The Bible Is Final
All around us people are claiming to speak from God. Almost everyone has witnessed the charismatic television evangelists alleging a vision or prophecy has come to them from God. Many people have also been exposed to the Third Covenant being distributed by Mormon adherents. But can these latter day revelations be trusted? Is God still speaking to us today? Is He speaking to anyone? Jude most succinctly answers this question,
"Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe." (Jude 3-5)
Jude warns of those that will creep in and teach a different faith, but the message of confidence that he bestows on Christians is that the faith has been delivered - handed down - once for all. Therefore they should be reminded that they know all things once for all. In other words, there is nothing more to hand down and nothing more for them to know with regard to the faith that saves. In the same way the recipients of Jude's letter can know all things because of this teaching, so can we.
The faith can be described as that body of belief that was taught and preached by the apostles, by which we understand God's plan and His will. This was a common expression among first century Christians. In his great record of church history Luke describes obedience to the faith (Acts 6:7). Elymas was said to oppose the faith (Acts 13:8). Paul preached to Felix concerning the faith (Acts 24:24). In His letter to the Galatians, Paul makes claim to preaching the faith (Galatians 1:23). Paul writes to Timothy that some will fall away from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1). The faith is an idiom describing Christianity as a movement in the first century.
In order to understand the remainder of this passage fully it is helpful to have some background in apostolic tradition, that is, the tradition by which the faith was handed down. It is significant that Jude uses these words - handed down - rather than indicating that Christians knew through revelation. The body of belief known as the faith was literally handed down from Christ, to the apostles, and then to Christians. The unfolding of this tradition is well recorded by John as he writes about the final Passover that Jesus shared with His disciples.
Much of chapters 13-17 of the book of John address this topic, but we will only look at a few significant passages. As Jesus gathered together with the twelve apostles He was aware that His hour had come, the end of His earthly ministry was near,
"These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 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 that I said to you." (John 14:25-26)
It is important to remember to whom Jesus is speaking in this passage. He is speaking to the apostles, not to Christians of today. After all, has He spoken to me, while abiding with me in the twentieth or twenty-first century? Clearly He has not. The passage itself, as well as the context unmistakably indicates that He is speaking to the apostles. Additionally, note the universality of the revelation to the apostles. Jesus proclaims that all things will be taught and remembered with regard to His ministry and teaching. All that is known about God's plan of salvation and His will for us was entrusted to the apostles,
"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning." (John 15:26-27)
If there is any question about to whom Jesus is speaking, or to whom the Spirit will be sent this should put it to rest. Again, the passage and the context make it beyond doubt that he spoke to the apostles only,
"But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you." (John 16:13-15)
The universality of revelation is restated here for the apostles. The truth will be plainly revealed to them by the Spirit. All things will be disclosed to them from the Father. Shortly after Jesus makes this statement He enters into a time of prayer as recorded in John, chapter 17. In this prayer He begins with a petition to glorify God through the glorification of the Son. Then in verse 6 He begins praying for the apostles, "the men whom You gave Me out of the world"...
"They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word;" (John 17:16-20)
It was the prayer of Jesus that the men chosen out of the world to do His work would be set apart - sanctified - in the truth of God's word. And that they would be the conduits through which others might believe. Paul confirms this very fact and responsibility in his letters to the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica,
"I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God." (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)
"For to us [the apostles] God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we [the apostles] have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words." (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)
"If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment." (1 Corinthians 14:37)
"For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
Paul teaches here and in other passages that the words he speaks are given to him by the Spirit of God. These are not the words of men or mere human wisdom, but the things given to Paul by the Lord.
Peter concurs that, as a qualified eyewitness, his words were also given by the Spirit of God and handed down to the church,
"And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind. For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased'. And we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we [the eyewitness apostles] have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Peter 1:15-21)
"This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles." (2 Peter 3:1-2)
"…and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:15-16)
Peter makes an interesting point in this letter. In addition to confirming his own apostolic authority and the Spirit moved nature of his writing, he also defends the writings of Paul. First, he mentions that Paul's wisdom was given him, but indicates that Paul then wrote it down in letter form in order to hand it down to others. Paul received his knowledge through divine revelation, while others received their knowledge through the teaching of the apostles.
Second, Peter likens Paul's writings to the rest of the Scriptures. Again, this parallel places the writing of the apostle squarely in the realm of divine revelation from God. Third, Peter issues a stern warning for those that might distort the Scriptures, whether they are from Paul, himself, or another prophet.
Peter and Paul (as well as the other New Testament writers) continually affirm the importance of apostolic tradition. Whether by word of mouth or by letter, they intend for their Spirit-moved words to be handed down.
"When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea." (Colossians 4:16)
"I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren." (1 Thessalonians 5:27)
"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
"Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 1:13)
Now one must ask why? Why was it so important to pass on the letters and words of the apostles if God directly reveals His word to Christians everywhere? In fact, in the ludicrous extreme, if God's will is made known to us today why should we have a Bible at all? What is interesting is that Paul not only stresses that his words be handed down, but he dispatches warning that they should not be altered or added to,
"Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other." (1 Corinthians 4:6)
"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:6-12)
Warning after warning is given throughout the New Testament for those that might distort the gospel of Christ. This warning to the Galatians is truly severe. Paul not only reiterates the penalty for altering the word of God, but he also reasserts his apostleship, confirming that he passes on through preaching, what he received through revelation from Jesus Christ.
The words Paul preaches, teaches, and writes are the words of God, not the words of men. Yet Paul continues giving numerous warnings that the gospel message and the will of God will be distorted.
"As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines..." (1 Timothy 1:3)
"If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain." (1 Timothy 6:3-5)
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
As you can see, Paul especially emphasizes these warnings to the young preacher Timothy. But Timothy does not rely on subjective or abstract truth to expose the false teachers. Rather he measures them against the sound words that he received from the apostle. Read it again, and consider the great importance Paul places on the teaching of the word of God,
"Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you... You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 1:13 - 2:2)
Do you begin to get the feeling of apostolic tradition? Jesus teaches Paul (through revelation), Paul teaches Timothy (and writes it down for us), and Timothy is to teach others, who in turn can teach others. If God planned to reveal His will to each directly, what would be the importance of teaching, and developing teachers? Just as Jude stated above, the faith has literally been handed down as a treasured heirloom from generation to generation.