Questions and Answers … about Scripture

Questions and Answers … about Scripture

I’m writing a short book about what Christians believe by doing an exposition of the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith. This is a beautiful Baptist confession that’s the basis for the GARBC Articles of Faith, and the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message 2000, among others. My audience is the ordinary, interested Christian. I explain the Confession by asking a series of questions of each Article. Here’s the first section …

Article 1

We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction;[1] that it has God for its author, salvation for its end,[2] and truth without any mixture of error for its matter;[3] that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us;[4] and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true centre of Christian union,[5] and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.[6]

1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Article 1

1.1. What does it mean that the men who wrote the Scriptures were “divinely inspired?”

The Apostle Paul said all scripture was “inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), which means He gives it life, animates it, creates it. It means the Holy Spirit guided the authors to write just what He wanted, down to the level of individual word choice, while still retaining each author’s unique personality, style, and voice. God makes us as we are—shaping us from birth, molding our personalities and gifts. This means when He used, say, the Apostle John or Moses to write scripture, He was using special people He’d been preparing for a long time. The Apostle Peter explained spoken prophecy a similar way when he wrote that the Holy Spirit “led” people to speak for God (2 Peter 1:21).

So, this isn’t dictation, as if God seized the Apostle Peter’s hand and guided him like a robot, the way the rat Remy directed the hapless boy Linguini to cook, in the movie Ratatouille. Instead, it seemed to be an almost unconscious partnership, where God provided thoughts and impressions to people, who wrote what He wanted them to write, which is what He’d planned all along.[7] The Holy Spirit worked on people’s hearts and minds, moving them to remember and understand God’s truth, and to record it as He wanted.[8] This is why Luke tells us the Holy Spirit spoke through David (Acts 1:16), and the Apostle Peter referred to the Book of Deuteronomy and said, “God spoke long ago through his holy prophets,” (Acts 3:21).

1.2. In what way is Scripture a “perfect treasure” for us?

Because it has everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). A long time ago, one Baptist theologian wrote “[t]he Bible is the collection of writings which explains to him the life he has found in Christ.”[9] Like a fantasy epic, it slowly unfolds the true story of reality. It tells us how creation began, who we are, why we’re here, what’s wrong in this world, what’s wrong with us, how we find hope, and how this world will end. In this way, it’s a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction.

It is important to note that scripture does nothing in and of itself—it’s simply a vehicle for God to work. In order for this “perfect treasure of heavenly instruction” to work on us, we need a divine encounter + the message of the scripture + an honest reception and acknowledgment by a believing heart. In other words, the bible isn’t an IKEA instruction manual. You can’t read John 3, do what it says by rote, and “be all good.”

There must be an initial divine encounter. God must confront you for salvation in the person of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. He then confronts you for growth as you grow in the faith and read the scripture, applying the message to your life, enabling your heart to receive and be instructed by that message.  

1.3. What does it mean that the Bible has “salvation for its end”?

It means the Bible’s purpose is to tell us about the salvation God offers through Jesus Christ. There are many ways to sum up the Bible’s message. But, the basic “story” is that God is choosing and rescuing a special people to be with Him forever in His future kingdom community. Why is God saving or “rescuing” people? John 3:16 doesn’t exist for its own sake—it’s in aid of something more … something like a kingdom community. Revelation 21-22 shows us this.

Here is one way to picture the Bible’s story of “salvation for community” as an eight-episode mini-series:

1.4. Truth without any mixture of error? Is the Bible without error?

Solomon said God’s words were “tried and true, a shield for those who take refuge in Him,” (Prov 30:5). His promises are pure (Ps 12:6). The first thing to know about God’s word is that it’s true (Ps 119:160). Jesus said His word is truth (Jn 17:17). The Apostle Paul declared that God must be true, even if every person on earth is a liar (Rom 3:4).

Some Christians prefer to say the Scriptures have no errors and are therefore “inerrant.” But, as the passages above suggest, it’s more helpful to say the Scriptures are totally truthful in all they affirm, and are therefore His safe and reliable guide for His adopted children. This is more helpful because you’re framing it in a positive manner. You could say your child is “never bad.” But, it’s better to say “Peter is a nice, sweet boy.” It’s the same way with God’s word—it’s totally truthful and reliable.

The Scriptures came to us from many writers over 1,500 years. Each book came from the unique personality of its writer, each book uses the culture of its own time as the vehicle for revelation, and the writers used very different genres or styles.[10] This means we must take very good care to be sure we’re understanding it correctly, according to those personalities, cultures, and genre.[11]

For example, regarding personality, the Apostle Paul was a very educated man, which is why he wrote the Letter to the Romans and Peter did not. On culture, you’ll find it difficult to understand the prophet Hosea’s thunderous denunciation of the Northern Kingdom unless you know that he wrote it during Jeroboam II’s reign, when that kingdom was at its secular and economic zenith. When it comes to genre, if you understand that, say, Zechariah and Revelation were written in an apocalyptic style that’s intended to paint large, abstract pictures with startling imagery using figures that made sense to their own authors, in their own time … then you won’t spend time “decoding” the color of horses (Zech 1:7-17) or looking for a woman on top of a seven-headed monster (Rev 17:3f).  

The problem is when people confuse their interpretation of the Bible with the Bible itself. If you do that, when you find someone who has a different interpretation, you might say, “he doesn’t believe the Bible!” Maybe. Or, maybe not! You must always remember two things; (1) your interpretation is not always the same thing as the Bible, and (2) some questions are really hard, and scriptural evidence may indicate more than one reasonable conclusion.

Finally, remember that the scriptures aren’t an encyclopedia, a geology book, or an astronomy text. They’re a collection of books which tell us how we got here, what went wrong, how God can rescue us, and what His plans are. God could have given us inspired texts about biology, physics, chemistry, and more. But, He didn’t. He gave us revelation that is “a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction” which has “salvation for its end.” Evaluate its total truthfulness in that light.  “We must let the Bible tell us its own story and not hold it to false standards and tests.”[12]

1.5. What are the principles by which God will judge us all, one day?

There are two great questions every person will face: (1) have you repented and believed the Gospel, and if so, (2) have you served Christ with your life since your conversion?

You can think of the first question as a screening process—those who do not pledge loyalty to Christ don’t get the second question. The first question determines eternal destiny. The second question is about your faithfulness as Christ’s servant during the rest of your earthly life—your life will show what’s in your heart (Mt 12:33-35, 15:16-20, 16:24-25).

Jesus was clear about the first question. He told people to repent and believe His good news (Mk 1:15). His Gospel was about more than individual salvation; it was the promise to bring justice to a new society and liberate the oppressed (Isa 11:1-12; esp. v.4; Ps 72:4), to kill the wicked (Isa 11:4), to reverse the curse of the Fall (Isa 35:5-6; Mt 11:2-6)—all on the condition of loyalty, allegiance, of faith. It was the promise to fix this world and to fix each of us—everyone who comes for rescue. If you don’t believe the Son, God’s angry judgment remains on you (Jn 3:36).

The second great principle is about what a Christians builds atop the foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:10-15). You’re a Christian—now what? What kind of “house” are you building on that foundation; a cheap one or a quality one? Do you use the cheapest materials, like wood, grass or hay? Or, do you use the finest ones—gold, silver, precious stones?

Christians often want to know what these “gold, silver, and precious stones” are! This isn’t the place to make a list, but surely things like (1) reading God’s word, (2) prayer, (3) a life of repentance, (4) a thirst for God to gradually change your heart, mind, and life to reflect Christ’s image, (5) membership in and service to your church community, and (6) sharing the Good News (which can take a whole lot of forms) must be on the list.

The scriptures tell us about all of this, in so many ways. It reveals these two great principles by which Christ will judge us.

1.6. What does it mean that the Bible is the “true center of Christian union?”

Christians can theoretically be on the same page, because we have the same book. The Apostle Paul said, “I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose,” (1 Cor 1:10). How do we overcome rivalries? By bowing down, together, under the authority of God through the scriptures. By evaluating our denominational traditions and habits through the filter of the Word.

In another place, Paul wrote this:

… make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

Ephesians 4:3-6

How can Christians from different traditions not see themselves as enemies, but as family? How to preserve unity? By remembering that we’re each part of one body, because God called us by the same hope. There is one, triune Lord to love, one faith in Christ to confess, one baptism by the Spirit that changes our hearts, and one God the Father of us all. Where do we learn about all this, so we can be brought back to these truths? In the scriptures. This is why the Bible is the true center of Christian union. It’s the reference point for all matters of faith and life.

The question inevitably comes—why, then, are there so many Christian denominations? Well, because we disagree about interpretations of that faith and life. These are inter-family disputes that don’t change the fact that all true Christians are family. It’s a sad thing that some believers forget that.

The next question—who is a true Christian? How do we know who is inside the family, so we know with whom we ought to seek union? If a person has repented, believed the Gospel, and has Christian fruit in her life as a mark of the new birth, then she is a Christian.  

1.7. Says who? The Bible as the “supreme standard.”

Teachers are good. Pastors are called by God. Books are a blessing. But, the only infallible source of authority for the Christian life are the scriptures. This is why the bible is the “supreme standard” by which you measure anything else.


[1] 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Sam. 23:2; Acts 1:16; 3:21; John 10:35; Luke 16:29–31; Psa. 119:111; Rom. 3:1. 2.

[2] 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 1:10–12; Acts 11:14; Rom. 1:16; Mark 16:16; John 5:38, 39.

[3] Prov. 30:5, 6; John 17:17; Rev. 22:18, 19; Rom. 3:4.

[4] Rom. 2:12; John 12:47, 48; 1 Cor. 4:3, 4; Luke 10:10–16; 12:47, 48.

[5] Phil. 3:6; Eph. 4:3–6; Phil. 2:1, 2; 1 Cor. 1:10; 1 Pet. 4:11.

[6] 1 John 4:1; Isa. 8:20; 1 Thess. 5:21; 2 Cor. 13:5; Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:6; Jude 3:5; Eph. 6:17; Psa. 119:59, 60; Phil. 1:9–11.

[7] See Augustus H. Strong’s discussion of the “dynamic theory” of scriptural inspiration, in Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), pp. 196, 211f. 

[8] Alvah Hovey, Manual of Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (New York: Silver, Burdett and Co., 1900), p. 63.  

[9] Edgar Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression (Philadelphia: Roger Williams Press, 1917), p. 153.

[10] For more on this, see especially Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), pp. 201-214. For specific principles at the intersection of science and scripture, see Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), pp. 17-117, 347-351.

[11] Donald Bloesch wrote, “The truthfulness of the Bible resides in the divine author of Scripture who speaks in and through the words of human authors, who ipso facto reflect the limitations and ambiguities of their cultural and historical milieu,” (Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation (Downers Grove: IVP, 1994), p. 37).

[12] Mullins, Christian Religion, p. 153. Blosech makes a similar point, “The biblical text is entirely truthful; when it is seen in relation to its divine center, God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ,” (Holy Scripture, p. 37).

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.

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #3b)

10reasons

This is Part #3b on my series about the absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 set the stage. Parts #2a and #2b examined what several books in the New Testament had to say on the subject. Part #3a, along with this post, examine several critical passages which teach the doctrine of sola scriptura.

2 Peter 1:16-21

In this passage, Peter shows great concern that Christians “confirm their calling and election,” (2 Pet 1:10). He listed several traits (2 Pet 1:5-7) which should be the practical outworking of a fruitful life in Christ (2 Pet 1:8). Peter endeavored to constantly remind Christians of these points (2 Pet 1:12-15), and then set out to demonstrate the validity of the truth he preached.

Peter made it very clear that he and the other apostles “did not follow cleverly devised myths” when they preached of the second coming of Christ, and reminded his readers he was an eyewitness of His majesty! (2 Pet 1:16). Once again, deviation from a concrete, propositional truth is a negative thing to the NT evangelists. Peter is stressing the legitimacy of the doctrine he preached, and he did so by affirming that it was truthful and in accordance with actual events. Peter recounted what he saw on the Mount of Transfiguration, when he saw the glorified Christ and heard the voice of God the Father issuing His seal of approval on His Son’s ministry. His Second Coming will happen. Peter assures his audience he knows this to be true because he witnessed God’s approval on His Son (2 Pet 1:18).

Implicitly, then, the whole of the Gospel message is also true and correct. Peter makes this very connection when he remarks, “and we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed,” (2 Pet 1:19a). Peter’s eyewitness testimony confirms the validity, accuracy and above all the sufficiency of the OT Scriptures – the transfiguration confirms the eventual fulfillment of the prophesies.[1] Peter uses the authority of the OT Scriptures alone to confirm the new mystery of the church age and the Gospel of Christ. This is progressive revelation once again; the new revelation in perfect accord with the old.

Meanwhile, as Christians wait for that blessed day (Titus 2:13), Peter calls his readers back to the sacred Scriptures, encompassing both the Hebrew Scriptures and the new revelation of the apostles. He tells them to “pay attention” to them, “as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts,” (2 Pet 1:19b). “As a light, God’s word has validity and authority.”[2]

It is significant that Peter directs his readers only to God’s unshakable word for comfort and guidance in Christian life. Calvin remarked,

His object only was to teach us that the whole course of our life ought to be guided by God’s word; for otherwise we must be involved on every side in the darkness of ignorance; and the Lord does not shine on us, except when we take his word as our light.[3]

Peter continued onward and emphasized the source of Scripture; “no prophesy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation,” (2 Pet 1:20). Again, it is not a cunningly devised fable. It is divinely inspired. It is propositional truth. No true prophesy “was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet 1:21). “To bear” or “to guide” translates the Greek word phero.[4] As Scripture authors penned their works, they were impelled, borne along and guided by the Spirit. “The metaphor here is of Prophets raising their sails, the Holy Spirit filling them and carrying their craft along in the direction He wished.”[5] This, along with 2 Tim 3:16-17, is clear testimony to the divine nature, authority and absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures.

The next post will establish that the New Testament is the sole, infallible authority for church polity. It comes from a distinctly Baptist perspective because, well . . . I’m a Baptist! 


[1] Edwin A. Blum, 2 Peter, vol. 12, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 274.

[2] Roger M. Raymer, 2 Peter, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. J.F. Walvoord and R. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 868.

[3] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 388.

[4] The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Logos Bible Software, 2011.

[5] King, Holy Scripture, 95.

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #2a)

sola scriptura

This is the second of a multi-part series on the sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 laid the groundwork and gave some brief summary statements. This and the next post will present a brief look at several books of the New Testament and what they have to say about the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. 

Biblical Theology

There is not sufficient space to devote to a Biblical Theology of the entire New Testament. Selected books will be covered which represent a broad spectrum of New Testament documents and authors.[1]

Matthew

The genealogy implicitly recognizes the authority of the OT to prove Christ’s deity (Mt 1:1-17). Matthew is also very careful to point out fulfilled prophesy.[2] The chief priests and the scribes whom Herod consulted also appealed to the Scriptures (Mt 2:4-6). Herod later gave the Scriptures their due authority in his attempt to destroy the Christ child (Mt 2:16). John the Baptist also gave due weight to OT prophesy in his query about Jesus (Mt 11:2-3). John based his condemnation of Herod’s marriage to his half-brother’s wife on OT law (Mt 14:4b).

Christ quoted Scripture alone to refute Satan’s devices during His temptation in the wilderness.[3] He did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Mt 5:17). Jesus had implicit respect for the OT, quoted it frequently[4] and affirmed that all the OT will be accomplished (Mt 5:18; 13:17; 26:53-54, 56). Christ instructed a leper He healed to present himself to the priest in accordance with OT law (Mt 8:4). Christ upheld the OT divorce laws (Mt 19:1-12). He also instructed the rich young ruler to keep all the commandments (Mt 19:16-22).

Christ’s ministry was interpreted by contemporary believers within the context of the OT.[5] They knew of no other source of legitimate authority. Peter, for example, related that some people believed Christ was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or another OT prophet (Mt 16:13-14). It is clear the people were searching the OT for the proper interpretative context about Jesus. The demons themselves certainly interpreted Christ in this fashion! (Mk 5:1-13).

During the Sermon on the Mount, Christ applied OT law to everyday life in the areas of anger (Mt 5:21-26), lust (Mt 5:27-30), divorce (Mt 5:31-32), uttering oaths (Mt 5:33-37), retaliation (38-42), love for your enemies (Mt 5:43-48) and social justice (Mt 7:12). Christ appealed to the OT to rebuke the Pharisees’ erroneous views of the Sabbath (Mt 12:3-8) and to Jonah to illustrate the three days between His death and resurrection (Mt 12:40).

Though not in the Gospel of Matthew, the clear testimony of Christ on the road to Emmaus cannot be neglected. Two dejected disciples were traveling home, their hope in Christ lost. Jesus, in a disguised state, asks what troubles them. The disciples, astonished, relate the details of Christ’s ministry. They admit they are perplexed and confused by the empty tomb, and lament they “had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21a). Christ’s response underscores the authority, validity and sufficiency of the Scriptures. Moreover, He chastened His disciples for not searching the Scriptures more diligently. Their answers were there!

And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Lk 24:25-27).

Christ proved Himself from the Scriptures. There is nothing done by Christ which contradicts prophesy which had come beforehand. He emphasizes this point to His disciples shortly thereafter; “these are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled,” (Lk 24:44).

Acts

Luke also appealed to fulfilled prophesy,[6] most significantly the fact of Christ’s crucifixion (Acts 3:18) as part of God’s larger plan for restoration of His creation (Acts 3:21).

It is significant that Christ’s apostles looked to the OT Scripture as the interpretative key for present-day events (Acts 2:30-31; 7:1-51). They continued to rely on the OT as they experienced miraculous visions (Acts 10:9-16), deliverance from prison (Acts 12:6-19) and preached to Jews that Christ was the promised Messiah (Acts 13:13-52).

Peter tied Christ definitively to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, calling Jesus God’s “servant” (Acts 3:13), the “Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14) and the “Author of life” (Acts 3:15). He based his initial objection to eating unclean foods on Jewish dietary laws from the OT (Acts 10:14).

The Jerusalem Council was called due to disagreement over whether Gentile converts had to be circumcised (Acts 15:1-2). This is an explicit statement about the authority the Hebrew Scriptures had to the early Christians.

Paul’s “reasoned” with Jews from the Scriptures in Thessalonica (and in Athens – 17:17), “explaining and proving” Christ from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2-3). Paul did not base his theology only on the new revelation he received from Christ (Gal 1:12); he argued that Christ fulfilled the OT prophesies from the Scriptures. This is very clear in Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill, a masterful exposition and synthesis of doctrine (Acts 17:22-34)

Devout Jews in Berea examined “the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so,” (Acts 17:11) as Paul preached Christ in the community. Paul expressed regret for unknowingly speaking harshly to the high priest in Jerusalem (Acts 23:4-5) in violation of OT law. Stephen’s opponents used the benchmark of the OT to condemn Stephen to be stoned for blasphemy – “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God,” (Acts 6:11). They did likewise to Paul (Acts 18:13), “this man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.”[7]

In Caesarea, Tertullus accused of Paul of profaning the temple by His doctrine at a hearing before Felix (Acts 24:5-7). In his own defense, Paul firmly anchored his doctrine on the OT Scriptures (Acts 24:14-15).[8] The Ethiopian eunuch was convicted in his heart by a reading of Isa 53:7 (Acts 8:26-40).

Apollos’ credential to preach the Gospel was that he was “competent in the Scriptures,” (Acts 18:24b). After the way of God had been explained more accurately to him (Acts 18:26), Luke spoke glowingly of how Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus,” (Acts 18:28).


[1] For sake of space, Hebrews and the writings of John are not covered. Likewise, space did not allow for an examination of all four Gospels. Matthew therefore stands here as broadly representative of the four.

[2] Mt (1:22-23); (2:14-15, 17, 23); (3:3); (4:14-16); (8:17); (11:10, 13-14); (12:17-21); (13:14-15, 35); (15:7-9); (21:4-5); (27:9-10).

[3] Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13.

[4] Mt (21:13, 16, 42); (22:32, 37-39, 43-47); (24:15, 37-39).

[5] Mt (16:13-14); (17:4, 10); (21:9-11); (22:34-40); (the reaction of the Sanhedrin – Mt 26:63-66).

[6] Acts (1:16, 20); (2:16-21, 25-28, 34-35); (3:17-26); (4:25-26); (7:42-43, 49-50); (13:33-35, 41, 47); (15:16-17 – this author believes James was merely arguing that Amos’ prophesy agrees with what was happening. He was not arguing Amos’ prophesy was being fulfilled); (28:26-27).

[7] See also Acts 21:20-22, 27-30.

[8] See also Paul’s defense of himself before Agrippa (Acts 26:4-8, 22-23) and among fellow Jews at Rome (Acts 28:17-24).

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