Guest Post: The Sufficiency of Scripture
I will start of by apologizing for yesterday’s mess. A number of articles were sent to your email, some of which were in unfamiliar languages. We had a small, irreversible accident during revamp. We are sorry for the nuisance caused.
Today’s guest post is from a friend and an avid doctrine-lover. His name is Wilson Murigi. I hope that the article will produce in you a high regard for God’s word and in turn cause you to worship reverentially.
I picked up a systematic theology book for the first time and it was somewhat amusing to note that The doctrine of God was not the first chapter. The doctrine of God is the foundation on which everything else is built, and the right understanding of God cannot be overstated. All our practices are governed by our idea of who God is. But the doctrine of Scripture comes first in the systematic study of theology, for the knowledge of God must be based on Scripture. A right understanding of God thus demands a right understanding of Scripture.
There are four essential characteristics of Scripture highlighted by the traditional protestant theologians; the Sufficiency, the Clarity, the Authority, and the Necessity of Scripture. Sufficiency of scripture, the teaching that Scripture contains everything necessary for salvation and godliness with no need for fresh revelation from God, is the one that most Christians struggle with. As Kevin DeYoung puts it, “if authority is the liberal problem, clarity the postmodern problem, and necessity the problem for atheists and agnostics, then sufficiency is the attribute most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians.” We all have, I believe, felt that the scripture does not quite handle the nitty-gritty of our daily lives. We are fascinated by those elusive testimonies about some people who died and spent 23 minutes in hell or heaven, and video clips of many claiming to have some special message from God have become quite common.
This article is written with much tenderness to fellow Christians who struggle with the sufficiency of Scripture in one way or another. My wish is to give a general basis for the sufficiency of Scripture. It requires that we examine, first of all, why we have the Scripture in the first place. It is necessary to take a step back and have a panoramic perspective of all things.
A step back always takes us to God – for “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1). We cannot reach further beyond that. God, the head of the Holy Trinity, according to the counsel of His own will, created the universe and everything thereof for the praise of His glory. Man was created as a special part of creation not only because he is the guardian of creation, but also because he bears God’s image. He, therefore, could have a personal relationship with God. As the story unravels, it was ruined by sin. Man was banished out of God’s presence with a curse, but not without a blessed hope in the promise of a Seed who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15).
The biblical narrative is the unfolding of this promise, whose purpose is to redeem man from sin and restore his relationship with God to an even higher degree which was the intention even before creation (Ephesians 1:3). God does this by revealing Himself to man and bringing him to a saving knowledge that involves the realization of his neediness for salvation, stemming from his sinfulness.
God reveals himself in two main ways. The first one is the general revelation which is in the things He created (Psalms 19). The purpose of general revelation is to deprive humans of any excuses for rejection of God (Romans 1:20). However, it is lacking in that it does not reveal God’s plan for salvation and begs for a second way, the particular revelation. Here, God reveals himself to man by speaking his language. The Old Testament’s narrative shows God calling particular people, over time, who did not know Him. He reveals to them His character through words and acts. Israel as a nation is born and set apart as the firstborn among nations. God progressively reveals himself to them through acts such as the exodus from Egypt. He also uses different agents such as prophets as His mouthpiece to communicate His will to them.
Though it might not have been apparent at that time, there is no haphazardness in God’s actions. He is working out the promise in Genesis 3:15 and later as we read the whole counsel, we can vividly see Christ in all the narratives of the Old Testament.
The book of Hebrews was written to Christians with a Jewish background who struggled with the new faith, and faced temptations to go back to Judaism. It shows the supremacy of Christ as the ultimate Redeemer anticipated in the Old Testament. The Epistle demonstrates the completeness of the work of Christ in God’s purpose for revelation and redemption. Christ is the ultimate revelation of God, for he is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3a). He is the ultimate redeemer for he made purification for sin and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty (Hebrews 1:3b).
These two ideas [revelation and redemption] must never be separated. The ultimate reason why God reveals Himself to man is to save him, which He has fully achieved in Christ. God has been previously speaking to our forefather by prophets, but in these days He has spoken to us through His Son who is the ultimate revelation (Hebrews 1:1).
The sufficiency of the redemptive work of Christ is the basis for the sufficiency of Scripture. God, in His wisdom, allowed for the recording and preservation of this progressive revelation in Scripture. The Old Testament bears this record in its books. It was a preparation for the New Testament. Different generations have been seeing the unfolding of God’s work which climaxed at Calvary. The coming of Christ leaves no more redemptive work at hand and hence no more recording. There is also no knowledge of God beyond what is in Christ (John 14:9, 17:3). Christ is the center of redemptive history. As our forefathers looked forward to the coming of Christ, we look back on the finished work of Christ.
Now, to put the New Testament in the overall context of the redemptive history, and to establish the basis for its completeness and sufficiency, a word needs to be said about the Apostles. This is particularly urgent today for there are so many who claim to be Apostles. Apostleship is a biblical office established by the Holy Spirit just like that of the prophets (Ephesians 4:11). One did not simply decide to be one (Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:1). Apostles were a special group of people handpicked by Jesus Christ himself to be the foundation on which the church would be built (Ephesian 2:20). At the very minimum, the replacement of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1) reveals that a vital qualification for apostleship was seeing the risen Christ, a requirement that disqualifies all the present-day Apostles.
The foundational work of the apostles involved teaching others what Christ taught them and especially reconciling the progressive revelation of the Old Testament to the life and the work of Christ. Their writings, and theirs only, equates to that of the Old Testament writers (2 Peter 3:16). The test for the canonicity of the New Testament was apostolic authorship or affirmation. The mere fact that they are no longer present means that what is written cannot and should not be added.
Much can be said about this and I would recommend every diligent Christian to seriously consider these things. God’s redemptive work is complete and sufficient and there is nothing that remains unfinished. Similarly, the word of God is complete and sufficient. No one needs anything else besides what is written to have complete knowledge of God that is sufficient for salvation. It is sufficient for reproof and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). God is not revealing anything else beyond that.
Such a claim is interpreted as an insinuation that God no longer speaks. God is still speaking. He is speaking primarily and exclusively through His written word which is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). Precision demands that it be stated that God “reveals” nothing beyond the “illumination” of what he has already revealed in Scripture. Private revelations must be tested against Scripture. John Owen’s test is helpful. “If they agree with Scripture they are needless [and should be thrown away]. If they disagree they are false [and should be thrown away too].” All cultic movements and every form of biblical mischief can be in one way or another traced to some claims of novel revelations.
A disdain for private revelation is not quenching the Holy Spirit but honoring him. Lest we forget, He is the author of Scripture (1 Peter 1:21).
It is so easy to theoretically embrace and give lip service to the sufficiency of Scripture but to in practice be preoccupied with emotional ecstasies and the seeking of a personal “word from God”. More often than not, “the Lord told me” is followed by dangerous lies that are based on the pride of the speaker. This yields nothing but ungodly chaos evident in the world’s charismatic movement. “God told me” can never be a replacement with the most God-honoring and beautiful words, “the Word of God says”, said by a countless number of God’s servants in the past and the present, who have refused to feed their sheep with nothing but the word of God. Scripture alone is enough.