Prophets and Apostles

A prophet was considered to be God's spokesman and law enforcer. He was known by many names. A prophet was a servant of the Lord (1 Kings 14:18) and a “watchman” (Ezekiel 3:17; Hosea 9:7). Being a “seer” (Isaiah 30:10), he was recognized as a “man of God” (1 Kings 12:22) and as a “messenger” (Isaiah 42:19). These various titles distinguished a prophet from all other vocations.

God's prophets were to speak only what he commanded them to speak. He said of the prophet Moses, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18). Moses was also given miraculous powers as proof that his calling came from God (Exodus 4:1–9). True prophets did not consult witches or mediums (Deuteronomy 18:10–11), nor did they follow false gods (Exodus 20:3–4; Deuteronomy 13:1–3). A true New Testament prophet did not deny that Jesus is God (Colossians 2:9) and attested to Jesus’ full humanity (1 John 4:1–2).

“The Sovereign Lord has spoken,” wrote Amos; “who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8). This intimates that God's prophets were compelled to speak on his behalf. In fact, when the prophet Balaam tried to avoid speaking God's message, he got a message from his donkey (Numbers 22:21–39). Balaam's error, and the reprimand he received from his donkey, are corroborated by the apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:16). Is it any wonder that there isn't an Old Testament book called Balaam? God's prophets had the authority to speak God's message and the Old Testament books are their written narratives.

God's New Testament Apostles

According to Acts 1:21–22, the qualifications for being an apostle of Christ were threefold: he was personally chosen by Jesus; he was an eyewitness of the ministry of John the Baptist through Jesus’ three-and-a-half year ministry; and he saw the resurrected Jesus.

Bible Lesson

How did Paul get to be an apostle? Well, he saw the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3–9), and it is believed by Christians that he then spent three years in Arabia receiving revelation from the time of John the Baptist's ministry through Jesus’ ministry (Galatians 1:16–17). Paul said that he was “an apostle sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Galatians 1:1).

The apostles performed many miracles (Acts 3:1–10; 28:8–9), even raising the dead (Acts 20:10–12). The apostle Paul said, “[T]he things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Corinthians 12:12). Because they were chosen as apostles, their books have divine authority. As in Old Testament days, miracles once again confirmed God's message. Without a miraculous confirmation, a work was not accepted in the biblical canon.

Nicodemus confirmed that Jesus was performing miracles. As a skeptic, he secretly came to Jesus. “‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’“ (John 3:2). It's noteworthy that Jesus’ enemies never state that he didn't perform miracles. The apostles wrote most of the New Testament books. Matthew's Gospel, written primarily to the Jewish people, emphasizes that Jesus was the promised King and Messiah. John wrote his Gospel, three letters, and Revelation. His Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ deity to a world audience. The fisherman Peter wrote two letters as he faced the persecution of the Roman emperor Nero. And Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, wrote at least thirteen letters: Romans; 1 and 2 Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; 1 and 2 Thessalonians; 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; and Philemon.

Timeless Truth

It is believed that there are two possible authors of the book of Hebrews: the apostle Paul or the physician Luke. Both men had the educational background to write such an in-depth treatise. The author did not sign his letter, perhaps to avoid prejudicing his readers, which was written to Jewish Christians who were contemplating leaving Christianity. If Luke wrote Hebrews, then he, by sheer number of words, wrote most of the New Testament.

God's New Testament Prophets

Nonapostles wrote the other books of the New Testament. So what authority do their writings have? Why would their books be included in the biblical canon? Even though these writers were not apostles, they were prophets, and the apostles accepted their books as being authoritative Scripture.

In their writings, the apostles confirmed that Luke, Mark, James, and Jude had the gift of prophecy. The following passages are submitted as evidence on their behalf:

  • Luke was a physician who accompanied Paul on one of his missionary trips. He wrote a gospel and the book of Acts. His prophetic gift is attested to by Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24.

  • Mark was another of Paul's companions. His Gospel was written for a Roman audience and is known as Peter's Gospel because Mark recorded what Peter preached. His prophetic gift is attested to by Acts 12:25; 2 Timothy 4:11; and 1 Peter 5:13.

  • James, a half-brother of Jesus and a leader in the Christian church in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19; James 1:1), wrote the book of James. His prophetic gift is attested to by Acts 15:13 and Galatians 2:9.

  • Jude, also a half-brother of Jesus, speaks on his own behalf in the book he wrote. His prophetic gift is attested to by Jude 1:3, 5, and 20ff.

Not everything that an apostle or a prophet said was included in the biblical canon. For example, Paul referred to a third letter to the Corinthians that is not part of the New Testament canon. The twenty-seven books of the apostles and prophets were copied and distributed among the churches during the first century A.D. They were public documents, not private records, and were God's instructions to the church leaders and their followers.

If everything that Jesus did had been written down, “I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written,” writes the apostle John (John 21:25). The New Testament canon closed when he wrote the book of Revelation in A.D. 96. By this time, he was the only apostle still living. He died four years later in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor. As no one else had the miraculous or prophetic gifts needed to confirm their message, no more books were considered to be inspired by God.

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