A Brief Analysis of Hebrews 1:1-2
Defending an Open Canon
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;” –Hebrews 1:1-2
This is a verse I have seen used many times by those critical of the LDS Church in an attempt to debunk the Church’s use of Prophets and being led by such. They claim that, by reading Hebrews 1, it becomes abundantly clear that there is no need for Prophets anymore since God hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.
I question the wisdom of making such a flash judgment. Let us look at this from every direction before we decide that Prophets are to be done away with.
Prophets in the New Testament
Does Hebrews 1 say that God had spoken to the people by His Son in those days? Absolutely it does. Does it say that there are to be no more Prophets? No, not in any way. Let’s take a step back and look at Prophets in the New Testament, shall we?
We know that Jesus Christ was Himself a Prophet, albeit the greatest Prophet of all. How?
“And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” –Matthew 13:54-58
Clearly, Jesus was referring to Himself as a Prophet. Like the Prophets of the Old Testament, He was bringing a gospel to the people and continuing revealing things from the Father. The difference between Christ and previous Prophets, however, was that He was fully God and fully man instead of simply being mortal like prior Prophets.
This recognition of Jesus Christ as a Prophet takes me back to the words of Christ when He spoke on the law and the Prophets:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”
“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” –Matthew 5:17-18
Jesus made it clear that He did not come to destroy the law or the Prophets. He also makes it clear that the law would not pass away until all was fulfilled. If Christ is putting the Prophets on a level with the law then this makes it suspect that the Prophets won’t pass away either until all is fulfilled. Admittedly, based solely upon Matthew 5:18, this is conjecture and not explicit fact. Using this as sole reasoning would not convince anyone so let’s look at how prophets are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament:
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” –Ephesians 4:11-12
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets… Interesting.
In mainstream Christianity it is easy to see evangelists, pastors, and teachers. This is pretty common and these roles are filled by many paid men (and women). However, the presence of Apostles and Prophets are not commonplace. In fact, it would seem as though there’s only one large and established organization on the Earth today that worships Jesus Christ as its Savior and has Prophets and Apostles, as well as evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
Teachings of the Apostles
Claiming that there should not be any more prophets based on Hebrews 1 starts to seem extremely shaky in the light of the knowledge that Jesus Christ Himself was a Prophet who came in fulfillment of past Prophets, and who then in turn established other Prophets.
To claim Hebrews 1 literally means more than just losing Prophets, however. It means the teachings of the Apostles all become invalid!
If we are to read Hebrews 1 literally and interpret it the way that those who are critical of the LDS Church do, that would mean that no preaching of the gospel was done after Christ and that He is the last to have spoken. This means that none of the Apostle’s claims to be revealing parts of the gospel and explicitly teaching the word of God are valid. To be completely and fully honest, there are many things that the Apostles taught that we don’t read being taught by Christ. One example of such is the concept of grace.
Grace is extremely important and emphasized above all else in many mainstream churches. That is wonderful, but if the concept of grace is so extremely important and everything taught in these last days needs to have come explicitly from the Son, then why didn’t Jesus once use the word grace in His entire ministry? One would think that if it were important to us to understand salvation by grace and it all needs to have come from Jesus, then He would have used the word Himself, or at least explicitly taught the concept. However, nowhere in the four gospels do we see mention of grace. The closest we get is John 3:16, but of course, discussing exactly what “believing in Him” means takes us down a whole other path.
Paul taught grace extensively in many places. One of the first places we read about grace being explicitly taught in the Bible is Acts 15 where Paul needs to step up and remind people that it is not about circumcision, but believing in Christ. He later does the same thing under the same circumstances in Romans 3.
As we can see, taking Hebrews 1 literally means that we lose the concept of grace as taught by the Apostle Paul in many places. That certainly diminishes how effectively and strongly it is taught.
Another example of what we would lose is being freed from the dietary laws of Leviticus 11.
In Acts 10, there is record of Peter receiving revelation from the Lord that it is okay to eat all meats of the Earth, even ones that had been explicitly forbidden by previously given scripture. Peter balked at first because he was extremely well-versed in the scriptures and knew that some of the beasts he was seeing were forbidden to him to eat. To eat them would require his going against previously given scripture quite explicitly.
However, trusting in the Lord and the revelation he was receiving, Peter accepted that the time had come where all meat had been cleansed by the Lord and was available for humans to eat. This teaching allows us to eat pork, among many other types of meat.
But—wait, back up! If we read Hebrews 1 literally then we need to disregard this revelation from Peter. In these last days God spoke through His Son only and there cannot be more revelation or teachings from anyone else.
Seems a little foolish, doesn’t it?
The example of grace and the dietary laws are just a couple of the many things we would lose by sacrificing the teachings of the Apostles by taking Hebrews 1 literally. The use of this verse to criticize the Church and its open canon is erroneous and requires a tunnel-vision approach to the New Testament. There is not a single verse in the Bible that tells us the canon was ever supposed to be closed and that the Bible is all we need from God.
Protestantism and the Closed Canon
One thing that always gets me is when Protestants viciously claim sola scriptura and say that the canon should be closed. While I do not like to go after one particular faith (even such a broad spectrum as Protestantism) this is a hypocrisy that needs to be addressed.
The basic fundamental claim of Protestantism was that the Catholic Church was corrupt and had fallen away from God (Apostasy anyone?) and that its teachings needed to be Reformed and a new Church created that would follow more closely what God wanted. Martin Luther was the first to lead this charge and successfully managed to break-off and form what is commonly known as Protestantism today. Protestant is a vague term that is generally accepted to be anyone that is Christian but is not Catholic.
When Martin Luther left the Catholic Church and brought many with him, he did so because he considered so many of their teachings to be corrupt and not in line with the word of God. His doing so was based off of the Bible and the belief that anything that is the word of God needed to be in the Bible only. He rejected the Catholic method of taking the Bible as the word of God and also holding to the Holy Traditions of the early Church Fathers.
There are two glaring problems that need to be addressed that, in the end, makes Protestantism look a little foolish.
The first is an issue that Luther actually tried to get behind and take care of from the get-go, and that is how the Protestant Churches use a Bible that the Catholic Church canonized. Essentially, they were accepting the Bible but rejecting the Church that put it together.
In and of itself, that seems a little hypocritical. Of course, Luther himself did not accept the canon of the Catholic Church, and he actually removed six different books from the Bible, one of which was Revelation. By removing the book of Revelation, by modern Protestant Biblical sola scriptura standards, Martin Luther is actually in Hell (see Revelation 22:19).
However, as time went on and the Protestant Churches grew upset with the separation of those books from the Bible, Luther eventually had the books reinstated as a normal part of the canon again.
Ignoring the removal of the Apocrypha, Protestant Churches easily accepted the canon of the Catholic Church. They trusted that the books in it were okay to be there and the word of God, so accepting the canon of the Church but not the Church itself is a glaring embarrassment for Protestantism as a whole and more than a little hypocritical.
The second issue is how Protestantism valiantly defends sola scriptura, but the concept of sola scriptura is not Biblical itself. It is amazing how the standard to which they hold all of their doctrine is not Biblical at all. But how could it not be?
The most commonly quoted Bible verse that would support sola scriptura is one that I quote myself earlier, Revelation 22:18-19. Here’s what that says:
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Since this is, in fact, the last words of the Bible, that does seem kind of explicit and obvious: do not add or take away from the words written herein.
However, to think that this is any way talking about the Bible is foolish.
The Bible was canonized approximately 320 years after the death of Christ. The book of Revelation, which was written by the Apostle John, was published somewhere around 60 years after Christ’s death. The letters and texts that made up the Bible were, for a couple hundred years, just various sources on gospel floating around the established Churches. They were not canonized yet and not considered one whole book but just various sources of doctrine. The book of Revelation was just that: the book of Revelation. The New Testament was not going to be formed for years and years to come so when John wrote that warning at the end, he was referring to the book of Revelation alone. He had no idea that it would be canonized into a greater book known as the Bible. The warning, therefore, could not have even been about the whole Bible.
And, if it was, then I am curious as to why we didn’t stop adding things to the canon after Deuteronomy 4:
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” –Deuteronomy 4:2
If we are to take passages like this literally then we should not have added any more words of the Old Testament Prophets to the canon after Deuteronomy. That should have been the end of the road right there.
Another interesting section of the Bible is where we as followers of Christ are told to imitate the faith of our leaders:
“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” –Hebrews 13:7
Hebrews is kind of explicit here: follow the faith of those who rule over us.
Well, when this was written by Paul, those that ruled over the people were the Apostles. They were still considered the leaders of the Church and the people whose authority could be trusted. What exactly did these people put their faith in? Continuing revelation. An open canon.
Earlier I gave an example of how Peter, an Apostle of God and a Church leader, accepted the continuing revelation of God concerning dietary laws over what was explicitly written before in Leviticus. He most definitely was listening to the Spirit and accepting the continuing revealed word of the Lord, wasn’t he? We should imitate his faith.
How about Paul, once known as Saul? Saul was the type of sign murder warrants for those of “The Way” that were following Christ’s teachings. He was responsible for the deaths of many Christians. Eventually the Lord called out to him and told him to stop persecuting Him (see Acts 9). These are the words of the Lord speaking again to someone and Saul was forced to accept the idea of continuing revelation. Shouldn’t we follow his faith and accept continuing revelation?
The fact of the matter is, sola scriptura in and of itself is not Biblical. For Protestants to adhere to it so fastidiously is sad and hypocritical because the concept itself is not found in the Bible—the exact opposite is actually found and taught in the Bible. Sola scriptura is an unbiblical concept and defeats itself soundly.
In the end, this analysis of Hebrews 1 and Church history and customs is not meant to attack other faiths even though I did have to take a swing at Protestantism in order to get my concept apart. I put these things out here to defend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its adherence to Prophets and their revelation that guides the Church. I believe this is Biblical and this is what the true Church of God should be doing. To instead focus solely upon the Bible and to trust to our own individual interpretations of it is a really scary thing to do and has resulted in the formation of more than 38,000 denominations of Christianity, all of which claim to follow the Bible only. That is a big mess of confusion and the house of the Lord is not a house of confusion. While the Bible is lovely and amazing and a wonderful guide we should be using it to supplement what the Spirit tells us. After all, it is the Spirit who is to teach us all things:
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” –John 14:26