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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Did God tell them to write that stuff?

In discussing the origins of the New Testament, it is ironic to me that the statements of the men who actually wrote the original documents are either carelessly overlooked or purposely ignored. Although, I guess that's to be expected when a majority of Christians are looking at those documents through the lens of Divine origin. From that perspective, the individual authors of those documents don't matter very much.

Nevertheless, if we take a closer look at what is recorded in those documents, it becomes clear that John was the only human author of the New Testament who claimed to have been told to write anything! (Book of Revelation) John wrote that he heard a loud voice behind him that sounded like a trumpet. (Revelation 1:10) The voice said: "I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, what thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea." (verse 11)

We will ignore for now that John was told to write his message for seven congregations in Asia that existed in the First Century world of which he was a part. However, the whole question of who is being addressed in the writings of the New Testament canon will be of interest as we continue to explore this subject.

A little later he was told to "write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." (verse 19) He was told to write the messages to each one of the churches. (Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18, 3:1, 7 and 14) Finally, near the conclusion of the book, John wrote: "And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful." (Revelation 21:5)

Hence, we can see that John clearly stated that God told him to write the material that ended up in the document that we call the "book" of Revelation. But what about the rest of the New Testament?

Matthew records that Jesus Christ made this statement at the end of his earthly ministry: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. A-men." (Matthew 28:19-20) So Christ did instruct his disciples to teach all nations about him and his instructions. However, it is clear that this commission was originally carried out by preaching from town to town. (Book of Acts) Hence, it is clear that the documents that we now possess were written years later - toward the ends of their ministries.

Luke wrote: "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed." (Luke 1:1-4)

Did you catch that? Luke said that writing down Christ's story seemed like a good idea to him because there seemed to be a movement among the disciples to record what had happened. So the idea to write his gospel was his own? That's what he said! He also makes clear in this preface to his gospel that he was not himself an eyewitness to the events he is describing. In other words, he is writing down what he has heard from the people who were actually there when it all happened.

Finally, this extraordinary statement by Luke makes it very clear that his account was written for the benefit of one person - someone named Theophilus! You mean Luke wasn't thinking about us when he wrote his gospel? It is interesting to note that Luke also addressed his Acts of the Apostles to the same individual. (Acts 1:1) Hence, we have Luke's gospel and history of the early church because he decided that Theophilus needed to have an accurate and chronological account of those events. I guess it's a good thing that God inspired Theophilus to save the documents that Luke had written to him!

In yet another remarkable statement by the author of The Gospel According to John, we read: "And many other signs (miracles) did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." (John 20:30-31)

It is amazing how most of us breeze through these kinds of statements and don't even give them a backward glance! Think about what the author of this gospel has just revealed to us about his work. He tells us that there is a great deal of information about Christ and his ministry that didn't make it into his account. Likewise, he tells us that his purpose in writing the book was to introduce Jesus Christ to a wider audience so that they would have the opportunity to accept him and be saved. A noble purpose to be sure, but notice that it was John's purpose!

In similar fashion, Paul decided to write a letter to the saints at Rome to share with them his perspective on Christ's gospel and secure their faith in the Lord. (Romans 1:1, 7, 11 and 15) He wrote to the Christians at Corinth because he had heard that there were numerous problems in the congregation there. (I Corinthians 1:1, 11, 5:1 and 11:18) Paul also told them that he wanted to address certain questions that some of them had previously asked him about. (I Corinthians 7:1) Finally, the apostle told them that he wanted to confront those in their midst who were saying that there wasn't going to be any resurrection. (I Corinthians 15:12)

Indeed, we could go through all of Paul's epistles (letters) and point out statements that were intended to deal with specific issues relative to the particular person and/or congregation(s) being addressed. In other words, Paul decided to write letters to people and churches that he personally knew - about issues that they were facing during his lifetime. Are we so arrogant as to believe that Paul even gave us a thought? Do we honestly believe that Paul thought that he was writing "books" that would later be compiled into a New Testament? Did Paul know that his personal letters would one day be regarded as Scripture?

I can already hear the outrage: "But God inspired those men to write those things!" In my next post, we will explore what Divine inspiration is and isn't.

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