The Clarity, Necessity, and Sufficiency of Scripture

John Frame on three essential characteristics of Scripture:

Now I want briefly to mention [several] important things about the Bible. The first is its clarity [See Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7.]. 

Clarity. At the time of the Reformation, some Roman Catholics were saying that lay people should not read the Bible, since only people in the church hierarchy could properly understand it. The Reformers did not say that everything in the Bible is perfectly clear. But they did say that the basic message of salvation is sufficiently clear that anyone can understand it, either by reading it himself, or by using ordinary means of grace, such as talking to a pastor. By the way, the power of the word, its authority, and its clarity, form a triad that corresponds to the Lordship attributes. For in Deut. 30:11-14 and Rom. 10:6-8 the clarity of the word is based on the nearness of God to his people, the presence of God among his people.

Necessity. Necessity simply means that without God’s Word we have no relationship with him. Without his commands he is not our Lord, for the Lord is by definition one who gives authoritative commands to his people. And without his word, we have no authoritative promises either, so he cannot be our savior.

SufficiencySufficiency means simply that in Scripture we have all the words of God we need [See Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6.]. We should not try to add to them, and we dare not subtract from them, since we live by every word that comes from God.

Scripture itself tells us not to add or subtract (Deut. 4:2, 12:32, Rev. 22:18-19). And it tells us clearly not to add human tradition to the word: that is, don’t put human tradition on the same level as God’s word, as the Pharisees did (Deut. 18:15-22, Isa. 29:13, Matt. 15:1-9, Gal. 1:8-9, 2 Thess. 2:2). Human tradition is not a bad thing. But it is not God’s word. When we try to put it on the same level as God’s word, we are saying that God’s word is not enough, that it is insufficient.

This is true of all Scripture, both Old and New Testament. But there is also a special sense in which the New Testament gospel is sufficient. Just as Jesus’ death and resurrection are sufficient to save us, so the apostles’ message about Jesus is sufficient to give us all the blessings of Jesus’ salvation (2 Pet. 1:2-11, Hen. 1:1-3, 2:1-4). So we should not expect God to give us further revelation of the same authority as the Bible.

People sometimes say that Scripture is sufficient for theology, but not for other areas of life, like science, history, plumbing, politics, car repairs. But that idea misunderstands the sufficiency of Scripture. Remember always: Scripture is sufficient as the word of God. It gives us all the words of God we will ever need. So Scripture contains all the word of God we need for theology—but also for ethics, politics, the arts, plumbing and car repair.

Certainly for all these disciplines we need knowledge from outside Scripture too. That’s even true of theology. Theologians need, for example, to know the rules of Hebrew Grammar; but Scripture doesn’t give these to us. They need to know the history of the ancient world; but Scripture only gives us part of that history. So in order to use the Bible, we need to know things outside the Bible.

That’s also true in ethics. For example, the Bible doesn’t mention abortion. We have to learn what abortion is from extra-biblical sources. But Scripture does say some things about murder, and about unborn human life. When we bring the biblical principles together with our extra-biblical knowledge of what abortion is, it becomes pretty obvious that “thou shalt not murder” implies “thou shalt not abort.”

The basic point to be remembered here is that no kind of knowledge from outside the Bible is worthy to be added to Scripture. That includes the traditions of the Roman church, claims of contemporary prophets… and even the confessions and traditions of the Protestant denominations.

-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord

Posted on January 14, 2013, in John Frame, Scriptural Authority and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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