The Confident Christian
7/6/14 at 05:10 PM 1 Comments

Does the New Testament Belong in the Bible?

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For all Christians, the New Testament is cherished, trusted, and rightly viewed as the Word of God. The 27 books of the New Testament are combined with the 39 books of the Old and stand as a work that is the #1 bestselling book of all time, even becoming the bestseller for 2013 in very secular countries like Norway.[1]

But there’s something that used to bother me about the New Testament, even into my Master’s and Ph.D. studies in seminary. The issue wasn’t one of the usual and customary criticisms about the New Testament that skeptics present; those can be fielded without much bother at all.

Rather, the question that floated into and out of my mind can be summed up this way: Why should we consider the New Testament on par with the Old Testament where Scripture is concerned?

While this may seem like a strange question for a Christian to ask at first, stop for a moment and think about something. There’s little question that Judaism considered the Old Testament to be God’s Word and that statements made by Jesus and others in the New Testament affirmed such a position:

“the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (John 17:17).

"from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:15-16).

"But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

“It is written…” (Matt. 4:1-10).[2]

But there is little doubt that all these and similar verses are referring mostly, if not only, to the Old Testament Scriptures at the time they were recorded. What evidence do we have to believe that the biographies of Jesus and letters of apostles such as Paul, John, Peter, and James should be placed on equal footing with the Old Testament and labeled as God’s Word?

Something Old, Something New

Where the compilation of the New Testament is concerned, critics of Christianity normally say that Jesus’ biographies and the epistles are simply something christened as Scripture by the winners of ecclesiastical political wars and nothing more. But when examined in light of the Old Testament, that argument quickly becomes untenable.

While there are numerous works written on this subject by theologians and Church historians, the one I find that most succinctly answers the question of why the New Testament (and specifically the 27 books comprising it) belongs in the Bible is, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger. In the book, Köstenberger and Kruger tackle the challenges to New Testament validity and authority mounted by critics such as Walter Bauer and his contemporary disciples Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels.

In their defense of the New Testament, Köstenberger and Kruger document four solid reasons why the books not only deserve a place alongside the Old Testament, but why they were anticipated by the early Church and are absolutely necessary to showcase God’s plan of salvation.

The New Covenant

A covenant in the ancient world was an arrangement / contract between two parties that included various items such as the terms of the relationship, obligations between each party, and blessings/curses for adhering to the covenant.

One of the mandates of a covenant was that all aspects of the treaty would be written down and a copy delivered to each party, similar to the process of how modern legal agreements work today. There is little disagreement between historians that the Mosaic / Old Testament covenant was patterned after ancient covenants.

Throughout the Old Testament, the framework of an ancient covenant is found with structures of preambles (Ex. 20:2a), prologues (Ex. 20:2b), obligations (Ex. 20:3-17), blessings / curses (Ex. 20:5-7, 11-12) being found in multiple places, right down to the “inscriptional curse” that pronounced judgment on anyone altering the words of the treaty: “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut. 4:2).[3]

The Old Testament clearly states that the people of God were anticipating a future new covenant whereby their people would be rescued by God: “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31).

This being the case, there would be clear expectations that this new covenant, like the old covenant, would naturally include written texts that would testify to the terms of the new arrangement that God was establishing with his people.

Where the New Testament is concerned, scholars have demonstrated that they – from beginning to end – reflect the formal ancient covenantal structure right down to the inscriptional curse that closes out Revelation, the last book in the New Testament: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18–19).

The Record of Redemptive History

In both the Old and New Testaments, the people of God are delivered by the lamb of God (Ex. 12:1-7; John 1:29).

In the Old Testament, Scripture details how God rescues His people (both Jews and Gentiles) from Egypt in what is without question the archetypal redemptive event of the old covenant era. Not surprisingly, in the shadow of the Old Testament, the New Testament chronicles God’s perfect redemptive act of Jesus’ work on the cross.

Jesus Himself connects the dots between the deliverance He would provide and the rescue of Israel from Egypt by initiating the new covenant meal at Passover: “He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood”” (Luke 22:20).

Because one of the primary functions of Scripture is to provide witness to God’s redemptive activity, in the same way that covenant documents were delivered to Israel after their rescue from Egypt by Moses, the new covenant necessitated that texts be provided to the Church, which communicated God’s perfect deliverance from sin for His people.

Of this, Köstenberger and Kruger rightly observe: “Thus it is the dawning of God’s long-awaited redemptive triumph in the person of Jesus that is the foundation for the giving of canonical documents and not later fourth-century Church politics.”[4]

Shaping Community

The Old Testament served to mold and shape the people of God so that the Creator could dwell among them. The same is true of the New Testament. Principles handed down in both covenantal texts provide the structural and organizational mechanisms used to govern God’s people.

This being the case, it is natural that the body of Christ would expect writings sent from God to guide the establishment and life of the Church. Because of how the Old Testament shaped the community of God in earlier times, Köstenberger and Kruger say of the Church: “they would have viewed the community of faith to be, in some sense, the results of the canon, rather than the canon being the result of the community of faith. Thus, any suggestion that the church creates the canon, or that the canon is simply and solely the outcome of a long period of ‘choosing’ by the established church, would not only unduly reverse the biblical and historical order but would have been an idea foreign to the earliest Christians.”[5]

God-Breathed

Last, but of course not least, the New Testament has a place beside the Old because it is inspired by God. N. T. Wright notes, “It used to be said that the New Testament writers didn’t think they were writing Scripture. That is hard to sustain historically today.”[6]

Why does Wright say this? Reasons include Paul and John claiming authority and inspiration as prophets of God (e.g. 1 Cor. 14:37; Rev. 1:10-11), the New Testament writers referring to each other’s works as Scripture (e.g. 2 Pet. 3:14–16; 1 Tim. 5:18), and Jesus’ promise that His biographers would be inspired by the Holy Spirit (e.g. John 14:26).

Conclusions

Does the New Testament belong in the Bible? The covenantal structure of the New Testament, its communication of God’s redemption through Christ, its mission to shape and direct the Church, and its inspired content all serve witness to its validity, purpose, and proper place alongside the Old Testament to form the full and perfect Word of God.



[2] “It is written” is the most often repeated phrase regarding the Bible being the Word of God being said some 92 times. In the Hellenistic world at that time ‘it is written’ was the formula used when people referred to the terms of an unalterable agreement, which is exactly how the New Testament writers use it.

[3] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy (Wheaton, IL: 2010), pp. 110-11.

[4] Köstenberger and Kruger, pg. 114.

[5] Köstenberger and Kruger, pp. 120-1.

[6] N. T. Wright, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understand of the Authority of Scripture, as quoted by Köstenberger and Kruger, pg. 118.

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