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   Are you expecting a trick question?

    (If so, you’re right.)

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   In the New Testament it begins this way:

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   “The apostles and brethren who are elders, to the brethren in *****************who are from the Gentiles, greetings. Since we have heard that******”

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For more use the DOOR.

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   [MORE]

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   Let’s start over, filling in the blanks:

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   “The apostles and brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.

   “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have sent Judas¹ and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth.

   “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.

   “Farewell.”

–Acts 15:23-29 (ESV, set into paragraphs)

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   Books and articles have been written on this passage and what it means. But our purpose here is, mainly, to make one point: What is (or was at first) the source of Christian authority, and how was it passed along in what we call a “Bible”?

   We will limit our words here to the 27 books of the New Testament² of the Bible. Roughly and simply, there are the 4 biographies of Jesus (Gospels), one history of the early Church (Acts), one prophecy of the future (Revelation) and 21 letters to churches, individuals or groups of individuals (called epistles). These are “packaged” together to make up the New Testament. (There is also an Old Testament that mattered greatly to Jesus and still does to Christians today.)

   We’ll number our observations (as usual):

   (1)  “Old letters” are the basis of most, but not all of, typical Christian instruction.

   (2)  A logical question: “With regard to the epistles, Are we reading other people’s mail?” Well, that’s the way it’s been for 2000+ years. That’s the way many Christians began, and stayed more or less one organized group of God-worshipers. We’ll add just 2 comments on this: First, as time passed from Christ’s teaching and resurrection, it was God’s way of “holding together” the expectations that He has for most of His children; secondly, it is often very important to understand the context, the times, place, and issues involving the people who were the first recipients of Christ’s words and His first church leaders’ teaching.

   (3)  There was a practical problem here: How should age-old God-worshipers and followers of the Torah and “just-off-the-street” Gentiles regard each other?

   (4)  The claim by the first Jewish believers in Jesus, including their leader James³ the Lord’s brother, is that the Holy Spirit influenced their decision.

   (5)  It resulted in certain rules for important practical behavior.

   (6)  It does not insist that these are the only important rules.

   (7)  Perhaps this letter (in a basically history text-“Acts”) should be considered the 22nd NT epistle… (That takes us back to where we started. Keeping this epistle in its historic place is just fine, however.)

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   ¹ Not Judas Iscariot (the traitor), of course. The common names of the first century, including “James” and “John,” can be confusing.

   ² This NT “2nd part” of the Bible library is foundational to Christianity. But it is essential to include the Old Testament as well for the large context of everything, and the foundation of God’s purpose for everyone. If one ignores everything before  Matthew, the start of the NT, he encounters God’s history in medias res.

  ³ Mentioned earlier, but not in the text cited.