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Discipleship (8): The Disciple and the Scriptures

bible6The disciple loves his Master and looks to him for guidance in all things. But when the disciple is two millennia removed from the Master in time, a very practical issue rears its head: How can the disciple know his Master and learn from him? The Galilean fishermen could leave their nets and walk with Jesus beside the lake and over the hills and mountains of old Palestine. We do not have that privilege. How can we today be disciples of one who lived so long ago?

We Are More Blessed Than They

Yet, we today are more blessed than the people of the first century. Jesus told his disciples it is for your good that I am going away (John 16:7). Unless Jesus went away, the Counselor will not come to you. It was when Jesus went away that he sent the Holy Spirit from the Father, and that is for our good.

While Jesus was in the flesh, comparatively few people were able to see him, to be with him and to really know him. Today, any one who chooses to know him can spend countless hours in his company imbibing his teaching and coming to know him as an intimate friend. The few who met him were limited to what they could see, hear and remember. We are given all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

After the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the disciples while Thomas was present, he said pointedly that those who have not seen and yet have believed are blessed (John 20:29). “Doubting Thomas” would not believe unless he could put his finger in the nail-prints and his hand into the spear wound. Jesus gave him that opportunity. Yet Jesus said faith without sight is blessed.

How can we believe without seeing? The things Jesus did in the presence of his disciples are written for us that we might believe and have life in Jesus’ name (John 20:30-31). This is why John wrote his gospel. In the gospel we are able to come to know Jesus and know the certainty of the things we have been taught (Luke 1:4). Because we can read the Scriptures which testify of Jesus, we can be his disciples today as certainly as were those whom he called to be with him while he was on earth.

The Chain of Discipleship

Those who were with him wrote these things for us. They were charged to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them all Jesus had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). These were Jesus’ final instructions to them. In a similar vein, Paul instructed Timothy to commit the word he had heard from Paul to faithful men who would teach others (2 Timothy 2:2). Paul taught what he had received by revelation (Galatians 1:11-12). The original apostles were promised by Jesus that the Holy Spirit would remind them of all Jesus had taught and would teach them all things (John 14:26).

The sum of this is that the story of Jesus is communicated from him through the apostles to others. This chain is seen clearly in John 17. Jesus, praying to his Father, said, I have given them [the apostles] the word you have given me (vv. 8 & 14). Then v. 21 indicates that others believe through their message.

It is important to realize, though, that this chain does not depend on oral tradition, as much as unbelieving “scholars” would like to suggest it does. Rather, the original eyewitnesses of Jesus wrote for our learning.

Paul told the Ephesians that the mystery of the gospel had been made known to him by revelation – but that he had written it down so they could understand his insight (Ephesians 3:3-4). Peter told those to whom he addressed his epistle that he wrote to remind them of the truth they had received (2 Peter 1:12-14) so they would have it after his death. He assured them this was a not cleverly invented story but a true eyewitness account of Jesus (vv. 16-18).

Thus the chain of discipleship is anchored in the experience and testimony of the original disciples communicated to us through the word they have written. The Scriptures are the source from which we are able to come to know Jesus. The words of the most familiar children’s song sum it up:

Jesus loves me, this I know

For the Bible tells me so.

Without the Scriptures our knowledge of Jesus would be very tenuous. Non-biblical writings of the early church give us a lot – but most of what they give is what they quote from the Scriptures. The Scriptures are essential to our knowledge of Jesus – either directly, as we read for ourselves, or indirectly as others teach us the Scriptures.

Scripture Points To Jesus

Yet, we must remember that Scripture is not God. It tells us of God and his Son, but we do not worship the Scriptures; we worship God. The value of Scripture is that it points us to the Father and to his Son.

The Jews of Jesus’ day made a tragic mistake. They mistook knowledge of Scripture for knowledge of God. Though they were diligent in their study of Scripture, Jesus said God’s word was not abiding in them because they refused to come to the one of whom Scripture testified (John 5:38-40). Though they set their hopes on Moses and the Law, Moses himself accused them because Moses testified of Jesus in what he wrote, but the Jews would not believe that testimony (John 5:45-47).

The intellectual pursuit of the Scriptures is not an end within itself. We need to search the Scriptures. We need to hide the Scriptures in our hearts (Psalm 119:11). We need to meditate on God’s law day and night (Psalm 1:2). But we always need to remember Scripture is given by God to point us to Jesus.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit would testify of me (John 15:26). It was the testimony of the Spirit of God that the apostles passed on to us in the Scriptures. This Spirit, Jesus added, would bring glory to me (John 16:14). It is this glory of the light of the gospel shining in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6) that we must seek in the Scripture.

Sirs, We Would See Jesus

If we would see Jesus, we must look to the Scriptures. That is why it is so important that we become students of the Bible. Yet, we must use the Scriptures as a tool, not as an end within themselves. Our goal is to come to know Jesus. We come to know him in the Scriptures. So our methodology in approaching the study of the Scriptures must be one that will allow us to see Jesus throughout the entire Bible, Old Testament and New Testament.

We must get into the written word of God if we want the Incarnate Word of God to get into us.

Our next post will have some practical suggestions for Bible Study that will help us to do just that.

– (9) A Disciples Studies The Bible

– (7) A Church Of Disciples


4 Responses

  1. Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! 🙂

    • Substance is what I have a lot of – especially when you see me in person and the size of my “pot!” Seriously, thank you for your comment.

  2. Dear Mr. Starling,
    What a wonderful explanation of discipleship and its connection to Scripture.
    Thank you for all you do in spreading the word of God.

    However, I was disturbed by your animosity in this statement . . .
    It is important to realize, though, that this chain does not depend on oral tradition, as much as unbelieving “scholars” would like to suggest it does. Rather, the original eyewitnesses of Jesus wrote for our learning.

    Even the founders of the Church Christ established thought they knew God’s way
    Peter [Mk 8: 31-33] was rebuked by Jesus and told “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” When he wanted to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem.

    Paul thought he was doing what God wanted by searching out the early followers of “The Way” and bringing them back to Jerusalem in chains but again a human was rebuked by God. He was knocked off his horse and struck blind until his eyes could be open to the truth. We need to be careful that we are so set in believing we know the truth that we are not open to hear God’s Truth. . . in thinking we know how God works.

    As a Catholic I believe in both Scripture and Tradition . . . and Scripture was oral tradition for at least the first 40 or 50 years until Mark wrote his Gospel. [Lk 1:1-4] John [20:30-31 and 21:25] states at the end of his Gospel that “there are many things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.”
    The scriptures that you base all your beliefs on are there because of Catholic Tradition. It was the Catholic Church who compiled the New Testament, the canon of scripture.

    I am so sorry that you see those who believe in tradition as “unbelieving” . My belief is that as Catholics we have a fuller understanding of Jesus because of our traditions that are based on the scriptures. The most precious of those is our Eucharist , the true body and blood of Christ, given to us by Jesus at the last supper. If you doubt this . . . pray to the Holy Spirit for an open mind and heart and read Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. Christ meant this literally . . . the early church grasped this as John clearly states. Throughout acts the act of Breaking Bread is mentioned – this IS the Eucharist. Our Holy Mass is made up of two parts: Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist.

    As Catholics we believe that Jesus has kept his promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (Jn 16:12-13) and that he himself would be with his Church, “even until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20).

    I pray that you will be open and come to see that we all have the same purpose. Jesus told the disciples when they complained that they saw someone that was not in their company casting out demons Jesus said to them. “Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” [Lk 9:49-50] Jesus calls us to Love one another as He has loved us and to even love our enemies.

    In Christ’s Love I write you these words. God be with you.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      The ones I had in mind by saying “unbelieving scholars” are those who believe the Scriptures came through the unaided memories of the original disciples, perhaps written down by others generations after the death of Jesus. Many of these do not believe the fundamental facts of the gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

      I believe there is good reason to believe most of the New Covenant Scriptures were written in the first generation after Jesus died and that all of them were written by people who were at the very least contemporaries of those who were physically with Jesus. Most of the writers of the New Testament – Peter, James, Jude, Matthew, Mark, and John – actually knew Jesus in the flesh. Paul said that he received his information directly from the Lord (through the Holy Spirit), but his message was confirmed by the earlier apostles. Luke was a traveling companion of Paul and interviewed eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus and the early parts of Acts. We do not really know just who wrote Hebrews, though many believe it was Paul. We know these things through both Scripture and tradition.

      Toward the end of the writing of the New Testament Scriptures, Jude spoke of “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3), and Peter declared, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). They give us an aura of finality about the revelation of God to man. This is in contrast to the Old Testament where the last chapter closes by speaking of the coming “sun of righteousness [that will] rise with healing in its wings” and of the coming of another prophet who would “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” “before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:2, 4). Many such prophecies of the coming of our Lord and His work are in the Old Testament. There are no such prophecies in the New Testament of revelations yet to come after the days of the apostles. Guidance in understanding the apostolic message recorded in Scripture that we might understand their insight into the mysteries of God (cf. Ephesians 3:4), yes – but not of new revelation.

      I did not mean to classify you as an “unbeliever” because you depend on Tradition as well as Scripture. I believe the written tradition of the church provides a witness to the understanding of the church in the early days (2nd century forward); I do not believe their witness is on a par with the Scriptures, which they themselves looked to as greater than they. In that, we disagree – but mainly in emphasis. Also, I believe that the more we rely on tradition (with consequent less reliance on the Scripture) the further we are likely to get from God’s revelation given to us through Jesus and confirmed to us by those who heard Him.

      I see the process of separating Scripture from other writings as indeed guided by the Holy Spirit. It was, however, more in the way of recognizing those books that were written by apostles and apostolic men (i.e., companions of the apostles). Yet not all books written by companions of the apostles are in the canon of Scripture. For example, Polycarp was taught by John the Apostle, but his writings are not in the canon of Scripture. He quotes from canonical books as authoritative, so he is a witness to what the church in his day regarded as inspired of God. He gives no indication that he believes his own writings are authoritative as the revelation of God.

      I know. It sounds complicated – but the early Christians recognized certain writings as apostolic long before there were councils and synods that came together to draw up lists of recognized Scripture. In fact, one of the earliest lists was drawn up by Marcion, an early heretic who wanted to reduce greatly the number books recognized as canonical. It is likely that other lists were drawn up as a reaction to his effort to trim the number of books in the canon. This involved discussion by the early bishops from different cities and in different regions, a discussion which took quite some years to solidify. Indeed, there is still disagreement to a limited degree, as some accept the Apocrypha and others do not, plus there are differences in the lists of Apocryphal books recognized by those who accept them as well as the degree to which they are accepted as authoritative.

      None of this, however, should question the faith of those who, believing in the Lord, accept Tradition as a witness to the faith of the church down through the ages. The faith of the church, however, has different streams of tradition that sometimes contradict each other. Hence, Tradition must always be secondary to Scripture. At least, that is my belief.

      Respectfully yours,
      Jerry Starling

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