The Epistles: Their Inspiration and Authority -
Introduction: In order to answer some background questions raised in an interaction with a Swedenborgian friend (over at Facebook), I put together an informal essay about the Inspiration and Authority of the Epistles. Why? Because Emanuel Swedenborg (b. 1688-1772) in his Writings (which most New Churchmen, or “Swedenborgians,” consider to be inspired, some to be the very Word of God) gives a list of those parts of the Bible which he said were fully inspired, or had a “continuous internal sense.” Acts through Jude are not considered to have a continuous “Internal Sense.” Swedenborg expressed this in at least three places in his writings, in _Heavenly Secrets_ (A.C. n. 10325) and in _The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrines_, and in _The White Horse_ (No. 16). The following excerpt is found nearly verbatim in the other two locations:
NJHD # 266. What are the Books of the Word.
The books of the Word are all those which have the internal sense; but those books which have not the internal sense, are not the Word. The books of the Word, in the Old Testament, are the five Books of Moses, the Book of Joshua, the Book of Judges, the two Books of Samuel, the two Books of Kings, the Psalms of David, the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: and in the New Testament, the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; and the Apocalypse. The rest have not the internal sense. (The book of Job is an ancient book, which indeed contains an internal sense, but not in series [A.C. n. 3570, 9942]).
Your journey and my own seem similar on this point. As a new churchman I struggled with Paul and the other epistles. What is to be our rule for faith and life? Is it the whole Bible, or only those books which the Writings call “the Word”? This is really a question as to -
WHAT CONSTITUTES THE WORD, or CANON OF HOLY SCRIPTURE?
I wondered especially about the book of Acts, written by Luke, with a preface that basically says, "this is my gospel, continued" Let’s compare the beginning of both books:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 ESV)
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:1-5)
Even liberal Bible scholars tend to uphold the unity of Luke-Acts. His authorial intent and audience are the same. He clearly picks up the narrative in Acts where he left off in Luke. So, I was a bit baffled by Swedenborg's counting one fully inspired (with all the internal senses operative) and the other inspired in a less complete manner.
It is also interesting from the perspective of Inspiration and canonicity to recognize the unity of authorship of John and Revelation, as well as 1-2-3 John. Here liberals are not so kind to John. Doubting that the Apostle wrote either Revealtion or the Gospel, John's Gospel is taken as a later work, post AD 90. However, there has been a movement which has begun dating all the books of the New Testament prior to AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. But, from the historical record of how the various books of the New Testament came to be accepted as “the Canon,” i.e., the Rule of Faith. Revelations was one of the more dubious books. It did not receive the early distribution which the other Gospels had, and so was doubted by some early in the Church. Plus, its apocalyptic style made it stand out. Anyway, the basis for acceptance of a book into the canon was its being authored by an Apostle or by an Evangelist in the Apostolic band. Luke himself was not one of the 12. Paul was taken into the number of the Apostles (Acts 14:14; cf. ). But, Luke did travel with Paul and he apparently interviewed Peter and Mary and other eye witnesses to the history he tells in his Gospel and Acts. His books were early received into the canon. And, the same goes for all of Paul's writings, for Peter's first epistle. His 2nd Epistle and Jude had a harder time of it. The Epistle of James (Jesus' brother and the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, Cf. Acts 15) was received early. Jude (another of Jesus' brothers) wrote his book later, which is apparent from the book itself. As all the books of the New Testament circulated, were copied and read in the churches throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, there came to be a clearly established CANON, received as Inspired Scripture, to be read in the Churches.
Of course, I was unaware of much of this information as I was working through my various conversions back and forth from Swedenborg to the "old church". I knew that the Epistles were accepted - by Catholic and Protestant, East and West alike- as inspired and equally authoritative with the Gospels, Acts and Revelation. The Old Testament canon has its own issues, but even the Roman Catholics refer to their uinque set of books as "Deutero-canonical" because they do not have an original Hebrew text and were written later than Daniel and Malachi in what is called by most the "intertestamental" period. They are available only in Greek originals. Most Protestants have probably down-graded them more than necessary. Everyone accepts them as good books for the church, but among Protestants only Anglicans read them in public worship as a rule. They were, however, publsihed with the original King James, or Authorized version (1611 AD).
My own solution as a Swedenborgian was to be relieved from the burden of having to discern the "internal" sense of Paul and the other epistles. The General Church practice of my day was basically to ignore the Epistles. That seems to be changing. Rev. Tom Rose read 1 Corinthans 13 in the wedding I just attended in the Cathedral. The Writings themselves quote the Epistles as "the Word," especially Colossians 2:9 - "In Him Dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." And, it appears that - perhaps due to copyright issues - the General Church is not attempting to put out a New King James version of "the Word" as they did with the KJV. So, New Church folks are having to get used to seeing these books in their Bibles. To me, this is only a good thing.
But, back in the 70s I had to decide how, to look at Paul's Apostleship, and the Authority of the Epsitles for establishing doctrine. You mentioned how one of your New Church friends is put off when folks quote the Epistles so much. But, you clearly understand that there is a good reason for that. The Epistles unfold doctrine quite clearly. The Gospels do contain lots of doctrine, but the Epistles, while letters written to various churches and persons, tend to map some things out more plainly.
Beyond that, holding to the Inspiration of the Scriptures is only one step. But, holding to the unity and integrity of the Scriptures is another important attainment. If we hold that the whole Bible is inspired, and given by the same Holy Spirit of God, then we must assume that there is some sort of Unity to the whole package.
And, this is taught in the Scriptures themselves. Jesus said. "The Scripture cannot be broken," (John 10:35). You see here a high view of not just the bare letter of the Word, but the meaning and teaching of the Word cannot be broken. We see further that the Gospels are always saying that Jesus did this or that "that the Scripture might be fulfilled." When the Apostles quote the Scripture they use them and speak of them as the voice of God - the "Scripture saith," means "God says." There is one story unfolding from Genesis to Revelation, which Jesus himself made clear on the Road to Emmaus:
And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27) So, really, the whole of the Scripture unfolds the story of Jesus. Not just the New Testament, but the Old as well.
To put it another way, not only are the Scriptures breathed out by God ('ex'pired is really what "inspired" means), but they give out a unified message, and - ultimately - speak of Jesus and his redemption at every level. Of course, no one needs to convince a Swedenborgian of this! They hold to inspiration on steriods! At least for those books they consider “the Word.” And, they believe fully in what they call “the Internal Sense.” And, it is just here that the traditional Christian gets lost. How do all these different senses fit together? If the sense of the letter is the basis, container and support of the Spiritual and Celestial sences, in what way does this work? What does it mean?
As I struggled with these issues, there was also the influence of the Lord's New Church which holds that the Swedenborg’s Writings themselves, being fully the Word of God, also have an internal sense. This made sense to me - if the Writings are the Word, then what the Writings say about the Word should apply to them as the Word. _What the Writings Testify Concerning Themselves_, was compiled by my great-grandfather, Rev. C. Th. Odhner and updated by his nephew (and adopted son), the Rev. Hugo Lj. Odhner. My grandfather, Loyal Odhner, son of Carl Theophilus Odhner, was into the Hemme Schleleer movement at least for a time. His brother Phil was their Bishop for many years. I used to visit there in 8th Grade with the Schnaars. Mrs. Schnaar (now remarried) is still there at the Lord's New Church, and my cousin Hugh Odhner has become the pastor of that Society just recently. So, my roots run deep in that group of which I've never been a part. Hugo Lj. Odhner, my Grandpa's first cousin and adopted brother, seemed to have been the champion for the General Church's answer to this perspective. My mother and I lived with Connie and Hugo his last two years, in my 8th and 9th Grade years. Mom was his caretaker. Even with his stroke having incapacitated him, he was an impressive figure to me. Old world dude! I also lived for a month with Gunnar Nielson in St. Petersburg Beach, Fla. c. 1979. He was Harry Barnitz's brother in law, or something (Mrs. Schnaar was his sister). Harry wrote "Existentialism and the New Christianity," which I tried to read, but was too advanced for me. If the Writings are the Word, how should *they* be read? Do we even take the Writings “literally”?
So we share a common commitment, in my case an ancestral primal urge, to finding unity in Scripture! The manner in which Swedenborg puts it together is not altogether unprecedented. There were Medieval and early Church authorities who spoke of the tropological, ethical and other senses. The "science of correspondences" is also not altogether unknown, but the way the New Church puts these things together is probably unique. “Does it work?” and “Is it True?” are different questions, but both require answers. I did try to make it work with various levels of success, but what really moved me out of the mode of using the correspondences and looking for the Celestial, Spiritual and Natural senses, is that these were really - functionally - unavailable except in the Literal sense of Swedenborg’s writings. So, it all came down to “Is Swedenborg God's prophet, or not?” In what sense is he an authorized representative of Jesus Christ? Is he an apostle, a prophet? Do his writings have the same authority as Scripture?
The project of finding the ‘internal sense’ or the continuous story which is about Jesus in the Bible, can take a number of different directions. And, two major things pointed me in the direction of finding the unity of Scripture in the Covenantal unfolding of the History of Redemption (from Adam to Noah, to Abraham to Moses, to David, to Jesus and the New Covenant, which operates by the power of the Holy Spirit working in the Church and speaking in the Scriptures).
The first was a hermenutical insight, or interpretive key, granted my by studying with E. Bruce Glenn at the Academy of the New Church College, in his introduction to Literature course. That was letting the author of the work, and the work, or piece of writing itself, give one the key to its own interpretation. Read a poet in the light of his own work. Good writing gives the intelligent reader the tools necessary to discern the meaning of the text. I later wrote to E.B.Glenn thanking him for his training on reading. (It is the kind of material contained in the book by Mortimer J. Adler, _How to Read a Book_.) He liberated me to let the Bible speak for itself. This did not exclude Swedenborg from consideration by itself. The second factor led me to setting aside the Writings as necessary for understanding the Scriptures. This is the acceptance of Paul’s being among the Apostles, and his writings being of equal authority with the rest of the Scriptures.
Remember that, in those days, the General Church had the “Word” and the Writings. The Epistles were not read *as the Word* of God, but only as “good books for the Church.” But, each book in the Bible, needed to be read and understood in its own light and in the light of the whole Bible. Each book has its own genre - history, poetry, prophecy, narrative, letter, Apocalyptic, etc.. And, each gives the attentive reader keys and tools by which to understand its main thrust. If some Bible books have a continuing internal sense, and others do not, still I believed that the sense of the letter had to be the starting point. And, if there were books without an internal sense, so be it – that just simplified matters for me. The question then was, Are these books authoritative for me? Must I believe what they teach, or not? Can the be understood?
I gave various answers to these questions as I struggled with them over the years. But, what evolved in my mind was an assurance that the writings of the Apostles Peter, John and Paul were certainly authoritative, and were Scripture. Peter and John were (along with James, the first Apostle put to death as a witness of Jesus) the inner group within the 12. Their apostleship was never in doubt.
And, What is an Apostle? Someone appointed to office by Christ Himself:
“And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter)…” (Mark 3:14-16; cf. Luke 6:13). “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction: The names of the twelve apostles are these…” (Matt. 10:1).
“And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues…” (1Cor. 12:28)
An Apostle is an appointed witness of the resurrection. To be numbered among the 12 originals (kind of like a Jury with two alternates), they had to have accompanied Jesus from the time of John’s Baptism until the Resurrection. When the Apostles were gathered before the day of Pentecost, one of the things they did as they waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit, was to replace Judas. Here we see the qualifications for an Apostle described: Peter says, about Judas, "For it is written in the Book of Psalms, "'May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it'; and "'Let another take his office.' So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us--one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection." And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:20-26)
The Apostles were Commissioned to Evangelize the Whole World:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:16-20)
“And they (those baptized on Pentecost) devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42).
The Apostles are foundation-layers of the Church:
“And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Rev 21:14).
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV)
The Apostles were revelators, (as well as TEACHERS) to receive the whole counsel of God from Jesus by His Holy Spirit after the Resurrection:
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. "A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me." (John 16:12-ff.)
“When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:4-6 ESV)
“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles…” (2 Peter 3:1-2 ESV)
“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, "In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions".” (Jude 1:17-18 ESV)
The Apostles were given Miraculous Gifts to Attest their Office:
“Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico.” (Acts 5:12)
“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction: The names of the twelve apostles are these…” (Matt. 10:1).
This raises the question, WHO is an Apostle?
We have the list of the 12 given in each of the Gospels: “The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out…” (Matt. 10:2-5).
We saw that Matthias was added to the 11 to replace the fallen Judas (Acts 1).
But, others were later added to the Apostolic band.
Jude 1:1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ
Gal 1:19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.
Here we see that James and Jude were Brothers of Jesus, leaders in the Church, and called “other apostles” by Paul.
What of Paul Himself?
In the book of Acts we have the story of Paul’s conversion told multiple times. It is recounted by Luke in Acts chapter 9. Then Paul shares the testimony of his “Road to Damascus conversion” with a crowd of Jews in Acts chapter 22, and then before the Roman Governing magistrate, Felix in Acts 24, and then before his successor, Porcius Festus and King Agrippa in Acts 26. From this last selection I quote the following:
“At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.' "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles”." (Acts 26:13-23)
This is the story of Paul’s conversion, which included his own Calling to an Apostolic ministry. Being an apostle is being a “sent one,” apo-stello is “I send.”
Further, Notice how the opening salutation of the Epistles by Paul parallel those of Peter:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (1 Peter 1:1-2)
“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:1
Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
1Co 1:1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus
Eph 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus,
Col 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
1Ti 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope
Paul addressed his churches just as Peter did. He expected his congregations to read his letters in public worship. Col 4:16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.
And, yet, there were those who attacked Paul’s ministry, not only among the unbelieving Jews and Gentlies, but within the Church. There were teachers of errors such as the Judaizers (see Galatians) and proto-Gnostics (cf. Colossians). Other preachers claimed rights as teachers (see Philippians and the Corinthian epistles). Paul’s relationships with these opponents were not all the same. Some were considered brothers, others heretics. But, he certainly had his opposition. Look how Galatians opens up:
Paul, an apostle--not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-- and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:1-5 ESV)
Seems to be some underlying problem there, eh?
But, Paul’s claim to Apostleship was firmly founded in his conversion and calling by Jesus himself. He received his teaching, not from the other Apostles, but from the Lord.
Gal 1:17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
In Corinthians he writes: “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?” (1 Corinthians 9:1-6)
He had no contention with Peter and John or the rest of the 12. People who claimed to follow James from Jerusalem did give him trouble, but not James himself. His ministry was to the Gentiles:
Rom 11:13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles
His own self-evaluation is heart rendingly humble:
“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” (1 Corinthians 15:8-11)
And his claims were not just talk, but the fulfillment of apostolic signs as well:
“The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” (2 Corinthians 12:12 ESV)
Paul got results!
1Co 9:2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord
He freely compared his own missionary methodology with all. He stayed single and raised all his own funds. The other Apostles were, often, married, and accepted contributions for their own living expenses (Paul commended this for others, but chose to be a “tent maker” so that no one could say that he was in it for the money).
1Co 9:5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
He was an amazingly focused pastor and evangelist, who kept his original mission always before him:
Rom 1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:24-27 ESV)
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Timothy 2:5-7)
SO, WHERE DOES ALL THIS LEAD? For me it lead to having to affirm not only Peter and James and John, but Paul authority as an Apostle, and his writings as Divine revelation. Growing up in the New Church I tended to look down on Paul. But, as I studied these issues, I came to the conclusion that Paul was God’s messenger for the world and for me – not the only one, but part of that foundational organizing band of witnesses to the main event, Christ’s Resurrection and Reign. I would be wrong to be ashamed of Paul, or his writings:
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Timothy 1:8-12 ESV)
Paul’s writings are, therefore, Scripture. To be taken in accordance with the interpretive guidance that they give of themselves, and to be put together with the whole counsel of God in the whole Bible. Peter speaks about the Inspired Scripture as better than his own having experienced the Transfiguration of Jesus with Moses and Elijah:
…We were with Him on the holy mount… And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21)
Paul was a teacher and prophet and Apostle. And, the lead Apostle, Peter gives the following testimony concerning his works and writing:
“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)
Having settled that Paul was an inspired, divinely appointed Apostle, I had to take His words as the Words of Jesus, who said, “He who receives you receives me, and He who receives me, receives Him who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). Conversely, to reject Paul’s word is to reject the Word of Christ and to come under the threat of judgment (earlier in Matthew chapter 10). So, in loyalty to Jesus, I had to chose for Paul as well as Peter and the rest of the Canon of the New Testament.
By itself, this does not require rejecting Swedenborg. It does, however, leave one with a presumption in favor of the Unity and Inspiration of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. And, to take away from this settled canon, or to add to it, is at least to say that it is insufficient. However, Peter writes that God’s “divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). And Paul shared this view and goes on to say to his disciple, Timothy:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
I know I have gone on at length! And, I am probably pounding home some terribly obvious points. But, as the Lord Himself set the pattern not only of two or three witnesses (Deut_17:6, Deut_19:15, Deut_19:18-19; Matt_18:16; John_8:17; 2Co_13:1; Hebrews_10:28) but a Jury of 12 Witnesses (at least), so I have attempted to put before you multiple witnesses from multiple Scriptures and various perspectives to make it clear just how I have come to accept the whole Bible as the final rule for faith and life. Other influences, family, friends, government, the Church, counselors and sages are all welcome. But, as Isaiah calls out to those who were disturbed by conflicting truth claims in his day: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isa. 8:20). Luke called the Berean Christians more noble than some others because they tested everything even the Apostles taught against the previously existing Canon of Scripture. Acts 17:11 So, we too must test all things and hold fast to what is good.
Thanks for listening! Blessings,