Which came first: the Bible or the Church? Another way to ask this is, did the Church create the Bible or did the Bible create the Church?
I believe the following verses help us see the answer and why this is a really important question:
John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
John 15:26-27, “When the Helper comes, whom I send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
John 16:13, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you (apostles) into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
John 17:20-21, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their (the apostles, including Paul, the last apostle) word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
What do these teach us about our question? The Holy Spirit will be sent to the apostles, from the Father, in the name of Jesus. Next, the Holy Spirit will bear witness to, testify, and cause the apostles to remember the Words of Jesus. The Spirit will also lead the apostles into all truth and declare to them the things that are to come. Then as a result of the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the apostles will testify and proclaim about Jesus (PREACHING). Jesus then, prays for us, asking specifically that through the words of the apostles (PREACHING) we who believe may be one, as the Father and Jesus are one. SO THAT the world would believe Jesus came from the Father. Did you follow that?
Why does that matter and how does that answer our question?
We learn from this that the Spirit who is going to inspire the apostles with truth, specifically “all truth”, only speaks what He hears from Jesus and from the Father. So, in turn when the apostles go out to preach, teach, and write letters to all the churches, those writings are God’s Words, because they are being inspired by the Spirit, and Spirit only speaks what He hears. Thus, the apostles preaching and writing should not be thought of as their own, but rather as God’s Words to God’s people through the power of God’s Spirit, about Jesus! This is why the apostles oral and written words have power, and why they are the New Testament Canon. Their Words, have the same authority as the Words of Jesus, because their Words are God’s Words, through the power of the Spirit.
So, Christians today have believed through the Words of the apostles, spoken and written. And since we cannot hear them orally now, we read their words. This New Testament canon, which because is being powered by the Spirit, is authoritative. This brings to light the correct interpretation of Matthew 16:18 doesn’t it? “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Is it Peter who is the rock? I don’t think so. The Rock Jesus is referring to is the Word of God Himself and the Word of God (Scripture) that will come from Peter and the rest of the apostles. That is the foundation of the Church.
Therefore, the Church did not create the Bible at some point in time. The Bible, the spoken Words of the Spirit empowered apostles created the Church. It is this Scripture that Jesus will use to build His church. Not popes, or rulers, or councils, but the Word of God.
Can you see now why Martin Luther and the rest of the reformers felt as if they must act? They saw this, and tried as hard as they could to restore the Rock to its rightful place, above all men!
Christ is not only Himself the canon in which God comes to the world, and in which He hallows Himself before the world, but Christ also establishes the canon and gives it a concrete historical form. Christ establishes the canon first of all in His own word and work but then also in transfer of authority (exousia) to His authorized representatives, in the Holy Spirit witnessing with them and through them, and in the apostolic tradition. And Christ is also the canon because He establishes and maintains the bond between that canon and the church. It is this rock (petra) on which He builds His church…Christ establishes the canon in the ascertainable character of apostolic preaching and in the legibility of apostolic writings, in the preservation of the apostolic witness and doctrine…On that word and according to that canon, Christ will establish and build His church by causing the church to accept just this canon and, by means of the assistance and witness of the Holy Spirit, to recognize it as His…The canon of Christ will persist because there will continue to be a church of Christ, and the church of Christ will persist because the canon of Christ will continue to exist and because Christ through His Spirit will build His church on that canon.
(Herman Ridderbos, Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures, pages 37-38)