Did God have anything to do with our New Testament?

This discussion started last week, so you may want to read some previous posts if you haven’t done so. Last week, I pointed out the humanity of the gospels, which often gets overlooked. There was as great a human element in the writing and preserving of the gospels as there was with the epistles.

That said, I believe that all the books of the Bible were inspired. I’ll admit to not being able to explain all the ins and outs of inspiration, for I’m neither a “divine dictation” believer nor a “purely human” advocate. But I’m firmly convinced that God breathed life into the words in this book, giving it value that common books do not have.

Both Luke and John talk about why they wrote their books. They felt that writing was their decision. Paul also speaks of choosing to write the letters he writes. That shows the existence of some humanity in what was done. Yet I’m convinced that God guided their writing, shaping the books into what he wanted them to be.

I also believe that God guided the church in the preservation process. Early Christians debated a bit, but relatively quickly came to a consensus as to which books belonged in our Bible (despite what you might have read in Dan Brown novels). They rejected certain gospels, discarded certain letters, but kept the books that they felt best met the needs of Christians outside of the original recipients. I don’t think these choices were made by chance.

That’s why I’m frustrated with the current “That’s just Paul” movement. It very much downplays the role of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Book. Paul is not divine in the way Jesus is. But Paul’s words are as inspired as the recorded words of Jesus. The early church thought they had a wider application than their original audience; surely God had a hand in that. They deserve to be taken seriously, very seriously.

Don’t overlook the wider applications of Paul’s writings.

As we talk about “Jesus vs Paul,” or “taking Jesus much more seriously than we do Paul,” I think we need to remember that the epistles are more than just letters from the apostles to certain people.

For many years, we read the epistles as if they were written directly to us. I still hear people say, “I Corinthians 16 commands us to take an offering every Sunday.” I often point out that it also commands us to hold those collected funds until somebody comes to take them to Jerusalem. Reading the epistles as if they were direct commands to today’s church can cause problems.

I know you’re sick of me saying it, but I think we did a pendulum swing on this one as well. Now we read 1 Corinthians as if it were nothing more than teachings for the Corinthians. We rightly look at the historical context of the original writing but fail to see one other context: the preservation of certain writings of Paul and others.

Paul wrote letters that weren’t saved. We know of at least one letter to the Corinthians that we don’t have (1 Corinthians 5:9). We know that he wrote the church in Laodicea (Colossians 4:16), but we don’t have that letter. Given the duration of his ministry (and the duration of his captivity), it’s probable that Paul wrote numerous other letters. They weren’t saved.

But the church looked at these letters and realized that they had an application far beyond their original context. They saved them and read them regularly for that very reason.

That’s what I see people missing today. They aren’t asking the question: “Why did the early church think this was useful?” That goes for the epistles and it goes for the gospels.

Given my view of inspiration, I think the Holy Spirit was active in guiding the church as to what to preserve and what not to preserve. I’ll have more to say about that in a future post.

For now, let’s recognize that identifying the original situation being addressed is an important step, but it’s not a limiting step in interpretation. The instructions given to the Corinthian church about a limited time special offering still show us the importance of giving sacrificially, the central faith act of taking care of brothers in other countries when they are in need, and even the practicality of a Sunday offering. We can’t just say, “Oh, that was the first century.” We have to look deeper.

In other words, it’s time that the church took Paul way more seriously.

The gospels weren’t written with red ink

When I questioned my friend about his statement that he takes Jesus “much more seriously” than he takes Paul, another friend jumped in and said, “You mean the red letters, right?” Wow! Talk about rattling my cage.

Again, I see this as a pendulum swing away from teachings that travel from the manger to the cross to Pentecost without taking a breath along the way. We need the words of Jesus, his teachings. We need the red letters.

But let us never forget that the Word became flesh. The Word didn’t become more words. God could have sent us The Collected Sayings of Messiah Jesus instead of allowing his Son to take human form. But that’s not what happened.

Jesus came and lived among us. When those that walked with him described his life, they talked about how he went around doing good (Acts 10:38). Talk is cheap; Jesus lived out what he taught. His followers spoke of the miracles he did by God’s power (Acts 2:22). To them, what Jesus did was as important as what he said.

I don’t want to lose Jesus’ weeping at Lazarus’ death. I don’t want to forget how he reached out and touched an untouchable leper. I want to remember that he changed water into wine and cleared the temple. I want the image of him sitting and eating breakfast with his disciples on the shore of Galilee.

I value the teaching, as well. I want to be reminded that in the beginning was the Word, that he was with God and was God, that he made everything. I want to be reminded that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Red-letter Christianity loses insights like that which were provided by those who knew Jesus best.

I don’t believe in a “canon within a canon” that makes certain books authoritative and reduces others to mere suggestions. I don’t accept the idea of a “canon within the gospels” that says red letters carry more weight than black ones.

Red-letter Christianity is trying to follow a bodiless Messiah. It ignores the importance of the Incarnation. There are lots of books with wise sayings and helpful teachings; if we only read the red letters, the gospels become more examples of the same.

A friend of mine was recording a video about his ministry and said, “I’m a red-letter Christian because I try to do the things that Jesus did.” Through his mistake, he gave an excellent argument against red-letter Christianity. We’re called to be like Jesus, to imitate him. If we only use half the gospels, we won’t be able to do that nearly as well.

The Word became flesh… not more words.

Links To Go (January 20, 2017)

Oh no, look what Trump’s done: He’s appointed someone to Cabinet who ONCE PRAYED

Am I reading that right? Is the newspaper that exposed Watergate really suggesting that the most important detail about a Cabinet appointee is that he “once led a prayer?”
Stop the presses!
I mean, is the political staff of the Post really so out of touch that they think somebody praying is first-sentence material for a breaking news alert?:

That Time I Turned a Routine Traffic Ticket into the Constitutional Trial of the Century

Traffic-camera laws seem like such minor, insignificant intrusions on liberty that few grasp their constitutional significance. But they reflect a profoundly mistaken view of American constitutionalism. One might say that the traffic camera is a sign of our times. Its widespread use and acceptance reveals how far we have drifted from our fundamental commitment to self-government. When our governing officials dismiss due process as mere semantics, when they exercise powers they don’t have and ignore duties they actually bear, and when we let them get away with it, we have ceased to be our own rulers.

Upon The Death Of A Grandson

I know that Nathan is with Jesus in glory for his confidence was not in himself but in his Lord who died for him. Christ had to bear all the horror of our death to bring us eternal life. We may have victory over death in him but we can never accept death as good, normal and acceptable. For when we cease to rage against death we have given up on life itself.

Be Careful Calling Someone a “False Teacher”

But Jesus teaches us to examine the fruit of people’s lives. If someone is full of love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness – but they teach something incorrectly – they are NOT someone you need to go to war against. They are an “Apollos” and need to be treated as such. On the other hand, if someone is a lover of money, constantly quarreling and fighting, or hateful and rude, this is the kind of person who needs to be sharply rebuked, silenced, and avoided.
There are false teachers and there are mistaken teachers; we need to practice discernment to know one from the other.

God Always Seems To Have An Idea

I’m to do what we are all to do when facing challenges that sometimes make us cry. We praise God. We tell Him “thank you”. We do not flinch. What we do is live in certainty that as one door closes others break open. This is the way it will go for me and how it will unfold for you.
God is never out of ideas. I truly believe that He has wonder in mind that no man or woman has dared even inquire about; let alone approach.

The immaculate gospels vs the inadequate epistles (?)

It’s amazing how the four gospels came into being, isn’t it? How they dropped down from the sky with no human intervention. Unlike other books of the Bible, these four contain no human elements; all other books of Scripture must be judged by their contents.

I’m sorry… is my sarcasm showing? Let me say that I believe in the inspiration of the Bible, the whole Bible. What I’m trying to say is that we mustn’t make the gospels into what they’re not. When my friend posted, “I take Jesus much more seriously than I take Paul,” I responded, “Don’t you mean that you take Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John way more seriously than you do Paul?”

Let’s remember that the gospels are church documents. They were produced by the church, for the church. They are teaching documents, every bit as much as the letters are. They are occasional documents (written for a specific need), just as much as the epistles are. They were written by inspired human authors, just as the writings of Paul were.

We can’t reject parts of the Old Testament because “they don’t fit what we know about Jesus.” (Yeah, I’ve heard that argued) We can’t reject Paul’s teachings because we think they conflict with what Jesus said. Frankly, the conflict is in our interpretation of what each said, not what they actually said. The first four books of the New Testament are not to be excepted from any scrutiny that we do of the other books. If you’re willing to reject Paul, or not take him seriously, be prepared to do the same with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

In my last post, I emphasized the importance of the gospels. But that importance in no way takes away importance from the rest of the New Testament or the rest of the Bible. If you take the Jesus we see in the Bible seriously, you have to take Paul just as seriously. We don’t get to pick and choose.

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