Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Sufficiency of Scripture

This is a doctrine that comes into play every day in many ways in our lives. Here is a simple outline, drawn from several sources, of the doctrine.

What does the sufficiency of Scripture mean?

Wayne Grudem gives a good definition: “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Systematic Theology, 127).

The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. 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: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (1.6).

Where does the Bible teach this?

a. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 is one key passage.

b. See also Psalm 119:1; Isa 29:13-14; Mark 7:8; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Rev 22:18-19.

c. Hebrews 1:1-4 also has important implications for our understanding. Since God has given the ultimate revelation of himself in his Son, and that revelation is authoritatively recorded only in the Scripture, we need not look elsewhere for understanding God’s redemptive plan.

What are the practical implications of this doctrine?

a. God tells us in the Bible everything we need to know from him about how to think or live.

b. We must not add anything to the Bible.

c. We should not think of any other information as equal to the Bible in truth or authority.

d. God’s requirements for our lives must be defined by the Scriptures, either directly or by good and necessary consequence. We may not call something sin unless we can demonstrate it biblically.

e. In our ethical reasoning, we ought to emphasize what the Scripture emphasizes. Topics and issues in Scripture that are less clear should be lesser in importance to us.

f. We must be content with what God has told us.

What does this doctrine not teach?

a. It does not teach that the Bible is the only factor in making ethical decisions. It teaches that the Bible contains all the divine words that we need. There are other things that we need to live wisely, such as the illumination of the Spirit, correct use of the tools God has given us, and natural revelation.

b. It does not teach that the Bible is the only source of information we may use in decision making.

c. It does not teach that natural revelation is irrelevant. In fact, natural revelation and special revelation must go together. The important point is that special revelation norms or controls our understanding of natural revelation.

d. It does not teach that logic, or right use of reason, is unnecessary. Diligent study and correct reasoning are indispensible to rightly using Scripture.

e. It does not teach that we may not have human teachers, especially those who are well-informed on relevant topics or who are good examples in their wisdom. On the contrary, the Scripture indicates the importance of other people in our discipleship.

f. It does not teach that there are no other legitimate authorities in our lives. In fact, the Bible itself specifically legitimizes other authorities. However, these authorities are always subordinate to the Scripture.

At its heart, this doctrine represents the fact that God alone is the Lord who has ultimate authority.


Nick said...

You said 2 Tim 3:16-17 is "one key passage" for your claim on Sola Scriptura. Would you mind looking over this article that deals specifically with 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and telling me how it supports your claim?

Jason Parker said...

I appreciate you taking the time to comment. However, if you wish to debate the Roman Catholic versus Protestant positions on the sufficiency of Scripture, then you will need to look elsewhere, for two reasons.

First, I simply don't have the time or the need to debate this point here. I have too many other responsibilities to spend a lot of time on this. Furthermore, there are high quality discussions of this topic elsewhere, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel on this blog. This leads me to my second point.

If you wish to be taken seriously as a quality debater on this topic, then you will need to improve the level of argumentation in your post. As I began to read your post, I immediately encountered factual and logical errors which made me little inclined to take you seriously.

For example, you stated that few other major doctrines rely upon such meager evidence. This makes me wonder if you have read even popular treatments of this doctrine by Protestant scholars. It is hardly the case that 2 Tim 3:16-17 is the only proof. Even if this particular text did not exist, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture would remain unchanged. The reason 2 Tim 3:16-17 is brought forward is that is a clear statement of the truths involved in this doctrine.

Next, when dealing with the interpretation of the text, you said, "What is little known about the first two words...." Little known? Little known by whom? Everybody who has any acquaintance with "pasa graphe theopneustos" knows that it is possible to translate "pasa" with "every" instead of "all." Check any quality commentary written by a Protestant and you will see this issue discussed clearly and evenhandedly.

Next, you assert that if we translate "pasa" as "every" it is fatal to the doctrine of sola scriptura. This assertion is a non sequitur. The rest of the article continues in this vein.

You see, Nick, you are treating your opponents like idiots. Do you really expect anybody to take you seriously if you do not seriously interact with the facts? Your article comes across more like propaganda than argumentation.

Thanks again for your comment. I hope that this provokes you to study more deeply "the sacred writings!"

Nick said...

Hi Jason,

I'm not here to waste your time, so if you don't have the time/energy to discuss this, I respect that.

That said, regarding your second point, there really aren't that many "quality discussions" on this topic, be it blogs, forums, websites, or even books.
I've searched long and hard for Protestants who discuss the issue of "pasa graphe" and I've not found a single one addressing the issue as it relates to Sola Scriptura, especially Protestant apologetics sites.

It matters a lot on whether "pasa graphe" means "every individual book or passage of scripture" and "all scripture as a whole." Logically and exegetically, the meaning determines a lot, since if it's only speaking on the individual passage level, there is no way Paul could be applying sufficiency to individual passages.

Also, when I said "meager evidence," in my personal research, I've not see much in the way of Biblical support for Sola Scriptura, and the most popular proof text *by a long shot* is 2 Tim 3:16. I'd greatly appreciate if you'd take the time to simply list the top 3 passages you believe most strongly convey the doctrine of Sola Scriptura - maybe I've never been introduced to these other texts.

I am not trying to treat my opponents as idiots, I'm only pointing out a serious flaw in how they approach 2 Tim 3:16f. If you know of any apologetics resources (esp online) that address "pasa graphe" head on, I'd love to read them. As I said above, I've searched long and hard for such resources, but I've not been able to find them, and most otherwise intelligent Protestants I talk to on this matter have never heard of the issue.

What hurts me is that too often I'm the one deemed an idiot off hand, when I'm the one presenting the argument and backing up my claims from Scripture and my "opponent" is not but none the less gets to assume they're right from the very start and don't need to back up their assumptions at all. I'm not saying you do that, but that's an unfortunate and too common experience.

Jason Parker said...

Just a brief response. I'm not sure, but it seems like you may be equating the doctrine of sola scriptura with the sufficiency of Scripture. If so, this may account for some of the confusion. The sufficiency of Scripture is one part of sola scriptura, which includes not only the sufficiency of Scripture but also the authority, clarity, and necessity of Scripture.

Thus, like other doctrines such as the Trinity, there is no one (or even two or three) proof text upon which the doctrine stands or falls.

Nevertheless, 2 Tim 3:16-17 remains an important text for teaching the sufficiency of Scripture, for it states clearly that the purpose of the usefulness of the God-breathed Scripture is to equip the man of God for every good work.

Even if we were to translate "pas" as "every," it does not follow that the focus becomes "each individual." To cite Robertson, whom you used in your article, "With the abstract word, 'every' and 'all' amount practically to the same thing" (Grammar, 722; cf. BDF, section 275). The context indicates that Paul is thinking of the Scripture as a whole, thus the translation "all" is preferred.

For helpful discussions of the grammatical issues involved, I would recommend George Knight, "The Pastoral Epistles" (NIGTC) and William Mounce, "Pastoral Epistles" (WBC). For a good introduction to the sufficiency of Scripture, see Wayne Grudem, "Systematic Theology," chapter 8.

Anonymous said...


What do you think about passages such as 1 Corinthians 4:6?