By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article Originally Printed December 31, 1985)
God has always moved his people from the divinely inspired spokesmen to the written word of God as the revelation became available. The scriptures become the final source of divine authority. The understanding of truth spoken or written comes down to meditating upon the revealed will of heaven. This pattern is evident even before the scriptures are completely given. Acts 17:11 reads, “ These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” People need to look more closely at the revelatory process within the confines of the Old and New Testaments, instead of a few passages obscurely used. Do not expect less confusion, until men recognize God’s teaching methods correlates with where God is in the process of giving revelation or if God has finished giving revelation.
This movement from divine spokesman to written word is seen both in the Old and New Testament. It is also seen while a portion of revelation has been given and written, but all is not completed. Observe the LORD speaking unto Joshua after Moses’ death. “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein… (Joshua 1:7,8).” We capture the trend of transition from divine spokesman to the written word, even though the prophets were still to come. Moses received it mouth to mouth (face to face) and then wrote it. Joshua observed the written and was not to depart from it. Read Numbers 12:8, Exodus 34:27 and Deuteronomy 31:24. Ponder how frequently it is found in the scriptures, ‘it is written’ and consider its significance in the revelatory process and God’s final source of authority and understanding. Yes, the written testimony becomes sufficient and is sufficient. Hence, we are puzzled with the modern plea for ‘interpretation-aid’ from the Holy Spirit. It is backwards to God’s direction.
The written testimony becomes sufficient. Why else would Abraham say, “They have Moses and the prophets,” or “If they hear not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead? Why else would Paul say the scriptures are able to make the man of God perfect to do every good work? Isn’t Paul saying here the scriptures are capable of doing what the gifted men once did? We are not saying all of those functions (gifted men) would pass without the gifts, but we are saying the scriptures can fulfill once given any need surviving the passing of the gifts.
The trend throughout the word of God is that the written word becomes the authority and the instrument of understanding the will of heaven. 2 Chronicles 30:5 reads, “So they established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover unto the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written.” Yes, ‘as it is written.’ Paul penned, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them (Galatians 3:10)”
It does not take long to realize, as it was with the Old Testament, so it was with the giving of the New Testament. The amount of time and authors is lessened, but the pattern of revelation is much the same. The general pattern of how God taught man is revealed twice. We have observed the apostles and spiritual gifts functioning by the dictates of the Holy Spirit. The transition to the written word is not far behind. Paul writes, “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; (Ephesians 3:3-5).” Paul speaks of the Spirit’s direction in revealing the gospel way of salvation to the apostles and prophets. He tells the brethren they can now read and gain understanding. This is the consistent pattern of the scriptures. The New Testament never indicates the Holy Spirit shall continue in direct fashion to reveal truth to men or that more truth should be expected after the closing of the New Testament. The scriptures become the source of truth, which faithful men can study and declare unto others. The honest heart hears and reflects on the scriptures given and comes to a knowledge of the truth.
It is true that there is a time of overlap with the revelation already given and more revelation being given. But it is also true that when the revelation is completed the overlap ends. Now, where are we today? Reader friend, we ask you to answer, because in doing so you should perceive where you really stand on determining the authority of your faith. The scriptures do not anticipate direct revelation after the age of the apostles of Christ. Jesus declared in promise that the apostles would receive all truth and that truth is now transmitted to us by the scriptures.
Paul’s words to Timothy reveal the moving from miraculous reception to meditative reception. He writes to one who possessed a spiritual gift through prophecy and the hands of Paul. (The hands of the presbytery relate to Timothy’s appointed work (Acts 13:2,3). 1 Timothy 4:13 reads, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” 2 Timothy 2:2 reads, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” Verse 15 reads ,” Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Note the emphasis on rightly dividing the word. Again, we see the movement from God teaching directly to God teaching through the word. Read 2 Timothy 3:16,17 again.
The word becomes the sole source and guide once it is given. Paul anticipated no additional revelation from the Spirit, like that received by the apostles and prophets. But, he does indicate men could understand by preaching and the written word. “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)”
Peter understood the process and anticipated its changes. There is no doubt in his mind what would be the source of truth after the foundation work of the apostles and prophets. “Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. (2 Peter 1:15)” The third chapter opens, “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.” Yes, God is still teaching his people what to say and they are being taught the same things the apostles and prophets taught. But they do not receive that teaching in the same manner the apostles and prophets received it.
Let us summarize the trend of God’s teaching.
- How shall man know the will of God? God will need to tell man, because otherwise man cannot discover the will of the Maker (1 Corinthians 2:11). When God tells man through his chosen spokesmen, how shall one know this new message is from heaven? (Mark 16:20, Hebrews 2:3,4) It will be confirmed by heaven.
- God reveals himself. Revelation is given, but not immediately complete. Hence, man turns to the revelation given and continues to listen to God’s spokesmen for new revelation. Again, how shall man know the message is heaven authorized? The new word fulfills or builds on the old revelation, while confirming signs are still forthcoming. The written revelation is appealed to as authoritative and if a spokesman taught contrary to the word given he was to be rejected (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Joshua 1:7,8).
- The direct voice of inspiration from heaven becomes silent, for God has now revealed what he deems sufficient for man to live by faith. The revelation is compiled in written form for the perusal of man. Now, the word is preached, but how does one know it is true? The scriptures have been given and confirmed so the preaching is now tested by the written word of God, nothing more and nothing less (1 Corinthians 4:6). There is no need to confirm revelation already given. God does not give more than enough, for otherwise he becomes responsible for man’s responsibility. When God has given enough for men to believe, he certainly will not give them more. Remember Jesus’ answer to those who desired a sign. Recall the words of John 20:30,31. The signs recorded in the word of God are now seen as sufficient to produce belief that Jesus is the Christ.
- Men have been converted in every age by hearing the word of God. The Bible never gives one example of the potential convert receiving, understanding miraculously (by the Holy Spirit doing something directly to the hearer for understanding), but understanding for the nonbeliever and the believer always came from the word of God. There is something very amiss in all the current language regarding the direct leading of the Holy Spirit. Men are actually laying aside the guidance of the Spirit, by not understanding the sufficiency of the word of God.