By Hoyt Houchen
Question: There are many who say that the only teachings of Christ that are binding are those that were repeated by the apostles after the day of Pentecost. Would you please answer this in Guardian of Truth?
Reply: There is no scriptural basis whatsoever for this position. It is a mere assumption.
Whatever the reason for this view, it ignores much of what Jesus taught during His personal ministry while on earth. Anything that Jesus taught, if not repeated by an apostle after the day of Pentecost, would not be binding but would be relegated to nothing more than a historical account. For example, the specific teaching of Christ on divorce and remarriage (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10: 11, 12; Lk. 16:18) was not repeated by any apostle after the day of Pentecost. According to the position under review, this instruction of Jesus would not be binding upon anyone today.
The four gospels are more than just historical records. They reveal the teaching of Jesus, much of which was preparatory for future conduct in the church that was soon to be established. A case in point is the procedure, outlined by Jesus, to be taken by one who is personally offended (Matt. 18:15-17). If the first steps fail, the offended brother is to take the matter before the church (Greek ekkiesid, same word used by Jesus in Matt. 16:18). The word “church” here does not refer to the Jewish synagogue which was in existence at the time of this instruction. W.E. Vine states that the Greek word ekkiesia “has two applications to companies of Christians, (1) to the whole company of which Christ said, ‘I will build my church,’ Matt. 16:18, and which is described as ‘the church which is His Body,’ Eph. 1:22; 5:23, (b) in the singular number (e.g. Matt. 18:17, R.V. marg., ‘congregation’), to a company consisting of professed believers, e.g., Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:13; 1 Thess. 1: 1; 2 Thess. 1: 1; 1 Tim. 3:5, and in the plural, with references to churches in a district” (Expository Dictionary of N. T. Words, Vol. 1, p. 84). It is the local church (an assembly of Christians that came into existence later) that Jesus was referring to in this passage. This was preparatory teaching. It was not repeated by any apostle after the day of Pentecost. If it had to be, in order for it to be binding, then we have no instructions as to how we are to deal with personal offense. (Note also the teaching of your Lord relating to this matter in Matt. 5:23,24.) It is just as binding as anything else that Jesus taught.
The Sermon on the Mount pointed to the kingdom, the church. “The whole of the Sermon on the Mount was therefore prospective and contemplative of the new covenant, the new dispensation and the new kingdom, from Pentecost to the end of time” (Foy E. Wallace, Jr., The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State, p. 11). Of the beatitudes, this same author says: “Each beatitude states a gospel principle, a preview of the kingdom, and it is impossible to ignore Pentecost as the time foretold in these precepts, the immediate prospect of which accentuated the teaching” (Ibid., p. 12). It is absurd to suppose that if all the beatitudes are not repeated by an apostle after the day of Pentecost they are not binding.
Jesus, during His personal ministry while on earth, was preparing His apostles for the work that they would perform after His ascension. He promised them the Holy Spirit who would teach them and guide them into all truth (Jn. 14:26; 16:13). Jesus taught them and then they would be instructed further after His departure. What He taught them was binding and did not have to be repeated by one of them later for it to be binding. If what Jesus had taught could only be binding if repeated later by an apostle, the teaching of Jesus would be subjected to the apostles. The only sense that this would make is nonsense. Furthermore, Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “all (emphasis mine, H.H.) authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.” Is it to be supposed that the authority of Jesus is limited, and not binding, until some apostle repeated later what He said? Who can believe it?
The apostles were the ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). Ali qmbassador is one who acts in an official capacity for another and is “an authorized representative or messenger” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 28). Christ’s chosen ambassadors (the apostles) were acting in His behalf. This means that what Jesus had taught, they were authorized to teach. And, what Jesus taught did not have to later be approved or repeated by an apostle or anyone else.
Exalted pre-eminence was bestowed upon Jesus at His transfiguration. In this scene the characters present were Moses, Elijah, Jesus and three apostles Peter, James and John. Like a drama, the stage is set, the curtain is rolled back and God’s index finger is pointed at Jesus. “Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5). These words stamp God’s approval upon Jesus. Hear ye him. Peter, an apostle, later attested to the scene of the transfiguration and wrote: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased: and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount” (2 Pet. 1: 16-18). Since Jesus was given all authority (Matt. 28:18) and honor and glory were bestowed upon Him by God the Father, how can anyone suppose that His teaching would have to be repeated by an apostle before it could be binding? A doctrine that so subjects our Lord’s teaching to an apostle’s approval cannot be true.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7: 10, “But unto the married I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord.” Jesus had spoken on this matter from His own lips. Although Paul did not repeat all that Jesus said (fornication the exception for divorce and remarriage), he nevertheless regarded it as authoritative. Paul did not have to repeat the Lord’s detailed teaching on the subject of marriage in order for it to be binding. In verse 12, Paul wrote, “But to the rest say 1, not the Lord . . . .” As an inspired apostle, Paul is writing something which is not recorded from the Lord’s own lips. This is an example where the Holy Spirit was to give further teaching to the apostles after the Lord’s ascension (Jn. 14:26; 16:13 etc.). This is not a contrast between the teaching of Paul as an apostle and Paul as a private individual. He was not claiming apostolic authority in some things he wrote and only expressing his personal opinion about others. All that Paul wrote were the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37).
The position that only the teaching of Jesus that was repeated by an apostle’ after the day of Pentecost is binding is contrary to Scripture. What Jesus taught for future conduct was already bound in heaven and did not have to be repeated by an apostle. The apostles were both ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) and witnesses of Jesus (Acts 1:8). What they repeated from Christ did not bind it; it simply attested to what was already bound.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 6, pp. 164-165
March 15, 1984