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The Inspiration of the New Testament

Photo of Rick OsterRick Oster | Bio

Rick Oster

A highly respected teacher at Harding School of Theology for over 40 years, Dr. Richard Oster helps prepare students for work in Christian ministry (and a smaller number for doctoral studies elsewhere) by teaching courses in New Testament Greek and courses in the content of the New Testament. These courses include Acts of Apostles, Pauline letters, book of Revelation, NewTestament Theology, and historical and cultural backgrounds of the NewTestament. He is also an expert on ancient Ephesus. 
Photo of Bobby HarringtonBobby Harrington | Bio

Bobby Harrington

Bobby is the point-leader of Renew.org and Discipleship.org, both collaborative, disciple-making organizations. He is the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN). He has an M.A.R. and an M.Div. from Harding School of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of more than 10 books on discipleship, including Discipleshift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman), The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick) and Becoming a Disciple Maker: The Pursuit of Level 5 Disciple Making (with Greg Weins). He lives in the greater Nashville area with his wife and near his children and grandchildren.

*Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a series on the Bible, its formation, and its trustworthiness. For Part 1 (“The Inspiration of the Old Testament”), click HERE

Do we have good reasons to think that the New Testament is divine in origin and intended by God to be an authoritative guide for our lives and our beliefs?

When Jesus appeared, he claimed that his teachings had come from the Father. Look at how authoritatively he considered his teachings:

For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken (John 12:47-49). 

Jesus also compared his words and teachings to the foundation of a house. Claiming to follow him and to do great things in his name would not be enough on the Day of Judgment. Jesus said that only those who build their lives on the foundation of his teaching will enter the kingdom of heaven:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!” Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Matthew 7:21–24).

Miracle working is often viewed as the “gold standard” of one’s true piety and walk with God. Yet even this résumé stuffing seen in Matt. 7:22 is of no avail in the presence of God on Judgment Day. These spiritual credentials of having performed exorcisms, having given prophecies, and having done numerous miracles turn out to be on the CV of those labelled by the Lord as “workers of lawlessness.”

What matters? Putting Jesus’ words into practice.

It is not surprising, then, that just before his ascension back to heaven, Jesus committed his words and teachings to the apostles as the basis of obedience for all future disciples:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20). 

This passage shows the apostles becoming the custodians of Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus gave them his teachings, he gave them to men from a culture where disciples of rabbis were trained to write down and memorize their words. In a like manner, Jesus’ teaching would have naturally been written down and memorized by his disciples.[1] In fact, many parts of Jesus’ teachings were structured so they could be easily memorized (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount).

Jesus also told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would ensure they accurately reported his teachings.

These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:24–26). 

As with the prophets of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit would ensure that the message of the apostles was the Word of God.

Jesus spent forty days with the Apostles between his resurrection and his ascension into heaven. Rather than healing the sick or evangelizing, Jesus taught the apostles about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) so they could share his teachings with others. This is why, from the first days, the Christians devoted themselves to the “apostles’ teaching.” They were not just the apostles’ teaching; they were the inspired teachings of Jesus Christ! That’s what we learn from Acts 2:42:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Jesus Christ and his words were God’s final message for the human race.

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The apostles describe their writings as the teachings of Jesus. For example,

I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1: 12).

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you (1 Corinthians 11: 23).

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16).

The writers of the New Testament urged Christians to uphold and defend these teachings because God would provide no new teaching from this point forward. The faith was already set:

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (Jude 1:3-4). 

The writings of the apostles and those closely associated with them assumed the status of Scripture as inspired.[2]

Even as the New Testament was being completed, the apostle Peter referred to Paul’s writings as “Scripture” (2 Peter 3:16). Also, two texts—one from the Old Testament and one from the Gospel of Luke—were introduced by the phrase, “the Scripture says” (1 Tim. 5:18). The apostles’ teachings were Jesus’ teachings, and Jesus received His teachings directly from our heavenly Father.

Jesus Christ and his words were God’s final message for the human race.

The next article will discuss the process of how these individual writings became the Bible, a process known as the “formation of the canon.” 

[1] Craig Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels,” accessed July 24, 2014, http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbbible.aspx?pageid=8589952775.

[2] Clark H. Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (New York: Harper and Row, 1984), 48.