Sufficiency of Scripture: Think These Thoughts, Walk this Way

Solid Gold IngotThe doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture teaches profound respect for the Word of God. We love the Scriptures so much that we hate, in the sense of Luke 14:26, everything else.

Lu 14:26: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith, the acme of creeds, explains the doctrine in its opening section. Section 6 of that first Chapter is a good summary of the doctrine.

Section 1.6.—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.[1] 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;[2] 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.[3]

The doctrine teaches that whatever would bring glory to God is found in the Scripture. Other writings (like commentaries, systematic theologies, and even blog posts) bring glory to God only insofar as they agree with the Scripture. How can we be saved from the just damnation we inherited from Adam and earn by our own sins? The Bible and only the Bible tells us. Anything we need to know and believe to be saved is taught in the Bible. Anything added to those requirements is not merely extra-Scriptural; it is false. Anything we need to do morally is preceptively taught in Scripture. Anything invented to go above and beyond the requirements of Scripture is bogus; attempts to supererogate God’s Law will not only not earn deposits into a thesaurum satisfactionum Sanctorum, they earn greater condemnation.

IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHING

  • The Book of Mormon, the Koran, apocryphal writings, cult teachings, Talmud, the Watchtower magazine, Romish Tradition, and all other teachings that teach by their own authority rather than solely upon the authority of the Word of God, are false. All things we need to believe are in the Scripture. Adding anything to that corpus is the prerogative of God. And we hold that God has indicated that He is done expanding Scripture.
  • Preaching is to be from the Word of God. The ministers of the Word are to feed God’s sheep; they cannot do this by reading from poetry, exegeting hymnody, interpreting philosophy, and expounding current events. Even if these others are permitted, Scripture is incomparably greater. Feed the wheat, not the chaff.
  • Zany new methods for unlocking the meaning of Scripture are false. “Scripture interprets Scripture” does not mean we get to build dogma from manufactured connections between obscure coincidences. “Scripture interprets Scripture” means that when the first sense makes sense, we seek no other sense. “Scripture interprets Scripture” means that clearer passages help us to understand the less clear passages.
  • Proof-texting solely with disjointed verses is dangerous. Our theology starts with the general themes of themes of Scripture for our cardinal doctrines and adds doctrines dependent on those. One could use Acts 2:44 and 4:32 as proof-texts for economic communism; but only by ignoring the vast swaths of Scripture. In the context of the whole Bible, it becomes abundantly clear that these verses do not advocate communalism.
  • Hobby-horsing pet issues that apparently occupy so little space in Scripture is dangerous. Churches that major in the minors neglect the majors. Scripture expends merely a few verses on some doctrines, while employing hundreds of verses on other doctrines; we generally do well to imitate the Bible’s proportionality in our study. If the Scriptural treatment is limited to a few sparse references, we should not make it the central theme of our life. (Caveat: first, these doctrines are not unimportant nor should they be completely set aside; and, second, that a doctrine is called a minor doctrine does not provide justification for violating it.)

IMPLICATIONS FOR LIFE

  • For years before Harold Camping went apostate, he had dabbled with taking to himself the authority to teach truth. Despite his frequent references to “the Word of God, the Bible”, I observed that he had denounced all other Bible teachers, even the whole church, and offered the quirkiest of proofs—for true doctrines. For instance, he “proved” that regeneration precedes faith by the story of Lazarus’s resurrection. Now, regeneration does proceed faith and resurrection illustrates the doctrine; but it was quirky to offer the story as proof. For years he gradually evolved his quirky methods of “proof” into inanity and expanded this method to the realm of shaky doctrines, to errors, and finally to abject heresies.
  • A person who thinks he has an extra-biblical revelation that binds you to do something is mistaken. I remember hearing stories of a young woman telling a young man that God told her that he is going to marry her. The young man really cannot move on, now, can he? The proper response in an earlier age might have included a frank discussion of the penalty of stoning for misspeaking in such a claim. In the current age, the proper response is summary rejection.
  • The best way to understand Scripture is to read it—all of it, large portions of it at a time. To memorize it—both verses and larger portions, too. To meditate on it—think about what it means, how it should inform our thinking, words, and actions. To do it—think it, talk it, live it.

Pr 16:3 Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.

Sufficiency of Scripture leads us to conclude that everything else is insufficient. The sufficiency of Scripture is not an academic concern. It is not just a claim against Romish inventions. It is not just a defense of the Reformation. It is central to life.


[1] 2 Tim 2:15-17; Gal 1:8-9; 2 Thess 2:2

[2] John 6:45; 1 Cor 2:9-12

[3] 1 Cor 11:13-14; 1Cor 14:26,40

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