(Article for publication week of 12-23-2009 AD)
"And account that the longsuffering of God is salvation; even as our beloved Brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (II Peter 3:15-16).
Last week we wrote to you concerning the identity, or (as some would say) the "canon" of scripture, the Old Testament particularly. This week we will take up the identity of the New Testament. We see in our text that Peter accepted the Pauline epistles as inspired, along with the "other scriptures." Thus we see the first way that we identify the canonicity of the New Testament, by Apostolic confirmation. The Twelve Apostles were given special authority by Christ Himself to write the New Testament and to oversee the New Testament Church in her founding era of the first century (John 14:26; John 16:12-15; II Thessalonians 2:15).
The scriptures were never "canonized" by a church council as some vainly imagine, but rather they were received by the early Church that was then endowed with extraordinary powers. Church councils simply recognized what was already true and already understood by God's people. The early church, as already pointed out was under the oversight of the Apostles (see also I Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 2:20). God gave the early church extraordinary gifts until the New Testament was completed, but after the church had the perfect and entire scriptures we would not need or have the extraordinary gifts any more (I Corinthians 13:10). But during this founding era of the New Testament Church the Lord confirmed the word by "signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost" (Hebrews 2:4).
One of the gifts of the Holy Ghost that was given to the early church was the gift of prophet. (Apostles, prophets and evangelists are not extant offices. The only extant offices in the church are elder and deacon.) The prophets were given to confirm the word of the apostles and their assistants. In I Corinthians 14:37 we read, "if any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." The prophets were endowed by the Holy Ghost with the power to recognize which writings of the apostles and their deputies were inspired of the Holy Ghost and to be accepted as the word of God.
Therefore when the early churches received an inspired epistle from Paul they were able to immediately recognize that it was the inspired word of God. Notice for example I Thessalonians 2:13, "for this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." When the church at Thessalonica received this epistle from Paul (which incidentally was probably the first of Paul's epistles), they did not have wait for a church council to "canonize" I Thessalonians. They knew it was the word of God by Apostolic confirmation and the Holy Ghost giving witness through signs and wonders. Later councils only recognized what was a given in the early church.
Don't you just love the Bible?!