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Does the New Testament claim to be God’s Word?

Published: 3 October 2015 (GMT+10)
iStockphoto reading-bible

J.M. from the U.S. sent in the following challenge:

There are many places in the Hebrew Bible where the writer "a prophet" (a before-speaker) claims to be speaking the inspired words of YHWH, as His appointed prophet. There is NOT one passage in the Greek "Bible" where the "writer" of a book in the NT Greek writings claims to be speaking the inspired words of YHWH.

CMI’s  responds:

Hi J.M.,

In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), sometimes prophets did introduce specific prophecies with “thus says the Lord” or similar formulae, but it’s not as though these are the only parts of the Old Testament that are God-breathed. Rather, all of Scripture is God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16). See The Authority of Scripture.

The OT books of Job and Esther contain no such formula, for example, but if you accept those as Scripture while discounting the New Testament books simply because they allegedly also lack this formula, you are using a double standard. In reality, one can properly recognize that a book is divinely inspired even if it doesn’t directly and explicitly make that claim. The books accepted by the church have the ring of truth and divine authority and are entirely consistent with prior revelation, unlike the Gospel of Thomas, the Qur’an, or the Book of Mormon, for example.

However, it's simply wrong to say that no New Testament passage claimed to be inspired. For example, the book of Revelation claims to be prophecy (Rev. 1:3)—a message delivered by God through an angel to John (Rev. 1:1). The book ends with a severe warning against adding to or taking away from "the words of the prophecy of this book” (Rev. 22:18).

Also, the NT authors understood that they were passing on the authoritative apostolic tradition which could be traced to God’s revelation of Himself through the person of His Son (Heb. 1:1–2). This is why Paul talks in multiple places about delivering what he received (1 Cor. 11:2, 23–25; 15:3–8), and Luke claims he is passing on the things delivered to him by “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" (Luke 1:1–4). The apostles were specifically commissioned by Jesus who promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them "into all the truth" (John 16:13). Therefore, Paul was able to say to the Thessalonians, “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” (1 Thess. 2:13). This means that Paul's message was God’s message. And whether he was delivering that message orally or by letter, it carried the same authority (2 Thess. 2:15).

To give another example, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he boldly asserted that his words carried divine authority. "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” (1 Cor. 14:37–38). So there are multiple New Testament passages that meet your standard—someone claiming to speak on behalf of Yahweh.

But there’s more. Besides the internal testimony within certain NT books, there are also instances where one NT book cites another NT book as Scripture. For example, Peter recognized Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15–16), and Paul quoted Deut. 25:4 and Luke 10:7 together, calling them both Scripture (1 Tim. 5:18).

So, even by your overly restrictive criterion, the NT is not disqualified as God’s revelation. And there are many good reasons to accept it as such, like the fact that the whole OT clearly pointed forward to Jesus as the Messiah. If you profess to believe in the Hebrew Bible without accepting the New Testament, I would encourage you to investigate the ways Jesus actually fulfilled the OT predictions. You might start with Isaiah 9:6–7: The coming Child who would be called ‘Mighty God’. Or you could pick up a copy of our DVD, Jesus in Genesis: The Messianic Prophecies.

Anyway, I hope you are willing to honestly investigate and consider the claims of Jesus, because there is nothing more significant than how we respond to Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). So our eternal destiny hangs in the balance, and my sincere desire is that you would find eternal life through "our great God and Savior", Jesus the Messiah (Titus 2:13)!

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Readers’ comments

I have made several missionary trips to India, most often speaking to groups in small villages where the audience is a mix of Christians and Hindus. My messages are 100% totally Bible oriented. But I do NOT make any reference to the Bible - in particular the New Testament - being the inspired word of God.

Rather, I appeal to the words of John and Peter. Peter claimed that he and the other apostles were eyewitnesses (2 Peter 1:16). John stated that he and the other apostles heard Jesus, saw Jesus with their own eyes, touched Jesus and (in the NIV) looked at Jesus (that is, they examined Jesus). And this they did for three years. Thus, I appeal not to inspiration but to the everyday standards of how we learn and who we believe.

This has led me to this question: "Does the New Testament need to be inspired for you to believe it?" I think the answer is clearly "No." We, and my listeners in India, believe many things without the requirement of inspiration. We weigh the evidence. The New Testament is highly attested as a reliable historical source.

Further, the Gospel message is truly simple (1 Corinthian 15:1-8). Unlike our Jewish predecessors, we do NOT have a complicated set of laws or the need of tracing blood lines. We are to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that he was raised from the dead (Romans 10:9). And if we die to sin and are baptized into the death of Jesus we will have the hope of being united with Him in His resurrection (Romans 6:1-6).

Just what part of that message needs to come from inspired sources for you to believe it?

Keaton Halley
As we've written elsewhere (e.g., in Using the Bible to prove the Bible? and Creation: The better explanation), biblical inspiration/inerrancy is not a blind faith. We can confirm certain biblical teachings through extrabiblical evidence and/or by examining the reliability of the Bible merely as a set of ancient historical documents (without assuming inspiration for the sake of the argument).

At the same time, though, inspiration and inerrancy are indispensable parts of the whole Christian worldview package, and one needs to embrace them if Christian maturity is to be achieved. If one denies them one has shattered the consistency of the message, and this can lead to disastrous consequences. So I do think it is wise to present these claims up front, even if we are not asking people to blindly accept them but to consider how the biblical worldview makes the most sense of reality.
Bart M.
JM has obviously not read the NT he should read Mk 6:4,Jesus said"a profit is not without honour except in his own country" also John 10:30 "I and My Father are one" 10:38 "...the Father is in Me and I in the Father" or 8:26 "I speak to the world those things I heard from Him" These show that Jesus was speaking as a Prophet with even better authority than Moses Isaih or any of the others. There are many other statements of similar import in the NT such as :-John 8:28,30,40,47--12:48,50--14:9,10,11,24--15:15--16:28--17:8,21--and finally 12:45-"And he who sees Me, sees Him who sent Me" now if all these. Statements do not confirm that the NT does have claims to be prophetic, I do not know what is required to confirm it!
Kevin R P.
Thank you,

I needed that right now.

It opened up a gold vein of ideas: The commands that you mentioned are scattered throughout the NT (not commands of men but of God); there is also the idea of truth scattered throughout the NT (I John 5:20), it cannot be both truth and non-truth. Also there is the idea that we have the mind of Christ. And there's the idea of apostolic authority: the apostles have the authority to speak for Christ as ambassadors which, I would say, gives them the same authority as the OT prophets. Also, "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col. 3:16); This cannot happen unless we have the Word of Christ.

This gold vein seems to go on and on.
S. S.
Well, he has a point. After all, who decided what the New Testament "scriptures" would consist of? A few people, here and there, up until the Council of Nicea. And what gave the CoN the authority to determine which books would be the NT? Well, you just have to take their word for it, that only the NT were the "divinely inspired" books. After all, there were many, many other scriptures in circulation back then. What if the CoN chose entirely the wrong scriptures? That would explain all of the contradictions and inconsistencies. Sure doesn't help that the early Church persecuted all the other Christian divisions, by labeling them "heathens", ordering their scriptures to be burned en masse, and ordered the ex-communication or death of the early "heathens". Today's version of Christianity could be completely the wrong one - perhaps not the correct type of spirituality that Jesus would've taught. And who gave the CoN the authority to give Saul of Tarsus any authority? Saul... who? The guy hallucinated, chose one of the branches of Christianity, and rolled with it. So what? People do that with many of the world's religions. Muhammad claimed to be persecuted, too. Being persecuted and threatened for your beliefs doesn't mean your beliefs are correct - it means people are hateful - especially back then, when your religion identified what tribe you were with. We've reached the Enlightenment Era, and the Age of Information. Seriously, people, why can't we just move on, already?
Keaton Halley
You've ignored the points I made in the article and misrepresented the way the NT books came to be canonized. The canon wasn't arbitrarily decided at Nicea, it was merely recognized at Nicea, because the authority was inherent in the books, not the people who identified the books. There were good, objective reasons for rejecting the other books as non-canonical, like the fact that they were written later, falsely attributed, and taught bizarre things rooted in Greek philosophy rather than Old Testament teaching or the apostolic tradition. The Muratorian fragment, for example, is just one piece of evidence which shows that most of the canon was already widely and correctly recognized long before Nicea. And there is internal evidence within the NT itself that some authors already regarded other NT books as God-breathed, as I pointed out. For this and other reasons, it's a complete distortion to say that Paul simply "hallucinated" and "rolled with" one of many traditions as though all had an equal claim to be regarded as the true "faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
Chris W.
Dear J M, In Zechariah 12: 10 we read: 'They will look on me whom they have pierced, and mourn for him, as for an only son who has died; and they will weep bitterly for him, as for a first born son who has died.' New Living Translation.
Who would you say 'me' was, and who would you say 'him' was in this statement?
Terry D P.
Well, I would challenge the veracity of this assertion… «There is NOT one passage in the Greek "Bible" where the "writer" of a book in the NT Greek writings claims to be speaking the inspired words of YHWH.»
For Jesus himself, the Son of YHWH (God) himself said… «At this the Jews began to murmur disapprovingly because he said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Surely this is Jesus son of Joseph; we know his father and mother. How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus answered, ‘Stop murmuring among yourselves. No man can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets: “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has listened to the Father and learned from him comes to me.» — Jn 6:41-45
«Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? I am not myself the source of the words I speak to you: it is the Father who dwells in me doing his own work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else accept the evidence of the deeds themselves.» — Jn 14:10-11
So, there you have it, several passages in the NT where YHWH himself, God in the person of Jesus Christ, the “Word made flesh” as it were, is speaking his own inspired words.
«He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God; his is the primacy over all created things. In him everything in heaven and on earth was created, not only things visible but also the invisible orders of thrones, sovereignties, authorities and powers: the whole universe has been created through him and for him. And he exists before everything, and all things are held together in him.» — Col 1:15-17
Steve W.
Every one of Paul's letters (apart from Hebrews) have a "Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (or some variation thereof). This is no casual salutation. It sounds like a "Thus says the Lord to me"!
Richard L.
There are incredible and wonderful implications from 1 Timothy 5:18, regarding not only the "scripture"-status of the NT text but also the 1st-generation-church's awareness of the NT-inspiration dynamic. In order for Paul to write as simply as he did in that verse--without his including background explanation--the following logically have to be in place, PRIOR to Paul's writing of 1 Timothy within his 60-62AD Roman-house-arrest time window:

-Luke writes his Gospel,
-Sufficient copies of it are written such that one copy has already gotten to the church at Ephesus,
-That church has had time to familiarize itself with that gospel's content,
-The (mysterious-to-us-today) dynamic of verification of its "scripture"-inspired status has to have already occurred (almost certainly involving the 12 apostles) for this gospel,
-AND word of that status has to have already reached the Ephesian church.

Only when all of these events have already occurred does 1 Timothy 5:18 become comprehendible, in its lean, minimal-description essence. Therefore, the inspiration-confirmation process--about which we today have veiled non-sight--was in clear view to the original generation church, during the time when most of the original Apostles and many other eye-witnesses were still alive. A great implication!

AND, if Henry Morris is correct in preferring the traditional order of gospel writing--rather than the 1800s-liberal-theology insistence of Mark coming first, based on flimsy speculation--then ALL of Matthew, Mark and Luke were both written and acknowledged as scripture prior to Paul leaving his first Roman captivity.

The inspired-"scripture" status of the New Testament is robust.

Chandrasekaran M.
If J.M professes to believe in the Hebrew Bible without accepting the New Testament, OT is incomplete in the sense that it stops abruptly at Malachi as if אלהים (elohim, plural form of God) abruptly decided to stop appointing prophets. OT is incomplete without NT especially without the book of the Revelation of the NT.

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