Did the New Testament Writers Know They Were Writing Scripture?


Have you ever wondered if the writers of the New Testament knew what they were writing was going to become scripture? If you haven’t asked yourself this question before, I imagine you are wondering now!

2 Timothy 3:16 says “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.” One must wonder, is Paul referring to New Testament writings or is he referring only to the scripture of the Old Testament.
According to Dr. Evan Burns, “{The above verse} is directly referring to the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) but not as the Pharisees would have read them (legalistically). According to Paul (and Jesus and the Apostles), the Hebrew Scriptures were to be read Messianically as pointing to Jesus himself, which is why the Old Testament should make us wise unto salvation in Christ... (Burns, 2018).”

Upon further questioning, Dr. Burns states, “Paul is referring primarily to the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures), but indirectly to the New Testament writings that were being produced during his time. He is referring mainly to the Old Testament because Timothy was taught these particular Scriptures since he was a child, and the New Testament wasn’t in transmission at the point when Timothy would have been a child. See 2 Timothy 3:14-15 (Burns, 2018).”

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
2 Timothy 3:14-15

Many arguments lend evidence to both sides of the question, but most articles tend to agree that the most honest and thorough answer is some authors were aware and some were not!

An article in Blue Letter Bible by Don Stewart has evidence that the New Testament authors did indeed quote themselves as authoritative scripture. Stewart gives 2 Peter 3:15-16 as an example, “Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction as an example.

Another example where a New Testament Author quoted himself as authoritative scripture is in 1 Timothy 5:18: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads the grain,’ and, ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.’”

According to Stewart, “The first verse quoted is from Deuteronomy 25:4. However the second is a quotation of one of our Lord's statements recorded by Luke: "The laborer is worthy of his wages" (Luke 10:7). This saying is not found in the Old Testament. Paul uses the exact same Greek words that Luke used. Consequently, it seems that Paul knew of Luke's gospel at this time and considered it Scripture. Paul quotes Luke on the same level as Moses. This implied equivalence (Stewart, Does the New Testament Ever Quote Itself as Authoritative Scripture?, 2018).”

Stewart’s words seem to offer clear evidence that some writers of the New Testament did, indeed, know they were writing scripture.

In a separate article by Stewart, he states that Luke 1:1-4 “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed,” clearly states Luke was unaware his words would be used as scripture. He believes instead that Luke considered his work to be a product of careful historical investigation (Stewart, Did the Biblical Writers Always Understand They Were Recording the Word of God?, 2018).

Based on this information, there is no way to know with absolute certainty whether all the writers of the New Testament did indeed know they were writing scripture. The most probable answer is that some were aware and some were not.

I think John Piper sums it up well.

Paul said to the Corinthians, “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. . .. These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. . .. We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:7, 10, 12–13).” And we can get a glimpse into how Paul saw the way this played out in his writings. So, we go from human words taught by the Spirit down to the writings in 1 Corinthians 14:37–38 where he says, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” In other words, Paul saw his writings as carrying an authority referred to back in 1 Corinthians 2, which every other claim to prophecy should submit to (Piper, 2017).

Piper goes on to state, “God’s glory shines through his word as the Holy Spirit enables us to discern what it means (Piper, 2017).”

But again, let me stress in conclusion that our final, unshaken confidence rises not decisively or finally from the personal claims of each biblical author to have been inspired, but rather from the peculiar marks of God’s glory that shines through God’s word when the Holy Spirit enables us to discern what it means (Piper, 2017). 

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Works Cited

Burns, E. (2018, April). Doctor - Western Seminary. (T. Hogate, Interviewer)

Piper, J. (2017, 01 25). Was any Biblical Writer Aware He Was Inspired. Retrieved from desiring God: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/was-any-biblical-writer-aware-he-was-inspired

Stewart, D. (2018). Did the Biblical Writers Always Understand They Were Recording the Word of God? Retrieved from Blue Letter Bible: https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_1238.cfm

Stewart, D. (2018). Does the New Testament Ever Quote Itself as Authoritative Scripture? Retrieved from Blue Letter Bible: https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_1210.cfm