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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

How did we get the New Testament of Today?

Paul said “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). He wasn’t referring to the New Testament, of course; for, it hadn’t been written yet, never mind assembled. The “Scripture” noted above was the Old Testament–an “inspired” collection often ignored, despite Paul’s pressing that they are “inspired” and are “useful for teaching.” So where did the New Testament come from and why? How did it become “Scripture,” as classically understood?

The Real Questions

It has often been said” “necessity is the mother of invention.” Mindful of that, one might perhaps wonder:

What necessity stimulated the need to

  1. collect authoritative religious documents,

  2. develop a separate and additional set of Yeshua-related Scriptures,

  3. and attach the new documents to the older ones?

I’ll address these questions through a consideration of the New Testament’s principal author: Paul.

Paul

When Paul wrote his New Testament scripts he wasn’t even aware he was writing Scripture–never mind anticipating they’d be bound in a collection. For his part and in his mind, he was simply putting out fires by mail, dealing with various problems and possibilities in the congregations he’d established–and had since moved on from in his travels. Reports from and about the various faith communities he’d established prompted him to forever look back over his shoulder in order to: convince constituents of a point or two, exhort members every now and again, and sometimes rebuke folk outright for what they were doing or allowing in their faith and practice. The documents attest to an apostolic office at work, laying a religious foundation and giving voice to what it means to be an authentic believer in faith and practice.

Circulation

The receiving communities kept and circulated copies of his writings. The esteemed writings were eventually gathered up and forged into a collection. Paul’s “necessity” was the need to articulate, clarify and firmly establish what it means to walk as a believer. This same necessity prompted the gathering of an eventual New Testament collection–replete with his writings and others.

In Paul’s day too many creepy ideas were creeping into the movement, prompting him to sometimes tender a sharp rebuke. While he and other Emissaries (Apostles) were living and breathing, they could lend their voices and bend their constituents to make proper theological choices. After their passing, the next question was: Who would speak after they died? The answer was simple: they would, even from their graves.

“The Old Testament is an arm and the New Testament is a hand attached to it. Together, they tell the story of God’s reaching down to humankind to give us a hand.” Dr. Jeffrey Seif

It has been said “the long arm of the pen reaches beyond the grave.” Though Paul–and the other Emissaries/Apostles–died years ago, they still maintain a voice in the land of the living, today. Their place in history was secured because their writings were collected in the second century AD/CE, thus insuring that the Apostolic office could continue to guide believers long past the passing of the official officers themselves. The collection was grafted into the Hebrew Scriptures, much like non-Jews were grafted into the olive tree. The Old Testament is an arm and the New Testament is a hand attached to it. Together, they tell the story of God’s reaching down to humankind to give us a hand.

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