The focus of this article is how the revelatory gifts are related to the identification of the canon. Thomas first seeks to identify exactly what the revelatory gifts are. He argues that there are four: apostle, prophecy, word of knowledge, and word of wisdom. If, as he will seek to show, apostle is not the only revelatory gift, then it means that the criteria of canonicity can be (and, he will argue, were) extended beyond that of mere apostolic authorship.
We know that prophecy is a revelatory gift because we find it often in conjunction with the gift of apostle (1 Corinthians 12:28-31; Ephesians 4:11; 2:20-21). Particularly noteworthy is that the Ephesians passages are found in a revelatory context. “Wisdom” in Paul is tied to revelation in 1 Corinthians 2, indicating that the “word of wisdom” is likely a revelatory gift as well. The word of knowledge is referred to alongside prophecy in 1 Corinthians 13:2, indicate that it is also revelatory. The word of wisdom is the revelation of newly revealed data, whereas the word of knowledge is the inspired application of data to the new situation, as illustrated in 2 Peter 3:1-3 and Jude 17-18. The implication of these additional revelatory gifts is that more than just the apostles’ writings may be inspired.
Thomas next seeks to explore examples of revelatory gift activity in the New Testament. He mentions Agabus (Acts 11:27-28), Paul (Acts 27:22), and the book of Revelation, which basis its inspiration not upon apostolic claims but upon a claim to be a prophecy (e.g., Revelation 22:19).
With the possibility of revelation coming through non-apostles, Thomas is now ready to apply his findings to the tests of canonicity. He notes that inspiration was the main test (2 Timothy 3:16). Some have thought that the whole idea of a canon is a theological construct developed after the biblical era. However, the New Testament Christians were very familiar with the concept of canon from the fact that they had an Old Testament canon, and surely also some had a notion that the New Testament canon would become closed just as the Old Testament canon had.
The test of inspiration was not the only one used in the early church. Obviously, for one thing, it could not be applied directly, because the question is how you know whether something is inspired. The most significant test was that of apostolicity, which meant that at the very least a document had to have links to an apostle. But apostolicity could not have been the sole criteria, because it is likely that Paul wrote more letters than what we have in the New Testament, as some of his comments in the Corinthian correspondence indicates, and Galatians 2:11ff shows that the apostles were not infallible at all times. Another test he proposes is that of propheticity. It is here that his thesis receives its fullest application. He argues on the basis of the Muratorian fragment and other early New Testament documents that the early Christians were open to the inspiration of a document based upon propheticity. In addition to these, other tests included that of antiquity, orthodoxy (conformity with the undisputed apostolic doctrine and teaching of the churches founded by the apostles), catholicity (i.e., beneficial to the church universal and not simply on a local scale), and traditional usage. Obviously the early church did not apply these tests in a formal, systematic way. But they seem to be the underlying mindset guiding their determinations.
We all know that apostolicity in itself could not have been the sole criteria for canonicity, since many New Testament books were not written by apostles. Although these books were probably “authorized” by the apostles, this phenomena still requires a framework to explain how a non-apostle could write inspired Scripture that the church should accept into its canon. Thomas’ emphasis upon prophecy as a revelatory gift that could produce Scripture that was recognized as such provides us with this framework.
Thomas, Robert. “Correlation of Revelatory Spiritual Gifts and New Testament Canonicity,” Masters’s Seminary Journal V8 #2 (Spring 1997): 5-28.