THE SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 1, paras 6-10)
Who wrote the Bible? You need to be careful how you answer that question. God wrote the Bible. But He used men to write down the words. So, did God dictate to men what He wanted them to write? No, because when we read through the Bible we can detect something of the personality of each of the over forty men who, over sixteen hundred years, were involved in the writing of it. Take the four Gospels, for instance. Each of the Gospels is written from a different perspective. Each of the writers is looking at different aspects of the same events.
So then, was the Bible a joint effort between God and men, both having input? No! Each man said exactly what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. However, they said exactly what the Sovereign God wanted them to say.
Peter says, “…holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” 1 Peter 1:21b. So, we see then that it was the Holy Spirit who was moving these holy men to speak, and in certain instances, write. In other words, the men were doing the speaking. But the words they were speaking were the words the Holy Spirit wanted them to speak.
What we’re trying to say is that the holy men weren’t in a trance, or anything like that. Rather each spoke and wrote using his own personality. It’s simply that the Holy Spirit somehow had them utter what He wanted them to utter.
Take a look at David, the sweet psalmist of Israel. He says in 2 Samuel 23:2, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.” So, David knew that the Spirit of the LORD was speaking by him. He knew that it was the Word of the Spirit that was on his tongue. So we ask the question again, Who wrote the Bible? And we answer again “…holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
If you were to look through the Book of Psalms you’d see that many have the heading “A Psalm of David.” But although David penned these psalms, they are part of the infallible Word of God. As Paul says to Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” 2 Tim. 3:16a, which is to say all Scripture is God-breathed.
Now, I want you to hold on to the “God-breathed” aspect of the Scriptures. If you know anything about the Holy Spirit you’ll know that the Older and Newer Testament word for “spirit” is the same as for breath – wind – breeze – a gust of air etc. The Spirit is the “Breath” of God. When we speak we breathe out our words. Our words are on our breath. God speaks to us by His Holy Spirit. The Scriptures, if you will, are words on God’s “breath.” Therefore, Scripture has the authority of God because it is God-breathed.
The Intention of the Scriptures
The Scriptures are God speaking to us by His Holy Spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit speaks – we’ve already seen that in our introduction. But a couple of examples might be in order. Luke in the Book of Acts says, “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers…” Acts 28:25. And Paul says to Timothy, “Now the Spirit expressly says in latter times…” 1 Tim. 4:1. So, we need not dispute the fact that the Holy Spirit speaks. The Holy Spirit is God, and God speaks!
Now then, what was the Holy Spirit’s intention for having His Word written down? Did the Holy Spirit have the Scriptures written as a construction-manual for high towers? Did He write the sixty-six books of the Bible to teach us how to milk cows, cut hair? To be sure, you’ll find general principles pertaining to these things in the Bible. But the Scriptures were breathed-out by God for a specific intent or purpose.
The Westminster Confession of Faith says the following about the intention of Scripture: “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…” WCF 1:6. We would all agree then that the Scriptures reveal everything we need to know for: a) Our getting saved. b) Faith, i.e., what we are to believe concerning God and our salvation. And c) How we are to live our lives to the glory of God.
We see then that the intent of the Holy Spirit giving us the Scriptures was to let us know how to glorify God and thus enjoy fellowship with Him. As the Apostle Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3:15, “…from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
We see then that the Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation. So, the question we need to answer is this: Is the Bible sufficient to give us all the information we need for these things, or do we need extra revelation?
Well, we don’t believe we need any extra-revelation because the canon of Scripture is closed. There’s clear warning at the end of the Bible not to add to, or take away from, the Word of God, Rev. 22:18&19. And what about where Paul says to Timothy, “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” 2 Tim. 3:16&17.
So, we see that not only does the Apostle Paul believe in the authority of the Scriptures, he also believes in the sufficiency of the Scriptures. He believes that they are sufficient for:
1. Doctrine, i.e., teaching.
2. Reproof, i.e., rebuking.
3. Correction, i.e., correcting faults.
4. Instruction or training in righteousness. What for? So that the man have God can be complete, i.e., perfect. So that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work, i.e., thoroughly equipped to be about the business of glorifying God!
So, the sixty-six books of the Bible are sufficient to fulfil the Holy Spirit’s intention. Therefore God breathed out His Word so that people would be complete, i.e., perfect! So we ask the obvious question: How can the man of God be fully fitted for every good work if the Bible itself is not complete? That’s the question that necessarily springs to mind, isn’t it? How can the man of God be complete if the Bible is incomplete?
So we see then that the Bible must of necessity contain the whole counsel of God, which is to say that the Bible reveals everything we need to know for God’s glory, our salvation, faith and life. To be sure, the Bible doesn’t give us every little detail of every little thing. For instance, the Bible doesn’t explicitly state in any one verse that the worship day has changed. But it is easily deduced from Scripture that the first day of the week is the Christian Sabbath. For that’s the day the Saviour rose from the dead. The first day of the week is the day He met His Disciples after His resurrection. He met with them again on the first day of the week a week later. He poured out the Holy Spirit on His Church on the first day of the week. He meets with us by His Spirit every first day of the week when we gather to worship God.
But, for all that, when it comes to the exact time or hour for worship during the first day of the week, it is left to the light of nature and Christian prudence. In other words, though the Bible tells us the day of worship, it lets use our common sense for the worship times.
Now, here’s the thing – even though the whole counsel of God is revealed in Scripture. Even though He has revealed all things that are necessary for us to glorify Him. Even though He’s had the way of salvation written down in Scripture. Even though He has inscripturated what we need to know for faith and life. Even though we find things expressly laid out in Scripture or have to do a bit of digging around, when it comes to personal salvation the Holy Spirit must work in the person’s heart.
The Holy Spirit wrote the Bible, and He wrote it for a purpose. We have seen that the Scriptures are intended for the Glory of God and the Salvation of Man. Therefore, the Word of God is the means through which the Spirit saves the person.
Jesus says in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” So the Holy Spirit would have us search the Scriptures. But He wouldn’t have us rest simply after having searched the Scriptures. Rather He would have us rest in the One of whom the Scriptures testify, i.e., Jesus Christ. Therefore the Holy Spirit is speaking of the life, death, resurrection, ascension and kingdom of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures so that we will come to Jesus for eternal life. Didn’t Jesus say of the Holy Spirit, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” John 15:26.
So, the Holy Scriptures testify of Jesus Christ and His works. And the Holy Spirit testifies of Jesus Christ and His works. And why should this surprise us when it was the Holy Spirit who wrote the Scriptures! Therefore, the Spirit and the Word are needed for the individual to receive the salvation purchased by Christ’s cross.
The Spirit has to work savingly in a person’s heart before that person is saved. This He does by illuminating the hearer of the Word’s mind. Or, to put it another way, the Spirit must, by His grace, grant a saving understanding before the person will believe and be saved.
Why can’t we just read the Bible or hear the Word preached and save ourselves? Well, how about we let Paul explain it to us. He says in 1 Corinthians 2:10 that God has revealed through His Spirit the types of things we’ve been talking about. Then he says in that verse and following, “For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.”
Let’s hold it there before we move on. God is not a man. God is God. A man knows his own thoughts by his own spirit which is in him. But he cannot penetrate the mind of God. Or to put it another way, man on his own cannot understand the deep thoughts of God. As the spirit of the man knows the thoughts or the things of the man, so the Spirit of God knows the thoughts or things of God. But because God is God and not a man, how can a man know the things of God or understand the things of God unless the Holy Spirit gives him illumination?
God, by His grace, needs to grant the man an understanding. That’s why Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, “Now we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things we have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
So we see then, first you need to receive the Spirit of God. What for? So that we might know the things freely given us by God – such as salvation. Why can’t the natural man see them? Or, why can’t we see these things on our own without the Holy Spirit? Well, it’s because these things are spiritual things – the things of God. And unless and until we receive the Holy Spirit we will remain spiritually dead, i.e., spiritually undiscerning, spiritually blind to the things of God revealed in His Word.
As the Holy Spirit says through His Prophet Isaiah, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”
The Interpretation of Scripture
We’ve seen that God the Holy Spirit speaks. But what language does God speak? Well, if the intention of the Scriptures is God’s glory and our getting saved, then it would help if the Scriptures were in a language we could each understand.
The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew, with a minute smattering of Aramaic. And the New Testament was written in Koine or Common Greek – the common language of those days. Although the original vellum and papyri parchments upon which the Scriptures were first written have long since disintegrated, we still have copies of the original Hebrew and Greek.
To be sure, they didn’t have photocopiers back them. But they had painstakingly careful copyists. Yes, they did from time to time make the odd “typo” mistake – mostly to do with spelling. But for all that, what we have today is essentially the original Hebrew and Greek reproduced intact. In other words the discrepancies among all the thousands of documents in existence is miniscule. And the original words of the Older Testament and Newer Testament Scriptures have survived by the singular and providential care of God. Those original words are contained in the thousands of copies of the originals.
Now, when we talk about the infallibility of the Scriptures we are referring to the original Hebrew and Greek texts. Infallibility is just another way of saying that God wrote the Bible. God is infallible. Therefore what He does is infallible. God wrote the Bible. Therefore the Bible is infallible.
What does the word “infallible” mean in the present context? It means that the original autographs, i.e., the God-breathed original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures are pure and uncorrupted. God alone is infallible. Therefore, no man, be he the Pope or otherwise, and no body of men, be it the Roman Catholic church or otherwise, is infallible. Therefore God alone gives authority to His Word. This also means that God alone is the best interpreter of His Word. Therefore, technically, man does not interpret Scripture. Nor does the Church interpret Scripture. Rather, the Holy Spirit interprets Scripture. Here’s how He does it.
We’ve already noted what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:13, “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Those words, “…comparing spiritual things with spiritual” probably mean that Paul, by the Spirit, was explaining the spiritual things of God in spiritual words. However, there is a principal involved here; that of comparing revelation with revelation. Which is to say as Peter says in 2 Peter 1:20&21, “…that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
So we see that no less than the Holy Spirit is needed to properly interpret the Scriptures. Again, why should that surprise us seeing as He is the One who has written them? So how does the Holy Spirit interpret His own Word for us? Well, because the Holy Spirit wrote the whole Bible we simply use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Where any Scripture is unclear on a subject we search the rest of Scripture to find a place where the subject matter is dealt with more clearly. Therefore all that is needed for a clear understanding of God’s glory, salvation, faith, and life is the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit.
However, the crucial thing is that the Holy Spirit needs to grant us inward testimony and illumination. This is where we need to be careful, isn’t it? Peter in 2 Peter 3:16 says of Paul, “…as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they also do the rest of the Scriptures.” But with that warning in mind, we should note that people should be encouraged to read the Bible.
And since not everyone can read the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, the Scriptures should be translated into the people’s own language. And, if we exercise a bit of God-given common sense we’ll want to make sure that, not only are Scriptures translated into the common people’s language, but that they are also translated into the common language of the people!
The Westminster Confession of Faith says that “…they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.”
By “vulgar language” the Westminster people didn’t mean rude and crude or course language. By “vulgar language” they simply meant that the Scriptures ought to be translated into the language of the people at large. The word “vulgar” comes from the Latin vulgus meaning, “the common people”. We’ve already made note of the fact that the New Testament was written in Koine Greek. Koine Greek means the common Greek of the people – the common people’s Greek. So, we see that the Holy Spirit has already set the precedent.
When it comes to any disputes or controversies of religion, or decrees of counsels, or opinions of ancient writers, or human teachings, or claims of divine guidance, the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures is to be the final Judge.
We’ve noted at least two major and important things. 1. We have noted the Sufficiency of the Scriptures. Therefore the intention of the Scriptures is pointed and clear. The intention of the Scriptures is the glory of God and the salvation of men. 2. We have noted that, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, ordinary people can sufficiently understand them. Therefore the interpretation of the Scriptures is also pointed and clear, which is to say that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Scriptures to fallen men.
This is the stuff of the greatest movement of God since the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost! At the time of the Reformation the Reformers took the Scriptures out of the Romish closet and showed them to the world! Just as after Pentecost the church took the Word of God out into the world and its common people, so the Reformers spread the Scriptures among the common peoples at the time of the Reformation. Therefore in all true revival and reformation the Word and the Spirit are present together. By the providence of God, before the Reformation, Gutenberg had invented the moveable-type printing press. And so the Scriptures were more easily printed and spread among the common folk. Hence the Church got back on track again. The Deformed Church became the Reformed Church.
Think about it, the Holy Spirit works with His Word illuminating people’s minds – as He wills. The Scriptures testify of Jesus Christ. And we need to come to Jesus Christ to be saved, i.e., to receive everlasting life. Therefore, what the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures says should be happening is happening.
Jesus says in John 6:44&45, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”
Now, perhaps you are wondering what this says about preaching the Gospel. If everyone is reading the Bible, then what about the exposition of Scripture? Well, we all need to be good Bereans. In Acts 17:11 we find that the Bereans “…received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Therefore, search the Scriptures daily, i.e., read the Bible every day to see that these things are so.
The Scriptures are sufficient and ordinary people can understand them sufficiently. It’s the Holy Spirit who illuminates us and grants us a saving understanding to the glory of God.
The following beautiful verses were written by Isaiah under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10&11.
The Scriptures are sufficient because it’s by them that the Holy Spirit Himself speaks clearly to fallen men. In them He speaks most clearly on matters essential for salvation.