When Paul went to Thessalonica (the Greek roots lead me to assume that means something like “Sea Conqueror” or “Victory of the Sea” or something along those lines), he went first to the Jewish synagogue, as always (Acts 13:5; 13:14; 14:1, etc). With full apostolic authority, and as the recipient of direct revelation of the gospel from the risen Christ himself, he spoke to the Thessalonian Jews by “reasoning from the scriptures” (Acts 17:2). He was seeking to persuade them from the scriptures (file that away) that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead. Then, with that established, he announced that the Jesus he preached was this Christ.
Some were persuaded. Many others took the modern liberal route of toleration and acceptance: they formed a mob, vandalized property, and called upon the name of Mama Government to shut these troublesome Christians up by force (Acts 17:5-7), for did not Caesar have his decrees? You would think the Thessalonian converts had refused to bake a gay wedding cake! But this is really background to my point, which comes in the next episode. The apostles leave Thessalonica and get to Berea, the next city. Ah, Berea, famed among Bible-study circles everywhere for the nobility of its Jews who, instead of storming houses and exacting arbitrary fines, “Examined the scriptures” (17:11).
Often the moral extracted from this passage is that it’s a great and noble thing to examine the scriptures. Indeed, it is. Examining the scriptures daily is one of the primary duties for a king (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). But the slightly more subtle point that I want to bring out is that the Bereans were not simply examining the scriptures, but were by implication testing the words of the inspired apostle against them. Actually it isn’t an implication. It’s said explicitly: They were examining the scriptures “to see if the things spoken by Paul and Silas were so.” The word spoken by the apostles was no less than the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13), and still Dr. Luke considers that to test this apostolic word against the scriptures is a mark of nobility.
Is it too much then to say that even the word of the apostles was in some sense subordinate to what was already written? Not that the Apostles didn’t indeed possess the Spirit, but that this could not be known for certain unless what they preached could stand the test of scripture? Can we go a step further and say that the Holy Spirit himself is subject to the scriptures? That may be a crude way of putting it, but it is really only to say that the Spirit is everywhere consistent with Himself, and there is no way to recognize what is truly of the Holy Spirit without testing by the scriptures. This is not to denigrate the Spirit, but rather to exalt Him and His work. It is to recognize that the scriptures are the very word of God, spoken and written by prophets in whom the Spirit of Christ was testifying, and that we may not recognize any spirit claiming to be from God unless it can stand the test of scripture. What the French Confession of 1559 says is true: “that no authority, whether of antiquity, or custom, or numbers, or human wisdom, or judgments, or proclamations, or edicts, or decrees, or councils, or visions, or miracles, should be opposed to these Holy Scriptures, but, on the contrary, all things should be examined, regulated, and reformed according to them.”
This was a principle well-established. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 sets the written word of God above signs and wonders. A man healing the blind, making a serpent out of a staff, or parting a sea so that a people can escape their pursuers ought to have less persuasive power to the people of God than the written scripture, if the one who does such signs speaks contrary to that word. The Great Commission given to Joshua implies that long term success can come in no other way than obedience to the word of God written. No show of zeal for glory, no presumed worship of God has any value, and in fact is abominable, if done to the neglect of the established written word. I’m thinking here of the episode of Saul and the Amalekites, which someone might object is not a story dealing with the written word of God; just the prophetic word through Samuel. But such an objection forgets that God’s intention for the Amelekites was indeed written in a book, by Moses, and recited in the ears of Joshua (Exodus 17:14). Isaiah also, by whom the Spirit of God spoke, directed the people to the written word, “to the teaching [“Torah” is the word used] and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no light” (8:20). The prophet sets this in opposition to the people’s consulting of mediums, i.e., against those who would rather consult with the dead. Better to consult with a living God, and the way to do that is to consult the written and living word. Even those possessed of the official teaching office in Israel, the priests and the prophets, were perfectly capable of forgetting the Torah of their God and so losing their office and falling under the curse. Read all about it in Hosea 4:4-6. Venerable and well-established tradition could likewise be nothing else than making void of the written word of God.
To have your conscience bound to the written word (being a doer and not a hearer only, don’t forget) is the safest position in which you can find yourself. Is this you?