How Scripture Became Scripture

There is a fact about Jesus that seems to have gone AWOL in our Christianized society. Whether downplayed or deliberately misplaced, it is a fact that is indisputable: Jesus had a high view of Scripture.

Everywhere he went in his earthly ministry, Jesus either quoted or fulfilled passages from the sacred writings of his time, the Tanakh ­– the collection of books Christians call the Old Testament.

To the Pharisees who advocated the practice of casual divorce (Matthew 19, Mark 10), Jesus quoted Scripture to set the record straight about marriage: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

When confronted with skepticism about the resurrection (Mark 12.24, Luke 4), Jesus told the Sadducees, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?”

To those who sought to dismiss “inconvenient” passages, Jesus reserved perhaps his most forceful statement on the subject: “the Scripture cannot be annulled.”

As the author of the Book of Hebrews puts it, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

Thus, from Jesus, we know that each of the books of our Old Testament represent Scriptural authority. What about the collection of documents we call the New Testament?

At the end of his ministry, we learn that Jesus “opened the minds of his apostles to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24). He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and in his name repentance and forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

By opening their minds, Jesus conveyed to his apostles the authority to write Scripture. He then went further, “giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” In fact, Jesus “appeared to them over a span of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1.3).

Transformed by the Holy Spirit, first graduates of what might be called the Rabbinic School of Jesus launched the early church, armed both with the written Scriptures of their time and the license to either pen or oversee the writing of Scripture—an authority that died with them.

“No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation,” Peter explains, adding, “but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Elsewhere, Peter pointedly includes the writings of “our beloved brother Paul” with “the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3.16).

Employing a word (θεόπνευστος) found nowhere else in the Bible, Paul reminds us, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” It’s why Scripture is “profitable for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, having been fully equipped toward every good work.”

Transliterated theopneustos, the phrase God-breathed or God-inspired explains precisely how Jesus, the Messiah, continues to speak to us with absolute and infallible authority as Savior and Lord.

It’s important to note that the while each of the books of the Bible possess that theopneustos Scriptural authority, each are authoritative not because they were included in the canon (or collection of books) of the Bible but because each were generally recognized as inherently authoritative long before they were included in the canon of Scripture.

Over time, the sacred writings through which God “has spoken to us by his Son” were circulated among various churches scattered about the world. By the third century, the same books of sacred writings were concurrently recognized as authoritative by churches in various regions of world until, at last, a council of representatives from each of those regions (the Synod of Hippo, AD 393) convened to acknowledge the canon of twenty-seven books we now call the New Testament.

Thus, the words Jesus spoke, the Gospel accounts of his life and teachings, and the letters of Jesus’ chosen apostles were eagerly embraced as sacred documents, acknowledged as theopneustos Scripture among various gatherings of the early church to whom they were read.

In his willingness to reveal through his Word, the Scriptures, the secrets of his kingdom, God has given us what we need to enhance our lives, grow in the faith, and embrace the hope of eternal life. When we meditate on Scripture, apply Jesus’ teachings to our lives, and follow his example, we allow him to strengthen our faith, thereby enriching our prayers, improving our outlook on life and fine-tuning our perception of reality.

Better still, the more we involve the Holy Spirit in our effort to understand and apply the Scripture he’s written, the more he uses us to minister to others.

As Jesus tells his followers (John 7), “To the one who believes in me, it is just as the Scripture has said: ‘Streams of living water will flow from within him.’”

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