What Is the Sufficiency of Scripture?

"The Word of God gives us everything God wants us to know. We call this the sufficiency of Scripture. All the words that God wants you to have when it comes to salvation, and trusting Him, and obeying Him are found in the Bible." - P&D

861 reads

There are 15 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I don't disagree with the spirit of the post but, like most "defense of sufficiency" writing I've seen, it doesn't deal well enough with the central problem: "sufficient for what?" or maybe "sufficient in what way?"

"All the words that God wants you to have when it comes to salvation, and trusting Him, and obeying Him are found in the Bible" ... This is indisputable, since it says "words."

But there's no living out of what Scripture teaches without knowledge from outside it. Consider the biblical teaching that we shouldn't steal. Where does the following information come from?

  • What "stealing" means
  • How to determine whether this item is mine or belongs to a group or some other individual
  • The limits of what I can do with it before it becomes "stealing" (overlap w/first point I realize)
  • To whom it actually does belong

It's a super simple example, and not a hard one, but illustrates a point: We get definitions and applications from experience, observation, society and culture, parents, and lots of other "not the Bible itself" sources. And we can't "obey" without that knowledge.

So, I really think the language of "sufficiency" is mostly unhelpful. What we need to work out is how the revealed words and truths of Scripture relate to other information that is also indispensable to godly living. "Sufficiency" is a term that focuses on the idea of need and the truth is that we're broadly needy when it comes to living the Christian life.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Don Johnson's picture

On stealing, doesn't Bible study inform us? There are examples of it in Scripture as well as clear directives to some applications in the Law, aren't there?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Maybe you can elaborate on that some? I'm not clear enough on what you're referring to to answer that.

Occurred to me later that we'd be better off using biblical language, and focus on Scripture's claim that is "profitable" and "completes" and "thoroughly prepares" (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Then there's Psalm 19, and lots of other passages.

But these encourage us to see the unique power and qualities of the Word and don't directly tell us what "need nothing else" for.

If, instead of stealing, we use an example like "flee fornication," (1 Cor 6:18), there are certainly biblical examples of sexual sin that help us understand what pornea ("fornication") is, but once again, faithfully living out the principle requires knowledge from outside Scripture. We have to look at behaviors that exist in our present day lives and understand the truth of their nature and how well they fit the biblical concept. (There was  post at Roger Olsen's blog recently about the controversy at some Christian colleges over whether its OK to use nude models in art class. So, the core of what's involved in obedience to Scripture may be obvious but the fringes get more complicated and relate to theology of the human body and art and so forth.)

I guess my negativity toward "sufficiency" rhetoric is that I usually see it used to dismiss the legitimacy and value of knowledge gained from academic disciplines or science or experience--without any attention to the implications this has for how we understand what "truth" is in the world God made.

I'm definitely a "two books" guy (which I recently learned is a much older idea than I knew) though I wouldn't back all versions of that idea. We really aren't strengthening special revelation by dismissing general revelation. Truth doesn't work that way.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jim's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

On stealing, doesn't Bible study inform us? There are examples of it in Scripture as well as clear directives to some applications in the Law, aren't there?

Toddlers playing (18 months) (I've watched some recently!)

They "get" "mine!" and taking away. And striking out 

Ed Vasicek's picture

We are also "complete in Christ" (Colossians 2:10), but that does not mean we do not need Scripture beyond verses that tell us Who Christ is and how to be saved.

Aaron's points are well taken. 

 "sufficient for what?" or maybe "sufficient in what way?"

Part of the answer to defining things like the meaning of word ("stealing") I believe requires us to (as best we can) understand those words as the original audiences would have understood them.  This requires more of a lexicon or something like the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament than an English  dictionary.  Thus that lexicon or TWOT is something more than Scripture in itself.

I believe the Dunning-Kruger Effect reigns theologically as well; we often do not know that we do not know. That is why hermeneutics is never an exact science, but it can be a fairly accurate science, I believe, if we take safeguards to help us attempt to be fair and open to the original understandings (rather than coming into matters with an agenda).

I also agree that Biblical terms are always better than terms imported from outside Scripture. There is what Scripture says, and there is what we think it means. Sometimes those two do not match, or do not match exactly.

I think the stronger doctrine is that of Sola Scriptura, the Bible is God's final Word.  Next comes the clarity of Scripture, the Bible can be understood.  But do we understand it perfectly all the time? No. But, once again,   most believers can understand most of Scripture -- indeed, the vast majority.

Anyhow, the article, I don't think, was intended to be very deep. If it did, it failed. It covered no new ground.  If a summary, however, it was okay.

 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Maybe you can elaborate on that some? I'm not clear enough on what you're referring to to answer that.

I was typing from my phone, hence the short cryptogram.

What I meant was to push back on your point that we know about theft more from outside sources than from the Bible (at least that is how I took your statement, correct me if I missed it). I thought that we can know quite a bit about theft from the prohibitions, the examples, other revelation in the law especially as related to property, and so on. You brought in sexual sins in your subsequent reply, and this would probably be another and better example.

So my pushback was only  minor.

I agree that general revelation speaks truly, but our understanding of it is the problem. The Bible is clear revelation, whatever we think about General Revelation cannot contradict the Bible. So two books? Sort of. But only one is sure, and only one is sufficient for salvation. I don't think you can learn about salvation at all from General Revelation.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Toddlers playing (18 months) (I've watched some recently!)

They "get" "mine!" and taking away. And striking out 

This illustrates my point. The toddlers "know" what's theirs without being taught from the Bible... if indeed they do know. Actually, I think most of them believe "whatever I can grab and get away with is mine!" But the idea of legitimate possession is something they learn socially.  I've heard that some cultures don't have the concept at all, but I don't know how much there is to that. Might be someone with an economic theory idealizing a tribal group. Maybe they just had different ways of indicating possession and different ideas of boundaries.

Most of us figure a quarter you find in a parking lot is nobody's anymore. Pick it up and claim it (unless your back, knees, etc., are telling you it's not worth the work!). Maybe some places that concept is broader. 

I'm just musing.

Anyway, usually a sufficiency argument, when I've come across it, has been a way to reject a teaching coming from a nonbiblical source, such as psychology or popular ethics (e.g., our culture's current notions about gender).

Or it's in the context of downplaying the value of learning in general, other than learning Scripture.

Hence my gripe. I see subtle anti-intellectualism all over the place in fundamentalist heritage ministries, so it's a peeve.

In both of these cases, there's a better way to make the argument:

  • Biblical teaching that clearly exposes the pop-psychology, or pop-anthropology, or pop-ethics or whatever it is.
  • Biblical teaching that learning outside the Bible is a waste of time.

That second one can't be fairly done, but that would be the way to do it if the Bible taught such a thing. So in both cases, the (usually vague or overstated) sufficiency argument is not the best approach and ends up setting up the thinking people in the audience to think, "But wait, that doesn't work... I can't love my wife without knowing who my wife is, which the Bible doesn't tell me.... hmmm... I wonder what else I'm being taught that doesn't really make any sense? ... that everybody is nodding and saying 'amen' to... Do I even belong here?" This is not a path to stronger faith.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

That second one can't be fairly done, but that would be the way to do it if the Bible taught such a thing. So in both cases, the (usually vague or overstated) sufficiency argument is not the best approach and ends up setting up the thinking people in the audience to think, "But wait, that doesn't work... I can't love my wife without knowing who my wife is, which the Bible doesn't tell me.... hmmm... I wonder what else I'm being taught that doesn't really make any sense? ... that everybody is nodding and saying 'amen' to... Do I even belong here?" This is not a path to stronger faith.

Who does that? I wouldn't classify someone with that kind of thought process as a "thinking" person. 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ed Vasicek's picture

I wouldn't classify someone with that kind of thought process as a "thinking" person. 

I would. The person is analyzing how inconsistent such teaching is if actually applied to other areas.   This is deductive reasoning, testing a premise out to see if it holds true.

If the Bible tells us everything we need to know, then why learn more?  It is much better to understand the Bible as giving us infallible truth, but not to disparage fallible truth, but, rather, to use the Scriptures as the rubric for either ruling out fallible truth or at potentially considering it.  By fallible truth I mean possible truth or truth not revealed in Scripture. For example, viruses can kill you. The Bible doesn't say it, nor does it contradict such a claim.  When the theory that viruses existed and could make you sick and kill you was first proposed, that was fallible truth. Tested against Scripture, there was no reason to deny it, so it might be true. But it might not. In time, we concluded it was true.

I have an article online about why this very premise, when applied to counseling, does not pass the deductive test.  My premise is  I am for a system of counseling that is held accountable to the Word of God, but not one limited to the contents of the Word of God.

Most of us do not have time, energy, or interest to read everyone else's articles. If you have a special interest, you can peruse mine. You will have to forgive our temporary site markings -- our website had been hacked and we are working on a new one.  http://www.highlandpc.com/studies/nouthetic.php

 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Larry's picture

Moderator

I am for a system of counseling that is held accountable to the Word of God, but not one limited to the contents of the Word of God.

Is there anyone who disagrees with this?

Larry's picture

Moderator

I'm definitely a "two books" guy (which I recently learned is a much older idea than I knew) though I wouldn't back all versions of that idea. We really aren't strengthening special revelation by dismissing general revelation. 

The "two book" theory is not just about affirming general revelation. A single book theory does that. The two-book position is essentially that the Bible and nature are books of equal authority. So a rejection of a "two-book theory" is not a dismissing of general revelation.

Don Johnson's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:

I wouldn't classify someone with that kind of thought process as a "thinking" person. 

I would. The person is analyzing how inconsistent such teaching is if actually applied to other areas.   This is deductive reasoning, testing a premise out to see if holds.

 

I will take a look at your article, Ed, but no one thinks, "The Bible doesn't tell me who my wife is among all the billions of women on earth, therefore it must not be sufficient."

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

I'd say I agree with the general premise. But my comments above were addressing a scenario Aaron raised which seemed bizarre to me. (And still does) He offered it as a sort of "clincher" to his argument, but I don't think it serves his purpose.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The two-book position is essentially that the Bible and nature are books of equal authority. So a rejection of a "two-book theory" is not a dismissing of general revelation.

This is often how it's represented, but that's not accurate (Edit to add: depending on what one means by "authority.") This version of two books does exist, but not as often as alleged, and doesn't define what is.

I researched this a long time ago, and during seminary I was temporary talked out of two books, but the alternative gradually proved to be incoherent. I'm definitely back there and more certain than in my pre-seminary days. (I first learned two books at BJU, for what it's worth. It was very much a part of Christian philosophy of education in those days.)

(And also recently I've come across some much older teaching on it than I was aware of before.)

I'd say I agree with the general premise. But my comments above were addressing a scenario Aaron raised which seemed bizarre to me. (And still does) He offered it as a sort of "clincher" to his argument, but I don't think it serves his purpose.

I must not have been clear. You're talking about this part?

Hence my gripe. I see subtle anti-intellectualism all over the place in fundamentalist heritage ministries, so it's a peeve.

In both of these cases, there's a better way to make the argument:

  • Biblical teaching that clearly exposes the pop-psychology, or pop-anthropology, or pop-ethics or whatever it is.
  • Biblical teaching that learning outside the Bible is a waste of time.

What I meant there is that these two uses of biblical sufficiency arguments don't work. I have encountered them quite often. In the first case, there are better ways to oppose the unbiblical ideas. In the second case, it's not a position Scripture actually teaches, but if it did, there would be a better argument than "sufficiency" to support it.

Does that help?

So, bottom line, when we're preaching and teaching and come across passages that teach about our total dependence on Scripture for what it alone can do, let's affirm that--with enthusiasm. But if we're trying to fight popular notions, let's answer them with biblical ones rather than appealing to sufficiency, which is usually pretty off point.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Feel like I need to add this bit on "two books."

The question of authority gets tricky because of language. I would say that any way God speaks He speaks with total authority. So the information He has embedded in what He has made is just as authoritative--and infallible--as the information He revealed through prophets, writing and non-writing.

But there's an access problem, which Don alluded to earlier. We still have to interpret the written word, but that's a far less dicey prospect than interpreting particulars of the created world. The words themselves don't change.

In creation, we have so much complexity that, although the phenomena don't change, our perceptions do, and the data and how we understand it does, and certainly what we hypothesize from the data does.

But not everything in general rev. is like that. The more "big picture" we are about it, the more clearly it speaks.

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Ro 1:19–20)

And...

1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. (Ps 19:1–3)

There's ultimately no difference in the objective authority of truth, regardless of where it comes from. But what we "get" from our observations or our reading is always partly human, so... the authority of that is a different question.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.