Revelation, inspiration, and infallibility (22): “What saith the Scripture:” The Bible’s sufficiency

Previous article in this series: December 1, 2017, p. 99.

God’s holiness and Scripture’s perfection

Just as God has attributes, so does also the Word of God. Because Scripture is the Word of God, it partakes of the attributes of God whose Word it is. This has historically been the position of the church and has been an important part of its defense of the Bible’s infallible inspiration. Over against those who deny Scripture’s divine inspiration, the church has historically appealed to the perfection of God Himself. Since God is perfect and holy, so also is His Word.

Today prominent theologians are contending that God’s perfection does not necessarily imply the perfection of His Word. They argue that although God is holy, He could and did choose to give the church a Bible that is not necessarily holy. He could and did choose to give the church a Bible instead that is in every respect a truly human book, though with an exalted message. They contend that the Bible, like any other human book, contains errors in judgment, historical and scientific inaccuracies, and even doctrinal inconsistencies. It was this kind of book that God determined was best suited to convey His message to lost humanity. This belongs, it is argued, to God’s condescension.

Such is the position of men like the Presbyterian theologian and former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), Dr. Peter Enns, as set forth in his book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, the second edition of which has recently been published by Baker Academic. Apart from the fact that many of us had no idea there was a problem with the Old Testament, the far greater problem is with Enns’ unbiblical and unreformed view of inspiration. Enns contends that “the Bible we have is the Bible that God means for us to have” (x). And this Bible “that God means for us to have” is not necessarily holy and perfect just because God Himself is holy and perfect. In fact, it is not.

But this is a clear break with the historic position of the church. Historically, the church has always argued from God’s holiness and perfection to the holiness and perfection of His Word. Denial of the holiness and perfection of the Bible has been viewed by the church as an attack on the holiness and perfection of God. And in truth, it cannot be otherwise, unless God were to deny Himself. And that He cannot do. As impossible as it is for a sinful human being to produce a work of perfection, so impossible is it for the all-perfect God to produce something imperfect.

The Bible itself often proceeds from God’s perfection to the perfection of His Word. “The works of his hands are verity and judgment” and “all his commandments are sure” because “holy and reverend is his name” (Ps. 111:7, 9). Repeatedly, the psalmist in Psalm 119 affirms the holiness of God’s Word on the basis of the holiness of God Himself. “Righteous art thou, O Lord” and therefore “upright are thy judgments” (v. 137). Because “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,” therefore, it follows that “thy law is the truth” (v. 142).

The sufficiency of Scripture

We are at present considering the attributes or perfections of Scripture, as the Reformed faith has historically identified them. Thus far we have examined Scripture’s authority, Scripture’s necessity, and Scripture’s perspicuity. Because Scripture is the Word of God, it possesses the authority of God, which is the ultimate and only authority. Because Scripture is the Word of God, it is necessary. It is necessary for the true knowledge of God, as well as for the right worship of God. It is necessary for faith and for life. Is it necessary that we know, love, and live to the glory of God? If so, Scripture is necessary as the means by which we know God, love Him, and live for the glory of His name. Apart from Scripture, men perish in ignorance and unbelief, outside of God and the true knowledge of God. That Scripture is authoritative and necessary, in turn, depends on Scripture’s perspicuity. Only if Scripture is understandable, can it function as the authority in the church. And only if Scripture is understandable, can it function as the necessary means for the faith and the life of the believer.

The fourth attribute of Scripture to which the Reformed faith calls attention is the attribute of sufficiency. As God is the believer’s all in all, and as the believer finds all that he needs for body and for soul, for time and for eternity in God, and so needs nothing outside of God or in addition to God, so does the believer find in God’s Word all that is necessary for this life and his hope for that which is to come. As God is God alone, the only true and living God, so is His Word the only infallible and authoritative Word of God. God answers to every need that the believer has, but God does that in and through His Word. “Our sufficiency is of God” (II Cor. 3:5), to be sure, but God is our sufficiency by means of His holy Word. Since Scripture makes known the Word and will of God, it is through Scripture that God is our sufficiency.

Since Scripture is the Word of God, infallibly inspired and authoritative, it can be sufficient. If the Bible were the weak, fallible word of man, it would certainly be necessary that something should be added to the Bible. But since the Bible is the Word of God—the Word of God entirely—there is no need for anything instead of or in addition to the Bible. It was exactly in connection with the Reformers’ confession of Scripture alone, sola Scriptura, that they defended the sufficiency of Scripture and rejected any additions to Scripture.

Not only is the Bible sufficient, but the believer finds the Bible to be sufficient. Everything that he needs for his life in the world, he finds in Scripture. This is why the believer reads Scripture diligently. This is why he searches Scripture and meditates on it. This is why he turns to Scripture with his problems, questions, and troubles. The reason is that he finds the solution to his problems, the answer to his questions, and the relief from his troubles in the Word of God. He is built up by its instruction, warned by its admonitions, comforted by its good news, and strengthened by its encouragements. Scripture is sufficient in the experience of the child of God.

Implications of Scripture’s sufficiency

That the Bible is sufficient implies especially two things. Positively, it means that the believer finds Scripture to be adequate for all his needs. The Bible is adequate in the life of the believer personally. It provides all the necessary guidance and lays down every spiritual principle that is necessary for the child of God to live a God-glorifying life in the world. It is sufficient for his personal life, his life in his marriage and in his family, his life in the church, and his life in the midst of this wicked world. The Bible is also sufficient for the church. It is sufficient for the church’s worship and witness. It is sufficient for the minister in his preaching, the elders in their oversight, and the deacons in their bringing of comfort. Scripture is also sufficient for the assemblies of the church. It is sufficient for the consistory in its supervision of the congregation and its work of discipline. It is sufficient for the classis and synod, or the presbytery and general assembly, in their work on behalf of the churches in common.

That the Bible is sufficient means, negatively, that the believer has no need of any one and anything alongside of Scripture or in addition to Scripture. Nothing need be and nothing can be added to Scripture. Neither the church nor the believer is in need of something to supplement Scripture, something that perhaps speaks to our day and to the life of twenty-first century Christians in a way in which Scripture is lacking.

This was the error of the Jews of Jesus’ day. They added other authorities alongside the authority of Holy Scripture. To them Scripture was not sufficient, and so to it they added their own human traditions. The authority in the church of that day was Scripture and tradition, as Jesus makes plain in Mark 7:9, “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own [human] tradition.”

What was true in Jesus’ day was also true at the time of the Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church then and now denies the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture was not enough. Not Scripture alone, but Scripture and the writings of the church fathers, Scripture and the Apocrypha, Scripture and the decisions of the church councils, Scripture and the infallible decrees of the pope. A fundamental issue between Rome and the Reformers was the issue of the sufficiency of Holy Scripture. According to Rome, something in addition to Scripture must have a decisive role when judging the validity of such things as the infallibility of the pope, purgatory, the seven sacraments, prayers for the dead, the veneration of the relics of the saints, the immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, and worship of the virgin Mary.

Today, too, there are those in the church who deny the sufficiency of Scripture in a number of practical ways. For some, Scripture is not sufficient in its account of the origin of all things. For a proper understanding of the opening chapters of Genesis one must also take into account the findings of science and the conclusions of paleontology. For a proper understanding of Old Testament history, the biblical record is not sufficient, but must be supplemented by what archeologists have uncovered. For a proper understanding of relationships between husbands and wives in marriage the teaching of the Bible is not adequate, but the wisdom and insights of experts in human relationships must be added to Scripture. For a proper view of same-sex relationships the teaching of Scripture is outdated and must be supplemented by, and in most cases replaced by, the consensus of modern experts in human sexuality. These are practical denials of the sufficiency of Scripture.

Proof of Scripture’s sufficiency

The two classic proof texts for the infallible inspiration of Scripture also teach clearly the sufficiency of Scripture. In II Timothy 3:15, the apostle Paul says that the holy Scriptures are able to make the child of God “wise unto salvation.” He needs nothing besides or instead of Scripture as the means of God unto salvation. Scripture alone is sufficient to make us “wise unto salvation.” He goes on to teach that Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The Christian needs nothing in addition to Scripture for doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness. Scripture is adequate for every aspect of the life of the believer. And the apostle concludes: “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (v. 17). Scripture is sufficient to make the “man of God” complete—“perfect” in that sense. If Scripture is sufficient to make the Christian complete, what need has he of anything in addition to Scripture? And if Scripture is capable of “throughly,” that is, “entirely” or “completely,” equipping the child of God to perform good works, which is the great goal of our salvation, what need has he of anything in addition to Scripture?

In II Peter 1:19-21, the apostle Peter also teaches the sufficiency of Scripture. This present evil world, according to the apostle, is a “dark place” (v. 19). In the blackness, there is one light that penetrates the darkness and dispels the darkness. There is one light that is able to illumine the way through the darkness and light the way “until the day dawn.” That one light is the light of God’s holy Word. It alone is sufficient, and it alone is sufficient because it alone is the Word of God, the Word written by “holy men of God [who] spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (v. 21).