The Sufficiency of Scripture: Is God’s Word Enough, Part 6

For all who have read these recent posts I will remind that the documentation of quotes has been lost. Therefore, many of the quotes are not properly attributed to those who made them.

Hoky BibleI recently began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture. I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency. By way of introduction and reminder, the following is our definition: Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end. It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need. Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.

Scripture’s Testimony Concerning Sufficiency: Is the Bible Enough? –

As we have spent much time discovering, the modern-day Church has rejected Scripture’s authority and its sufficiency to speak to every area of life. They have rejected Scripture’s sufficiency and have added man’s wisdom in the form of mere reason. They have rejected Scripture’s sufficiency and added mystical experiences. They have rejected Scripture’s sufficiency and added occult and pagan practices. These things, when placed alongside the teaching of Scripture serve to give witness to the sufficiency of Scripture.

Paul told Timothy this day would come: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). This fulfilled prophecy in itself expresses the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, for that is exactly what has occurred. The time has come when very few will endure sound doctrine, and their ears can definitely find someone to tickle them in every city.

Our last discussion focused on modern-day attacks against the sufficiency of Scripture. In this final section we will attempt to discover some of what Scripture has to say as to whether it is sufficient for all things pertaining to faith and conduct. However, before we go any further it is my belief that an attack against the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is an attack against the very character and attributes of God. Since the approach of these articles has been to assume that the word of God is the inspired, infallible, authoritative word spoken by God to man we will speak freely along these lines without attempting to prove these presuppositions.

Scripture clearly teaches that God has foreordained the content and course of all things, people and events, in history. In the Greek language the word foreordained speaks of the fact that God planned all things before the foundation of the world, and this plan extends to all aspects of His creation. Once God established the plan for the ages he then decreed that it be done just as He planned it. Therefore, all He planned was certain to be done just as planned. Moreover, God prepared select men and nations to actively participate in carrying out His plan; some in a positive manner – those known as the elect – and others in a negative manner – such as Babylon. Since God chose certain men and nations to carry out His plan these must be instructed in how to do so. God chose to do so by speaking to those elect and, in turn, having that message recorded in written form in order that those who would follow after would have a record of direction to enable them to effectively carry out His plan. Therefore, to say that the message and direction is not sufficient to direct the chosen in how to live is to say that God’s plan is insufficient and thus to say that God Himself is insufficient, not authoritative, and not sovereign. The attack upon the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is an attack upon the nature and attributes of God Himself.

Let us examine one of the most definitive verses in all of Scripture in addressing this subject of the sufficiency of Scripture, 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed (author’s preferred interpretation) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB).

To begin with Paul states that “All Scripture is God-breathed”. Without going in-depth to examine this we will simply allow Warfield’s explanation suffice:

“The ‘breath of God’ is in Scripture just the symbol of His almighty power, the bearer of His creative word…And it is particularly where the operations of God are energetic that this term…is employed to designate them – God’s breath is the irresistible outflow of His power. When Paul declares, then, that ‘all scripture’ is the product of the Divine breath, ‘is God-breathed,’ he asserts with as much energy as he could employ that Scripture is the product of a specifically Divine operation.”

Scripture, being the very out-breathing of God, is sufficient for all of life. It is profitable; all of it. The Greek word is ophelimos and means “profitable, useful, or beneficial.”It is preceded by the word kai which is most commonly translated as “and”, but in this passage it has the force of “also”. Therefore, it could be translated “God-breathed, also profitable” with the idea that not only are they God-breathed, but because they are they are profitable as well.

The fact that they are God-breathed seems to force the conclusion that they are both authoritative and sufficient for all of life. Yet that is not the whole of these verses. Paul goes further in explaining what profit they hold. They are profitable for teaching those things which man cannot know by reason alone and are not accepted by the unregenerate mind. It reproves all of our wrong-doings and wayward thoughts. It gives man what is needed to correct the same, and simultaneously trains a once lost, sinful man in the ways of righteousness. That is the definition of sufficiency.

Paul goes on to explain that the purpose for doing all of these is that the man of God would be adequately equipped for every good work. What are those good works for which a man of God must be equipped? Ephesians 2:10 gives some insight; “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” God has created the elect to carry out certain good works that He has prepared for each one who believes on Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that the word He left for us, with which to instruct us for those works, is capable of completing the task for which the Almighty God has created it. God’s word is sufficient for God’s people.

The majority of those who, in practice, deny the sufficiency of God’s word would never admit to believing that Scripture is insufficient. Neither would most of these men deny the sufficiency of Christ. In his excellent book, Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology, Ed Bulkley addresses this problem. He states; “When you say the Scriptures are not enough, you are in fact saying that Christ is not enough, for the Bible is about Christ from cover to cover.” Elsewhere he states, “To claim the belief that Christ is sufficient while saying that the Bible is deficient simply will not work, for the two are inseparable foundations: It is through the written Word of God that we come to understand the living Word of God.” He then turns our attention to 2 Peter 1:2-4, thus we will next examine this passage.

Peter states:

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord: seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”

Peter establishes that the grace and peace that all men need and long for are revealed through “the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (v. 2). Though not specifically stated here this knowledge is found in the written word of God alone and not by some private revelation or mystical experience, for Peter states elsewhere that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (1:21). Any private revelation or mystical experience should fall under the category of “prophecy” and therefore “is (not) a matter of one’s own interpretation.” It must also be seen that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (v.21). Therefore, any revelation that is apart from Scripture would not conflict with any other portion of Scripture either by content or delivery. Neither of these may be trusted as true of today’s private revelations if they are tested by the clear teachings of Scripture as has been commanded (1 Jn. 4:1).

Furthermore, Peter states that this grace and peace have at least the potential to be multiplied in those who placed their faith in Christ. Peter states that this is possible due to the fact that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” “Everything” is all-inclusive. Nothing that is an essential need to the Christian’s ability to walk worthy of our calling has been left neglected or unattended by God. And He provided for our every need “through the knowledge of Him” (v.3) and that knowledge is only obtained by the written word of God.  “God has provided answers in His Scriptures for every possible spiritual/mental/emotional problem that man has ever and could ever experience.”

In the book of Acts Paul offers another profound proclamation of the sufficiency of God’s Holy Word. He states;

“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable…for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God…And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:20, 27, 32).

This is an even more direct and comprehensive statement concerning the sufficiency of Scripture than that of Peter’s in the previous verses. As MacArthur states, “Paul did not view any portion of God’s revelation as unimportant or insufficient to spiritual growth. Nor did he view any of it as incapable of dealing with life’s problems.”

In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 God gives a basic summary of doctrine for His people Israel. His written word found in the Law was sufficient for all issues of life and godliness for His people. The commands given in this passage express the fact that the Law of God was to occupy the center of life, thought and conduct for His people.

In Psalm 119:9 the question is asked, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” The answer to follow is, “By keeping it according to Your word.” Therefore, if known and obeyed, God’s word is sufficient to keep one from living an impure life.

Again in verse 105 the Psalmist states, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The clear imagery given here is that God’s word gives sufficient light to walk the path of life in a dark world so that the follower of God should not stumble off the path of righteousness.

Returning to Psalm 119 we find that this Psalm is rife with descriptions of the sufficiency of God’s word for faith and conduct. Beginning in verse 1 and continuing through verse 8 we see descriptions of those whose lives are identified as “blessed”. The Psalmist states; “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the Lord” (v.1). Those who live in obedience to God’s written word, in this case the Law, his way, way of living, is said to be blameless and in turn abundantly blessed. And so he continues through the next 7 verses.

In Joshua 1:8 God gives a direct command to Joshua;

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

We see in this verse that Israel had only one way by which she as a nation would be prosperous and successful; she was to hold strong to God’s law – the written word. According to His command they were to constantly be teaching the law – “shall not depart from your mouth” – and continually “mulling it over” in their minds – “meditate on it day and night.” By doing these things God’s word would cause them to receive the promised blessings and have abundant success and prosperity. All of this was based on God’s sufficient word.

Perhaps the definitive Old Testament passage concerning the sufficiency of God’s word is found in Psalm 19. For the sake of brevity we will look only at verses 7-11. David writes:

“The law of the Lord is perfect restoring 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 judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.”

David here describes the absolute sufficiency of Scripture for the believer. He says that “the law of the Lord is perfect” meaning “faultless”. Unger states that it is “completely reliable as a moral and spiritual guide for God’s people, and ‘complete’ in the sense of being all we need to save us and lead us on in fellowship with God.” It is “restoring to the soul”, meaning it draws us back, “from the incessant downward pull of sin.”

God’s law is “sure”, literally “firm, faithful”, with the result that it makes “wise the simple”. In other words the foolish one who is ever susceptible falling into sin is given the wisdom to avoid such susceptibility.

The word is right, “in line with God’s will”. “It brings ‘rejoicing to the heart’… (literally) ‘making the heart glad’.” He states that it is pure expressing that God’s word has absolutely no “taint” which would direct one toward sin.

As MacArthur states, “Scripture’s purity and clarity produces the benefit of ‘enlightening the eyes’.” In other words the teaching of Scripture clearly directs us to live properly in the midst of moral and spiritual darkness by its pure, untainted illumination.

Verse 9 states that “the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.” Scripture provokes the fear of God. In doing so men are caused to turn to God in reverential praise and worship of Almighty God. It is clean, without blemish, defect or impurity and lasts forever. God’s word is “living and active”; it endures forever and it is sufficient, even to this day, to direct and protect God’s children.

God’s judgments are true and righteous. There is no error, His word hits dead on the mark every time. God’s word is “inerrant and absolutely trustworthy.”

Verses 10 and 11 declare the immeasurable value of God’s word. The value of gold is the standard of value in this world. No matter the state of the economy, one who is heavily invested in gold is secure as far as this world’s monetary system goes. Scripture’s value far exceeds all of the gold in any bank or combination of banks. It’s sweetness to the soul is infinitely greater than the delicacies of honey.

Finally, verse 11 describes the protection and rewards afforded to the one who lives by the word of the Lord. Scripture is the greatest source of spiritual protection for the follower of Christ. Scripture serves to warn the servant of God of the effects and dangers of sin and disobedience to God. Scripture serves to protect God’s servants in the face of temptation to sin and ignorance of the true way of living. Scripture also brings rewards, eternal rewards, to the one who is faithful to live according to them.

Conclusion

There is an abundance of other Scripture passages that express the sufficiency of Scripture; Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 2:15, Proverbs 30:5-6, Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, and Matthew 4:4 just to name a very few. To exhaust the passages that express this fact would take a vast amount of time and energy, and still then one would not be able to do justice to the subject.

Satan has attempted to destroy any trust in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture since his opening lines in Genesis, “Indeed has God said…?” His assault against Scripture has raged continually since, and has found many an ally in humanity over the millennia. Yet, his attacks have done nothing to diminish the fact that Scripture is sufficient in all areas of faith and conduct. God’s word speaks to the heart of man and is the instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:8). That is why men so easily join Satan in his attempted destruction of it. Scripture gives us the whole disgusting description of who we are and holds up God’s righteousness before our eyes, thus acting as a mirror showing us who we really are in the eyes of a holy God. It is the only sufficient guide for life. It acts as the guidebook for Christian living. Its sufficiency is based upon God’s nature and attributes, therefore it is trustworthy, authoritative, and worthy of honor.

Scripture alone is adequate to teach us the way of righteousness, for, as it informs us, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” (Jer. 17:9-10). It points us to the One true way of salvation, and is adequate to teach how to enter into that salvation.

Though man has repeatedly attempted to denigrate, castigate, and eliminate God’s word it has proven indestructible. In truth, what else should we expect from those who could not understand the truths written in the pages of the Holy word without the illuminating work of God’s Holy Spirit? Men try to destroy what they fear most, and they most fear a righteous God who has revealed to them their sin and future judgment.

Is God’s word sufficient? Has the question been answered in these articles? That may be debatable. However, one thing is not; Scripture proves itself to be both authoritative and sufficient. God’s word is the final authority on all things “pertaining to life and godliness.” It is and always will be the all-sufficient guide by which Christians are led into holiness, spiritual maturity, and right relationship with the God who created, loves and chose them for His own. May God bless His word, and all of us who attempt to understand and live by it.

To God be the glory forever, and ever, Amen.

 

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The Sufficiency of Scripture: Is God’s Word Enough? Part 2

Hoky BibleYesterday I began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture.  I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency.  By way of introduction I will briefly review.

Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.  It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need.  Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.  When it comes to Scripture, God’s Holy Word, it means that the Bible is totally adequate, and competent to meet the needs of every individual Christian in every circumstance of life (see 2 Peter 1:2-3).  Nothing else is needed to guide us in our everyday living.

Most of us would agree that the greater portion of the Church has abandoned this long-held belief in the sufficiency of Scripture.  What some of us may not know is the history of how we have arrived at this place in the life of the Church.  What follows is my attempt to trace the history of biblical interpretation and misinterpretation of Scripture that enabled and emboldened the Church to conclude that God’s word alone is not a sufficient guide for an individual Christian’s life.  I would add to the previous statement that I am by no means alone in my understanding of the history that follows.

Historical Perspective: The Battle for Authority and Sufficiency

Origen and Allegorical Interpretation –

As Philip Schaff has stated, “The question of the source and rule of Christian knowledge lies at the foundation of all theology.” Without a solid foundation all theology must rest on shifting “sand…and great (shall be) its fall” (Matt. 7:26-27). Not withstanding the original attack upon the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the Garden, the shift from the authority and sufficiency within the Christian Church can be seen with the first formal theory of interpretation, that of Origen (A.D.185-254). His hermeneutic system was fashioned after that of Philo, a Jewish Platonist who adopted the allegorical method in approaching the Hebrew Scriptures. Likewise, Origin applied the allegorical method in his exegesis of Scripture.  Although born out of the best of intentions the problem with Origen’s s hermeneutic method is that it abandoned a normal interpretation for a fanciful, imaginative interpretation that placed the interpreter in the place of authority instead of Scripture itself being the authority. Instead of Scripture having a static meaning (although alive and active as Hebrews 4:12 states) and simply having a basic, intended meaning that anyone could understand, “(he) considered the Bible a living organism (not as Hebrews states), consisting of three elements which answer to the body, soul, and spirit of man, after Platonic psychology.” The outcome was that Origen, like Plato, would allegorize, or spiritualize vast portions of Scripture completely undermining, or destroying the plain, historical sense in which it was intended. In so doing the authority of the word of God was made to be subservient to the interpreter, thereby making it insufficient in itself to direct men into proper living.

Augustine and Dualism –

Following Origen’s lead, Augustine (A.D. 354-430), once again desiring to do good, duplicated the allegorical method, but with a twist. His system is known as dualism, and the modification that he introduced was seen in his practice of limiting allegorical interpretations to prophetic passages, while taking other passages in their normal, literal sense. This dualistic method of allegorical interpretation once again pushed the subtle shift from the sufficiency of Scripture as it tore at the foundation of the authority of Scripture. Paul Tan described the overwhelming acceptance of Augustine’s practice; “Unfortunately for the church, Augustinian dualism was accepted without much debate into the Roman Catholic church, and later also by the Protestant reformers.”  It is that last fact concerning the Protestant reformers that has led to many of the problems in the modern Church.

Arguably, one of the negative outcomes of Augustine’s dualism is the birth of Amillennialism. This view of the millennium was absorbed whole by the Roman Catholic Church and their theology. This had a devastating impact upon the Roman Catholic hermeneutic method, and, therefore, to the authority and, in turn, the sufficiency of Scripture.

Catholic Allegorism –

Directly effected by Augustine’s form of allegorical interpretation is the Catholic system of hermeneutics. The Catholic system is very closely related to Augustine’s dualism, and completely swallowed up the Amillennialist idea of prophetic Scriptures.

Bernard Ramm asserts that “[i]t would be over-simplification to assert that the only method of exegesis during the Middle Ages was the allegorical method. It would not be, however, be an exaggeration to assert that the preponderance of exegetical work was allegorical.” The Romanists divided Scripture into two categories; 1.) Literal and 2.) Spiritual, or mystical. Yet, as damaging as this aspect of their system was, it was merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The real greater damage is found in another of Ramm’s observations;

The Catholic interpreter obediently accepts whatever the Catholic Church has specifically said about matters of Biblical Introduction, and authorship of the books of the Bible…The Catholic interpreter accepts all verse which the Church has officially interpreted in the sense in which they have been interpreted.”

Here we have the logical outcome of the destruction of the authority, and therefore the sufficiency of Scripture by the introduction of the allegorical method of interpretation. When the normal sense of Scripture is not the true or deepest meaning of Scripture, then interpretation must be left up to those who have been granted the divine right of interpretation, i.e., the Church. In turn, that transition of the divine right of interpretation from the individual Christian to the Church placed the individual Christian under the authority of the Church, and since the method of interpretation placed the interpreting body in control of what Scripture means the Church became the authority, Scripture lost both its authority and sufficiency, and direction for all areas of life fell under the authority of the church; the Roman Catholic Church held the sufficiency. The Bible was taken out of the hands of the average man on the street and given only to the church to dictate to the individual what was held within its pages.

The Catholic Church’s denial of sola Scriptura was solidified at the Council of Trent in 1545. Although affirming the Bible as inspired revelation from God, as has already been established, the Church became the only competent interpreter of Scripture.

Two major errors occurred. Upon the church’s establishment of itself as the only sound interpreter of Scripture, membership in the Catholic Church became necessary for salvation. Therefore, the church and not Scripture, is sufficient for salvation.

Secondly, they established that the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church is absolutely necessary for correct understanding of the Bible. Popes and bishops are the only competent interpreters of the Scriptures; therefore, the individual cannot grow, serve or obey without the guidance of the Catholic Church. Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation or daily living.

With the Bible taken from those who were not in authority in the church the natural progression was to drift into deep superstition and mysticism. Although mysticism came along with the allegorical interpretation, its filtering into public life in the form of superstitions and pagan practices was caused by the individual’s inability to read, let alone understand the words of Scripture, as well as by example of their “spiritual” leaders.  The results were horrific in the life of the Church in general, and devastating to individuals overall.  None had assurance of salvation.  Many lived in fear of evil spirits, or even in fear of their own religious leaders.  The Roman Church became oppressive and overbearing, and millions suffered greatly.

Praise God that the history of the Church and biblical interpretation did not end there.

To be continued.