Authority & Sufficiency of the Scriptures
In Doctrine & Disciplines of the Bible, Part Four – Inerrancy & Infallibility of the Scriptures, we determined that the Bible, as God’s voice, is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
As we explore authority and sufficiency of Scripture, one must consider that not only does God speak through the Bible, but the Bible teaches that in His sufficient words, He has ultimate, comprehensive, final authority. Therefore, God has the right to command our thoughts, desires, beliefs, words, actions, and overall behavior.
Authority (n): The right to command behavior.
Read the following:
- Leviticus 19:1-4; 1 Peter 1:15-16
- Numbers 23:19
- 2 Samuel 7:28
- Psalm 12:6
- Psalm 19:7-11
- Matthew 28:18
- 2 Timothy 3:15-17
- Jude 1:25
- The will of God in the Old as well as the New Testament Church was communicated openly to the people. In referencing Leviticus 19:1-4 and 1 Peter 1:15-16, what reasons are given for God’s authority over human behavior?
- Which words in the final note of Jude’s epistle (1:25) indicate the times of authority of Jesus Christ?
- Are your desires and actions in line with Scripture? Do you submit to the authority of Scripture for rebuke and correction (2 Timothy 3:15-17)?
- Is your behavior determined by emotions, or by God’s Word?
There is a strong relationship between the scriptures and their authority. If God has all authority, and the scriptures are His inspired, inerrant, infallible Word, it follows that the Bible carries the intrinsic authority of God Himself. If the Bible really contains the very words of God, true and reliable in every matter it addresses, then it brings ultimate authority on every matter it addresses (since God has ultimate authority).
The inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture brings the conclusion that the Bible is the ultimate authority. The supremacy of Scripture qualifies it as a functional, instrumental, conferred, and traditional guidebook in every aspect of life. Affirming the authority of Scripture, the believer acknowledges the Bible’s property: It possesses the privilege to command what God’s people are to do, be, and believe. This affirmation also gives God the right to establish laws, give orders, demand obedience, and more. Read the following:
- Proverbs 30:5
- Psalm 119:140, 160
- Isaiah 59:21
- Matthew 22:29-33
- John 16:13-15
- 1 Corinthians 2:10-12
- 1 Timothy 3:15
- 1 John 2:20, 27
- What benefits do you find in resting in the authority of Scripture? List them specifically from the above scriptures. (You should find many.)
- Which specific words in the Psalms verses describe the Word as tried and true?
- In Matthew 22:29-33, the Sadducees only knew the Scriptures in a superficial sense. When this is the case in our own lives, can it lead to a failure of appreciation for what God can do?
- What might be some examples where you have not placed confidence in God and appealed to different final authorities (other than God’s Word) for doctrine and life? What were the results and what might be the consequences?
If the Bible was fallible, it would obviously not be authoritative. In John 10:35, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6. He viewed the Scriptures as authoritative and without error; this included, but was not limited to, His own teaching. Other biblical writers also considered the Scriptures authoritative: They were not just an authority, but the authority. Read the following:
- Psalm 82:6; John 10:35
- Matthew 5:17-18, 22-44; 12:38-42; 19:4-5
- Luke 4:1-13
- Romans 10:11
- James 2:23
- 2 Peter 3:14-16
- What is Jesus’ attitude toward the story of Jonah in Matthew 12:38-42? What is the general attitude toward this story today?
- Are you quick to stand for truth in Scripture or does society’s low view of Scripture cause hesitation? How do Romans 10:11 and James 2:23 speak to this?
Kevin DeYoung writes, “Whether we realize it or not, we all give someone or something the last word – our parents, our culture, our community, our feelings, the government, peer-reviewed journals, opinion polls, impressions, or a holy book…For Christians, this authority is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”
- What in your life has become an authority that competes with the Bible? How can you practically live out confidence in the Bible?
- Why is it important that the believer look to the Scriptures with the same view as Jesus and the biblical writers?
- How should your view of biblical doctrines differ from a nonbeliever? Because authority can be abused, would a nonbeliever see talking about sufficiency and authority dangerous?
Charles Spurgeon penned, “To me the Bible is not God, but it is God’s voice, and I do not hear it without awe.”The Bible is indeed the Word of God, God’s own speech to us. Confirmed when we read the Bible, God does speak to us today, and he speaks effectively. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem writes, “it is important to realize that the final form in which Scripture remains authoritative is its written form…Truth is what God says, and we have what God says…in the Bible…Therefore, to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God himself.” Scripture contains all the words of God that He intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history. Now, it contains everything that we need God to tell us for salvation, trusting him perfectly, and obeying. God does not require us to believe anything about himself or his work that is not in the Scriptures. Read the following:
- Deuteronomy 29:29
- 1 Corinthians 2:1-16
- In reading 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, list some comparative sources of worldly wisdom today. What do you believe would be Paul’s response? What is your own?
- How does your view of the Doctrine of Authority and Sufficiency of the Scriptures affect your theology (living out truth in Scripture)?
“Sufficiency is an attribute of Scripture whereby it provides everything that people need to be saved and everything that Christians need to please God fully. Necessity is an attribute of Scripture whereby it is essential for knowing the way of salvation, for progressing in holiness, and for discerning God’s will.” – Dr. Gregg R. Allison
- How is uncertainty prompted by your time and energy being spent consuming sources outside of Scripture?
- If no other source is promised to us as God’s revelation, if God sufficiently reveals himself in the Bible, why would we spend our time elsewhere?
- Do you have a tendency to place undue emphasis on the Spirit of God, causing neglection of the Word of God?
As a whole, Christians today have developed a preoccupation with mysticism regarding the Spirit of God, indirectly undermining the sufficiency of God’s Word. Claims of power in positivity and psychology are making inroads into the church. This is sometimes in subtle ways, but nonetheless, they make the statement that the Bible is to one degree or another inadequate. The Bible, energized by the Spirit, is sufficient for life and godliness. J.I. Packer writes, “Certainty about the great issues of Christian faith and conduct is lacking all along the line. The outside observer sees us as staggering on from a gimmick to gimmick and stunt to stunt like so many drunks in a fog, not knowing at all where we are or which way we should be going. Preaching is hazy. Heads are muddled, hearts fret, doubts drain strength, uncertainty paralyzes action…we lack certainty.”
Similarly, John MacArthur writes, “The reason we lack certainty is because we have a sinful view of Scripture. We do not any longer seem to believe that the Bible is sufficient for the life and conduct of the church. That is a sin, a sin of monstrous proportions to deny the sufficiency of the Word of God.” In addition, Chapter One of the 1647 London Baptist Westminster Confession of faith emphasizes, “Under the name of holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments…All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.” Read the following:
- Psalm 33:10
- Proverbs 14:12
- Isaiah 29:14
- Luke 16:16, 29-31
- 1 Corinthians 1:18-24
- Ephesians 2:20
- 2 Timothy 3:16
- Considering Psalm 33:10, does God’s way stand in contrast of human wisdom?
- Regarding Proverbs 14:12, would pride play a part in our lack of certainty?
- In the Luke passage, Abraham points to the Scriptures. What significance is there to Moses’ writings and the “Prophets?”
- How would 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 define a spiritual person? In contrast, how is a spiritual person defined today? What truth might be seen as folly?
- Read Ephesians 2:20. What is the significance of a cornerstone in permanence?
- In 2 Timothy 3:16, what rule of faith and life do you find?
When we read, sit, or study under “Christian” teaching, we should have a healthy skepticism — If teaching is not solely by the Word of God, it may be error. Truth resides first in God, and men only know truth as they come to God’s revelation of Himself as the source of truth. Danny Akin of Southeastern Seminary states, “We must take our stand on the firm foundation of the inerrant and infallible Word of God affirming it’s sufficiency in all matters.” The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible is a comprehensive source of biblical truth, so that a believer has all she needs to glorify God in every situation. All the words in the Bible are God’s words: This is what Scripture claims for itself, and we are convinced by way of the Holy Spirit that Scripture is God’s Word as we read. Read the following:
- Matthew 5:17-18
- John 10:35
- Romans 1:18
- 1 Corinthians 2:13-14
- Titus 2:1-5
- 2 Peter 1:2-4, 20-21; 2:13, 19-20
- Does your reading and study begin with prayer or does it result in spiritual deadness, an overemphasis on printed words to the point of dismissal of the Spirit of God?
- What warning is given in Matthew 5:17-18?
- Referencing Romans 1:18, where might you see the truth suppressed in today’s world? Be specific.
- We learn sound doctrine in the Scriptures. As the church, we pass on what is taught by the Spirit. Worldly wisdom is not our measure of Truth (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). Are you able to discern false teachers?
- Do you guard your heart and mind in your hearing, reading, and study? Are you attune to sound doctrine (Titus 2:1-5)?
- What would be the “promises” in 2 Peter 1:2-4?
In his Systematic Theology, John Frame writes, “Scripture is God’s testimony to the redemption he has accomplished for us. Once that redemption is finished, and the apostolic testimony to it is finished, the Scriptures are complete, and we should expect no more additions to them.” Read the following:
- Deuteronomy 4:2
- Proverbs 30:6
- Do you recognize the completeness of the Scriptures as indicated in Deuteronomy 4:2?
- Referencing Deuteronomy 4:2 and Proverbs 30:6, what would be one way to identify a false teacher?
Explain how your belief and living out sufficiency of Scripture might look different from that of a nonbeliever confronted with life’s problems.
Wayne Grudem states, “The biblical teaching about the sufficiency of Scripture gives us confidence that we will be able to find what God requires us to think or to do in [hundreds of moral and doctrinal] areas.” When Paul was meeting with the Ephesian elders, he “kept back nothing that was profitable unto [them].” Though life’s issues might’ve looked differently or called by a different name, biblical characters all had the same struggles we have; they had all the spiritual needs we have. There is no need to add to Scripture to meet today’s challenges, or to subtract from it to mesh with today’s worldly, man-centered ideals. The Word itself is profitable and will strengthen the believer and the church. It is perfect and complete; in Christ, revelation is complete. Scripture emphasizes its completeness and forbids addition or subtraction from itself.
Recently deceased, David Powlison (counselor and past Executive Director for CCEF), wrote much on Scripture’s sufficiency: “But when people with crammed Bibles speak of Scripture’s sufficiency they mean…Something living and active, inexhaustibly rich, comprehensive and relevant, is sufficient for a very complex job…I am persuaded that the Bible teaches us how to go about practical, face-to-face ministry with people. Scripture is filled to overflowing with God’s face and presence, with insight, explanations, stories, instructions, promises, and implications…God is in the business of weather, anxiety, politics, heartache, money, inter-personal conflict, what you do on your day off, and how you react to suffering!” Read the following:
- John 14:26; 16:13-15
- Acts 20:20-32
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17
- Revelation 22:18-19
- Beyond the obvious and referencing John 14:26, why is it vital that we spend time in the Word?
- John 16:13-15 confirms who receives glory from the Spirit of Truth. Explain why this might be important to remember.
- In your own words, summarize the Acts passage where Paul is speaking to the Ephesian elders. Why would his words be important for us today?
- What warning is found in Revelation 22:18-19? How serious is this offense?
Grudem refers again to sufficiency, “…does mean that when we are facing a problem of genuine importance to our Christian life, we can approach Scripture with confidence that from it God will provide us with guidance for that problem.” MacArthur writes, “Scripture is the manual for all soul work and is so comprehensive in the diagnosis and treatment of every spiritual matter that, energized by the Holy Spirit in the believer, it leads to making one like Jesus Christ. This is the process of biblical sanctification.”
Paul taught the Colossians to be encouraged by the understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery in Christ. In this mystery are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We are rooted in Him, and we are going to be built up in Him. As Paul tells the Galatians, we are “complete” in Him. Read the following:
- Psalm 19:7-11
- Colossians 2:2-3
- 2 Timothy 1:13-14
- 2 Peter 1:3
- What reward do you find in Psalm 19:7-11? Explain.
- Referencing Colossians 2:2-3, how might you avoid delusion by plausible arguments?
- What is the “deposit” to which we’ve been entrusted (2 Timothy 1:13-14)?
“There is no situation in which we as men of God are placed, no demand that arises for which Scripture as the deposit of the manifold wisdom of God is not adequate and sufficient,” concludes John Murray. We have a preference for-and have become used to-the immediate, but the key is to believe the Bible, obey Scripture, and study the Word. It takes time.
What about extrabiblical writings between the testaments, or in addition to them? Again from the Westminster Confession, “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings…The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”
And from article six of the Belgic confession, regarding the difference between the canonical and apocryphal books: “We distinguish between these holy books and the apocryphal ones, which are the third and fourth books of Esdras; the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, Baruch; what was added to the Story of Esther; the Song of the Three Children in the Furnace; the Story of Susannah; the Story of Bell and the Dragon; the Prayer of Manasseh; and the two books of Maccabees. The church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion. Much less can they detract from the authority of the other holy books.”
Protestants simply cannot accept innovations like papal infallibility, purgatory, and such doctrines not found in the Word of God, which contradict what is revealed in the canon of Scripture, though we still must respect our Catholic friends and be thankful for some aspects of their faith. In our unwavering allegiance to Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), we affirm the implicit understanding of sufficiency. Read the following:
- Luke 24:27 & 44
- Romans 3:2
- 1 Thessalonians 2:13
- 2 Timothy 3:16
- 2 Peter 1:19-21; 3:15-18
- 1 John 5:9-12
- How do Luke 24:27 and 44 recognize the Old Testament pointing to Jesus?
- In Romans 3:2, who would be included in “much in every way?” Why is this important to note?
- Whether by hearing or reading, 1 Thessalonians 2:13 is a reminder that the Scriptures are not merely the words of men. Why is this significant to understand, regarding the importance in both the early church and today?
- When Peter speaks of the “prophetic word” in 2 Peter 1:19-21, what writings does he refer to?
- Referring to 2 Peter 3:15-18, why is it essential that we grow in grace and knowledge? Explain how Peter directs us regarding things “hard to understand.”
- The canon of Scripture consists of sixty-six books. Are you confident in the closed canon of Scripture?
- What attitude do you have toward the Apocrypha, or even other books deemed holy?
- If the Bible is the sufficient voice of God and the canon is closed, what place does prophecy or personal revelation deserve?
- Should your attitude warrant further study of the Doctrine of the Canonicity of Scripture? If so, consider not only the historical process, the criteria of the canon, as well as the Holy Spirit’s activity in helping the church navigate the process.
Scripture itself is the most effective means for support of our confidence in the Bible as the closed canon of Scripture. Kevin DeYoung aptly writes, “You can’t establish the supreme authority of your supreme authority by going to some other lesser authority. Yes, the logic is circular [referring to what the Bible says about the Bible], but no more so than the secularist defending reason by reason or the scientist touting the authority of science based on science.”
“Scripture itself is alone competent to judge our doctrine of Scripture.” – J.I. Packer
The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible is a comprehensive source of biblical truth such that a believer has all that he needs to glorify God in every situation. We can rest assured that the Scripture is “God-breathed, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness”. Scripture prepares us for every good work and makes us ready for service.
- How are doctrinal standards upheld by the church through the ages lived out in your personal life?
- Do you recognize Scripture at the heart of every ministry of the church?
- How does doctrine serve as framework for your belief, practice, and service?
In addition, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura teaches us that the Bible is the final authority for our beliefs and practices. The aforementioned is more thoroughly explained in the Belgic Confession (among the oldest of doctrinal standards): “We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one– even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says– ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us. For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects. Therefore we must not consider human writings– no matter how holy their authors may have been– equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.” Read the following:
- Deuteronomy 12:32
- Galatians 1:6-10
- 1 John 4:1
- 2 John 10-11
- Revelation 22:18-19
- What are the consequences of wrong doing found in Deuteronomy 12:32 and Revelation 22:18-19?
- What does Galatians 1:6-10 remind us in guarding the truth of the gospel? How does the gospel we believe identify us?
- Of what (or who) must we beware in 1 John 4:1 and 2 John 10 & 11? Does this pertain to us today?
However, sufficiency means the Bible is comprehensive…not exhaustive. Sufficiency also does not mean that application of Scripture requires no additional knowledge. Sinclair Ferguson explains, “The Scriptures do not tell us everything about everything. They provide no instruction about computer programming, or how best to organize a library, the correct way to swing a golf club, or how to play chess. They do not tell us how far away the sun is from the earth, what DNA is, how best to remove an appendix surgically, the best coffee to drink, or the name of the person we should marry…Scripture is sufficient to give me a rational ground for thinking about anything and everything on the assumption that this world and everything in it make sense. Further, no matter what my calling or abilities, the Scriptures are sufficient to teach me principles that will enable me to think and act in a God-honouring way when I am engaged in any activity or vocation.” We discover God’s will in areas nonspecific to the Bible by the careful and ongoing application of the principles, commands, and illustrations we find in Scripture to the life situations in which we find ourselves. Biblical wisdom makes us strong and stable. Read the following:
- Deuteronomy 29:29
- Romans 12:1-2; 13:1
- 2 Corinthians 11:14
- In an exhortation to obedience and recorded history of God’s dealings with Israel, what are the “secret things” in Deuteronomy 29?
- Read Romans 12:1-2. Explain how biblical wisdom makes us strong and stable.
- Read Romans 13:1. What should the Christian understand regarding secular authorities? Who is the ultimate authority to whom we are to have submission? How would acting in this manner be God-honoring?
- God has provided a safe pathway for us in the sufficiency of his written word. Are you mature enough to know how to distinguish the work of the Spirit from the influence of the enemy who might appear as an “angel of light,” 2 Corinthians 11:14?
Sufficiency does not mean that extrabiblical knowledge is never helpful, and does not mean that the Bible is a textbook of facts.The biblical view is a lens through which we must understand and interpret life, people, problems, and solutions, as each situation intersects with the God who made all things.
Scripture is not only sufficient, it is necessary. “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” – Jerome (early church father) rightly observed. Faith in Christ comes from knowing the gospel. Progress in faith requires nourishing oneself on the Word of God. We need the Bible to develop maturity and service. We need the Bible because it is totally reliable and useful for all of life. Truth from the Word can bring us blessings of life in every dimension. Read the following:
- John 17:14-17
- Romans 10:13-17
- 1 Peter 2:1-3
- 2 Peter 3:16-17
- As with the disciples (John 17:14-17), would it not be God’s desire that we should be distinguished from the world by our attitudes and acceptance of God’s word?
- Considering Romans 10:13-17, what is the focus and goal of the sufficient Scriptures?
- In reading 1 Peter 2:1-3, how can you be nourished by the Lord?
- In reading 2 Peter 3:16-17, is all of Scripture equally understandable? Should a believer strive to develop better understanding of the difficult passages?
- If Scripture is the final authority, exactly how reliable is it as authority on which we should base the whole of our lives?
In addition to authority and sufficiency, the Doctrines of Clarity and Necessity of Scripture pave the way for reading and study in such a way that the Bible is able to be understood by all who will read and are seeking God’s will to follow it (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). The Bible is necessary for knowledge of the gospel and maintaining spiritual life and certain knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 4:4). Because the way of salvation is found only in the Bible, we must know the Scriptures to appreciate and properly communicate the gospel.
“What if I say the Bible is God’s holy Word, complete, inspired without a flaw? But let its pages stay unread from day to day and fail to learn there from God’s law. What if I go not there to seek the truth of which I glibly speak for guidance in this earthly way? Does it matter what I say?” – Maude Frazier Jackson
- Reflect on your attitudes and beliefs regarding the Doctrine of Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture.
- My goal in recognizing the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is…
- As a result of the closed canon, I hope to make adjustments in my life that would be…
- My prayer concerning these doctrines is…
All sources for this series are listed here: https://debbieswindell.com/2019/05/30/excited-to-share/