Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #3a)

bible alone

This is part 3a of my series on the sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 set the stage. Part #2a and #2b examined what several New Testament books had to say on the matter. This post and the next will take a look at several critical passages in the New Testament on the subject.

Mark 7:1-13

Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem have come down to see Jesus once more (Mk 7:1; see also Mk 3:22-30). It is doubtful they were merely curious about Christ; they likely came specifically to investigate and condemn Him. “The scribes and Pharisees, who had come from Jerusalem, were doubtless sent as spies, to watch and to report in no friendly spirit the proceedings of the great Prophet of Nazareth.”[1]

They soon find something to take issue with; “they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed,” (Mk 7:2). The Pharisees had developed the custom of ritualistic washing before meals, along with many other inventions (Mk 7:3-4). Mark takes pains to mark these customs as the “tradition of the elders.” In their zeal to preserve their Jewishness in a distinctly un-Jewish world, [2] the Pharisees had elevated ritualistic tradition to the same level as the OT law. [3] Edwards remarks that “by Jesus’ day, adherence to the unwritten oral tradition was as important for the Pharisees as was adherence to the Torah itself.”[4]

Here Christ issues His decree on the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Would He approve of the elevation of human tradition? The accusation from the Pharisees is not long in coming; “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mk 7:5). Christ does not mince words; he calls them hypocrites and draws from a prophesy of Isaiah to accuse them of false worship!

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men,’ (Mk 7:6b-7).

Our Savior follows up this frank condemnation with a summary statement; “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men,” (Mk 7:8). What follows is a sad and despicable example of how the custom of Corban had been twisted and turned into a prohibition from honoring one’s parents (Mk 7:9-13). Jesus’ concluding remark on the matter is particularly damning; “thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do,” (Mk 7:13).

The word is God is made void by man-made traditions. Scripture is indeed sufficient, and Christ upheld them as the sole authority for faith and life. As David King observed, “if, in their day [Christ and the apostles], there existed alongside Scripture, a legitimate God-given, objective standard of authority such as extra-biblical revelation, it has failed to surface.”[5]

2 Timothy 3:10-17

Paul wrote to his young disciple, Timothy, encouraging him to persevere in the midst of trials and hardships. Paul related that, though false teachers will come and persecute the brethren, “they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all,” (2 Tim 3:9). Paul reminds Timothy that he is very aware of how Paul has suffered for Christ’s sake during the course of his ministry (2 Tim 3:10-11).

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” (2 Tim 3:12-13).

Now, Paul turns to practical application for his apprentice. In the midst of this admittedly dark letter, after reminding Timothy of own trials and tribulations, Paul observes that anybody (including young Timothy) who seeks to live for God will face troubles. What practical advice will Paul give Timothy?

He tells Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it,” (2 Tim 3:14). Timothy was schooled in the Scriptures from his grandmother and mother (2 Tim 1:5). He was also instructed at length by Paul (2 Tim 1:13-14) in the Christian faith, which augmented his Jewish upbringing. Paul likewise also instructed Titus in the same manner (Tit 1:9). Therefore, when Paul reminds Timothy to “continue in what you have learned,” he was speaking of his childhood and young adult instruction in the faith.[6] This is a progressive revelation; a devout Jewish upbringing rounded out by instruction from Paul concerning new revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:12; Eph 3:1-13).

Paul continues, and reminds Timothy that he has been acquainted with the “sacred writings” since childhood, which make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ (2 Tim 3:15). These “sacred writings” are the Hebrew Scriptures,[7] but the remark about these Scriptures leading to explicit faith in Christ demonstrate that Paul also had the gospel message in view here as a complete revelation.[8] Thus the complete, divine revelation of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are “sacred.” This accords very well with Paul’s command for those who preach another Gospel to be “accursed” (Gal 1:8-9). Scripture contains absolute, propositional truth which is sacred. Paul commends these Scriptures to Timothy as an anchor in turbulent times.

The Holy Spirit guided Paul to choose his words very deliberately. “All Scripture is breathed out by God,” (2 Tim 3:16). The original Greek of theopneustos means “divinely inspired.”[9] This simple passage describes not only the nature of the inspiration of Scripture, but its source.[10]

The context of Paul’s statement (2 Tim 3:14-15) clearly include more than simply the OT Scriptures.[11] “Since the early church viewed the words of Jesus as fully authoritative, it would not have been a large step for Christians to accept the writings of His apostles as equally authoritative with the OT.”[12] Precisely because the Scriptures are divinely inspired, it is profitable to make the man of God complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). What more authority can Scripture ever claim, but that it was literally inspired by God Himself?

The next post will continue our look at some important New Testament passages on the sufficiency of the Scriptures.


[1] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, gen ed., The Pulpit Commentary, 23 vols. (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909). St. Mark Vol. I, 291. See also John D. Grassmick, “Mark,”  vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 132. Grassmick is more charitable and merely stated they came to “investigate” Jesus.

[2] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2002), 205. “Rituals concerning cleanness and uncleanness reflect rabbinic developments more than actual Torah prescriptions . . . As Judaism’s encounter with Gentile culture increased in the post-exilic period, however, the question of ritual cleanliness took on new significance as a way of maintaining Jewish purity over against Gentile culture.”

[3] Grassmick, “Mark,” 132-133. “These interpretations, designed to regulate every aspect of Jewish life, were considered as binding as the written Law and were passed on to each generation by faithful Law teachers (scribes).”

[4] Edwards, Mark, 208. See also Emil Shurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, 5 vols. (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2012), 1:2.

“The predominance of Pharisaism is that which most distinctly characterized this period. The legalistic tendency inaugurated by Ezra had now assumed dimensions far beyond anything contemplated by its originator. No longer did it suffice to insist on obedience to the commandments of the Scripture Thora. These divine precepts were broken down into an innumerable series of minute and vexatious particulars, the observance of which was enforced as a sacred duty, and even made a condition of salvation. And this exaggeration even made a condition of salvation. And this exaggerated legalism had obtained such an absolute ascendency over the minds of the people, that all other tendencies were put entirely in the background.”

[5] King, Holy Scripture, 42.

[6] William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce Metzger (Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson, 2000), 562-563.

[7] Thomas D. Lea, 1, 2 Timothy, vol. 34, The New American Commentary, ed. David Dockery (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1992), 234.

[8] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 563-564. “It seems doubtful that Paul would say that the OT by itself could instruct Timothy in a salvation that was by faith in Christ Jesus; this would be anachronistic. . . It may be concluded that the expression ‘sacred writings’ is drawn solely from the vocabulary describing the Hebrew Scripture, but since Paul is thinking about the culmination of the scriptural hope realized through faith in Christ Jesus, he chooses the anarthrous plural construction to develop his argument in the direction of joining the Hebrew Scripture and the gospel.” Emphasis mine.

[9] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). (Oak Harbor: WA, Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[10] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 566.

[11] Ibid, 567-568.

[12] Ibid, 568.

One thought on “Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #3a)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s