Monday, August 30, 2010

Embracing the Sufficiency of Scripture

As was growing up in the evangelical world, I was taught that the bible was inspired, authoritative, infallible, and inerrant. I'm sure those exact words weren't always used, but the concepts behind them were ingrained in me. There was never any doubt that the bible was a different kind of book. It was very special. It was given by God to us to instruct us in what He has done for us and how we should live in light of this. These truths were drilled into me. I'm glad they were.

There is another truth about the bible that I was never taught about as a child or teen. In fact, I never really thought about it until the last decade or so. The truth I'm talking about is the sufficiency of scripture. Frankly, I only began thinking seriously about this issue when I went to seminary. I suppose that's because our chapel speakers preached about it a lot.

What we are talking about is whether or not the bible tells us all we need to know about what we as Christians should believe and how we should live this out. In other words, is the bible enough or do we need other things?

This got me asking what the bible has to say about itself in this area. Does the bible tell us that it is sufficient?

Below are a few verses that I believe do tell us that scripture is sufficient for us:

Acts 17:25, "...nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything." (emphasis mine)

II Timothy 3:14-17, "But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (emphasis mine)

II Peter 1:3, "His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue." (emphasis mine)

These passages seem to tell us that the bible is, in fact, sufficient for us in knowing what we must believe and how we must live.

As I have mentioned before, Protestant churches in this country have been terribly inconsistent in their view of the sufficiency of scripture. These churches typically hold to sufficiency when it comes to issues of salvation, but reject sufficiency when it comes to the practice of the church. They may not admit this, but any quick look at the modern, institutional church will show that it doesn't look much like what we see in the bible. (I've written previously about sufficiency as it relates specifically to the church).

As I look at my own life, I realize that I've been inconsistent, too. My beliefs (virgin birth, deity of Christ, Jesus' literal bodily resurrection, second coming, heaven and hell, etc.) line up nicely with scripture. As far as I know, what I believe suggests that the bible is sufficient.

Like the church in general, where I fall short of sufficiency is in how I live my life. In other words, I live in a way that is not consistent with the teachings of scripture. Let me list for you some verses just from the Sermon on the Mount that I quite simply have not been living out:

Matthew 5:38-44, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."

Matthew 6:31-33, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

Matthew 7:12, "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

These above verses are very convicting to me because I haven't been living them out. I need to do so.

There is a direct connection between the sufficiency of scripture and obedience.

If we say we believe that scripture is sufficient, but we don't live according to this, then we either haven't thought things through or we are just disobeying (or both).

What then should we do?

I'm determined to embrace the sufficiency of the bible. I won't have to alter much of what I believe about the great doctrines of the faith. However, I do need to make some changes in how I treat other people. I know that I need to love others much more than I do now - and that with sacrificial, self-giving love.

As for church practice, I'm determined to look to the scriptures alone as well. These changes aren't so easy to make because they involve more people than just me. It will undoubtedly lead to some interesting conversations.

To sum up, I'm tired of substituting man's ideas into my life in place of God's truths. This applies to how I live individually and as part of the church.

I'm determined to embrace the sufficiency of scripture in a real way. What about you?


Alan Knox said...


Just a question... these passages were written when all of Scripture was not written. If they demonstrate sufficiency, then wouldn't it be the sufficiency of the Scriptures that they had? In other words, if they are saying that their Scripture are sufficient, then why do we need the additional books and letters that were written afterwards?


Eric said...


Interesting question. The OT was sufficient until Christ came along. Then we received the NT, which simply expanded on the OT's ideas. We are all glad to have the NT, but we make the mistake of thinking that it introduces radically new ideas. For example, when Jesus is asked about the Great Commandment of the law, He quotes from Deut. and Leviticus. If we apply those principles (love of God and love of man) to our lives, we will live God-honoring lives.