Was Codex Sinaiticus Really Found in the Trash?

Titus, 2:9 - 3:15 / Philemon, 1:1 - 1:10
Titus, 2:9 – 3:15 / Philemon, 1:1 – 1:10

When considering the issue of the preservation of the Scriptures, sadly, tempers will sometimes become heated as heretofore sacred theories are challenged on Biblical and historical grounds. I haven’t “officially” begun my series on the subject, but I wanted to jump start it once more by correcting a piece of Christian folklore you may have heard about an important manuscript copy we possess – Codex Sinaiticus.

This document is the oldest complete copy of the New Testament we have. It specifically contains “parts of the Old Testament, the New Testament complete, and in addition, the Epistle of Barnabas and a part of the Pastor of Hermas.”[1]

The folklore story is that this precious document was found in a trashcan, soon to be burned in the fire. How ridiculous, the legend goes, to believe God would preserve His word in a document which was regarded as nothing more than trash!

Here is a typical argument in this vein from a proponent:[2]

Question: Was the Sinaiticus Codex actually rescued from a wastepaper basket? What is your evidence for this?

Answer: Yes, it was. It was deposited with lots of other paper, in the desire to burn it and bring warmth to the monastery. This story comes from many sources, including someone who knew the facts and examined the evidence for himself, and Tischendorf, the man who acquired the Sinaiticus. There are many sources for the Sinaiticus story, that it was found after being deposited in a kindling bin at St. Catherine’s monastery. Please remember: it gets COLD in monasteries! They needed to burn whatever they had to make themselves warm.

I have no desire to get involved in a protracted, heated discussion on text types or textual criticism. I have very modest goals with this post – to allow Constantine Tischendorf himself to give his own account of how he discovered the manuscript. Bottom line – it was not discovered in the trash.

While visiting the a monastery in search of old manuscript copies of the New Testament, Tischendorf saw old, mouldered and useless leaves from the manuscript about to be burnt. He showed enthusiastic interest in them and the monks became suspicious, allowing him to cart off some 45 of the leaves but refusing to tell him anything about where they came from. Some years later, on a third visit to the monetary, Tischendorf was shown the complete manuscript. It had been carefully wrapped in cloth and kept in a monk’s room.

Don’t take my word for it – read Tischendorf’s own words, in context, on the matter. Those who disagree with the plain historical record of the man who found the document are in clear error. They must reckon with Tischendorf’s own account. I pray that they do so: [3]

Excerpt from Tischendorf’s Own Account

tischendorfI here pass over in silence the interesting details of my travels—my audience with the pope, Gregory XVI., in May, 1843—my intercourse with Cardinal Mezzofanti, that surprising and celebrated linguist—and I come to the result of my journey to the East. It was in April, 1844, that I embarked at Leghorn for Egypt. The desire which I felt to discover some precious remains of any manuscripts, more especially Biblical, of a date 28which would carry us back to the early times of Christianity, was realized beyond my expectations. It was at the foot of Mount Sinai, in the convent of St. Catherine, that I discovered the pearl of all my researches. In visiting the library of the monastery, in the month of May, 1844, I perceived in the middle of the great hall a large and wide basket full of old parchments; and the librarian, who was a man of information, told me that two heaps of papers like this, mouldered by time, had been already committed to the flames. What was my surprise to find amid this heap of papers a considerable number of sheets of a copy of the Old Testament in Greek, which seemed to me to be one of the most ancient that I had ever seen. The authorities of the convent allowed me to possess myself of a third of these parchments, or about forty-five sheets, all the more readily as they were destined for the fire. But I could not get them to yield up possession of the remainder. The too lively satisfaction which I had displayed, had aroused their suspicions as to the value of this manuscript. I transcribed a page of the text of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and enjoined on the monks to take religious care of all such remains which might fall in their way.

On my return to Saxony there were men of learning who at once appreciated the value of the treasure which I brought back with me. I did not divulge the name of the place where I had found it, in the hopes of returning and recovering the rest of the manuscript. I handed up to the Saxon government my rich collection of oriental manuscripts in return for the payment of all my travelling expenses. I deposited in the library of the university of Leipzig, in the shape of a collection which bears my name, fifty manuscripts, some of which are very rare and interesting. I did the same with the Sinaitic fragments, to which I gave the name of Codex Frederick Augustus, in acknowledgment of the patronage given to me by the king of Saxony; and I published them in Saxony in a sumptuous edition, in which each letter and stroke was exactly reproduced by the aid of lithography.

But these home labors upon the manuscripts which I had already safely garnered, did not allow me to forget the distant treasure which I had discovered. I made use of an influential friend, who then resided at the court of the viceroy of Egypt, to carry on negotiations for procuring the rest of the manuscript. But his attempts were, unfortunately, not successful. “The monks of the convent,” he wrote to me to say, “have, since your departure, learned the value of these sheets of parchment, and will not part with them at any price.”

I resolved, therefore, to return to the East to copy this priceless manuscript. Having set out from, Leipzig in January, 1853, I embarked at Trieste for Egypt, and in the month of February I stood, for the second time, in the convent of Sinai. This second journey was more successful even than the first, from the discoveries that I made of rare Biblical manuscripts; but I was not able to discover any further traces of the treasure of 1844. I forget: I found in a roll of papers a little fragment which, written over on both sides, contained eleven short lines of the first book of Moses, which convinced me that the manuscript originally contained the entire Old Testament, but that the greater part had been long since destroyed.

On my return I reproduced in the first volume of a collection of ancient Christian documents the page of the Sinaitic manuscript which I had transcribed in 1844, without divulging the secret of where I had found it. I confined myself to the statement that I claimed the distinction of having discovered other documents—no matter whether published in Berlin or Oxford—as I assumed that some learned travellers who had visited the convent after me had managed to carry them off.

The question now arose how to turn to use these discoveries. Not to mention a second journey which I made to Paris in 1849, I went through Germany, Switzerland, and England, devoting several years of unceasing labor to a seventh edition of my New Testament. But I felt myself more and more urged to recommence my researches in the East. Several motives, and more especially the deep reverence of all Eastern monasteries for the emperor of Russia, led me, in the autumn of 1856, to submit to the Russian government a plan of a journey for making systematic researches in the East. This proposal only aroused a jealous and fanatical opposition in St. Petersburg. People were astonished that a foreigner and a Protestant should presume to ask the support of the emperor of the Greek and orthodox church for a mission to the East. But the good cause triumphed. The interest which my proposal excited, even within the imperial circle, inclined the emperor in my favor. It obtained his approval in the month of September, 1858, and the funds which I asked for were placed at my disposal. Three months subsequently my seventh edition of the New Testament, which had cost me three years of incessant labor, appeared, and in the commencement of January, 1859, I again set sail for the East.

I cannot here refrain from mentioning the peculiar satisfaction I had experienced a little before this. A learned Englishman, one of my friends, had been sent into the East by his government to discover and purchase old Greek manuscripts, and spared no cost in obtaining them. I had cause to fear, especially for my pearl of the convent of St. Catherine; but I heard that he had not succeeded in acquiring any thing, and had not even gone as far as Sinai; “for,” as he said in his official report, “after the visit of such an antiquarian and critic as Dr. Tischendorf, I could not expect any success.” I saw by this how well advised I had been to reveal to no one my secret of 1844.

By the end of the month of January I had reached the convent of Mount Sinai. The mission with which I was intrusted entitled me to expect every consideration and attention. The prior, on saluting me, expressed a wish that I might succeed in discovering fresh supports for the truth. His kind expression of good will was verified even beyond his expectations.

After having devoted a few days in turning over the manuscripts of the convent, not without alighting here and there on some precious parchment or other, I told my Bedouins, on the 4th of February, to hold themselves in readiness to set out with their dromedaries for Cairo on the 7th, when an entirely unexpected circumstance carried me at once to the goal of all my desires. On the afternoon of this day, I was taking a walk with the steward of the convent in the neighborhood, and as we returned towards sunset, he begged me to take some refreshment with him in his cell. Scarcely had he entered the room when, resuming our former subject of conversation, he said, “And I too have read a Septuagint, i. e., a copy of the Greek translation made by the Seventy;” and so saying, he took down from the corner of the room a bulky kind of volume wrapped up in a red cloth, and laid it before me. I unrolled the cover, and discovered, to my great surprise, not only those very fragments which, fifteen years before, I had taken out of the basket, but also other parts of the Old Testament, the New Testament complete, and in addition, the Epistle of Barnabas and a part of the Pastor of Hermas. Full of joy, which this time I had the self-command to conceal from the steward and the rest of the community, I asked, as if in a careless way, for permission to take the manuscript into my sleeping-chamber, to look over it more at leisure. There by myself, I could give way to the transport of joy which I felt. I knew that I held in my hand the most precious Biblical treasure in existence—a document whose age and importance exceeded that of all the manuscripts which I had ever examined during twenty years’ study of the subject. I cannot now, I confess, recall all the emotions which I felt in that exciting moment, with such a diamond in my possession. Though my lamp was dim and the night cold, I sat down at once to transcribe the Epistle of Barnabas. For two centuries search has been made in vain for the original Greek of the first part of this epistle, which has been only known through a very faulty Latin translation. And yet this letter, from the end of the second down to the beginning of the fourth century, had an extensive authority, since many Christians assigned to it and to the Pastor of Hermas a place side by side with the inspired writings of the New Testament. This was the very reason why these two writings were both thus bound up with the Sinaitic Bible, the transcription of which is to be referred to the first half of the fourth century, and about the time of the first Christian emperor.

Early on the 5th of February, I called upon the steward, and asked permission to take the manuscript with me to Cairo, to have it there transcribed from cover to cover; but the prior had set out only two days before also for Cairo, on his way to Constantinople, to attend at the election of a new archbishop, and one of the monks would not give his consent to my request. What was then to be done? My plans were quickly decided. On the 7th, at sunrise, I took a hasty farewell of the monks, in hopes of reaching Cairo in time to get the prior’s consent. Every mark of attention was shown me on setting out. The Russian flag was hoisted from the convent walls, while the hillsides rang with the echoes of a parting salute, and the most distinguished members of the order escorted me on my way as far as the plain. The following Sunday I reached Cairo, where I was received with the same marks of good-will. The prior, who had not yet set out, at once gave his consent to my request, and also gave instructions to a Bedouin to go and fetch the manuscript with all speed. Mounted on his camel, in nine days he went from Cairo to Sinai and back, and on the 24th of February the priceless treasure was again in my hands. The time was now come at once boldly and without delay to set to work to a task of transcribing no less than a hundred and ten thousand lines, of which a great many were difficult to read, either on account of later corrections or through the ink having faded, and that in a climate where the thermometer, during March, April, and May, is never below 77º Fahrenheit in the shade. No one can say what this cost me in fatigue and exhaustion.

The relation in which I stood to the monastery gave me the opportunity of suggesting to the monks the thought of presenting the original to the emperor of Russia, as the natural protector of the Greek orthodox faith. The proposal was favorably entertained, but an unexpected obstacle arose to prevent its being acted upon. The new archbishop, unanimously elected during Easter week, and whose right it was to give a final decision in such matters, was not yet consecrated, or his nomination even accepted by the Sublime Porte. And while they were waiting for this double solemnity, the patriarch of Jerusalem protested so vigorously against the election, that a three months’ delay must intervene before the election could be ratified and the new archbishop installed. Seeing this, I resolved to set out for Jaffa and Jerusalem.

Just at this time the grand-duke Constantine of Russia, who had taken the deepest interest in my labors, arrived at Jaffa. I accompanied him to Jerusalem. I visited the ancient libraries of the holy city, that of the monastery of Saint Saba, on the shores of the Dead sea, and then those of Beyrout, Ladikia, Smyrna, and Patmos. These fresh researches were attended with the most happy results. At the time desired I returned to Cairo; but here, instead of success, only met with a fresh disappointment. The patriarch of Jerusalem still kept up his opposition; and as he carried it to the most extreme lengths, the five representatives of the convent had to remain at Constantinople, where they sought in vain for an interview with the sultan, to press their rights. Under these circumstances, the monks of Mount Sinai, although willing to do so, were unable to carry out my suggestion.

In this embarrassing state of affairs, the archbishop and his friends entreated me to use my influence on behalf of the convent. I therefore set out at once for Constantinople, with a view of there supporting the case of the five representatives. The prince Lobanow, Russian ambassador to Turkey, received me with the greatest good-will; and as he offered me hospitality in his country-house on the shores of the Bosphorus, I was able the better to attend to the negotiations which had brought me there. But our irreconcilable enemy, the influential and obstinate patriarch of Jerusalem, still had the upper hand. The archbishop was then advised to appeal himself in person to the patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops, and this plan succeeded; for before the end of the year the right of the convent was recognized, and we gained our cause. I myself brought back the news of our success to Cairo, and with it I also brought my own special request, backed with the support of Prince Lobanow.

On the 27th of September I returned to Cairo. The monks and archbishops then warmly expressed their thanks for my zealous efforts in their cause; and the following day I received from them, under the form of a loan, the Sinaitic Bible, to carry it to St. Petersburg, and there to have it copied as accurately as possible.

I set out for Egypt early in October, and on the 19th of November I presented to their imperial majesties, in the Winter Palace at Tsarkoe-Selo, my rich collection of old Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, and other manuscripts, in the middle of which the Sinaitic Bible shone like a crown. I then took the opportunity of submitting to the emperor Alexander II. a proposal of making an edition of this Bible worthy of the work and of the emperor himself, and which should be regarded as one of the greatest undertakings in critical and Biblical study.

I did not feel free to accept the brilliant offers that were made to me to settle finally, or even for a few years, in the Russian capital. It was at Leipzig, therefore, at the end of three years, and after three journeys to St. Petersburg, that I was able to carry to completion the laborious task of producing a fac-simile copy of this codex in four folio volumes.

In the month of October, 1862, I repaired to St. Petersburg to present this edition to their majesties. The emperor, who had liberally provided for the cost, and who approved the proposal of this superb manuscript appearing on the celebration of the Millenary Jubilee of the Russian monarchy, has distributed impressions of it throughout the Christian world; which, without distinction of creed, have expressed their recognition of its value. Even the pope, in an autograph letter, has sent to the editor his congratulations and admiration. It is only a few months ago that the two most celebrated universities of England, Cambridge and Oxford, desired to show me honor by conferring on me their highest academic degree. “I would rather,” said an old man, himself of the highest distinction for learning—“I would rather have discovered this Sinaitic manuscript than the Koh-i-noor of the queen of England.”

But that which I think more highly of than all these flattering distinctions is, the conviction that Providence has given to our age, in which attacks on Christianity are so common, the Sinaitic Bible, to be to us a full and clear light as to what is the word written by God, and to assist us in defending the truth by establishing its authentic form.


[1] Constantine Tischendorf, When Were Our Gospels Written? An Argument by Constantine Tischendorf with a Narrative Discovery of the Sinaitic Manuscript (New York, NY: American Tract Society, 1866), 34. Retrieved electronically from the Christian Classics Etheral Library (CCEL) –  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/tischendorf/gospels.ii.iii.html.

[2] David W. Daniels, “Bible Versions: Your Questions Answered” (Ontario, CA: Chick, 2002). Retrieved electronically from http://www.chick.com/ask/articles/wastebasket.asp. Interestingly, this author discounts Constantine Tischendorf’s own testimony of how he discovered the manuscript and relies upon the second-hand account of another man instead!

[3] This is not even Tischendorf’s full account. There is a larger back-story where he recounts his travels around Europe and the East on a quest for New Testament manuscripts. I didn’t include that here. Feel free to visit the link in the previous footnote and read the entire matter for yourself.

An Embarrassment of Riches – The Reliability of the New Testament

I’ll be starting a series on the preservation of the scriptures soon. In preparation for this, I thought I’d share this neat infographic with you. The bottom line is that we have a huge amount of copies of the New Testament. It is by far the most well-attested book from all of antiquity. This series will focus on God’s providential preservation of His word for His people. In the meantime, this picture illustrates just how many copies of the various New Testament documents we have in comparison to copies of other ancient works.

Find other outstanding infographics at Visual Unit.

nt_reliability1

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #5)

sciptura

This is the final article on my series of the scriptures being the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and practice. The entire series is attached as a PDF here. 

Summary

The question is whether the Scriptures are sufficient. Are they the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life, or is something more needed?

First, it has been shown the Scriptures themselves are very clear that neither Christ nor His apostles tolerated or sanctioned the use of tradition for religious faith and life.

Second, Matthew, Luke, Paul, Peter and Jude relied on Scripture alone for their theology. As Armitage stated, “Christ and his Apostles always appeal directly to the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, and to their co-relative sentiments, facts and precedents, where they are applicable; and where they are not applicable, a new revelation was granted.”[1]

Third, an exposition of several critical Scripture passages demonstrate that (1) Christ condemned the use of tradition, even if derived from Scripture, (2) Scripture is divinely inspired by God and profitable to make the man of God complete, (3) Scripture is the very product of the Spirit of God.

Fourth, the New Testament alone is the only source of authority for church polity

Fifth, in summary, “it is clear that Jesus, his disciples, and the Jewish people in general presupposed Scripture to be not only the infallible record of God’s revelatory acts, but the authoritative, objective link between the prophetic nature of revelation and its fulfillment.”[2]


[1] Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1886), 116.

[2] King, “Holy Scripture,” 42.

Why You Can Rely on the Canon

This is a short interview with Dr. Michael Kruger, author of Canon Revisited, a wonderful book I recommend. He also maintains a very helpful website, Canon Fodder. In this video, Dr. Kruger briefly discusses why Christians can trust the books of the New Testament.  It’s only 8:00 long, so watch it if you have a moment or two . . .

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.

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #1)

open-bible

A critical issue in our increasingly post-modern times is the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Both Roman Catholics with their sacred tradition and Charismatics with their emphasis on continuing revelation via the Holy Spirit give lip-service to the Holy Scriptures. However, to these groups, the Scriptures are not the sole authority for Christian faith and life. This is a significant dividing line, one with profound theological ramifications. Consider the results of a 1980 Gallup poll which sought to determine Christian’s opinions on religious authority. The question was, “If you, yourself, were testing your religious beliefs, which ONE of these four religious authorities would you turn to first?” The results are sobering, even more so when one acknowledges the statistics are 33 years old:[1]

table

The sufficiency of the Scriptures has fallen upon hard times. This series will examine what Scripture itself has to say on the matter. First, some brief statements from both orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics on the sufficiency of Scripture will be provided to set the stage, so to speak. Second, a biblical theology of books by several New Testament writers will be presented and their particular views on the sufficiency of Scripture analyzed in context. Third, an exposition will be presented on several critical passages relating to the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Fourth, the distinctly Baptist (and biblical) position of the New Testament being the sole authority for church polity is presented. Fifth, conclusions will be drawn. It will be demonstrated that the Scriptures alone are the only infallible authority for Christian faith and life.

Brief Statements

The objective principle of Protestantism maintains that the Bible, as the inspired record of revelation, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.[2]

Scripture alone is the inerrant, infallible record of God’s revelation to mankind. But Scripture is more than the record of God’s revelation; it is itself the only infallible, inspired revelation from God that exists today. This is not to say that Scripture is equivalent to the sum total of all revelation that God has been pleased to disclose (Jn 20:30-31; 21:25). But it is to say that Scripture alone constitutes and conveys all that is necessary for God’s glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.[3]

The Reformers did recognize a Christian tradition, but only a Christian tradition based on, and derived from, Scripture, and not one that equaled or even surpassed it in authority.[4]

Roman Catholic theologians recognize two well-springs of divine authority; Scripture and Tradition.

Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal . . . Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.[5]

James Cardinal Gibbons, a 19th century Catholic theologian, wrote:[6]

Now, the Scripture is the great depository of the Word of God. Therefore, the Church is the divinely appointed Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible. For, her office of infallible Guide were superfluous if each individual could interpret the Bible for himself.

The Catholic Church correctly teaches that our Lord and His Apostles included certain important duties of religion which are not recorded by the inspired writers (Jn 21:25) . . . We must conclude that the Scriptures alone cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith because they cannot, at any time, be within the reach of every inquirer; because they are not of themselves clear and intelligible even in matters of the highest importance, and because they do not contain all the truths necessary for salvation.

The next post will be a biblical theology of several books of the New Testament on the matter.


[1] Mike Willis, “The Unread Bible,” Truth Magazine, May 1, 1980, 291-292. http://www.truthmagazine.com/the-unread-bible.

[2] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 7 vols. (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2011), 7:16.

[3] David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, 3 vols. (Battle Ground, WA: Christian Truth, 2001), 1:43.

[4] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, combined ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 169.

[5] Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, O.P., general editor (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1980), 754-755. Quoted in King, Holy Scripture, 50.

[6] James C. Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers, ch. 2. http://www.cathcorn.org/foof/8.html