Were Apostles Always Aware of Writing Scripture?

Were Apostles Always Aware of Writing Scripture? September 25, 2016


Apostle Paul (1633?), by Rembrandt (1606-1669) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


(6-29-06; abridged with slight revisions on 9-25-16)


This is an abridged version of a much longer dialogue.


1 Corinthians 14:37 (RSV) If any one thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.

This doesn’t prove that Paul thought that this particular letter was Scripture. Of course it was, but this doesn’t prove that it was Paul’s understanding at the time; nor is it necessary that he know that in order for it to be inspired; nor that this sort of thing be present in the writing to “prove” that it is Scripture for later readers.

Context and Scripture cross-referencing are, I contend, against such a view. “A command of the Lord” need not be Scripture itself, just as the prophets surely gave many “command of the Lord” which were not recorded in Scripture or anywhere else. In other words, the category of “Lord’s commands” is much larger than such commands as have been recorded in Holy Scripture.

Paul mentions a “prophet.” But previously in the same chapter he taught about prophesying (14:1, 3-5, 22, 24, 29, 31-32, 39; cf. 12:10, 28-29). Paul is by no means the only “prophet” here. Note the implication (in light of context) in 14:6 that anyone who prophesies might “bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching.”

Those who prophesy in church may bring a revelation? Paul is even more clear, referring to “a revelation . . . made to another sitting by” in 14:30). Such “revelation” would be a “command of the Lord” just as much as Paul’s letter in which this writing was recorded, since “God’s commands” is also a category larger than Scripture itself. We could be commanded by an angel this very day if God so willed.

Moreover, four verses later, Paul goes right back to oral proclamation: “I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast — unless you believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:1-2)

Oops! Paul must have flunked Calvinism 0101, Eternal Security 0101, and Sola Scriptura 0101 classes in seminary. Let me correct his teaching here with the RFBV (Revised Fundamentalist Baptist Version):

I presented to you the gospel in this letter which is Scripture, which you received, in which you stand, by which you were saved; therefore you will hold it fast — unless you believed in vain.

Paul goes on to recount how he “delivered” the gospel to the Corinthians (orally), in 15:3-6. Later (15:29) he discusses folks “being baptized on behalf of the dead” — the most difficult verse in the NT for Protestants to interpret.

One didn’t have to even be an apostle to pass along the “word of God.” They merely had to be a prophet, or to prophesy; and Paul seemed to think that many would do so and that it would be a routine occurrence. A prophecy stands on its own as an inspired utterance. Certainly the OT prophets spoke tons and tons of prophecies which didn’t end up being recorded. The same would be true of John the Baptist (the last prophet, as it were: Mt 11:13). But these were no less authoritative, if indeed they were true prophecies, because they were equally inspired by God, by definition.

Nowhere does the Bible say that every prophecy is simply a citation of known biblical books, or that the oft-referenced oral preaching is restricted to NT (and OT) writings.

What’s interesting here is how that squares with present-day Christianity, where such prophesying is a rare occurrence, in all the major Christian traditions. Even the pope doesn’t claim such a gift, but rather, the far lesser gift of infallibility. So this becomes yet another indirect argument for the biblical plausibility or at least (for the more skeptically-minded) permissibility of papal infallibility, since both inspiration of sinful men and prophesying of sinful men occurred and were instruments through which a sure word of divine prophecy or revelation were received; why, not, then, also the far inferior gift of protection from doctrinal error, so that Christians could be certain of doctrinal truths?

Inspired utterances are a larger phenomena than just Holy Scripture. So any Pauline reference to “inspiration” need not necessarily and always refer to Scripture. And even if he explicitly claimed inspiration for some piece of his writing, that still wouldn’t prove that he thought it was Scripture, as opposed to a sure word from an apostle or a prophecy (though it is obviously consistent with such a notion).

I agree with what Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote:

Browse Our Archives