Church, Creed, Theology

Creed pt 5: Why the Gospels and Letters are Inspired

This post is a transcription of a First Sunday (communion service) message I shared at Grace Baptist Church on August 8, 2010.

This morning, we look at the Bible. I know that sounds pretty fundamental, but we have to ask the question, “Why 2,000 years after Jesus do we place the Bible in such high regard?”

After all, the world has changed. Science, language, nations, wars, technology – all of this has changed the world. And yet, in this changed world, we see that there is a movement to look back to the way things were, looking to the past for the answers. That’s why Eastern religions flourish and continue to be among us – buddhism, confucianism. That’s why the Tao is popular. That is why Islam has experienced as surge of popularity in the Western world.

Modernity – the idea that we were getting better on our own, that we did not need the past – died on the battlefields of the World War’s and then froze in the midst of the Cold War. We live in a world looking to reanchor itself in the story of humanity. The narrative that we have learned is not valid, and people are trying to rediscover their story.

For the Christian, the story stretches back through the record of the Scriptures. Our purpose here is not to give an exhaustive study of the Bible. Particularly, I want to look at just one idea, just one part of the discussion about the Bible. That part is “Why do we believe the Bible is inspired? Why do we embrace it as the story of man’s humanity – our fall and our redemption?”

Accepting the Old Testament as Inspired

We embrace the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, because it was embraced by the early Christians. Christianity was born out of Judaism, and Jesus himself accepted the Law and the Prophets as authoritative Scriptures. His followers, his disciples accepted it as well. The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to Timothy wrote:

From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17, ESV)

All Scripture? The apostle meant by all Scripture the Old Testament – the Law and the Prophets. He did not mean what he was writing at that moment. We can see just how completely the apostles accepted that as Scripture.

The Reason We Include the New Testament

But that’s only half of the Bible. What about the New Testament? When and how did we take the second half and make it also inspired of God? Even if we accept the Old Testament as Scripture, why should we accept the New?

The Christians took Paul’s position a step further. From their earliest days, they revered the writings of the apostles and by AD 100, they were already collating them into two sections – The Gospels and the Letters.

There are many different writers in the market right now selling the idea that the New Testament is only part of the ancient authoritative Scriptures, that we should also embrace the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Q. According to the Jesus Seminar, we should search through the existing gospels and only glean the ‘sayings of Jesus.’

The reason we accept the Gospels and the Letters as we have them today goes back to the words of Jesus – particularly what Jesus has to say in the Gospel of Mark. At the end of Jesus’ life, after the resurrection, he said to his apostles:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mrk 16:15-18, ESV)

(As a sidenote, this passage is one of the reasons the apostle Paul is accepted as one of the authoritative New Testament authors, because he did all these signs himself, as the other apostles did.)

Jesus tells the apostles to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”, to proclaim this message of his coming and his resurrection to everything that has been created. Jesus is telling them to extend the revealed message of God beyond the Law and the Prophets.

Why? Because in the Law and the Prophets you could see Jesus. Living in that age, you could look at Jesus and see the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, the answer to the desires of the world. But in order for those who would ‘come after’ to see it, they would have to hear it from someone who had seen. The apostles were called to become living epistles, the writers of the truth.

This theme is present most obviously in the writings of the apostle John (John 20:29, 1 John 1:1-4), but you can also look at what Jesus had to say in the Gospel of Matthew:

He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20, ESV)

Jesus asks his disciples: who do people say I am? What’s the word on the street? He uses a very definite phrase from the Old Testament – Son of Man – and asks what people are saying. The disciples know that people are saying he is a part of the Old Testament.

But then he asks them who they, his disciples, think he is. Their answer is that he is the Messiah. Jesus tells them that they have it right, that he’s not just a part – he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. They see who Jesus is, and so they are given the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Here is what Jesus is saying. Because the disciples realized that he was the fulfillment, he would use them to give the record of the fulfillment – the Gospels – and the way to live because of what he accomplished – the Letters.

Before the resurrection, he gives them the keys because they understand, at least partially. He gives them the potential and once everything has been fulfilled they can then proclaim to all creation the Good News. The Law and the Prophets – fulfilled in the Gospel and the Letters.

The apostles should have chosen or even been Jesus’ successors, and later generations even tried to make it sound like that, but they weren’t. Instead, they tell this story of the one who came, died and was raised again. They were the witnesses, and their record is the New Testament. Here is what we saw, and here is what we must do because of it.

And the early church recognized that. Sifting through all the things written in Jesus’ name, they recognized that these writings dovetailed with what they already knew to be the Scriptures and showed Jesus fulfilling it.

This is why we embrace both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament as the Word of God.

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