It Is Written: The Bible’s Sufficiency

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. - Psalm 19:7-14

The Holy Scriptures, given by inspiration of God, are of themselves sufficient toward the discovery of truth.

– Athanasius, Early Church Father(300-375)

In the previous post, we affirmed the Bible as God’s necessary revelation. In this post, we find support for the doctrine of the Word of God as the Scriptures being sufficient for salvation (Heb. 3:7). The historic, orthodox Christian perspective maintains that Scripture is sufficient for instruction about faith and godliness. Because God’s Spirit sufficiently speaks through his word, we don’t have to prove God’s power through signs and wonders. When people are confronted with the Bible, they encounter the gospel sufficiently — The Scriptures testify to Jesus crucified and risen, the ultimate sign and miracle (Rom. 1:16). As Christ’s church we need not rely on extra-biblical sources to find God’s message to his people; the closed canon of scripture is enough. The Bible is the word of God. The Bible is sufficient for Christian faith and action. 

In the wake of the reformation movement, this framed doctrine, Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone, was considered to be the very basis of the Protestant Reformation. When we say that Scripture is sufficient, we are saying that the Bible contains all that we need for determining what we believe and how we are to live before God. This doctrine in no way denies the need for Scripture to be interpreted if we are to fully understand. What it does indicate is that when we have the Word of God in our language, we need no other source of special revelation for faith and life in addition to the Bible. God has spoken to us in the Scriptures, in human language, and it is enough to show us who God is in Jesus Christ and to show us how to come into right relationship with him. We don’t need an extra-biblical framework in order to hear what God is saying. God has told you what you need to know, and he has told you in the text of Scripture.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, - Heb. 3:7

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. - Rom. 1:16

Dr. Matthew Barrett of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is helpful in adding, “Sola scriptura is often misunderstood to mean the Bible is the only authority. But that is solo scriptura, a view held by radicals. Sola scriptura does not preclude other authorities in the church (creeds, councils, pastors, etc.). Rather, it means that Scripture alone is divine revelation and without error, and therefore our final authority. Sola scriptura is not anti-tradition but affirms a right view of tradition.” The canon of Scripture was not an after-the-fact development, but something woven deep into the fabric of God’s redemptive plan.

The English word “canon” comes from the Greek kanon, meaning rule or measuring stick. Biblical canon is a set of texts. The Scriptures, as biblical canon, consist of 66 documents – 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Since the close of the canon in the first century, the Word of God is the means by which God speaks to his church. Previously, the primary way God communicated with the people of Israel was through the prophets, beginning with, “Thus says the Lord.” The words of the prophets were put in writing and became the Word of God. Thus the Old Testament was produced. In the New Testament, the counterpart to the prophet was the Apostle. The prophets and the apostles together form the very foundation of the church. Through both the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament, we were given a written record of special revelation.

The closed canon of Scripture provides everything we need to be saved. We must not add anything to it or consider any other extra biblical writings of equal value to the scriptures themselves. Simply put, we do not need a more personal message to feel closer to Jesus, because He speaks directly to us in His Word. In the sufficiency of Scripture, we can trust that we have all we need to please God fully in our daily living, decision-making, and to equip us for spiritual growth.

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…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.

– Wayne Grudem

When we have the Word of God, printed or spoken in our language, we sufficiently have all we need to live a God-honoring life. Our Heavenly Father knows what is right, knows what is best, knows what He expects and demands, and He has given it to us. In other words, nothing is left out. It is complete. It’s the idea of lacking nothing. It contains all that is necessary for the well-being of mankind. Nothing is missing.

Biblical counselor Heath Lambert says, “Completed sufficiency teaches us that though God was adding to the Bible over millennia, the text of Scripture that we now recognize is completely sufficient.” The implications here are that there will be no more additions to God’s word – The text of God’s word that we have is enough. It is true that while God’s children at different times did not have the completed canon (and still, it was sufficient) now that the Scriptures are complete, we can say that we have all we need. I refer to Question 3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism where it states the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. - Psalm 73:24
...that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:17

The sufficiency of Scripture does not negate the necessity of the Spirit’s teaching. This doctrine is no excuse for intellectual pride. The Scriptures are not sufficient or clear to the one devoid of the Spirit. The confession asserts, ‘Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word…’ The sufficiency of Scripture does not negate the necessity of common sense. Natural reason is assumed in those to whom the Scriptures are addressed. Such reason is, itself, the creation of the Word of God.

– Samuel Waldron’s exposition of the 1689 Confession
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. - Psalm 119:105

Dr. Gregg Allison warns against an emphasis on the Spirit of God to the neglect or dismissal of the Word of God: “This extreme position results in subjectivism, zeal without knowledge, emotionalism, and chaos. It minimizes or fails to heed, the call of Scripture and the historical church to be ruled by authoritative Scripture.” Some caution regarding sufficiency:

  • Sufficiency does not mean the Bible is exhaustive. It does not teach everything about everything (Deut. 29:29).
  • Sufficiency does not mean the Bible reveals truth in modern day terminology or scientific categories because God creates His own categories.
  • Sufficiency does not mean that the Bible tells us everything that we might want to know.
  • Sufficiency does not mean that application of Scripture requires no additional knowledge (1 Pet. 3:7; Rom. 13:1).
  • Sufficiency does not mean that extra biblical knowledge is never helpful.
  • Sufficiency does not mean that the Bible is a textbook of facts.

Experiences can sometimes prove helpful in life but when compared to the rock-solid truth of the Scriptures, they are poor substitutes. This does not mean that the Bible is the only source of information and authority, though. We can trust the Scriptures as God’s voice (Heb. 1:1-3), yet the Bible is comprehensive not exhaustive. Godly counsel is appropriate when the Bible appears to be silent on a particular issue, but in the area of decision making, we all have a subjective bent towards getting our own way. We might have some desire for God to weigh in on the decision and might even pray about it, look up a few verses, and ask a few friends. But many times, when looking beyond the sufficiency of Scripture, we are simply hoping to discover some secret key to unlock our wants.

Equally problematic is when the Bible is treated like a sort of Magic 8 Ball when in search of God’s will. Some people will randomly open their Bible, focus on a random phrase, and God’s will is magically found. This practice is an obvious display of lack of concern for what God meant when he inspired that verse in favor of how that verse engages with one’s own personal experience. This poor practice of disregarding context and original intent is commonly known as eisegesis.

Do you spend time in the Bible daily? When we engage the Word of God, we depend upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit and acknowledge the need for illumination of the scriptures. But if we are to believe and practice the sufficiency of Scripture, we reject going further into the dangerous “God told me” theology. The subjective revelation that a Christian may believe she gets from the Holy Spirit must always be subservient to the objective Word of God. When we open the pages of Scripture, may we humbly bow before the Lord. In his book, A Quest for Godliness, J.I. Packer writes a summary of what John Owen once said:

If private revelations agree with Scriptures, they are needless; and if they disagree they are false.

If you think the Holy Spirit has revealed something to you that contradicts the Bible, then you are wrong. We need this kind of objective standard, because we are all prone to misunderstanding the prompting of the Holy Spirit. In fact, many times it is quite possibly our own prideful, sinful nature speaking. Clear, direct, unmistakable direction comes from the written Word. Also, we must recognize Scripture’s emphasis on its completeness, forbidding we change it by addition or subtraction (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19). Rather than seeking some other form of direct revelation from God, we are to live for God’s glory in obedience to what He has revealed in the closed canon of scripture.

The Bible is sufficiently the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian. We can’t let our subjective experiences be the ultimate rule because again, they can simply be wrong. In that scenario, there is no measuring stick for what is true. And frankly, there is no way for anyone else to to be of help to you if your subjective understanding is the ultimate standard. Humility allows God’s Word to have authority over us, looking at what the Holy Spirit said in the Scriptures as sufficient and necessary. Praise God for the Bible in the English language! We don’t have to rely on our own experiences. And we don’t have to search for mystical experiences. The supreme test for every truth claim is scripture alone. To clarify two evangelical views of revelation today (normative revelation and private revelation), I will share words from Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary:

  1. Normative Revelation – In the Bible only, for ALL believers, provides general guidance.
  2. Private Revelation – Bible PLUS experience, for individuals only, provides special guidance (this view is not biblical; it is dangerous, unnecessary, the origin of cults, and it can be reduced to the absurd).

We are sure to be met with societal challenges when adhering to sufficiency of Scripture, nonetheless it’s critical that Christians not allow some source to have such importance that it be placed in a position of authority over the Bible. Extreme cases of usurping sufficiency of scripture are seen in extrabiblical writings like Joseph Smith’s the Book of Mormon and Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Scripture’s sufficiency emphasizes its completeness and strongly forbids changing it by addition or subtraction. Simply put, you and I do not need another special revelation from God outside the Bible. We have no need to add to the closed canon of scripture, and it is our duty to read and learn what our God has revealed. God’s Word is enough.

Sufficiency of Scripture not only means the Bible contains every word we need for knowing the way of salvation, but also for living a God-honoring life. In what ways can growing knowledge of Scripture have effect on our lives? We grow as we exercise our minds, soaking up the Scriptures (Psalm 1:2-3). We can be content with what God has spoken to us in the Bible. Christ’s work is complete and God’s revelation is complete in him (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19).

Where is This Truth Found in the Bible?

Deuteronomy 4:2; Psalm 19:7–11; Proverbs 30:6; Matthew 4:4; Romans 10:13–17; 2 Timothy 3:15–17; 1 Peter 2:1–3; Revelation 22:18–19, James 2:14-26

But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it.

– John Stott

With this doctrine in mind, I would be remiss to not mention the important work of Bible translation. The following is 2021 data from Wycliffe. You can learn more here.

Languages with no Scripture

  • 828 languages have work in progress – 67.6 million people
  • 1892 languages need translation (or preparatory work) to begin – 145 million people

No Scripture, but not in need of translation:

  • 1119 languages are not vital enough to plan translation work – 2.8 million people
  • 44 language communities served by Scripture in another language – 4.6 million people

For further study, I recommend reading from my sources for this series that are found in the intro post, It is Written: An Eight Part Theological Series.

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