Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Apostolic Authority


The entire premise of being the church revealed in the New Testament and patterning ourselves after that church rests upon the belief that the apostles “were given specific authority to define doctrine and set in order churches. This authority was perpetuated in the inspired writings of the New Testament” (Christian Primitivism in the Twenty-first Century, David Edwin Harrell, Jr., p.3). In this lesson we want to consider passages that emphasize that the apostles were God’s spokesmen and their writings are the final authority and pattern for the church for all time. In addition, we want to examine the current religious alternatives to this view.


John 14:25-26


These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you”


  • Jesus is plainly speaking to the apostles (13:2ff; 15:26-27), for they were the men he had been “abiding with” and they were the men He had been teaching, promising them that the Spirit would “bring to your remembrance all that I said to you”.

  • It is clear that the apostles are here commissioned personally by Jesus to finish the work of revealing God’s plan. The Holy Spirit would not only reveal more information through them (“all things”); this would find its form in the book of Acts and the New Testament letters. He would also accurately reveal through them all that Jesus had taught in the past, that is, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.




John 16:13


But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come”


  • This is similar to the above verse; the Spirit would reveal through the apostles “all things” or in this verse, “all truth”. This tells us that not only are the writings of the apostles authoritative and are the word of God, but their writings are the final word on all spiritual matters. The Holy Spirit would stop speaking after He revealed “all truth” through them.

  • This means that all writings and pronouncements after the days of the apostles, even things said by professed Christians, are uninspired.

  • Their writings are complete, all truth, the “faith once delivered” (Jude 3), “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), and the final and only divine law that governs all men today. Only their writings can be used as the final authority for morality among God’s people, doctrine, and what is the worship and work of the church.

  • What is revealed through them is not just “truth” but truth that is “binding” (Matthew 18:18) in heaven, that is, the rules they lay down will be backed up by God at the judgment.


Ephesians 3:3-5


That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit”


  • In the New Testament, revelation is inseparably connected with the apostles (and those strongly related to them, including Mark and Luke)” (Harrell p. 4). So close is this connection that the word of God is actually called “the apostle’s doctrine” (Acts 2:42).

  • This verse reveals that what Jesus promised in John 14 and 16 was fulfilled. The Holy Spirit did come and He did speak through the apostles.

  • Other passages stress the same immediate link between the apostles’ words being Jesus’ words (1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Peter 3:2); the apostles’ words being the words of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:11-13), or the apostles’ words being the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

  • This verse equally stresses that the writings of the apostles contain the complete revelation of God’s mystery, and are understandable to the reader. In other words, an uninspired Christian with a New Testament can understand God’s will just as an inspired apostle like Paul, “when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ”.



Local Churches “ordered” by the instructions of the Apostles


1 Corinthians 7:17 “And thus I direct in all the churches”


1 Corinthians 4:17 “And he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church”


1 Corinthians 11:16 “We have no other practice, nor have the churches of God”


1 Corinthians 11:34 “And the remaining matters I shall arrange (set in order) when I come”


1 Timothy 3:15 “But in case I am delayed, I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth”


From these passages we can reach the following conclusions:

  • The teaching and writing of the apostles is the final authority for Christians.

  • All congregations that claim to follow Christ are expected the follow the same standard or teaching. Teaching and practice is to be uniform throughout all congregations.

  • What applied to one congregation, applies to all congregations for all time.

  • Thus churches in the 21st century are not allowed to practice or teach something contrary to what churches in the first century practiced and taught.

  • So the plan of salvation is the same, so are the qualifications of elders, God’s rules about marriage, and so on.

  • The apostolic letters are so authoritative that members who departed from their instruction were to be withdrawn from (2 Thessalonians 3:14). Adherence to their teaching was the only path to fellowship with other Christians and God (2 John 9).



Human Deviations and Applications


Following the days of the apostles, two other methods for establishing authority emerged:


The Authority of Private Feelings

Instead of looking to Scripture for the answer, the response might be:

  • I know that the Bible teaches... but I cannot believe that God would do this or that, or I think that God will change His mind or will act differently than expressed in the Bible”. What this person forgets is that God has chosen to reveal His mind and feelings in Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).

  • Why are you following something written by people 2000 years ago?” This objector forgets that time does not matter to God (2 Peter 3:8-9), and what was written was the word of God. One could equally say that the Bible may well have been written “today” since both God and man remain exactly the same (Hebrews 13:8).

  • Others may exclaim, “I just feel”, yet feelings can be very subjective and great liars (Proverbs 16:25), leading to life damaging mistakes. If we could feel or guess our way to God then why did God even have the Bible written? The fact that the word of God was revealed in book form proves that man, on his own, with his own feelings, is blind when it comes to moral and spiritual truth (Jeremiah 10:23).


The Authority of the Leader or Leaders

  • We see this expressed in such groups as Roman Catholicism, the Mormon Church or the Jehovah Witnesses. These groups must deny that the Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all the truth and that the Bible is an infallible, perfect and complete guide. These groups all have one thing in common: they believe that God is still speaking today through someone or something, and that the New Testament is not the final or sole source of authority. As a result, if one of their current teachings or practices violates the New Testament, they are not concerned for they feel that their leadership can override or add to Scripture.

  • We need to realize that the only successors to the apostles are their writings, and we need to continually thank God for preserving the New Testament so we can equally have the assurance of salvation, a perfect guide for life, and the confidence that we are pleasing Him in all respects.