In our modern world, there are literally millions of books in print. If you look in the right place, generally a book can be found on almost any topic. Whether you are interested in cooking or gardening, history or mathematics, or even computers or space ships, someone has written about it. As Solomon once declared - "Of making many books there is no end..." (Eccl. 12:12). But, why do new books continue to be written? The primary reason is because human knowledge is continually expanding. New books with current information are written to replace the old, outdated volumes. However, in a few years, these "new" books will suffer the same demise and be replaced by still newer works. Consequently, it is rare to find a book that remains in print for more than a century. However, there are a few books that seem to have an amazing "ability" to stay in print for hundreds of years. The Bible is one of these rare books!
The Bible is actually a compilation of smaller books that are divided into two major sections. The Old Testament consists of 39 books which include the law of Moses, a history of the Israelites, and the writings of the prophets. The New Testament is composed of 27 books that detail the life of Christ, the beginning of His church, and doctrinal letters of exhortation and rebuke to first century Christians. But, what is so special about the Bible that could possibly explain why it is still in print today? What keeps it on the list of best sellers? The answer is its author--God! On 01/29/2005, 02/05/2005, and 02/12/2005, we presented three feature lessons that proved the Bible is the inspired word of God. We considered the scientific foreknowledge, prophecies, unity, lack of contradictions, and historical accuracy imbedded within the Scriptures. We concluded that these internal qualities of the Bible can only be explained if God is the originator.
Since God is the author of the Bible, it must contain His thoughts and will for mankind. This explains why men and women of the past and present have been so interested in it. The Bible, though it is approaching two thousand years of age, continues to be in demand because many folks believe it to be the very words of deity (and rightly so).
Today, we will focus our attention on the origination of the New Testament. We know that it came from God, but how? We will consider five steps from God to man; that is, we will analyze the process by which God has communicated His will for mankind today.
The first step in the process began with GOD THE FATHER.
In the past, we know that the heavenly Father spoke His will directly to man and expected him to submit to that will in faithful obedience. But, what about today? Hebrews 1:1,2 teaches - "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 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." God (the Father) still expects man to obey Him humbly, but He now speaks to us by His Son (Jesus Christ). The Father is the ultimate authority of the Godhead (cf. I Cor. 11:3). However, the Father has presently given that authority to Christ. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus declared, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." However, this authority will be returned to the Father at the Judgment Day, as I Corinthians 15:28 affirms - "Now when all things are made subject to Him [i.e., God the Father], then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all."
The second step in the process continued with GOD THE SON.
The Father made it abundantly clear that Jesus was His spokesman in the first century. "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" (Matt. 17:5). Jesus was approved of God, and He Himself made claims similar to the Father's. "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority" (John 7:16,17). Also, in Matthew 5:21ff, Jesus repeatedly used the phrase, "You have heard that it was said to those of old...But I say to you..." Christ is to be our standard in all things. We are to do all things in His name (Col. 3:17), that is, by His authority. Jesus knew that He would not be on Earth forever, so He prepared His followers for a transition.
The third step in the process continued with GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT.
Jesus repeatedly spoke to His apostles, informing them of His departure and of the coming of another Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Jesus declared in John 14:26 - "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to remembrance all things that I have said to you." On that same evening, He also said in John 16:12-15 - "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you." The message brought by the Holy Spirit was given by the Son, and the message brought by the Son was given by the Father. We can clearly see a chain of authority and revelation here.
But, when did the Holy Spirit come? The answer is found in the last words of Jesus to His apostles - "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). Can we be sure that Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit in this passage? Yes! Previously, our Lord had said - "...there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power" (Mark 9:1). When the kingdom of God would come (i.e., "the church" - Matt. 16:18,19), it would be with power. And, notice carefully, Acts 1:8 - "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you [i.e., the apostles]; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Did the Holy Spirit ever come upon the apostles? Yes, He did in Acts 2. Understanding this chapter is vitally important if one is to properly understand the New Testament (cf. our feature lesson from 08/27/2005). This great chapter is where the church began! References prior to this time use the future tense (e.g., Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 16:18,19, etc.). But, in Acts 2:47 the church is said to exist! This chapter is an important turning point. This is where the transition took place that our Lord spoke of. The Holy Spirit had been sent to guide the apostles and prophets into all the truth. The kingdom (or church) was established with power from on high!
The fourth step in the process continued with INSPIRED MEN.
"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they [i.e., the apostles] were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4). Peter declared the following about Jesus in Acts 2:33 - "Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear." On that Day of Pentecost, the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 3:11). The apostles were then able to speak in tongues, that is, in languages they had never learned before. This allowed them to communicate to the multitudes of Jews from "every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5) without the use of interpreters. The words they spoke were given (or inspired) by the Holy Spirit (2:4). As the first century continued, other Christians were given miraculous "spiritual gifts" (I Cor. 12:1ff). These gifts were all given for the purpose of edifying the church (Eph. 4:12) and confirming the word that was being spoken (Mark 16:20). The miraculous gifts were absolutely necessary to prove that what was being spoken was true. Our Lord used miracles to establish His identity as the Son of God (John 20:30,31), and the inspired men of the first century used them as evidence of the fact that their message was "revealed" through the Holy Spirit. (I Cor. 2:10).
The final step in the process concluded with the writing of THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Miracles such as prophecy were necessary in the first century church since the early Christians did not know God's will for themselves outside of such revelations. However, it was never God's intention for these spiritual gifts to continue indefinitely. God had a plan--a plan He was implementing that would render such unnecessary.
Consider I Corinthians 13:8-10 on this matter - "But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is [miraculous, -SRB] 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." When "that which is perfect" has come, there would no longer be a need for miraculous gifts. But, the question is: "The perfect what?" Ephesians 4:7-16 and James 1:25 explain what the "perfect" refers to. It designates the complete will of God that was continually being revealed in the first century via the writings of inspired men. These writings were necessary because the church had no objective standard to follow or teach. So, the Holy Spirit guided certain men to write down the will of God for them and future generations--once for all (Jude 3). Paul commented on this truth in I Corinthians 2:12,13 - "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. These things we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual words." "That which is perfect" was in the process of coming when Paul wrote the book of I Corinthians. The fully revealed will of God for Christians, that is, the New Testament, was completed by the end of the first century. Once it was finished, there was no longer a need for the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. From that point forward, the New Testament, an objective standard, would guide the Lord's church.
Such is still true even today. God has given us the New Testament as our guide, and we are to study it diligently so we can know and obey His will (II Tim. 2:15). We are not to go beyond its authority or change its message (Rev. 22:18,19). Instead, we must recognize that God has spoken to us today through His inspired word (II Tim. 3:16,17). It is what we need to be complete.
Friends, God speaks to us today through His inspired word. When God speaks, things happen (e.g., Gen. 1). Are you making things happen in your life for God as He expects and as His word demands? Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.