Extra-biblical “revelations” (part 2)

Hebrews 2:1–4

Here we read that “what we have heard” from God through His Son is a message of “great salvation” (the great salvation, incidentally, for which the prophet Daniel prayed). Quite apart from the substance of the salvation-message and what our response to it should be (the main burden of the writer), it is interesting to note how or by what means this message came. God’s revelation of salvation in these last days was “at first” declared “by the Lord [Jesus]” Himself, and then it was “attested” to the church by those who heard Jesus (v. 3). There is little doubt that these attesting witnesses were primarily (but not exclusively) Jesus’ apostles. Many people heard Jesus’ message but didn’t believe Him (such persons are clearly not in view here); many others heard and believed, but it was the apostles in particular who were authorized to speak what they had seen and heard with the authority of Jesus Himself (note that in order to be an “apostle” of Christ, it was required that one had seen and heard Him; e.g., Acts 1:21–22; 1 Cor 9:1). The apostles were firsthand witnesses of Christ (as others were), but they were also uniquely authoritative witnesses in that He commissioned them, out of many disciples, to be His official witnesses on earth (e.g., Jn 15:26–27).

But there’s more. Not content simply to send out the apostles with a salvation-message, God also “bore witness” to their message, authenticating their witness by accompanying signs, wonders, various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will (v. 4). This is of fundamental importance, and must not be missed: the controlling purpose of these signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts distributed in the days of the apostles was to authenticate their firsthand witness to the message that they (and others) had heard from Christ Himself. And the writers of Hebrews isn’t the only biblical writer who says this.

2 Corinthians 12:12

For instance, Paul authenticates his apostolic ministry and message in Corinth by the incontrovertible fact that he had performed the “signs of a true apostle” among the saints there. What were these authenticators of his apostleship? They were “signs and wonders and mighty works,” just as in Hebrews 2:4 (in fact, Paul uses precisely the same Greek words here as in Hebrews 2:4).

To sum up thus far, God used signs and wonders and mighty works to prove to those hearing the apostolic message that these men were really speaking God’s own message, that they were really bearing witness to what God Himself had spoken in His Son. But now another piece must be added to the whole picture.

1 Corinthians 12:4–11

The New Testament picture of God’s revelation through Christ’s apostles (their salvation-message) and His revelation that accompanied their message (signs, wonders, and mighty works) is complicated by the fact that non-apostles also exercised the “apostolic” gifts. Not only the apostles heard the Lord; not only the apostles bore witness to the message they heard from the Lord; and not only the apostles enjoyed the accompanying authenticating witness from God in the form of signs, wonders, and mighty works. Paul is clear, for example, that during his ministry the Holy Spirit “apportioned” authenticating gifts in the Body of Christ as He willed (v. 11) – and this apportionment included non-apostles.

What is important to observe, though, is that apportionment of these authenticating gifts to non-apostles (exercise of the gifts by non-apostles) did not mean that the gifts served a different purpose, some purpose other than authenticating the salvation-message of Jesus’ firsthand witnesses. The controlling purpose of the gifts remained the same at all times, regardless of who was exercising them: they were for the purpose (cf. again Heb 2:4) of authenticating the salvation-message first spoken by the Lord, as that message was preached and proclaimed by those who heard Him (particularly His authorized apostolic representatives).

This controlling purpose explains why the gifts were always to be exercised under apostolic oversight, and according to apostolic regulations. Paul takes up this issue in 1 Corinthians 12–14, to which we now turn. To be continued . . .

Category: Biblical Authority Comment »

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