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The NT Authors' Intentions




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Something I read a couple of years ago:

Recent study of the [New Testament] letters, and the intention of the gospel writers, emphasizes the self-conscious way in which the New Testament authors believed themselves called to exercise their calling as ‘authorized’ teachers, by the guidance and power of the Spirit, writing books and letters to sustain, energize, shape, judge and renew the church. The apostolic writings, like the ‘word’ that they now wrote down, were not simply about the coming of God’s Kingdom into all the world; they were, and were designed to be, part of the means whereby that happened, and whereby those through whom it happened could themselves be transformed into Christ’s likeness.


Those who read these writing discovered, from very early on, that the books themselves carried the same power, the same authority in action, that had characterized the initial preaching of the ‘word.’ It used to be said that the New Testament writers ‘didn’t know they were writing ‘scripture.’ The fact that their writings were, in various senses, ‘occasional’ (Paul’s letters written to address sudden emergencies being the most striking example) is not to the point. At precisely those points of urgent need, (when, for instance, writing Galatians or 2 Corinthians) Paul is most conscious that he is writing as one authorized, by the apostolic call he had received from Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, to bring life and order to the church by his words. How much more, one who begins a book with the earth-shatteringly simple ‘In the beginning was the word ...and the word became flesh,’ and concludes it by telling his readers that ‘these things are written so that you may believe that the Messiah, the Son of God, is Jesus, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 1:1, 14, 20:31).


This is not to say, of course, that the writers of the New Testament specifically envisaged a time when their books would be collected together and form something like what we now know as the canon. I doubt very much if such an idea ever crossed their minds. But that they were conscious of a unique vocation to write Jesus-shaped, Spirit-led, church-shaping books, as a part of their strange first-generation calling, we should not doubt.


— N. T. Wright, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture, Chapter 4: “The ‘Word of God in the Apostolic Church.”



The New Testament writers would not have been able to be able to envision the New Testament as we currently have it, but they were convinced they were delivering authoritative teaching.

And, canonization (as I see it, at least) would be the church officially recognizing the books that convey the authoritative teaching that lies at the heart and core of it’s very existence. The Church recognizes the writings that convey the apostolic teaching. In that sense, the Church does not confer authority on these books, but recognizes it. The apostolic message calls the church into existence, and the church declares where that message can be found.

Does that make sense?





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