When was “The Faith” Delivered?
Recently we received a very interesting question from one of our readers. It is noteworthy for two reasons. First, many of us have probably never heard the question. (I have been working for more than 20 years in Bible study and teaching of various types and had never heard it.) Second, the answer is extremely simple, but might not appear that obvious at the outset.
The question is, how could the book of Jude be a part of “the faith” (meaning the body of New Testament teaching recognized as “the faith”) if the book of Jude states that the faith “was once and for all delivered to the saints” (vs. 3)? If Jude says “the faith” was “delivered” once and for all in the past, then how could his writing, being written after the fact, be part of “the faith”? Along those same lines, how could Peter state that God “has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), if Peter was writing material after that statement was made that pertained to “life and godliness”?
The simple answer lies in the fact that when something is recorded is not necessarily when it is “delivered.” Throughout the first century, God inspired the apostles and various first century prophets to deliver “the faith” to the early church. Much of that material, however, was preached long before it was written down. For instance, God inspired Peter and the apostles to preach the Gospel on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. That sermon was not recorded, however, until about 30 years later by the inspired writer Luke. Since that is the case, we understand that the material had been delivered to the church long before it was preserved in written form by the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.
This fact is evident in the books of 2 Peter and Jude, the two books under discussion. Both authors made a special point to insist that they were reminding their audiences of material that was already out there and available. For instance, Peter stated, “I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know them, and are established in the present truth” (2 Peter 1:12). Later in the book he stated, “Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder)” (2 Peter 3:1). Jude made similar statements when he wrote, “But I want to remind you, though you once knew this” (vs. 5). And when he stated, “remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” These authors insist that they are reminding their readers of material that the readers had access to before they read these letters.
When we stop to consider the situation, this would have to be the case. Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit would help the apostles know what to say when they stood before rulers (Matthew 10:19). Yet we read of only a very few instances of such messages in Acts. Certainly it was the case that Matthew, Andrew, Thomas, and the other apostles preached inspired messages that we have no record of. In 1 Corinthians 14:31, we learn that certain people in the Corinthian church were prophets, but we do not have a record of their messages. The point is this: throughout the first century, the Holy Spirit was delivering “all things” (John 14:26), guiding the inspired writers into “all truth” (John 16:13), and making known “the faith” to the church in a number of ways. When we see it preserved by an inspired writer, that does not mean it had not been previously delivered in one form or another to the church prior to that.