Did the Apostles Know They Were Writing Scripture?

By Clark Bates

For the modern day Christian, when we speak of “Scripture” it’s generally quite clear that we’re referring to both the Old and New Testaments that make up the Holy Bible. However, in the days of Christ and the apostles, “Scripture” meant only the Hebrew Bible, or what we call the Old Testament. So the question is often posed as to whether or not the writers of the New Testament were aware that they were in the act of writing new “Scripture” at the time they were writing and ministering? This is a valid question and one that touches on the heart of how we came by the New Testament at all.

To begin with, it would be helpful to address the means by which the 26 books of our New Testament came to be accepted as the word of God alongside the Hebrew Bible. A common misconception, furthered by internet rumor and popular film and television, is that the fourth century church compiled all the extant writings regarding Jesus and carefully edited out those that did not point to His deity or to the overall agenda of the church. This is, of course, a fallacious argument, rejected by all serious historians and scholars, but how did the New Testament come to be formed?

According to Geisler and Nix, a fivefold criterion of selection can be discerned from the writings of the earliest church following the apostles:

  1. Was the book written by a prophet or spokesman of God?

  2. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?

  3. Did the message tell the truth about God, not contradicting established Scripture?

  4. Does the book have the transforming power of God?

  5. Was it accepted by the people of God?1

To boil this criteria down to a singular phrase, the key factor in New Testament canonicity was it’s authorship by an apostle. So determined was the early church in this regard, that we read from St. Ignatius (A.D. 50-115) that, in spite of his authority in the church as an apostolic successor, “[he did] not wish to command you as Peter and Paul; they were apostles.”2 We also read of Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165) recording the regular Sunday meeting of the early church to engage in the reading of, “the writings of memoirs of the apostles or the prophets. . .” clearly linking the works of the apostles with that of the Old Testament prophets.3 As early as the beginning of the second century, the writings of the apostles were considered equivalent to the writings of the Hebrew Bible; 200 years before any church council was convened on the matter.

So, it’s clear that the post-apostolic church saw their writings as Scripture, but what of the apostles themselves? Is there any indication that they believed themselves to be writing a new canon? When we examine the writings of the apostle Paul a certain narrative presents itself…

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Exe-Jesus: Did the Apostles Know They Were Writing Scripture?