“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
Before we continue looking at the writings of early Christian apologists, I’d like to share something important for us to remember as we read post-Scriptural Christian writings.
The New Testament includes hundreds of quotes from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Paul was addressing the Old Testament Scripture when he wrote that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Jesus was addressing the Old Testament Scripture when He told Satan about living “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
So, does that mean the New Testament writings are not Scripture?
Jesus told His Apostles that the Holy Spirit would also guide them into “all truth” –
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you” John 16:12-15
Following His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus opened up the Old Testament Scriptures to teach His Apostles about Himself and “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Luke 24:44-45; Acts 1:3). On the Day of Pentecost the Apostle Peter stood before a great crowd of people in Jerusalem and said –
“Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.’” Acts 2:14-21
Then, Peter added his own words to those of the prophet Joel –
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” Acts 2:22-24
Peter quoted from the Psalms to support his claim about the resurrection of Christ and told the crowd they needed to repent and be saved –
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call. And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.” Acts 2:38-40
About three-thousand people responded to Peter’s call to repentance and were saved that day. What we learn next is vital in understanding the New Testament –
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
The earliest followers of Christ on the Day of Pentecost understood that the Apostles’ doctrine (teaching) came from Christ and the Holy Spirit and was vital to their new faith. Jesus chose His Apostles, including Paul, and told them that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. Jesus said the Spirit would not speak on His own authority, but would speak what He heard – “and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”
Speaking of Paul’s writings, 1st century Christians believed his writings were apostolic and to be obeyed as coming directly from God. The Apostle Peter vouched for the Holy Spirit inspiration of Paul’s letters –
“Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:14-16
The author of Hebrews wrote that God had spoken in the past to the fathers of Israel “by the prophets” and in “these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
- Old Testament Scripture – “by the prophets”
- New Testament Scripture – “by His Son”
Even as the Holy Spirit inspired the Old Testament prophets to write Scripture, so the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament Apostles to write Scripture that we can trust to be “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Why This Is Important
We as Christian apologists can trust what is written in the Bible – Old and New Testaments. We believe, and for good reason, that the Bible is of Divine origin. We are often questioned by atheists and other non-believers about why we trust something written by men. We don’t trust what men write – we trust what God writes – and God chose to reveal His Word through men He personally chose and called. God spoke in past times through the prophets. We can trust the writings of those Hebrew prophets in the Old Testament. God spoke in “these last days” to us by His Son. We can trust the writings of Christ’s Apostles in the New Testament.
God has given His people a firm foundation in what to believe and that foundation is the doctrine of the prophets and apostles –
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-22
As we read through the many writings of apologists through the centuries, we have a sure foundation in the Scriptures to ensure that what they say is correct. Knowing that the Holy Spirit inspired all Scripture (Old and New Testament) gives us the confidence to compare every other writing with it.
Who Can We Trust?
I believe we can trust the writings of the Old and New Testament, but who we can trust after that will be more difficult to determine. The key, I believe, is in how closely the writer stays to the biblical text. That means we as Christian apologists must know the Scriptures well – very well. How else can we compare the writings of men to the Word of God?
So far we have looked at the Words of Jesus Christ, the writings of His Apostles, and the writings of men who were disciples of the apostles and disciples of the disciples of the apostles (e.g. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Symrna, Justin Martry, Irenaeus of Lyons). I believe we can trust much of what they wrote about orthodox Christianity and the heresies they faced from both inside and outside the Church. However, we must be sure to use the Scriptural litmus test with all of them to ensure that what we learn from them about defending the Christian worldview always passes the biblical test (e.g. Matthew 7:15-20; 1 John 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; Jude 1:4). If they wrote something that doesn’t pass that test, make a mental or even physical note of it and don’t use it in your arguments. We must not allow unbiblical apologetics to become part of our defense (apologia).
Please keep this in mind as we continue to look at the writings of Christian apologists from the 2nd century to the present day. We must be careful not to be pulled into error because of human admiration. It is easy to become enamored with men and women we like and forget that our primary responsibility is to Jesus Christ. Our job is to represent the Truth of God without turning to the left or to the right. Even a small turning away from absolute biblical truth can be catastrophic. We must maintain a straight path as we present our “defense” for Christianity.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”