THE Christian Church is indeed older than Holy Scripture, that is, older than the written Word of God. Until the time of Moses, God called His Church into existence and preserved it by His oral Word (viva voce) The Christian Church came into existence immediately after the Fall, when God, having applied the Law to fallen men orally (Gen. 3:8–14), gave mankind the oral promise of the Woman’s Seed, who was to destroy the works of the devil, that is, free men from the guilt of sin and all its consequences (Gen. 3:15), and Adam and Eve believed the “first Gospel.” Through the oral Word, proclaimed in various ways, God continued to build His Church until the days of Moses.
But after God had chosen to transmit His Word in writing, the Church of every age was strictly bound to the written Word of God. No man was permitted to add anything to the written Word nor to subtract anything from it (Joshua 23:6; Deut. 4:2). The Church of the Old Testament was rigidly bound to the written Word of God as its complete canon, to which only God could add from time to time. In the time of the New Testament God added the writings of the Apostles to the books of the Prophets as the foundation of faith. Of the Church of the New Testament Paul says Eph. 2:20: “Ye are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.” The Scriptures of the Apostles are co-ordinated with those of the Prophets because it is one and the same Spirit of Christ speaking through both. “Not unto themselves, but unto us, they [the Prophets, who had “the Spirit of Christ”] did minister the things which are now [in the days of the New Testament] reported unto you” (1 Pet. 1:10–12). With the Word of the New Testament Apostles, God’s revelation of the doctrine to His Church is entirely completed, for when Christ in His high-priestly prayer (John 17:20) says: “Neither pray I for these alone,” the Apostles, “but for them also which shall believe on Me through their Word,” through the Word of the Apostles, He is thereby making the Word of His Apostles the basis of faith for the entire New Testament era. That through the ministry of hundreds of thousands who are not Apostles men are brought to faith in Jesus has its cause in this, that these hundreds of thousands, yes, millions, of men, do not speak their own words, but the Word of the Apostles and Prophets. We quote once more Luther’s remarks on the words of David: “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me” (2 Sam. 23:2): “Such a boast neither we nor anyone who is not a Prophet may utter. What we may do if we are also sanctified and have the Holy Ghost, is this, that we boast of being catechumens and pupils of the Prophets—we repeat and preach what we have heard and learned from the Prophets and Apostles, and are also sure that the Prophets have taught it. In the Old Testament such men are called ‘the children of the prophets’ who offer nothing of their own and nothing new, as the Prophets do, but teach what they have learned from the Prophets, and they are the ‘Israel,’ as David calls them, for whom he writes the Psalms.” (St. L. III:1890.)
Only one question remains: Where does the Church of the New Testament find this Word of the Apostles with certainty? The Apostles themselves point us to their Scriptures. They declare, in the first place, that their written Word is in content identical with their spoken Word. The Apostle John says: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you … and these things write we unto you” (1 John 1:3–4). Paul also co-ordinates his oral and his written word: “Hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15). Not everything that Christ and the Apostles taught has been recorded (John 21:25), but the instruction given in the writings of the Apostles is abundant, yea, superabundant, since the same thoughts are stated not only once but often. “To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe” (Phil. 3:1). In the second place, we see that the Apostles insisted already very firmly on the sola Scriptura. Even in the days of the Apostles the same false sources of knowledge and the same false norms were prevalent which later on and down to our day have plagued Christendom, such as spurious prophecy or “spirits,” alleged word of the Apostles, or “tradition,” alleged epistles of the Apostles. Over against all such claims Paul points to his written Word as the safe source and norm of the true Apostolic doctrine. Genuine “prophecy” and “spirit” were indeed present in the Apostolic Church; therefore Christian congregations were instructed not to reject a priori this Spirit and prophecy, but to apply to them the test of the Apostle’s Word. When in the congregation at Corinth “prophecy” and “spirit” placed themselves alongside, and even above, the Apostolic authority, Paul wrote to the congregation (1 Cor. 14:37 f.): “If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” This means that whoever will not acknowledge as divine norm what Paul had written should be recognized as a pseudo prophet and be treated as an ignoramus. The passage 2 Thess. 2:2: “That ye be not soon shaken in mind or be troubled neither by spirit nor by word nor by letter as from us, as that the Day of Christ is at hand,” is important because here the Apostle sets his written instruction against “spirit,” against the alleged word of the Apostle (tradition), and against the alleged epistle of the Apostle. Christians should not permit themselves to be “shaken in mind or troubled” by any such pretensions. In order that the congregations might be able to distinguish spurious from genuine epistles of the Apostle, Paul wrote the greeting with his own hand (2 Thess. 3:17): “The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.”
Pieper, F. (1999). Vol. 1: Christian Dogmatics (electronic ed.) (193–196). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.