We see in 2nd Peter 3:15-16 (ESV):

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Whether or not Jesus' disciple Peter wrote letter, it's strong evidence that Paul's letter were seen as Scripture at a very early stage in Christianity. But did Paul consider his letters as Scripture? He clearly thought himself an authority on the same level as John Zebedee, Peter and James the Just (see Galatians 2), but did he anticipate his letters be considered the Word of God?

  • I'm building an argument to answer this question on the Christianity site.
    – Jon Ericson
    Mar 16 '12 at 17:42
  • 3
    I'm not sure that the concept of canonization was pressing authors like Paul into writing letters to people and churches around the known world. Also in 2nd Peter, we see that these authors were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they engaged specific circumstances. As these specific circumstances were addressed, so too were many future circumstances, with timeless truths. Also, I believe that I remember that the early conception of the apostle was one who saw Jesus. Thus, Paul had basis for such a claim.
    – swasheck
    Mar 16 '12 at 18:48
  • 3
    If I were answering on that question, I would encourage him to read on the canonization process where these questions were hashed out. We have the canon not because men choose it but because men could not stop these books from being recognized as inspired. No council declared the books to be inspired. Instead the early church fathers recognized God's spirit in certain books and that it was not in other books. They chose books that were both timely (speaking to certain situations) and timeless (universally applicable throughout time). This could require a book.
    – Frank Luke
    Mar 16 '12 at 21:15
  • 2
    You might know that in ancient Greek there are no capital or lowercase letters. The word used here is γραφαί (accusative γραφάς) which means simply “writings, documents, letters”. To translate this as “Scriptures”, with capital “S”, is (I suggest) a manipulation of the text.
    – fdb
    Jun 21 '14 at 21:45
  • Everything Paul taught had it's source in the OT and was validated by the Bereans. It is an error to believe he had magic knowledge that was to be considered scripture. His writing is authoritative because he was the householder of Mt 13:52 .
    – Bob Jones
    Dec 25 '17 at 16:44

That's difficult to say. There are indications that Paul thought his letters were not to be taken as "gospel":

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.—Galatians 1:8-9 (ESV)

However, the meaning of this passage isn't completely clear and in the same letter Paul claims:

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me...—Galatians 1:1-2a (ESV)

Further the letter spends considerable words on the idea that Paul has equal authority to the leaders of the Jerusalem church. (See virtually all of Galatians 1 & 2.)

Meanwhile, Paul occasionally makes reference to teachings that are his opinion:

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.—1st Corinthians 7:12 (ESV)

He also talks in that letter several times of passing on things that were handed to him. For instance:

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.—1st Corinthians 11:2 (ESV)

We can extrapolate that Paul has three levels of communication:

  1. Traditions, whether oral or written down, that Paul holds in high esteem,
  2. Rules or commands that are his opinion, and
  3. Words that he did not designate in either category.

Since his words in category #3 are often strident, it would seem odd if Paul did not claim to have some authority from God. And if he has authority from God, what he writes might rise to the level of Scripture. On the other hand, Paul shifts without much fanfare from polite greetings to deep theological discussions to almost motherly advice to rich spiritual poems to attacks on his opponents to complex apologetic to friendly salutations. These happen all in the space of a single letter!

The evidence does not comport well with the popular assumption that when the writers of Scripture sat down to put God's Word to papyrus, they were ceased by the Holy Spirit and copied down exactly what the Lord dictated to them. At least in Paul's case, that doesn't seem the most appropriate model.

Paul's model of inspiration

Paul does at times refer to his own writings. An prime example is:

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.—1st Corinthians 4:14-16 (ESV)

Even more striking is this transition for talking about what Paul himself does in his ministry and the traditions about head coverings, the Lord's Supper, and spiritual gifts:

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.—1st Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)

By Paul's model inspiration tends closer to what the church now calls Apostolic Succession or, less anachronistically, Rabbinical Judaism. But where Saul the Pharisee traced his semikhah to Moses the lawgiver, Paul traced his apostolic authority to Jesus the law fulfiller (see Matthew 5:17). Paul sees himself as a vital link between the Christ and his spiritual children.

It would also seem that Paul claimed spiritual authority via the Holy Spirit:

But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,  
   nor the heart of man imagined,  
 what God has prepared for those who love him”

—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.—1st Corinthians 2:9-10 (ESV)


Paul certainly intended his readers to take his letters as authoritative. He also might have anticipated that they would be incorporated into some collection of teachings as the rabbinic Jews collected the wisdom of the sages, prophets and teachers into collections as sacred writings. But we can't know if Paul anticipated the creation of the New Testament nor can we know if he expected his letters to be represented in it.

  • @Chris: I'm glad got something out of the answer. Feel free to ask and/or answer some questions yourself. And welcome to Hermeneutics.SE!
    – Jon Ericson
    Mar 21 '12 at 23:34
  • 1
    I looked at your profile, I thought I was the only Christian programmer! Glad to know that I have a brother who also into programming :)
    – Chris Bier
    Mar 21 '12 at 23:46

Whether Paul anticipated that his letters would be collected together in the form we have them today we cannot know for sure (as he does not tell us). However I think it is clear that Paul believed that he was carried along by the Holy Spirit as he wrote his letters - this is indicated explicitly in 1 Corinthians 7:40

Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.ESV

Noting that this verse is in conclusion to the teaching he is giving on marriage that includes verses 10 and 12:

10To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11(but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 12To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.ESV

Paul clearly claims to "have the Spirit of God" as he writes in verse 40, but the other important question is who the "too" refers to - "I too have the Spirit of God". Paul must either be referring to the Corinthians, or to Jesus himself, and given verses 10 and 12, I favour the latter.

Given Paul's bold claim to authority, I think it is fair to suggest that though he may have had no inkling of the exact form our modern Bibles would be bound together in, or exactly what they would contain, he would not be at all surprised to see his letters there along with the other scriptures.


It is important to remember that Paul's letters to the churches were just that, letters. He was writing to particular situations in each particular church he addressed. That's one reason why they are all so different. To suggest that Paul thought his letters as being NT Scripture one must argue that this was a secondary reason for his epistles, one might say in the back of his mind. Again, Paul's "personal touch" present in most of his epistles suggest local destinations, not global ones. With respect to Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, the majority of scholarship attests that it was written as a circular letter. Still, one cannot use that fact as evidence of Paul authoring Scripture: he was merely saving time by writing an all-purpose letter to more than one church.

I believe that it is more likely that the four Gospels were written as Scripture. My primary reason for asserting this is the relatively late dates of the Gospels. Apart from Mark (see below), it is generally held that the Gospels were all written after Paul's final letter, 2 Timothy (67 ca.). Take Matthew. If he wrote his gospel after AD 80 this was 50 years after Jesus' death. Why write an account of Jesus so late? His (Jewish) audience was not just those Jews who entered the kingdom at Pentecost (Acts 2), for they were getting on in years by then. I believe that Matthew had in his mind a new generation of Jews, those with no first-hand knowledge of Jesus.

Following is a summary of the dates of the four gospels as held by evangelical scholarship": 1) scholars contend that Matthew was written between AD 80 – 100; 2) there is no consensus for the dating of Mark; 3) because of historical facts Luke includes in his narrative, he could not have written it before AD 60. Also Luke's intended reader, Theophilus, may have been not a real person; instead Luke was writing to a wide audience of 'God lovers', with the potential of his narrative gaining status as Holy Scripture. 4) Scholarship is unanimous on dating John late, but the actual date varies widely. There are cases for as early as AD 50 and as late as the end of the second century (with the discovery of more Johannine Greek manuscripts the latter has now been repudiated). Carson, Moo & Morris (An Introduction to the New Testament, 1992, p. 167) opt for a date in the range AD 80 – 85.

In summary, I contend that it is more likely that the four Gospels were written as Scripture than for any of Paul's letters.

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Be sure to check out the site tour and how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. This is not a comment on the quality of your answer, but rather a standard welcome message. As a minor tip, try to avoid giving information not requested (e.g. dates of the gospels) and not directly relevant. I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.
    – ThaddeusB
    Aug 28 '15 at 2:52
  • I concur with @ThaddeusB. Your first paragraph is a good start at answering the question. I think the key element is that since the letters were written for particular purposes, Paul included material that's fairly irrelevant to other parts of the Christian movement. In particular, we faithfully copy the greetings and admonitions to individuals who are no longer known to us. Paul could have saved significant effort in copying those bits if he'd made clear lines between "Scripture" and the rest.
    – Jon Ericson
    Aug 28 '15 at 16:35

The "go to" passage for establishing the authority of "The Bible" is:

KJV 2Ti 3:14  But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;  2Ti 3:15  And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  2Ti 3:16  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  2Ti 3:17  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

However applying this to "The Bible" is as arbitrary as applying it to the Book of Mormon. The plain reading seems to be that Paul was asserting the inspiration of the entire body of Jewish sacred scripture embodied in the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic that would have been recognized by all Jews of the time.

Paul, like all the apostles believed that the apostles had divine authority for their own teaching that came from Jesus and having been established by confirming signs and wonders given specifically to endorse them.

An argument can be made that Paul distinguishes between when he speaks "ex cathedra" and when he speaks as a man though I don't think the distinction is intended to undermine what he writes:

1Co 7:12  But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

In the question's distinction between his authority versus being scripture may hang on what "inspiration" refers to. Does it refer to each word or to the message? That question I think is not exclusive to Paul but rather to how one views scripture in its entirety. A strong case can be made from how the writers of the NT used the OT that individual words were not as sacrosanct to them as the message, though sometimes the opposite appears to be true! To me there is an implicit liberty available in how one uses the scriptures; or at least how the writers of the NT do/did.

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