The way I understand the compilation of the NT Canon is that the books
that were accepted by the church and said to have apostolic authority,
were the books put into the canon. However, this doesn’t make sense to
me, because some gospels were not written by apostles… likewise we have
no idea who wrote the book of Hebrews. Therefore, my question is, how can
we claim apostolic authority for all of the books? Also isn’t it proven
that parts of the gospels were not written from eye witness accounts, but
only from things heard from other gospel accounts?
That is a fairly obvious question to ask. I am surprised I do not
get it more often.
The answer to your main question is that the New Testament books
were accepted as having “apostolic authority,” not because they were
necessarily written by apostles, but because the apostles themselves
accepted them as being inspired.
It is not required that a book of the Bible be written by an
apostle to be inspired by God. If you think about it, that is pretty
obvious, since none of the Old Testament books were written by apostles.
In fact, we do not even know the author of many of the Old Testament
books. For the Old Testament, God used the general consensus of the Jewish
scholars to set the canon of books to be accepted. The evidence is that,
in an analogous method, god used the consensus of the very early church
leaders to set the New Testament canon.
If you are having some trouble understanding why Hebrews or James
or Luke for that matter were chosen, I would like to give you a helpful
homework assignment. What you should do is get a copy of any of a number
of collections of writings of the early church fathers. You can read such
letters as The Shepherd of Hermas, The Letter of Barnabus, Clement of
Rome, the letters of Polycarp and Ignatius and so forth. Some of these
were even considered possibly as belong in the list of inspired books. If
you read these book, I believe you will immediately see the difference
between an inspired book and a nice, well-written, but not necessarily
inspired letter. These books might be equivalent to a good spiritual book
you may read occasionally. They have some useful insight, but simply do
not rise to the level of an inspired writing. In addition, you might try
to find a copy of the “Gospel of Thomas” or some of the other apocryphal
gospels. Comparison of the Gospel of Thomas to Luke or Mark will speak for
itself immediately. Another related assignment, relevant for the Old
Testament is to find a Catholic Bible and read the different parts of the
OT apocrypha. You will notice a similar trend–the writings of the
Apocrypha are not even close to being in the same league with the
canonical books of the Old Testament.
In the end, of course, acceptance of the list of inspired books
requires at least some faith that God had his hands in the whole process,
but it is nice to be able to look at the inspired books and compare them
to those which were not selected. To summarize, the books of the New
Testament are “apostolic,” not because they were written by the apostles,
but because the early church recognized that the apostles themselves, as
well as the other very early church leaders accepted them as being
inspired by God.
One last little thing. You mention second-hand rather than
eye-witness testimony. I am assuming you are principally referring to the
gospels. It is true that Luke’s account is entirely second hand, or
perhaps in some cases even third hand. It is also true that, although
Mark almost certainly was an eye-witness to some of the gospel events, he
was not privy to them all. Even Matthew was obviously not eye-witness to
the birth of Jesus. The question you will have to ask yourself on this
one is do you trust the accuracy and good faith of the writers? I believe
that these books have every mark of inspiration. So did the apostles and
the early church leaders. The question is not whether every single event
mentioned is from an eye-witness. That would have been literally
impossible, even if Jesus himself had written the gospels! The question
is whether God has offered enough evidence to you, through the books
themselves, that these are inspired. For myself, I have studied these
questions very carefully and, hopefully, with a skeptic’s eye (being a
scientist) and I answer with a resounding yes. I will leave your response
up to you.