things that Jesus said and did.

Through the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were to be given the same authority as Jesus. After Jesus died and rose from the dead His apostles spoke with this same authority as their Lord.

At first, their teachings about Jesus were delivered orally. There was a body of truth from beginning known as the Apostle's doctrine. Eventually they put these teachings of Jesus into writing. Their writings were received with the same authority as their words. These writings were then read out loud and circulated in the churches.

However problems soon appeared. As the true message of Jesus went out a number of forgeries appeared. Steps were then taken to insure that only the genuine writings were read and circulated among the churches.

All of these factors created the need for additional Scripture to be added to the existing Old Testament.


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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