1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God
called to be an apostle,
The second description Paul gave of himself is as an apostle. Paul was a “called apostle” (Greek). Note the words “to be” are italicized, indicating that they are not present in the Greek text. God designated Paul to assume an office. Paul did not decide for himself to be an apostle, but God called him to that position. It was not of his doing—God initiated the call. God Himself enlisted Paul as an apostle; Paul was an apostle by calling from God. The church as well did not call him.
Paul did not fire blank cartridges. He represented God by what he wrote. He was a called apostle. The Greek stresses the nature of God’s intervention in Paul’s life.
The status of an apostle was the most powerful gift in God’s economy. An apostle had the right to write Scripture, to do miracles, and to found the church. This role carried great authority and refers to Paul’s call to the particular service of apostleship, not to salvation. God put him in a place to do His will.
The gift of apostleship ceased with the writing of Scripture (the closing of the canon). It was a temporary gift given to the church. To have the authority to write Scripture, for example, the book of Acts stipulates three qualifications for the office of apostle:
He had to be a personal disciple of Jesus during His earthly ministry.
He had to be an eye-witness of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
He had to be called by Jesus Himself personally.
With the death of the apostles came the close of the canon of Scripture. God gave no further Scripture after the first century. Other apostles endorsed Paul as an apostle and recognized his writing as Scripture (2 Pe 3:15). Paul saw the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus Road.
The term “apostle” carries both a technical and a non-technical usage. There are 79 occurrences in the New Testament. The primary usage is the technical sense. The idea of this sense is that someone has authority to receive direct revelation and write Scripture or found the church, as well as the authority to perform miracles in order to establish their apostolic authenticity in writing Scripture. The non-technical usage can refer to all believers as witnesses for Christ (Ro 16:7; Ac 14:14).
The original idea of an apostle was as an envoy, one sent on a commission to represent a king. Our usage of the word “ambassador” conveys the idea. Paul was an official ambassador of the King of kings.
Ga 1:1, Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead). . .
Everyone who believes in Christ is an ambassador for Him.
We are to deem ourselves as ambassadors for the King of kings. We are to carry his message (the gospel) to the world. God effectually summons us to that end. We have credentials from God to do this.
1 Co 9:16, For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!
We need to note that any further claim to revelation is heresy. Joseph Smith claimed Scripture further to the New Testament. Mormonism was the heresy that came of that claim.
GREAT! WHERE IN ACTS? THREE QUALIFICATIONS FOR AN APOSTLE
Ralph, Acts 1:21-22; 2:43; 5:12
Note the General Biblical Intrdoction by Geisler and Nix
THE PRINCIPLES INVOLVED
It is all very well to assume that God gave authority and hence canonicity to the Bible, but another question arises, namely, How did man discover or become aware of what God had done? How did the church Fathers know when they had come upon a canonical book? The commonly accepted canonical books of the Bible themselves make reference to many other books that are no longer available, for example, “the Book of Jasher” (Josh. 10:13); “the Book of the Wars of the Lord” (Num. 21:14). Then there are the Apocryphal books and the so-called “lost books” of the Bible. 4 How did the Fathers know those were not inspired? Did not John (21:25) and Luke (1:1) indicate that there was a profusion of religious literature? Were there not false epistles (2 Thess. 2:2)? What were the earmarks of inspiration that guided the Fathers in their recognition and collection of the inspired books? How did they sort out the true from the false, and the canonical from the apocryphal? Perhaps the very fact that some canonical books were doubted at times, on the basis of one principle or another, argues both for the value of the principle and the caution of the Fathers in their recognition of canonicity. If so, it provides assurance that the people of God really included no books that God wanted excluded from the canon. In the following discussion, several foundational questions are raised that lie at the very heart of the discovery process.
Was the book written by a prophet of God? The most basic question asked about a book was: Is it prophetic? For as was discussed in chapter 12, propheticity determined canonicity. If it was written by a spokesman for God, then it was the Word of God. The characteristic words “And the word of the Lord came to the prophet,” or “The Lord said unto,” or “God spoke” so fill the prophetic pages of the Old Testament that they have become proverbial. These earmarks of inspiration are so clear and resounding in the prophets that it is hardly necessary to mark them as divine in their origin.
A prophet was the mouthpiece of God. His function is clarified by the various descriptions given him. He was called a man of God (1 Kings 12:22), revealing that he was chosen of God; a servant of the Lord (1 Kings 14:18), indicating his occupation; a messenger of the Lord (Isa. 42:19), designating his mission for God; a seer or beholder (Isa. 30:10), revealing apocalyptic source of his truth; a man of the Spirit (Hos. 9:7), showing by whose promptings he spoke; a watchman (Ezek. 3:17), manifesting his alertness to do the work of God. By far and away, the most common expression was “prophet,” or spokesman for God.
By his very calling, a prophet was one who felt as did Amos, “The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8); or, as another prophet who said, “I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord my God” (Num. 22:18). Aaron was a prophet or mouthpiece for Moses (Ex. 7:1), speaking “all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Ex. 4:30). Even so God’s prophets were to speak only what He commanded them. God said of His prophets, “I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deut. 18:18). Further, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it” (Deut. 4:2). In short, a prophet was one who declared what God had disclosed to him. Thus, only the prophetic writings were canonic. Anything not written by a spokesman of God was not part of the Word of God.
In view of the nature of religious exhortation by a prophet, it is reasonable to conclude that whatever is written by a prophet of God is the Word of God. In most cases it is simply a matter of establishing the authorship of the book. If it was written by an apostle or prophet (the prophetic principle), then its place in the canon is secured. Therefore, any historical or stylistic (external or internal) evidence that supports the genuineness of a prophetic book (see chap. 20) is also an argument for its canonicity. This was exactly the argument Paul used in the support of his epistle to the Galatians (Gal. 1:1–24). He argued that his message was authoritative because he was an authorized messenger of God, “an apostle not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father” (Gal. 1:1). He also turned the tables on his opponents who preached “a different gospel; which is really not another; only … to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6–7). His opponents’ gospel could not be true because they were “false brethren” (Gal. 2:4). It should be noted in this connection that occasionally the Bible contains true prophecies from individuals whose status as men of God is questionable, such as Balaam (Num. 24:17) and Caiaphas (John 11:49). However, granted that their prophecies were consciously given, 5 these prophets were not writers of Bible books, but were merely quoted by the actual writer. Therefore, their utterances are in the same category as the Greek poets quoted by the apostle Paul (cf. Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12).
As previously mentioned, Paul used against the false teachers opposing him at Galatia the argument that a book from God must be written by a man of God. It was also used as a reason for rejecting a letter that was forged, or written under false pretenses, as the one mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:2. A book cannot be canonical if it is not genuine (see chap. 20). In this connection, however, it should be noted that a book might use the device of literary impersonation with no intent to deceive, by which the writer assumes the role of another for effect. Some scholars feel such is the case in the book of Ecclesiastes, where Koheleth wrote autobiographically as though he were Solomon. 6 Such a view is not incompatible with the principle herein presented, provided it can be shown to be a literary device and not a moral deception. However, when an author pretends to be an apostle in order to gain acceptance of his unorthodox ideas, as the writers of many New Testament apocryphal books did, then it is moral deception (see chap. 17).
Because of this “prophetic” principle, 2 Peter was disputed in the early church. 7 On the basis of internal evidence (differences in the style of writing), it was felt by some that the author of 2 Peter could not be the same as the author of 1 Peter. But 2 Peter claimed to have been written by “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1). Thus, the epistle was either a forgery or there was great difficulty in explaining its different style. Those who were disturbed by such evidence doubted the genuineness of 2 Peter and it was placed among the Antilegomena books for a time (see chap. 17). It was finally admitted to be canonical, but only on the grounds that it was also Petrine. The differences in style between 1 and 2 Peter can be accounted for by the time lapse, different occasions, and the fact that Peter used an amanuensis for his first epistle (1 Pet. 5:13). The benchmark of inspiration is so clear in the prophetic writings that it was hardly necessary to look for any other characteristic to show their divine origin and authority. Some books were rejected because of their absence of authority, as in the books of Pseudepigrapha (see chap. 14). These books did not have the “ring” of authority, or, if they claimed authority, the claim had a hollow sound. They provided no character to support their claim. In many cases the books were fanciful and magical, and hardly anyone mistook their divine claims to be dogmatic commands from God. Their shallow pretentions were clearly not sovereign intentions, and so they were emphatically rejected. This same principle of authority was the basis for some books’ being doubted and spoken against, as in the Antilegomena books (see chap. 14). For a time the book of Esther, in which even the name of God is conspicuously absent, fell into this category. Finally, upon closer examination, Esther retained its place in the canon, but only because the Fathers were convinced that authority was present, although some did not consider it observably present.8
Was the writer confirmed by acts of God? There were true prophets and false prophets (Matt. 7:15). Hence, it was necessary to have a divine confirmation of the true ones. Miracles were used for this purpose. Moses was given miraculous powers to prove his call of God (Ex. 4:1–9). Elijah triumphed over the false prophets of Baal by a supernatural act (1 Kings 18). Jesus was “attested to …. by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” (Acts 2:22). Even Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews, said to him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). As to the apostle’s message, “God [was] also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Heb. 2:4). Paul gave testimony to his apostleship to the Corinthians declaring, “the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverence, by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12). In short, a miracle is an act of God to confirm the Word of God given through a prophet of God to the people of God. It is the sign to substantiate his sermon; the miracle to confirm his message. Not every prophetic revelation was confirmed by a specific miracle. There were other ways to determine the authenticity of an alleged prophet.9 So if there were any question about one’s prophetic credentials it could be settled by divine confirmation, as indeed it was on numerous occasions throughout Scripture (Ex. 4; Num. 16–17; 1 Kings 18; Mark 2; Acts 5).
Did the message tell the truth about God? Only the immediate contemporaries had access to the supernatural confirmation of the prophet’s message. Hence, other believers in distant places or subsequent times had to depend on other tests for the canonicity of a book. One such test was the authenticity of a book (see chap. 20). That is, does the book tell the truth about God and his world as known from previous revelations? God cannot contradict Himself (2 Cor. 1:17–18), nor can He utter what is false (Heb. 6:18). Hence, no book with false claims can be the Word of God. Moses stated this principle, saying,
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. (Deut. 13:1–3)
So, any teaching about God contrary to what His people already knew to be true was to be rejected. Furthermore, any predictions made about the world which failed to come true indicated that a prophet’s words should be rejected. As Moses said to Israel,
And you may say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?” When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deut 18:21–22)
In fact, any prophet who made such false claims was severely punished. For the Lord said, “The prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die” (Deut. 18:20). That kind of punishment would not only assure no repeat performance by that prophet but would give other prophets pause before they said, “Thus says the Lord.” 10
Of course, simply because a book is not false does not make it canonical. Thus, this is more a test for the inauthenticity of a book than for its canonicity. That is, it is a negative test that could eliminate books from the canon. It is not a positive test to discover whether or not a book was canonical. This authenticity test was no doubt the reason that the Bereans searched the Scriptures to see whether Paul’s teaching was true (Acts 17:11). If the preaching of the apostle did not accord with the teaching of the Old Testament canon, then it could not be of God. Agreement with the rest of the known Word of God does not necessarily make a book canonical, but disagreement would certainly relegate a book to a noncanonical status.
Much of the Apocrypha was rejected because it was not authentic (see chaps. 15 and 17). The Jewish Fathers and early Christian Fathers rejected, or considered second-rate, these books because they had historical inaccuracies and even moral incongruities. The Reformers rejected some because of what they considered heretical teaching. 11 The apostle John strongly urged that “truth” be tested by the known standard before it be received (1 John 4:1–6). Logically, a book from the God of truth must accord with the truth of God. If its claim is divine but its credentials are inauthentic, then the credentials must supersede the claim.
The test of authenticity was the reason a few of the canonical books, such as James and Jude, have been doubted by some. Some thought that Jude could not have been authentic, because it supposedly quoted from unauthentic Pseudepigraphal books (Jude 9, 14).12 Martin Luther questioned the full canonicity of James because he thought the book taught salvation by works, and that teaching was contrary to the doctrine of salvation by faith as it was clearly taught in other Scriptures.13 Historically and uniformly, Jude and James have been vindicated and their canonicity recognized, but only when their teaching had been harmonized with the rest of the body of Scripture. What has compounded the problem has been the failure of men to see that further truth can be complementary and supplementary without being contradictory to existing truth. But because the Fathers held a kind of “if in doubt throw it out” policy, the validity of their discernment of the canonical books is enhanced.
Does it come with the power of God? Another test for canonicity was the edifying effect of a book. Does it have the power of God? The Fathers believed the Word of God is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12),14 and consequently ought to have a transforming force for edification (2 Tim. 3:17) and evangelization (1 Peter 1:23). If the message of a book did not effect its stated goal, if it did not have the power to change a life, then God was apparently not behind its message. A message of God would certainly be backed by the might of God. The Fathers believed that the Word of God can accomplish its purpose in the lives of the people of God (Isa. 55:11).
The apostle Paul applied this principle to the Old Testament when he wrote to Timothy, “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15, KJV). If it is of God, it will work—it will come to pass. This simple test was given by Moses to try the truth of a prophet’s prediction (Deut. 18:20 ff.). If his prophecy did not materialize, then it was not from God.
On that basis, much heretical literature and even some good noncanonical apostolical literature was rejected from the canon of Scripture. Even those books whose teaching was spiritual, but whose message was at best only devotional, were deemed not to be canonical. Such is the case for the vast amount of literature written in the apostolic and subapostolic period (see chap. 17). As a result, those books were refused a place in the canon. When the transition is made from the canonical books of the New Testament to the other religious writings of the apostolic period, “one is conscious of a tremendous change. There is not the same freshness and originality, depth and clearness. And this is no wonder, for it means the transition from truth given by infallible inspiration to truth produced by fallible pioneers.”15 The noncanonical books lacked power; they were devoid of the dynamic aspects found in inspired Scripture. In short, they did not come with the power of God.
Because a book must come with edifying power in order to be considered canonical, some books (such as the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes) were the subject of occasional doubts. Could a book that is sensual or another that is skeptical be from God? Obviously not. And as long as these books were thought of in that manner, they could not be acclaimed as canonical. Eventually, the messages of those books were seen as spiritual and hence the books themselves were recognized as canonical.16 The principle, nevertheless, was applied to all the books impartially. Some passed the test, whereas others failed. In the end, this much was certain: no book that lacked essential edificational or practical characteristics was considered canonical.
Was it accepted by the people of God? If a book was prophetic it was canonic. A prophet of God was confirmed by an act of God (miracle) and was a spokesman recognized by the people of God to whom he gave his message. Thus, the seal of canonicity was whether or not the book was accepted by the people of God. This does not mean that everybody in the community to which the prophetic message was addressed accepted it as divinely authoritative. On occasion even a prophet (see 1 Kings 17–19; 2 Chron. 36:11–16) or an apostle (Gal. 1) was initially rejected by some in the community. However, true believers in the community acknowledged the prophetic nature of the message, as did other contemporary believers familiar with the prophet. This acceptance by the people of God occurred in two stages: initial acceptance and subsequent recognition.
The initial acceptance of a book by the people to whom it was addressed is crucial. Paul said of the Thessalonians, “We also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). For whatever subsequent debate there may have been about a book’s place in the canon, the people in the best position to know its prophetic credentials were those who knew the prophet who wrote it. Hence, despite all later debate about the canonicity of some books, the definitive evidence is that which attests to its original acceptance by the contemporary believers. Of course some books were comprised of sections written over long periods of time (like Psalms) or by several authors (see Prov. 30:1; 31:1). But the individual parts of these books were recognized by their contemporaries to come from spokesmen of God.
There is ample evidence in Scripture that books were immediately accepted into the canon by contemporaries of the writers. For example, when Moses wrote, his books were immediately placed by the Ark (Deut. 31:26).
Geisler, N. L., & Nix, W. E. (1996). A general introduction to the Bible (Rev. and expanded.) (223–229). Chicago: Moody Press.
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