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5 Minute Jesus: Apostolic Authority


Apostolic Authority

Episode 30: Canon Fodder

The fundamental idea behind the Christian canon, the official collection of authoritative texts, was that the church was striving to discover anything with apostolic authority. If a document was written by an apostle, or a colleague of an apostle, and that document was consistent with what the apostles taught, that document was felt to be weighty, it had authority. It’s similar to the way you might listen to the official statements of an ambassador because ambassador’s reflect the mind of the sending government. 

That’s the key thought. Christian’s believed they could hear the voice of Christ, the truth of God in the teaching of the apostles. It’s quite a different idea of scripture from say Islam, which views the Quran as divine dictation, a direct disclosure of God’s own thoughts in the first person, “I God tell you this and that”. The early Christian’s theory of inspiration was based on a logic that the apostles were charged by Christ to speak with authority on His behalf. 

The simple thing I want to point out is that this goes right back to Jesus. The early church didn’t invent this because they wanted a new scripture. They knew beyond doubting that Jesus had appointed apostles, a word that’s very similar in meaning to our word ambassador. Apostle (apostolos) just means “sent one”, and it carries the connotation of being sent with the authority of the sender. And this notion is everywhere in our evidence. So the earliest gospel, Mark, has the statement in chapter 3, “Jesus appointed twelve that they might be with him, and he might send them out to preach.” I know we associate the word preach with religious activities, but actually the term kerusso means an “official herald”. They were his heralds. 

Then there’s a reference to this same idea in a completely separate independent source scholars call Q. It’s the shared material in Matthew and Luke that isn’t in Mark, and it too can be dated very early in fact this can be dated to about the 50s. Here’s the version retained in Luke 22 (you can find another version in Matthew):

Jesus said, “I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me. So that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

It’s obvious here that Jesus appointed his twelve as new leaders, or judges, of God’s renewed Israel. Just as there were twelve patriarchs at the founding of ancient Israel, so there are twelve apostles to rule on behalf of the king in the new covenant. 

Independent of both Mark and Q is the apostle Paul writing in the mid-50s, but actually in this text he quotes an early creed that most scholars can date to about 5 years after the events. Paul quotes the creed saying, “Christ appeared to Cephas (that’s Peter) and then to the twelve.”

Christ himself established a select group to be His authorised heralds and judges over the people of God

The point is three early and separate sources coincide on this crucial point: Christ himself established a select group to be His authorised heralds and judges over the people of God. Now we might not buy any of that, but there’s no denying that the early Christian passion to find anything written with apostolic authority and then to submit to it as if to Christ himself is an idea you can trace back to the historical Jesus himself.

By John Dickson

Want to hear the rest of the episode?
Check out episode 30: “Canon Fodder”

Confidence in the text and canon of Scripture




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