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The Completed Canon

We ought to be thankful that we do not serve a detached God who has left us to fend for ourselves, but has, in fact, revealed Himself and expressed His will to us. Yes, there is the testimony of the natural world (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:20)—design demands a designer. We can see that there is an intelligent Creator behind the complicated universe of which we are a part. But to know the will and mind of God, we cannot turn to the trees or stars.

“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-12).

You cannot know what is on my mind unless I tell you what I am thinking. Likewise, we cannot know what is in God’s mind unless He reveals His thoughts to us. Paul’s point in the above passage is that we are not left wondering what God’s will might be. God has revealed His will to us through the Holy Spirit

During the Old Testament times, God “at various times and in various ways spoke…to the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1). He spoke to Balaam through a donkey. He appeared to Elijah in the form of a still-small voice. Moses encountered God in the burning bush. God appeared to men and women in dreams and visions, and delivered messages via angels and signs. On occasion, God conveyed a message by a strange symbol, such as when Hosea was instructed to marry the harlot Gomer.

God used men like Moses, Ezra and David to record His words. The written word of God, or scriptures, served as the basis for faith even in the Old Testament. These scriptures were fully inspired and consisted of the very words of God, breathed by Him (2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).

While God “at various times and in various ways spoke…to the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1), this was not the case during the days of Jesus and the apostles. Hebrews 1:2 indicates that He “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.” So the manner in which God revealed Himself changed from the Old Testament era to the New Testament era.

Jesus came as the “Word” (John 1:1, 14). His life was dedicated to revealing the law of the kingdom, and He did so by the authority of the Father. Notice the following series of statements made by Jesus to His apostles during the famous “upper room discourse” in John 14-16…

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10).

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you…However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:7, 13).

The will of God was revealed through Christ during His ministry on earth. But Jesus Himself told the apostles that He had not revealed His entire will during the three years of His ministry. There was much more that still needed to be revealed, but it wouldn’t happen until after He left them. When Jesus left them, the Holy Spirit would come and guide the apostles into all truth. Coupled with what Jesus had already said, they would come to learn all of the truth.

When did the apostles receive the Holy Spirit? According to Acts 1:4-5, the apostles would be filled with the Holy Spirit not many days after Jesus’ ascension. At that point, they would begin to spread the gospel of Christ to all nations (vs. 8). These things were fulfilled in Acts 2:1-4. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in tongues. It is no coincidence that we find the apostles preaching for the first time to thousands of Jews in Jerusalem by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit—a direct fulfillment of what Jesus had promised them in Acts 1:4-5.

So what do we have up to this point? Jesus, the “Word,” began to reveal the laws and conditions of the new covenant during His ministry, but He could not reveal everything. The apostles were commissioned by Christ to finish the job by the direction of the Holy Spirit. They would be guided into all truth, and through their ministries, the “world” would be convicted “of sin…of righteousness…of judgment” (John 16:8-11). Whereas the Old Testament law was revealed to the nation of Israel specifically, the New Testament law, i.e. the gospel, would be revealed to all the world by the inspired and Spirit-filled apostles of Christ.

The apostles conveyed the gospel message both orally and in written form (2 Thess. 2:15). The oral message would have been confined to those who heard it, but the written message had/has the advantage of permanency and finality. Ultimately, it was God’s will for the entire New Testament message to be recorded in written form.

“…how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:3-5).

Paul, in Ephesians 3, echoes what Jesus told the apostles in the upper room in John 14-16. The apostles would be filled with the Holy Spirit, would be led by the Spirit to understand ALL truth, and would convey that complete message to the world. What Paul clarifies in Ephesians 3 is that “all truth” was written down in the form of inspired scripture so that all the world might read and understand the message/gospel of Christ.

Couple this with the following two passages:

“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by prophetic scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith” (Rom. 16:25-26).

“ALL scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The apostles were led by the Spirit into all truth. This truth was written down. The New Testament scriptures represent ALL of this truth. The scriptures are complete. Therefore, we can read and understand the scriptures penned by the apostles, coupled with the scriptures of the Old Testament, and can know exactly what God expects of us. He left nothing out.

Moreover, the inspired apostle Paul wrote that the canon of the New Testament would reach a point of completion. Notice what is written in 1 Corinthians 13:8-11…

“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.”

The point of the above passage is that while love will never fail, the miraculous gifts of the first century would come to an end. Prophecies, tongues and miraculous knowledge—all of this would cease and vanish. The transition point of the miraculous age to the non-miraculous age is given in verse 10: “when that which is perfect has come.” The word perfect literally means “complete.” And so Paul is making a contrast here in 1 Corinthians 13:8-11. The miraculous gifts were “in part.” That is, they were imperfect. But something was coming that represented the whole, or the perfect. To put it another way, the miraculous gifts were like the individual pieces of a pie, but then there is the whole pie. The age of miracles was incomplete, but perfection/completion was coming, and when it died, the miracles would no longer exist.

With this in mind, consider what the following two scriptures say concerning the purpose of miracles in the first century:

“And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they touch anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover…And they [the apostles] went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:17-18, 20).

“…how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will” (Heb. 2:3-4).

Miracles existed for the purpose of confirming the word as it was being revealed in the first century. So, in 1 Corinthians 13:8-11, the “perfect” has to be the completed revelation of Jesus Christ. Once the New Testament message was completely revealed and confirmed, the need for miracles ended. Much more could be said about the duration of miracles, but all I’m trying to prove here is that God never intended for the process of revelation to continue throughout all times and ages. Rather, the apostles would be led by the Spirit into ALL truth. ALL truth was revealed and recorded so that we can read and understand the will of God. The apostles completed their mission and the 27 epistles of the New Testament, from Matthew to Revelation, were written, copied, distributed and eventually canonized by the providence of God.

Notice the following sequence of passages as we conclude this study and make some final conclusions…

“For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

“There is one body…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God…” (Eph. 4:4-5).

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

God no longer reveals Himself to us through visions and dreams. He no longer speaks to us audibly as He once spoke to those during Bible times. God’s mind, His words, His will, have been completely revealed to us in the form of the New Testament scriptures.

Were the apostles led into all truth in the first century, or is there some truth that has yet been revealed? Jesus said the apostles received it all (John 16:13). Did the apostles reveal it all to the first century Christians, or did they hold back? Paul said he revealed it all (Ac. 20:27), and Jude confirmed that “the faith” was once delivered (Jude 3). Did or didn’t the apostles record the complete new covenant of Jesus Christ so that even 21st century Christians can be “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17)? Can we read and understand these words? Yes (Eph. 3:3-5).

As I serve God, I rely not upon some vision or dream or sign from heaven to know what God expects of me; I turn to the New Testament, for it is the mind of Christ.

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