The dying request of a man says a lot about what he finds important. In 1930, lawyer T.M. Zink made the request that his $300,000 fortune be given to a “no women allowed” club because, as his will stated, “My intense hatred of women is … the result of my experiences with women, observations of them and study of all literatures and philosophical works.” More recently in the 1990s, German Countess Carlotta Liebenstein left a fortune of $80 million to her dog Gunther III. The dying requests of these people obviously shows us that they had some messed up priorities.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
But, believe it or not, we have some dying requests of the Apostles recorded in the Scripture. Paul in his second letter to Timothy and Peter in what we call “2 Peter” sensed their ends were near and wrote about what they found particularly important.
While some of their requests would not appear entirely important (Paul asked Timothy to bring “the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments,” 2 Tim 4:13), the requests pertaining to religious instruction are indeed relevant to us.
Why? Because with their passing we do not have Apostles to turn to anymore in order that we may know how to properly worship our God. So, the question is, where did the Apostles tell us to turn for instruction in their absence?
The Scripture. Not to the teaching authority of a Bishop in some great city or anything of the sort–rather, God’s revelation. Now, being that Christians believe that God has left us books He has actually written through holy men of old, it would seem quite strange that men would look to any other source to settle questions pertaining to religion. I mean, why go ask some guy what he thinks when I can actually go to something that tells me what God explicitly wants? However, as the existence of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy attest to, not all Christians believe that the Scripture alone is sufficient to address such matters.
What we are going to see in the following is that Peter and Paul did not leave us in a lurch. Rather, they told us exactly what they wanted others to do in their impending absences.
2 Peter 1:12-2:1
Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them…
So, to follow Peter’s admonition:
- Peter wants those receiving the letter to be able to “call these things to mind” after his departure. What are “these things?” The essential Christian truths taught in verses 3 to 11.
- The Scripture is “made more sure” by the fact he knows that it comes from God, just as the voice of the Father was heard during the Transfiguration. For this reason, we ought to pay attention to the Scripture.
- BUT, false teachers will introduce destructive heresies contriving ideas out of their own minds, unlike the true prophets who wrote the Scripture not by an act of human will, but by the Holy Spirit.
There is a clearly a logic underlying everything he has written. After his passing, the Church is not left without something to remind them of everything the Apostles taught. He says that this source is the Scripture and he is ever-more convinced of its authority, because the same God that he literally heard on the mount of Transfiguration can also be heard in the Bible. False teachers have their own personal interpretations of religion, unlike the Scripture, and so we must be wary of them.
It is interesting to note that Peter did not remind his readers that he will have an infallible successor they can turn to; or that all of their Bishops are successors of the Apostles and they will protect their congregations from error. No. Rather, the Scripture is what he puts on the pedestal as the safeguard against false doctrines.
We have a similar situation discussed by Paul in his final letter.
2 Tim 3:10-4:3
Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine…
What is Paul’s last admonition before stating that he is “already being poured out like a drink offering” (a euphemism for impending death, 2 Tim 4:6)?
- Timothy is reminded by Paul to always follow his teaching.
- He further reminded Timothy the source of this teaching that he has “become convinced of” (God) and where he can find it (the Sacred Writings/Scripture).
- Knowing this, Timothy is to “preach the word” of God as found in the Scripture in order to combat those with false doctrines.
Now, Paul is about to be martyred. In 2 Tim 3-4 Timothy is being warned of false teachers. How does the man of God combat false teaching according to Paul?
Remember the oral tradition of the Apostles? No. Look to the Bishops that were the successors of the Apostles? No. Ask Peter or his successor? No.
Hmmm, Paul is not sounding a lot like a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox here. What does he actually tell Timothy? Look to the Scriptures. Why? Because they actually come straight from God’s figurative mouth (2 Tim 3:16).
Conclusion. There is a lot of debate today as to what the religious authority for Christians ought to be. In the end of the day there are two camps:
- Those who believe that the Scripture is the ultimate authority, and that traditional interpretations are helpful (Protestants).
- Those who believe Scripture is an authority in addition to the oral tradition of the Apostles as preserved in later writings and pronouncements, and that the interpretations of the Church are absolutely necessary in understanding both the Scripture and oral tradition (Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, etc).
As far as I know, I am encapsulating the views of these two divergent camps accurately. And, if so, something unsettling should stick out to the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox: the Apostles whose traditions they claim to preserve obviously and explicitly endorse the Sola Scriptura view, and not the (Scripture+Tradition)+Teaching Authority of the Church view.
Peter and Paul were literally confronting the question of how after their passing are we to teach true doctrine and reject false ones. They told their audiences to look to the Scripture. There is no other place in which they told us to turn.
This literally was the dying request of both men. It must have been awfully important to them as all dying requests are. Being that they said nothing about looking to some religious authority as standing in their place, I must conclude that such an idea did not weigh to heavily in their minds as being necessary for anyone to know in their absence.