A while back, I wrote a blog entitled, Should We Throw the Bible Out? In that blog I tried to look at what role the Bible played in the liberty we have enjoyed here in the United States. I wondered that, since the Bible, especially the Ten Words (The Ten Commandments) are foundational to our rights as U.S. citizens what would happen to our liberty if we threw the Bible out? My underlying question was, “Is the Bible necessary?”
In the sense that God’s Word revealed in Scripture is foundational to our liberty, it is necessary. We need the Bible. But is the Bible all we need? Is the Bible sufficient? Is the Bible sufficient not just as a foundation to American liberty but to all areas of life?
If P then Q
What does it mean that something is sufficient? In logic, a “sufficient condition” means that one statement (p) ensures the truth of another statement (q). Furthermore, it means that one statement is true (p) only if another statement (q) is also true. Said another way, the truth of one statement – the sufficient statement (p) is all that is needed to ensure the truth or rightness of another statement (q). This logic is expressed by different equations:
- If p then q
If (p) you have God’s grace then (q) you have enough strength.
- p only if q
(p) You have God’s grace only if (q) you have enough strength.
- q if p.
(q) You have enough strength if (p) you have God’s grace.
- If not q then not p
If (q) you do not have enough strength then (p) you do not have God’s grace.
- q unless not p
(q) You have enough strength unless (p) you do not have God’s grace.
In other words, God’s grace (p) is the sufficient condition that must be met to ensure that (q) you have enough strength, 2 Cor. 12:9
The big idea that I’m trying to convey here is that, when something is all that is needed to ensure the truth or rightness of something else, it is sufficient.
What does it mean to say that Scripture is sufficient?
Chapter 1, Statement VI talks about the sufficiently of Scripture this way:
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 the 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.
Chapter 1, Paragraph 1 confesses that …
The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience,1 although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and His will which is necessary unto salvation.2 Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in diversified manners to reveal Himself, and to declare (that) His will unto His church;3 and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now completed.4
1 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Isa. 8:20; Luke 16:29,31; Eph. 2:20
2 Rom. 1:19-21, 2:14,15; Psalm 19:1-3
3 Heb. 1:1
4 Prov. 22:19-21; Rom. 15:4; 2 Pet. 1:19,20
If Scripture is the P, What’s the Q? – What is Scripture Sufficient for?
In summary we can say that both confessions acknowledge that Scripture contains sufficient information directly, or in a way that can be reasonably determined, about man’s salvation, faith, sanctification/growth in holiness/the obedient Christian life, and God’s glory. Scripture tells us all we need to know about these things. There are of course more creeds but I think these two fairly represent the general historical protestant thought on the meaning of the sufficiency of Scripture.
So what about smoking marijuana?
So what about smoking marijuana; or gender changing procedures; or heart transplants; or genetic manipulation; or the harvesting and use of natural resources; or church architecture or music? What about the choices of where to live or who to marry? How do we decide when to go to war and even if we should; and what to eat and what not to; and if we should go to a physician and take medicine when we feel sick or not? How do we know who we should vote for and if we should be a democrat or a republican or something else; or if we should pull the plug on someone in a comma; or how to build a car or a boat or an airplane or a medical device or a gun or a bomb or a lethal gas or even if we should? Is the Bible sufficient for these things? Does the Bible contain all we need for everything we encounter in life?
Is Scripture sufficient for these things?
It is of course obvious to anyone that the Bible does not give us exhaustive detailed information about everything. For example many things about Jesus’ life are left out, John 21:25, even though you can be sure (because of his resurrection) that everything Jesus said and did must have been right and true.
At times Scripture does give many details. Think about the calculations for Noah’s ark (Genesis 6:13-22) and the intricate instructions concerning the tabernacle furnishings, priestly garments, and sacrificial methods and processes (Exodus 25-30).
As an aside, I think we long for these kinds of instructions. There have been times when I have desperately prayed that God would send me specific and detailed written instructions from heaven pertinent to specific situations I’ve found myself in.
But even in the intricate engineering and artistic details found in Exodus, there is room for human decisions and extra biblical knowledge. And since every discipline, artistic or otherwise, has some necessary knowledge (which tools to use and how to use them for example) that must be mastered and this knowledge is not written down in Scripture as far as I know, it makes sense that God would fill the craftsmen he chose “with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship,” Ex. 31:3, NASB.
I think it is right to say that any and all true and right knowledge found in any discipline or area of study originates and proceeds from God, but all true and right knowledge is not in the Bible. Conversely, I think it is important to interject that some knowledge in any discipline is neither true nor right. In fact, I think it would be right to say that a great majority of mankind’s knowledge is corrupted and wrong and that, because of this, the knowledge contained in any area of study including theology or even math is not all true or applied rightly.
What are we really asking?
At the heart of the question, “Is the Bible sufficient?” I don’t think we are asking if Scripture is sufficient to teach us how to play the piano or how to build a skyscraper. I think we are asking is Scripture sufficient to teach us how to do these things in a way that glorifies God. I think we are asking,
“Is God’s word the only primary source I need in order to determine what is ultimately true or right in every situation and in every endeavor?”
Is the application of God’s word (which requires purity and understanding and recognizes God’s authority as creator) enough to guide us through all the complexities of life? Is it the sufficient condition that is necessary to determine ultimate truth or the rightness of a motivation, thought, or action? Is it enough to provide me with what I need to live obediently?
The Bible tells us all we need to know about what is true and right.
If we have Scripture (p) then we have all we need to know about ultimate truth and rightness (q).
Plug that p and q into the equations above and see if what I’m about to say is logical.
Even though the Bible is not exhaustive, it is sufficient for giving light to truth; it is enough for helping us understand what is ultimately true. And, because it shows us God’s character and gives us his precepts, it is enough for showing us what is ultimately right. We can apply the principles in God’s word to any discipline of study, to any human conundrum, to any question of ethics (what we ought to do) and make determinations about the truthfulness of underlying philosophical propositions and rightness of motivations that determine decisions. And when we fail to do so, it is not because the Scripture is insufficient but most likely because our motivations and thoughts are clouded by sin and sinful desires.
We can use the Bible without anything else to discern truth because truth is determined by God and the Bible is God’s word. God says what is real. God speaks reality into being. Philosophy can give us alternate definitions and answers about reality, and about what is wrong with us and the world and about what will save us, but to the degree that their definitions and answers differ from God’s definitions and answers, they are not true. God says what is really true no matter how we choose to see it because he is the one who creates and sustains reality.
God’s word sufficiently shows us what is right because it sufficiently shows us God’s character and what is right depends on the degree that it corresponds with God’s character. I’m pretty sure that’s why when the confessions consider the sufficiency of Scripture they include God’s glory – the manifestations of God’s characteristics that can be seen in all that God does and commands and says.
No, in Scripture, I will not find specific detailed directions for choosing a career, deciding where to live and if I should rent, buy, or do without this or that thing, but I can ask God for wisdom and choose from a motivation of glorifying God. I can do my best to rightly apply biblical principles and the commands of Christ: to ethical decisions; to the way I treat colleagues and family; to the way I use my influence to effect social justice; to the way I spend money; and even to everything I do, eat, or drink. And to the degree that my definitions and answers and sayings accord with what God has said is true and to the degree that my motivations, and thoughts, and doings and dealings match God’s character – to that degree I glorify God. At the very minimum I glorify God by acknowledging (acting on the belief) that his word is sufficient for my life.
A Necessary Condition: A “necessary condition” means that the truth of one statement is necessary to the truth of another statement (symbolized as “if q then p” or “q only if p”) In the previous blog, Should We Throw the Bible Out? I was asking, “Is the Bible is a necessary condition to American liberty?”
The Holy Spirit: I think it is important to note, as the Westminster statement points out, that you can have knowledge about Scripture without having “saving” knowledge or understanding. In the case of “saving” knowledge, the Holy Spirit must accompany Scripture. So, in that sense of an understanding that leads to “saving” faith, Scripture, apart from the Spirit’s work in our minds and hearts is not sufficient. Atheists can read the Bible and stay atheists. I will also point out that saved people who read Scripture do so with the Spirit living in them to convict and guide them.
The 1986 Chicago Statement on Biblical Application provides examples of the sufficiency of Scripture applied to different areas of life.
John M. Frame’s article, A Fresh Look at the Regulative Principle: A Broader View, discusses the sufficiency of Scripture in formal worship.