We now come to the fifth and final premise to establish in showing the Bible is without error: Jesus promised the New Testament would be written by God through the apostles and would be without error. A careful reading of the historical record in the gospels makes this clear.
A Popular View Today
In this series, I have been critiquing the view of a very well-known and influential pastor, who has recently changed his view of the Bible. He now argues the authors of the New Testament were not writing the very Words of God. Rather, they were writing what they think they heard God say to them, or what they thought about God. They were trying to understand their experience, and how the “Old” Testament should be reinterpreted in light of their current cultural realities. For instance, he argues, Paul reinterprets the practice of circumcision in light of new and changing cultural realities.
Is he correct? Is this what the authors of the New Testament were doing? We must again compare this view with what the authority says. Was this Jesus’ view of the soon-to-be-written New Testament? Not in the least!
Jesus is very clear about how the New Testament will be written, and the authority it will share with the “Old” Testament. He commissions his disciples to write the New Testament, playing the same role as prophets in the Old Testament—communicating God’s Word without error. They were uniquely qualified for this task due to their individual callings and historical experiences with Jesus.
Their Selection by Jesus
First, they had been individually selected by Jesus to play this important role. “When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:13). Jesus’ use of the term “apostle” for them is very important. Though the word (apostolos) generally means “sent one,” it is almost always used of the twelve Jesus selected as his disciples.
This word has a double background. In the Old Testament, the word meant “to send.” Very often it was used when referring to God’s prophets. They were the ones God was sending with his message. They were the ones authorized by him to steward and communicate his Word (see, for instance, Exodus 3:10, Numbers 16:28-29, Isaiah 6:8, Jeremiah 1:7, Ezekiel 2:3, and Jeremiah 35:15).
In each case, this is not just a general sending off, but God’s specific commission to serve God as his prophet, entrusted with his Word, which they were to communicate faithfully and without error to others.
So too is this part of the apostle’s commissioning. As John Stott summarizes,
It is evident that when Jesus gave to the Twelve the title "apostles" and "sent" them out to teach, he was likening his apostles to God's prophets and indicating that they were to speak in his name and carry his word to others. J.R.W. Stott, The Authority of the Bible
Furthermore, in the contemporary context, the hearers of the word “apostolos” recognized it as the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic "shaliach.” This term had a very clear meaning—one sent out by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish leaders) to teach Jews in far-away lands (the Jewish diaspora). The shaliach carried the authority of the Sanhedrin who sent them. In the same way, hearers of “apostolos” would understand what they said carried the authority of Jesus.
Their Unique Experiences with Jesus
Their historical experiences further qualified them as the ones able to speak God’s Word in the pages of the New Testament. These were the men who had accepted Jesus’ call to be his disciples and had been with Jesus throughout his ministry. In Jewish culture, if one accepts a call from a Rabbi and becomes a disciple, he is committing to memorize all the teacher says and accurately teach this to others after the Rabbi’s death. This was the charge they accepted and was referenced in John 15:26:
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. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
In John 14 and 16, as Jesus’ time on earth nears its end, he makes this calling explicit. He promises the apostles they will receive special inspiration by the Holy Spirit, in order to remind them of all Jesus said and guide them into all truth. In short, their writings would be without error, for the Holy Spirit would oversee their writings.
The first passage where Jesus states this is brief but poignant:
All this I have spoken while still with you. 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 14:25-16)
The second passage amplifies this same commissioning:
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 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. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. (John 16:12-15)
Finally, Jesus prays shortly after this, reiterating this theme. He prays for all who will be Christ’s followers through the centuries, coming to believe in him on the basis of the words of the apostles: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…” (John 17:20).
There is no doubt that Jesus understood the New Testament would be the authoritative Word of God, without error, written through the apostles by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, it is clear in the writings of the apostles that they understood this sacred commissioning as well. Peter equates the writings of the apostles with the Word of God spoken by the Old Testament prophets: “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” (II Peter 3:2).
Paul recognized Luke’s writings on par with sacred Old Testament texts. In I Timothy 5:18 he quotes both Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 in the context of “the Scripture says”: “For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’”
As a final example, the prophets and apostles are co-referenced as God’s spokesmen in Ephesians 3:5, “[God’s truth] has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”
Jesus, the apostles, and the first-century hearers and readers all understood Jesus’ commissioning and charge to the apostles to complete God’s written revelation—the New Testament—and do so without error.
Objection: John 14 and 16 is a Promise to All Believers
It is common to hear the promises made in John 14 and 16 applied to all followers of Christ. However, careful exegesis (study of the passage to determine its proper meaning) shows these promises are made to the apostles alone.
First, note that this is a promise made to a specific group. It is made to that group of individuals who had been with Jesus, and thus could be reminded of what Jesus said to them (John 14:25).
Furthermore, it was a promise to that group who Jesus had already spoken with, but for whom he had more to say. Yet at that time they were not able to take in any more (John 16:12). Therefore he promised the Spirit would come back to them later and reveal more of His Truth to them (John 16:12).
A basic interpretive principle is that promises made to one individual or group may not be appropriated by another individual or group. For instance, in Genesis 12:2-3 God makes a promise to an individual named Abraham:
I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
This is a specific promise made to a specific individual. No other person or group may claim this promise—it was not made to them. In the same way, Jesus’ promises in John 14 and 16 are made to a specific group of individuals—those who had been with Jesus (his disciples). Therefore no one else may claim this as their promise. The promises apply to the twelve disciples alone.
The evidence is strong that Jesus commissioned his twelve disciples to write the final revelation of God (the “New” Testament) to complement his previous revelation (the “Old” Testament).
However, over half of the New Testament is not written by one of these twelve. Paul of Tarsus wrote these additional books. Why should his writings be included in the New Testament and deemed part of God’s inerrant Word?
I’ll discuss this in next week’s article. Until then, grace and peace.