Did the New Testament authors regard their own writings as Scripture?
The authors of the New Testament did regard their writings as divinely authoritative. Many people think that the authors did not actually intend to write Scripture. They believe the authors were simply writing letters or stories, which were later treated as divinely inspired by the early Christian church. However, it is clear that the New Testament authors believed in the divine authority of their words. We can see this by looking at what they said about their writings and teachings. Though we are not able to look at all 27 books of the New Testament here, we will look at the claims made by some of the most important authors.
First, the authors of the New Testament viewed each other’s writings as Scripture. This suggests that they believed that divine authority had been given to them by Jesus. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:18, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and,‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” The second quote is not found anywhere in the Old Testament, and the Greek phrase that Paul uses matches exactly the phrase in Luke 10:7. So, Paul considered Luke’s Gospel to be Scripture, on equal level with the Old Testament, since he quotes them both in the same line.
Peter considered Paul’s letters to be Scripture. He writes, “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:1516). Peter clearly states in this passage that Paul’s letters are counted among the rest of the Scriptures. This is significant since earlier in the letter, Peter wrote that the readers should remember “the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). Peter is saying that the Lord gives commands through the apostles. Since Peter is an apostle, he is implying that the Lord gives commands through him.
Peter and Paul considered other writings in the New Testament to be Scripture, so this suggests that they believed in the divine authority of their own words. Now let’s look at how some of the most prominent authors of the New Testament viewed the authority of their own writings.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:3738, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” In this passage, Paul directly addresses his own writings and calls them a command of the Lord. This is nearly a direct claim to divine inspiration. This idea of a command of the Lord is found throughout the Old Testament as a claim to direct revelation from God. For example, God gave commandments to the people of Israel through Moses (e.g. Exodus 35:4; Numbers 10:13; etc.), who spoke to the Lord “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). Furthermore, Paul even declares that if anyone does not acknowledge that his words are a command of the Lord, “he is not recognized.” This shows Paul’s confidence in the authority of his words. It is also similar to the warnings
that God gave to the Israelites if they failed to acknowledge and follow his commandments through
Moses (e.g. Deuteronomy 11:2628).
Paul claims divine authority for his words in other letters as well. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” Here Paul explicitly refers to the words that he and the apostles were preaching as the “word of God”. Paul appears to be claiming the same inspiration as the prophets of the Old Testament, who would begin with “thus says the Lord” or “the word of the Lord”.
The writer of the book of Revelation, John, makes an express claim to divine inspiration. At the beginning of the book, John writes that what follows is a revelation that he received from God through an angel. He then writes, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). John commands the reading of this book out loud and the keeping of what is written in it. By doing this he equates his writing to the law of the Old Testament. God commanded the Israelites to read the law in the hearing of all the people, so that they could keep what was written in it (Deuteronomy 31:1113).
1 John gives us another clear assertion of divine inspiration. The author of this letter writes “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us” (1 John
4:6) Here the writer claims to be from God, indicating that he believed his teaching to be divinely inspired. Moreover, he claims that everyone who knows God listens to his words, and anyone who is not from God does not. This assertion is very similar to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:3738, discussed above. It is also similar to Jesus’ words to the Jewish leaders in John 8. “‘Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will
is to do your father's desires’” (John 8:4344). By stating that his words are heard by those who know God and unheard by those who do not, the author of this letter is making a claim to divine inspiration.
There are many more instances of New Testament authors making direct or indirect claims to divine inspiration, which we do not have space to discuss here. A more indepth inquiry would reveal that the authors paralleled Old Testament books, claimed the authority of apostolic tradition, warned of imposters, and more. We have shown, however, that at least some of the writers of the New Testament considered themselves to be writing authoritative Scripture. This is enough to disprove the view that the authors of the New Testament did not regard their own writings as Scripture.
Those who would like to read more on this topic are encouraged to check out:
--- ONLINE RESOURCES ---
Michael Kruger – 10 Misconceptions about the NT Canon: #3: “The NT Authors Did Not Think
Got Questions.org – Did the writers of the New Testament regard their writings as Scripture?
Lenny Esposito – Did the New Testament Authors Know They Were Writing Scripture?
--- PRINT RESOURCES ---
Michael Kruger – The Question of Canon
Norm Geisler – From God To Us: How We Got Our Bible
For further reading, see:
The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate, by Michael J. Kruger
From God To Us: How We Got Our Bible, by Norman Geisler and William Nix