Did Jesus commission the New Testament or the disciples?

2 Corinthians 1:21 (RSV): “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us;”

2 Corinthians 2:17: “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word; but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”

I ran across an article written by an anti-Catholic Reformed/Presbyterian apologist, in which he was arguing that Jesus did indeed command His disciples to write books.

Catholics don’t deny that, but we say that He didn’t commission the New Testament. His commands to proclaim the Gospel were primarily (even overwhelmingly, I would say) in terms of oral preaching and oral tradition, not by means of writing (though that isn’t excluded).

The problem is when one pits oral tradition and an authoritative Church against the Bible, and we oppose that. Here are clear references to oral proclamation/tradition:

Matthew 24:14 (RSV): “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come” (cf. Lk 24:47).

Mark 3:14: “And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach” (cf. 6:12; 13:10; 14:9; 16:15, 20; Lk 9:2, 6).

Acts 5:42: “And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (cf. 8:4-5, 12, 25, 40; 9:20, 27, 29; 10:36-37, 42; 11:20; 13:5; 15:21, 35; 16:10; 17:18; 18:5).

Romans 1:15: “so I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (cf. 10:8, 14-15, 17; 2 Tim 4:2, 17).

Our friend noted that in Revelation 1:11, Jesus commanded John to “write in a book.” He did say this, but it applies only to the book of Revelation, not the entire New Testament (which was determined later by the Church, as to which books it would contain).

A similar sola Scriptura argument is made from words at the end of the book (“this book”: 22:9-10, 18-19; “the book of this prophecy”: 22:19; “prophecy of this book”: 22:7). Many Protestant apologists argue that this is referring to the book of the New Testament, but it clearly only applies to the book of Revelation.

John 20:30 is similar, insofar as it also refers to “this book” (meaning, the Gospel of John only).

The only other time “books” are mentioned, it refers not to 27 New Testament books (never referred to as such in the New Testament, but for the first time in 367 AD by St. Athanasius), but rather to hundreds or thousands of books (i.e., hardly a “proof” of sola Scriptura!):

John 21:25: “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

When St. Luke described his decision to write his Gospel, he didn’t say that Jesus told him to do so:

Luke 1:3: “… it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent The-oph’ilus …”

When St. Paul refers to his own teaching, he places his oral proclamations on the same level as his written ones:

2 Thessalonians 2:15:“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”

Our dissenting friend continued, stating:

“Jesus alluded to them writing books: John 17:20 says ‘Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word…’ Guess how people believe through the word of the apostles? For most of history, that has been through their word written in the Bible.”

But the text doesn’t say that. It certainly could include writing, but it doesn’t refer exclusively to writing. “Word” in Scripture refers far more to oral preaching than to the written word, as even a quick search of “word” or “word of God” or “word of the Lord” in the New Testament will soon reveal.

Dave Armstrong has been a published Catholic apologist since 1993. Dave has written or edited 48 books on apologetics, including several bestsellers. If you’d like to help keep his influential teaching apostolate going as a much-needed monthly supporter, write to Dave at [email protected].