Is the New Testament a Product of the Church?
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
Sometimes Christians forget that when the church of Christ was first established on Pentecost, it did not possess the New Testament as we have it today. The church’s “Bible” was the Old Testament. It had been completed about 425 B.C., and was the Bible Jesus and others often quoted in their teachings. The church’s new teachings were based on the authority Christ gave the apostles (John 14:26; 16:13). Inspired men soon put in writing new divine regulations (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:35) that were collected and read regularly in the assemblies not long after they were written. The New Testament canon gradually took shape so that within roughly 150 years of Pentecost, the New Testament books already had been collected. [NOTE: Near the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that on Sundays in the Christian worship “memoirs of the apostles” were read together with “writings of the prophets” (The First Apology, 67).]
Sometimes people claim that “the New Testament is simply a product of church.” Such a statement usually is made in order to imply that the Bible is merely a product of the early church councils that met to discuss which books should be included in the New Testament canon. Critics thus belittle the idea that the New Testament we have today actually originated with God.
How does one respond to the question, “Is the New Testament a product of the church?” First, a book’s authenticity depended upon its authority (i.e., did it come from God?), and when it was accepted as canonical, it was accepted because of its inherent authority. The 27 books of the New Testament made their way into the Bible much like the books of the Old Testament. Books were included because: (a) they were known to have come from God—i.e., they contained the commandments of God; (b) they were written by an apostle or prophet of God—like Peter or Paul who could perform miracles to confirm what they were teaching; (c) they could be proven to be genuine—such as the book of Luke, written by Luke; and (d) they were used by Christians.
Second, church councils could not make the books of the Bible authoritative. The books either were inherently authoritative or they were not. Consider the 13-month-old boy who calls his father “daddy” for the first time. Is that the very moment when the man actually becomes his father, or was this man his daddy long before the child started calling him such? The fact is, this man was the father when the child was conceived; he was his father when the baby was born; and he was already the father when the child first called him daddy. Just because he never had called the man his daddy until he was 13 months old does not mean he was not already his father. Similarly, just because hundreds of years ago certain groups of men held meetings to decide which books they thought belonged in the Bible, does not mean that they produced the Bible. These men no more gave us the 27 books of the New Testament than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity via His work of creation; similarly, He gave us the New Testament canon by inspiring the individual books that compose it. Newton did not create gravity, but he did recognize it. Likewise, early church councils did not produce the New Testament; rather, they simply recognized which books God had inspired. Thus, God wrote the books of the Bible; men simply put them together.