We now have good reason to believe all the New Testament books written by Jesus’ twelve disciples and Paul are God’s inspired, inerrant Word. However, two other books were penned by authors who do not have these credentials: James and Jude. Why should we accept their writings as authoritative?
When it comes to James and Jude, the rationale for the acceptance of their writings into the collection of books inspired by God is more circumstantial. However, it appears to be adequate.
Concerning James, the most important data is that the other apostles considered him to be one of them—a fellow apostle. An indication that he was seen as an equal is recorded in Acts 15:13. This exchange occurs during a very important dispute among the disciples considering the role of Gentile believers in the early church. After other apostles had spoken, we read, “When they finished, James spoke up: ‘Brothers, listen to me....’” Here James is seen to hold a commanding position among the apostles, even over Peter. The designation as an apostle is the highest designation possible, like the prophet of the Old Testament. It is one who God has specifically called to speak His Word and lead His people. So for the other apostles to defer to James as their leader clearly implies they saw him as an equal, and therefore as a fellow apostle.
Further indication of his position among the others was referenced in my last article. When Paul went to Jerusalem to be validated as an apostle, he met with Peter (Cephas) and James (Galatians 1:18-19):
Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
Fourteen years later Paul made his third visit to Jerusalem. This occurred between his first and second missionary journey in order to confirm he was teaching what the other apostles approved. The result was,
…James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship so that we might go to the Gentiles … (Gal. 2:9)
The broader context of the issue is spelled out in Acts 15. Paul had been preaching the gospel to Gentiles—those not of Jewish descent. This was a new development, and some of the early Jewish believers had concerns about such activity. So the church leaders met to determine “The Gentile Question.” In this context,
The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them…
…After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. . . . Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, …(Acts 15:6, 7, 13, 19)
Note here all the apostles were gathered, including James. After many spoke, Peter stands up and makes his argument. Peter was a forceful leader, one who the other apostles tended to follow. But his was not the final voice they listened to. James was the final apostle to speak, and the one who had the responsibility to make the final decision, which he did. With the rest of the apostles, he clearly had the position of “leader among equals.”
A fourth visit by Paul is recorded during his third missionary journey:
When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. (Acts 21:17-19)
Once again, James is identified as one of the central leaders of the church, accepted by the other apostles as one of their own.
Therefore, if those closest to the situation (the other apostles) accepted James also as a fellow apostle, it is most reasonable for us, much removed from the first-century context, to do so as well.
For this reason, we should accept what James writes as the writings of an apostle, and thus the very Word of God without error.
The case of Jude is the most unclear. We do not have record of Jesus commissioning him as an apostle, as with Paul. We do not have record of the other apostles accepting him as one of their own, as with James. So why accept his writings as authoritative and therefore a legitimate part of the New Testament?
The most compelling reason is similar to the line of reasoning regarding Paul and James: those much closer to the time and circumstances of his writing accepted his letter on par with the other writings of the New Testament. If they believed his writings to be authoritative, we should concur unless we have strong reason to believe otherwise. No strong reason otherwise exists. Therefore it is reasonable to also accept the small book Jude wrote as authoritative, as the other apostles did.
For these reasons, it makes sense to accept the writings of James and Jude as justifiably included in the New Testament.
However, there were other books allegedly penned by apostles that were not included in the New Testament (such as the Gospel of Thomas). Why were these books excluded? Next week I’ll discuss how that process unfolded.
Until then, grace and peace.