Why did the New Testament happen?

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Contents

  1. Jesus authority
  2. Jesus entrusted apostles
  3. Defense of apostle authority
  4. Defense of apostle authority (church fathers)
    1. Clement of Rome
    2. Ignatius of Antioch
    3. Polycarp

Jesus affirms the current status of the Old Testament

Jesus is the bridge between the Old and the New Testament. If there was to be a conclusion to the epic tale of the Jews then it’s certainly an ending none foresaw. Even though I won’t directly address Jesus’ deity here (I’m dedicating a whole work to that!) it is worth stating that the authority of Jesus is why the New Testament was, in the words of Thanos “Inevitable” (Avengers End Game, in case you’re wondering.

All the evidence points to the fact that Jesus shared the traditional Jewish view of the Old Testament as inspired by God. He believe that God himself stood behind the human authors of scripture. This comes through strongly in all the gospel material. Mark 12:35-36 is a good example where Jesus quotes scriptures on one of many occasions.  

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 

David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.” ’ 

Mark 12:35-36

Jesus when making his point is dependant on the inspiration of the scripture. “For David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared”  and he goes on to quote Psalm 110:1. 

Jesus throughout the scriptures references many of the Old Testament books and seems to affirm through the pure act of reference as them as authoritative. Professor Cockerill states

“So every evidence is that Jesus knew our Old Testament, the books we have. That he affirmed them as holy Scripture along with the other Jewish people of his day. That from beginning to end, he interpreted and understood his own life in that way. That he is the Messiah, he is the fulfillment of the history of God’s people in the Old Testament. So if you deny it you have to disagree with Jesus”.

Gareth Cockerill, Professor of Biblical Interpretation, Wesley Biblical Seminary – Film: The God Who Speaks

In Mark 7:13 Jesus declared that the pharisees were making the word, not primarily of Moses but of God, ineffective by prioritising their tradition.

[Jesus speaking] “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Mark 7:13

John 5:36 – 47 is particularly significant because the Eternal destiny of the heroes of the Faith is under discussion. Jesus refers to the scriptures as the God-given Witness of himself, and this is of greater importance than either John the baptist’s testimony about him or all the Miracles that he himself performed. 

Jesus says to the pharisees, who were strong Believers in the inspiration of scripture, “you search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is there that they’re witness to me; get you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The pharisees made Moses and his writings the hope; but Moses wrote prophetically of Jesus”.

John 5:39

Kruger also points out a fascinating observation between Jesus’ activity and the Jewish leadership: 

“It’s noteworthy for example the Pharisees and Sadducees over a number of different issues, theologically and doctrinally, they debate all kinds of things. But they never debate which books belong in the canon and those which don’t. Jesus refers to the scriptures and the Pharisees seem to understand what books he’s talking about, as do the Sadducees”

Michael J Kruger, Professor of Early Christianity, Reformed Theological Seminary – Film: The God Who Speaks

Perhaps the most crucial example of Jesus’s attitude to the Old Testament comes in Matthew 19: 4-5:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’  and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?

Matthew 19: 4-5

This statement by Jesus It is all the more impressive because it is so natural. Jesus is quoting the words of Genesis 2: 24, which constitute a comment passed by the author of Genesis, and yet Jesus describes the word to God himself. “Have you not read that he who made them said for this reason a man shall leave his father and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” Clearly Jesus regarded this statement of Genesis as deriving from God himself, even though the Genesis account does not directly attribute it to God. In a word, as Jesus put it, “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10: 35). A word of scripture was a word of God.

So 

  1. Jesus affirms the same Old Testament scriptures the Jewish leaders affirmed
  2. Holds the law higher than tradition with a care more than the Jewish leadership
  3. Affirms scriptures unbroken-ness

And one final one to wrap up the authority Jesus saw in the holy scriptures.

The final and most incredulous factor to the Jewish nation was how he could apply scripture to himself as the fulfillment of long held prophecy. We see in Luke 4: 16-21 a famous example:

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” “

Luke 4: 16-21

Jesus saw himself as the fulfillment of the texts these people were holding, claiming to be the hope that every Jew prayed and hoped for for thousands of years. So not only did Jesus respect the scriptures, he was the fulfillment of them, the one they were looking for, the next chapter in the story. As Alistair Begg puts it

“The New testament had to be written because the Old Testament hadn’t completed the story”.

Alistair Begg, Pastor, Parkside Church – Film: The God Who Speaks

Jesus gave the ultimate guarantee of his authority and fulfillment in his resurrection from the dead, something the Jews didn’t interpret to come so soon based on their narrow view of the scriptures. Scholar Ben Witherington III clarifies the Jewish difficulty regarding Jesus’ messianic response catching them off guard. 

“You have to understand the early Jews were not looking for a crucified Messiah. They did not expect a crucified Messiah. Even Isaiah 53 that’s thought to refer to this, early Jews didn’t interpret that as a crucified Messiah, for one thing “My servant Israel” was assumed to be the nation of Israel suffering for the sins of the world, not a particular individual. So on the one hand they had to explain this to the world, on the other hand they had to explain this to themselves because they were not expecting this. It was an unexpected outcome. Let’s be clear, if crucifixion was the end of Jesus’ story, there really is no good historical explanation for why we have the gospels or the rest of the New Testament at all. There had to be a reversal of that final judgement”. 

Ben Witherington III, Professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary – Film: The God Who Speaks

I have gone into the resurrection extensively elsewhere, but this defining action gave the apostles the acknowledgement that the Olympic torch of scripture was to be passed onto them. As Apologist Frank Turek puts so well:

“The New Testament did not invent a resurrection, the resurrection created the New Testament writers”.

Frank Turek, Apologist, CrossExamined – Film: The God Who Speaks]

Jesus entrusted the apostles

Jesus established the mandate that the Old Testament was being fulfilled, but with Jesus ascending, who would take up the task of producing the scriptures writing down Jesus’ teaching to be passed on? That would be the collective force of those eyewitnesses who followed him, the apostles.

The Apostles were to bear witness to Jesus, because they had been with him from the beginning, and they were to have the help of the Holy Spirit who would constantly bear witness to Jesus (John 15: 26), remind them what he said (John 14: 26) and guide them into further appreciation of Jesus, who embodies the truth of God (John 16: 13, see also my work in inerrancy & Inspiration). What we have in our New Testament, then, is The apostolic Witness to the words and deeds of Jesus, and the meaning of his life, death and Resurrection as the apostles were Led to understand it by the Holy Spirit. That is why the Apostles are sometimes called in the New Testament the Foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21: 14)

we see further affirmations of this in verses such as;

“he who receives you received me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me”

Matthew 10: 40

“as the father has sent me, even so I send you.”

John 20: 21,

So the proclamation of the apostles as those whom were announcing the Word of God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit really broke the mold for first century Judaism which believed that that type of prophecy had ceased. The apostles believed that in the power of the Holy Spirit they were proclaiming the very Word of God to their hearers. Thus, they put their proclamation on the same level as the Old Testament canonical books. The letters that were left behind by these apostles were very rapidly accepted as being on a par with Old Testament Scriptures (we will address the canonicity in due time). 

We see this in 2 Peter 3:15b-16:

So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. [Here he is speaking of the Pauline epistles which he identifies as being wisdom given from God to Paul.] There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

2 Peter 3:15b-16

We can assess from this passage that by the time the epistles of Peter were written, we see that Paul’s letters were already being accepted as being on a par with Old Testament Scriptures.

Defence of the authority of the apostles

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 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. We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all”.

1 John 1:1–5:

A crucial passage of the claimed authority of the apostles as eyewitnesses is present in 1 John 1:1-5, and is strongly emphasized into John 10 also

“if anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting”. Adherents to the teaching of the Apostles is made the condition of Christian Fellowship.

John 10

We see the same condition in the Book of Revelation in chapter 22: 18-19.

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll”.

Revelation 22: 18-19.

The Apostle Paul makes the same claim of unique authority for the message of the Apostles, whether written or oral. This claim is Made in Galatians 1: 6- 12 where he invokes a solemn curse on anyone who departs from the gospel that he has been preaching and which he received from the Lord; but he knew himself to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, personally commissioned by the ascended Lord to be his chosen representative among the gentiles. We also know In Galatians 2 Paul had met with the inner circle of disciples and after speaking to them, they added nothing to what he had been preaching. The disciples had authority, and the words of Paul were in agreement and consistent with Jesus’ teaching.

This is how the apostles viewed their authority in the church. In the Acts of the Apostles (or just Acts for short), we find them building up the infant church, working miracles just as their master had done (e.g. Acts 5:12; 13:9-12; 16:16-18) exercising strong discipline (Acts 5:1-11) issuing directives (Acts 16:4) organising the internal administration of the church (Acts 6:1-4) and preaching with God-given boldness and power (Acts 2:41-43). The fellowship and authorised teaching of the church is the fellowship and teaching (Acts 2:42). They are the Lords representatives, both for the building up of the church (2 Corinthians 10:8) and for judging it (2 Corinthians 13:1, 2) an apostle in the name of Christ can even deliver a hardened and impenitent church member over to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:3-5), which presumably means exclusion from the Christian Community. They were in every sense the Masters men, clothed with his authority, because they were chosen by him as his representatives, and their words carried his authority.

What conclusions can we glean from this section?

  1. Jesus claimed to give authority to the apostles
  2. The Holy Spirit would supervise and be with the Apostles as well as helping them to remember all that has taken place
  3. The Apostles defended their testimony as primary eyewitness testimony
    1. Immediate 12
    2. Paul
  4. Apostles were in authority over the church in leading and guiding it.

The authority endorsed by the sub – Apostolic Church

This isn’t a modern claim invented by later Christians at the council of Nicaea or later, this belief, that Jesus had authority and that he passed it down to his disciples was believed by those that followed the original disciples. The disciples of the disciples and the disciple of the disciples of the disciples early generations held the same beliefs as the twelve with regard to authority.

Clement of Rome 95AD

Writing in about 95AD, Clement calls the apostles “The greatest and most righteous pillars of the church”  and underlines their unique teaching authority in this very explicit passage:

“The apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ who was sent for from God. So then Christ is from God and the apostles are from Christ…  Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and with faith confirmed by the word of god with full Assurance of the Holy Spirit, they went out with glad tidings that the kingdom of God is coming. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed the first fruits, when they had tested them by the spirit to be overseers and Deacons of future Believers.”

1 Clement 42

Here we can glean the authority to which Clement gives the apostles in the first century and goes further to state they received it from Jesus himself! This testimony is within the 1st century AD in it’s dating of the letter.

Ignatius of Antioch 35-107AD

It was perhaps the second or third Bishop of Antioch after the days of Peter’s leadership in the city when Ignatius became Bishop.

The role of a bishop was a very highly held image-making of God back then, a guide for men and yet Ignatius writes to the Romans to keep distinct his position compared to the apostles:

“Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God]. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles”  

Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, 4

See also his letter to the Philadelphians

“I have found mercy, taking refuge in the gospel… and in the apostles… yes and we love the prophets too because they too pointed to the gospel in their preaching and set their hope on him and awaited him”

Ignatius, Letter to the Philadelphians, 5

It seems clear from a famous Passage in his letter to the church in Philadelphia that he puts the prophets, the apostles and the gospel on the same authoritative level. We know Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John and was in a position to know what they said. This pushes the authority even further back into the first century.

Polycarp 69-155AD

Polycarp was friend of Ignatius and fellow disciple of John the apostle living apparently for as long from 69-155AD. Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna and a major figure in the early second century. As a boy he had known the Apostle John, and because he lives to a great old age (he tells us in his letters that he had served Christ for 86 years) he is a very important link between the apostolic age and the great Christian writers such as Irenaeus who flourished in the middle of the second century.

In 116AD, he had written to the church at Philippi

let us then go serve Jesus with all reverence and fear, as he himself commanded us, as did the apostles to preach the gospel to us and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the lord “.

Polycarp, Philippians 6

Polycarp, one of the crucial bridges between the two eras affirms Jesus’ authority and the passing down authority to the apostles also. 

Irenaeus (230-200AD) was a major author and Bishop, with wide experience throughout The Roman world. He says of Polycarp

He was not only instructed by Apostles and Conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but was appointed Bishop by the apostles in Asia in the church in Smyrna. We also saw him in our childhood, but he lived for a long time and passed from life in extreme old age, a splendid and glorious martyr, after having always took the things he had learnt from the apostles… For claiming that he had received this one and soul truth from the apostles”.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.4

It is obvious how deeply rooted Polycarp was in the teaching of the Apostles when you look at the amount he quotes from them. According to the scholar J. B. Lightfoot, In the one surviving letter Polycarp quotes from 1 Peter 8 times, Ephesians 3 times, 1 Corinthians 4 times, 2 Corinthians 2 times, Galatians 4 times, 1 Timothy 3 times, 2 Timothy 2 times, Romans 2 times, 1 John once, Philippians 2 times and 2 Thessalonians 2 times.

What conclusions can we glean from this section?

  1. The early church fathers endorsed Jesus’ authority
  2. The early church fathers endorsed the apostles authority given by Jesus
  3. The early church fathers did not claim to have the same authority as the disciples.

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