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Apostolic Supremacy

by Clinton D. Hamilton
via The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 7, May 1952.

The real issue with reference to religious division is which church is the true one. In an almost unanimous voice religious people affirm that for a church to be the true one it must teach the identical doctrines revealed by the apostles. The issue before us in this department is whether the Catholic Church does or does not teach this faith "once for all delivered unto the saints." Before we can determine this, a standard must be established by which the teachings must be judged. It is to that standard that we now turn our attention. Our discussion will be on the authority, infallibility and finality of the apostolic office and doctrine.

Authority

Behind all the teachings of the apostles is the authority of Jesus Christ: "All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. God ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18-20). By virtue of His authority Christ commanded His apostles to go and to teach all nations. What they were to teach was "whatsoever I commanded you." The authority of the apostles is unquestioned since the One who had "all authority" gave the command to teach and bound the words to be taught. The apostolic office and doctrine are authoritative. The apostles had the power of loosing and binding as the following passages declare. "Verily I say unto you, what things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18). The same
authority given to all the apostles here is also given to Peter in Matthew 16:19. One who looses and binds must of necessity be invested with authority. The apostles themselves understood that they had power or authority.

Paul

"Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the Chief corner stone" (Ephesians 2:20). The apostles and prophets of the New Testament preached the truth that the Christ is the Foundation. In preaching Christ, they preached the doctrine of Christ. No one can be built on any foundation that that in the teachings of these apostles and prophets.

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema" (Galatians 1:8). The gospel thus promulgated must be the one authorized. It is that announced by the apostles which neither man nor angels can change for they do not have the authority.

"And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach other also" (II Timothy 2:2). The message to be perpetuated must be that preached by the apostles. Those who had the powr thus to bind their teaching had to be sent, for, "how shall they preach except they be sent?" (Romans 10:15). The apostles were sent (Matthew 28:18-20). They were sent as ambassadors of Christ (II Corinthians 5:18-21). Note carefully the apostle's argument in II Cor. 5:

  1. God reconciled "us" (apostles) by Jesus Christ unto Him first;
  2. Committed unto "us" (apostles) the "ministry of reconciliation";
  3. Committed unto "us" (apostles) "the word of reconciliation": and finally
  4. "We (apostles) are ambassadors on hehalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us." The apostolic authority is thus proved by their being "ambassadors." An ambassador's words are authoritative (Luke 14:32; 19:14). God entreats by the apostolic message which contains the terms of pardon and peace to man from God.

The ambassadors' message was sealed by the blood of Jesus and revealed to them by the Holy Spirit who knew the mind of God just as our spirits know our minds (Hebrews 10:29; Matthew 26:26-28; I Corinthians 2:10-16). How much more authoritative could a message be? How much more authoritative could the apostolic office be?

Peter

Luke says that the apostles spoke on Pentecost "as the Spirit gave them utterance." Peter understood this too, for he said "this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel: and it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh." Peter declares his message to be accurate and not "cunningly devised fables" for he and the other apostles "were eyewitnesses of His majesty" (II Peter 1:16). They were not only eyewitnesses but also heard with their ears and had the word of prophecy which was revealed by the Holy Spirit made more sure to them (II Peter 1:19-21). The word preached by them was verily "the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever" (I Peter 1:23-25). Nothing could be more authoritative than the "Word of God" which is incorruptible and eternal!

Jesus

In His last prayer before His death Jesus said, "As Thou didst send Me into the world, even so sent I them into the world" (John 17:18). Jesus further says, "As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you" (John 20:21). The apostles were sent by Jesus with His full authority which He had from God since God sent Him. No higher authority could be vested in one than a commission from Jesus Christ! Paul, Peter and Jesus testify that the apostolic office and doctrine are authoritative. Hear Christ: "The Comforter shall teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto
you
" (John 14:26). "He shall guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13).

Infallibility

Infallibility of necessity requires inspiration. The guidance of the Holy Spirit removed the possibility of error in the apostles' message. Unless there is inspiration there is no infallibility. An examination of the Scriptures will show this to be true.

When Christ's work was almost completed, He told the disciples that He would pray the Father to give them "another Comforter." "Another" (allos) means one of the same kind. As Jesus had been their Guide and Helper, so the Holy Spirit was to be. The Spirit was to take His place and reveal to them all truth. This revelation was to be two-fold: (1) to bring to their remembrance what Christ had told them, (2) to guide them into truth which Christ could not then reveal as they were not able to "bear" it (John 14:26; 16:13). To insure accuracy, Christ promised infallibility to them by saying that the Comforter would be sent to them. He "was to teach them all truth." With the Holy Spirit accurately bringing things to their "remembrance", guiding into all "truth" and bearing witness of Jesus, the apostles were invested with infallibility when they taught. Take away this special work of the Holy Spirit and you destroy infallibility. It cannot exist apart from inspiration. What the apostles preached is infallible or we have both Christ and the Spirit failing in their work. Remove inspiration and doubt enshrouds all tht the New Covenant says.

The apostles were to be the witnesses of the Lord "both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). To enable them to testify of Him, He said, "Ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you" (Acts 1:8). The message declared under the power of the Spirit was from God, "But unto us God revealed them through
the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God
" (I Corinthians 2:10). In this passage Paul states that "the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God." That the apostles might know "the things that were freely given to" them from God the Spirit was sent to them. Paul further affirms "which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teactheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual Words" (I Corinthians 2:13). The very words preached were "in truth the Word of God" (I Thessalonians 2:13). God made known to the apostles "the mystery of His Will" which "Word of the truth" was "the gospel of your salvation" as Paul states in Ephesians 1:9,13. Infallibility in teaching the "Word of God" was assured by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The Catholic Church now claims infallibility but denies inspiration. The assertion that we now need an infallible interpreter has no Biblical foundation. The message was declared "once for all" (Jude 3). Not only was it declared once for all, but people who walked contrary to the revealed Word were to be marked (II Thessalonians 3:6,14). No interpreter was needed for the Thessalonians. In fact the Bible affirms infallibility only in the revelation of the truth to the apostles. After it was revealed, all other teaching was to be a committing of the once revealed message to faithful men who would be able to teach others also (II Timothy 2:2). The Catholic claim is unfounded; infallibility without inspiration is contrary to the Scriptures.

Finality

The finality of the apostolic teaching is affirmed in these words, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, If any man preacheth unto you any gospel other thant hat which ye received, let him be anathema" (Galatians 1:8,9). No infallible interpreter was necessary for the Galatians, neither did they need any other gospel. The gospel delivered was final and no angel or apostle could change the one first preached. Anyone who would in any wise pervert the message delivered by the inspired man would incure the anathema of God. Let us now examine testimony for the finality of the apostolic teaching.

Peter

"His 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" (II Peter 1:4). This knowledge that granted unto them all necessary things is the "Word of God, which liveth and abideth." The very nature of the Word makes it eternally final. Read carefully these words, "having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the Word of God, which liveth and abideth...and this is the Word of good tidings which was preached unto you" (I Peter 1:23,25). We are to long for this Word that we "may grow thereby unto salvation" (I Peter 2:2).

Peter warned of false teachers who would craftily bring in destructive heresies. As a result of their teaching many would speak evil of the truth. Peter's purpose in writing his epistles was to "stir up your sincere mind by putting you in remembrance; that ye should remember the Words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles" (II Peter 3:1,2). Note that the doctrine to remember and observe was that of the prophets and the commandment of Christ through the apostles. No statement of finality could be more emphatic. There is not one word said about an infallible interpreter to tell them the meaning of that which they were to remember.

The prophesied salvation Peter declared was "announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven" (I Peter 1:12). Those things God purposed in Christ and revealed through the apostles by the Spirit are final as Christ is God's last spokesman (Hebrews 1:1). To a consideration of thsi point we turn now to Paul's testimony.

Paul

Paul declares that God made "known unto us the mystery of His Will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Him (Christ) unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:9,10). All things are summed up in Christ and in Him all the fullness dwelt (Colossians 2:9). Christ is therefore the full and complete revelation of God to man. There cannot be, there is not another revelation (Hebrews 1:3; John 1:1; Matthew 1:23). If Christ is a complete revelation of God to man, then having the "mind of Christ" enables its possessor to give the final revelation. Such the apostles had: "But we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, event the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory: which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory: but as it is written, things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love Him. But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words. Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ" (I Corinthians 2:7-16).

The Corinthians were instructed not to go beyond the things which are written (I Corinthians 4:6). The gospel preached to them was that by which they were to stand "if ye hold fast the Word which I preached unto you" (I Corinthians 15:1,2). The message given them was final. The message given Timothy was final for Paul said, "And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (II Timothy 2:2). Again, "Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (II Timothy 3:16,17). Nothing is lacking; we must conclude it to be final.

The message was at first preached by Jesus but was confirmed by those who heard. God confirmed their testimony by "signs and wonders" (Hebrews 2:3,4). Paul said that he wrote to the Ephesians that they might have his understanding of the mystery (gospel) which he and the other apostles and
prophets knew by revelation (Ephesians 3:5).

Matthew

Matthew's record states that the apostles were to teach what Christ bound. Those who heard were to observe what was commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). The apostles teaching is to be that by which all men are judged in the final day (Matthew 19:28). Christ will be the judge and men will be judged by their obedience or disobedience to the apostolic gospel (Acts 17:30,31; John 12:48). If men are to be judged finally by the gospel then the gospel as given is final!

James

The gospel is the perfect law for James says, "But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing" (James 1:25). If the gospel is perfect it can not be improved and hence must be final as given by the Spirit to the apostles and prophets.

With one voice the apostles and prophets affirm that the original message revealed by the Spirit is final. There is not needed an interpreter for we have their understanding as it is written. Their message is infallible and final as we proved. Therefore we must conclude that no dogma or belief is binding except the truth we now have in the New Testament, the Catholic Church notwithstanding.