By Dan Walters
Some of those who believe that we can achieve unity in the church without understanding or obeying the New Testament Scriptures have made an interesting argument. They say that the New Covenant was complete on Pentecost, but that the New Testament Scriptures were not available until many years later. Therefore, many Christians lived and died without the benefit of these Scriptures, yet they were saved under the New Covenant. Their line of reasoning is a mixture of truth and error. It is true that the New Covenant and the last 27 books of the Bible that we call the New Testament are not the same thing. In fact all the history that is recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John occurred before the New Covenant came into effect. Just as the Old Covenant is contained within the first 39 books of the Bible, but not everything within those books is actually the Old Covenant, it is also true that the New Covenant is contained within the last 27 books, but not everything in those books is the New Covenant. A covenant is an agreement, or a contract. The New Covenant is the agreement between God and his spiritual children through the mediatorship of Christ. When those 3000 people on Pentecost accepted and obeyed the first principles of the gospel, they were then in covenant relationship with God. But did that covenant include any obligation on the part of those people other than obeying the first principles? It certainly did. Part of the gospel they accepted was that “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). When the 3000 were baptized into Christ they accepted him as their Lord and master. That is, they agreed to be guided by his commands.
Those commands included not only those things that Christ had spoken on earth, but other things that the apostles had not been ready to receive at that time. These truths would be revealed by the Holy Spirit later (Jn. 16:12,13). We read that those 3000 persons converted on Pentecost “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). This doctrine was not only what they remembered of Christ’s own words, spoken in the flesh, but included new teaching revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. They could not receive all such teaching in one day, anymore than a newborn babe in Christ can receive everything in the written New Testament Scriptures in one day. But they did receive all of this teaching, part by part, and they certainly did not have to wait until they had it in written form in order to understand it and obey it. The apostles did not have to teach all of this personally since God appointed some to be prophets in the church (Eph. 4:11). These inspired men taught in all the congregations long before the word was in written form.
As this doctrine was being revealed, did the early Christians have the option of ignoring it or rejecting it and still remaining loyal to the New Covenant? Paul said that they did not. He wrote to the Thessalonian brethren: “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thess. 3:14). Paul had neither more nor less authority than the other apostles. And the teaching received through the inspired prophets was identical with the teaching of the apostles and was upheld by the apostles. A Christian’s faithfulness to Christ under the terms of the New Covenant was dependent upon his accepting and obeying this apostolic teaching as it was revealed to him. If he rejected it, he was rejecting Christ as Lord.
We are not to think that any of the directions for faithful living found in the New Testament Scriptures was unknown until 70 A.D., or later. The fact that they were in oral form made them no less important or less binding. So we conclude that the early Christians did have the benefit of the New Testament Scriptures, though not in present form, and that they did understand these teachings to be a part of the New Covenant.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 24, p. 749
December 15, 1988