The Perfection of Scripture | 1689 1:6

by | Jan 6, 2022 | Hermeneutics, New Testament, Old Testament, Reformed Theology, Systematic Theology

 

The Sufficiency and Clarity of Scripture

 

The third attribute of Scripture brought forward into new prominence after the Reformation and in the doctrinal summation of the Reformation contained in our Confession is the perfection of Scripture. In this talk, we move, then, from considering the necessity and then the authority of Scripture to considering the perfection of Scripture.

 

What is meant by the perfection of Scripture? Under this heading, the attributes of Scripture sometimes called its sufficiency and clarity are treated by some Reformed theologians. Others simply opt to speak of a third and a fourth attribute of Scripture—its sufficiency and clarity.

 

The sufficiency of Scripture is defined in chapter 1, paragraph 6 of the Confession. Here is what it says:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

2LCF 1:6

 

Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

 

The first thing to be noticed about paragraph 6 is that it is actually two paragraphs. We can call these paragraphs 6a and 6b. 6a defines the sufficiency of Scriptures. 6b qualifies the sufficiency of Scripture. Consider with me 6a and the definition of the sufficiency of Scripture.

 

The first and most basic question answered by the Confession is the question, For what are the Scriptures sufficient? The Confession makes clear that the Scriptures are not sufficient for every conceivable purpose in human life. They are sufficient for “all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.” The sufficiency of Scripture is vertical in nature. It has to do with our relationship to God. It tells the Christian how to glorify God, what he needs to do to be saved, what He must believe as a matter of Christian doctrine, and how he must live in order to please God. There is nothing that we need about those matters that are not in Scripture. Still, the Scriptures are not a math, biology, or Spanish textbook.

 

Yet, within these described bounds of its purpose, the Scriptures are totally sufficient. The Christian does not need church tradition or new revelations in order to please God, believe the right doctrine, be saved, or glorify God. He simply needs the Scriptures. Notice again how paragraph 6a ends:

unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

2LCF 1:6

 

Now, this teaching directly contradicts the teaching of Rome about the need for its oral traditions. It also contradicts the Charismatic fascination with new revelation.

 

But where does the Bible teach this wonderful sufficiency of Scripture for the Christian’s life before God? Well, it teaches this sufficiency in many places, but none more important than one key text. That text is 2 Timothy 3:15-17:

and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;  so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:15-17

 

Scriptural Assertions of the Sufficiency of Scripture

 

We have been considering that aspect of the perfection of Scripture known as its sufficiency. We have seen that the confession does not claim that it is sufficient for every conceivable purpose, but for “all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.” Neither Rome’s traditions, nor Charismatic revelations are necessary for the Christian. Scripture alone is sufficient. We turned in conclusion last time to the key, scriptural assertion of such sufficiency. It is found in 2 Timothy 3:15-17:

and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:15-17

 

There is an interesting contrast in the text between the child and the man of God. Scripture is sufficient to teach the child how to be saved. It is also sufficient to guide the man of God in his life before God.

 

This teaches us that the Scriptures are sufficient for all Christians, young and old. Christians have different spiritual needs depending on their age and condition in life. Yet the Scriptures meet the needs of both young and old and the spiritual needs of Christians in every condition.

 

There is debate, however, regarding the meaning of Paul’s phrase, man of God. Who does Paul mean by “the man of God?” It is clear to me that Paul here refers to Timothy and others like him who are charged to shepherd and minister to the people of God. It is such ministry that is the focus in verse 16: “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” It is such ministry that is the focus of the succeeding context where Paul’s next command in 2 Timothy 4:2 is “preach the word.” The phrase, man of God, occurs many times in the Old Testament and never does it refer to all God’s saints, but always to those charged to lead them spiritually. Thus, the mention of the man of God is highly significant.

 

On the one hand, it teaches that we are never to divorce the sole sufficiency of the Scriptures from the teaching ministry of the man of God. Christians are not to think that they can get along without the Christian ministry appointed by Christ in local churches. The sufficiency of the Scriptures is exactly its sufficiency for the man of God. Christ gives pastor-teachers as gifts to the church. They are not the kind of gag-gifts you get when you turn 40. Pastor-teachers are very necessary to the Christian, but they are necessary simply to help him read and understand Scripture aright. We remember the Ethiopian Eunuch who, when asked by Philip if he understood what he read, said, “Well, how can I unless someone guide me?” We need teachers to help us read Scripture aright. They are not our “Lords.” They simply help us see for ourselves what the Scriptures say. Woe to the Christian who does not feel his need for such Christian teachers.

 

On the other hand, this is highly significant for the man of God himself. What encouragement it should give the man of God that whatever needs he has for spiritual guidance in the ministry are supplied by the Scriptures. Other pastors and teachers may help him understand the Scriptures, but he needs nothing beside or in addition to the Scriptures to fulfill the ministry God has given him among the people of God. When he confronts the dizzying array of spiritual needs in the people of God and the multiplied responsibilities of the Christian ministry, his faith in the sufficiency of Scriptures should make him turn in confidence to the Holy Bible for direction.

 

In What Way are the Scriptures Sufficient?

 

Paragraph 6a of chapter 1 of the Confession defines for us the sufficiency of Scripture. Before I leave behind this definition and come to how the confession qualifies the sufficiency of Scripture in paragraph 6b of its first chapter, there is one more thing in paragraph 6a that deserves attention. Remember what it says:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

2LCF 1:6

 

That one more thing to which I have referred is found in the words: “is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture.” Here the Confession answers the question, How or in what way the Scriptures are sufficient for us?

 

There is an obvious contrast here between the “expressly set down” and the words, “necessarily contained.” The contrast may not be as clear in the 1689 as it is in the Westminster which says: “is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” The contrast in both documents is between what is express or explicit in Scripture and what may be deduced from Scripture because it is implicit or implied there. The Baptists changed the wording not because they were against good and necessary consequence, but because they were suspicious of what their Presbyterian friends thought was good and necessary consequence from Scriptures. They embraced the concept but wanted to tighten the language.

 

At any rate, no one should deny that what may be deduced from Scripture by what is truly good and necessary consequence is taught by Scripture—Is Scripture? God knows whatever is implied in Scripture and meant to imply it. We should not deny the need for logical deduction in the interpretation of Scripture.

 

The great illustration of the need for the use of logic is found in the teaching of Jesus regarding the resurrection. In Luke 20:37 Jesus deduces the resurrection from Exodus 3: “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB. 38 Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.”

 

The doctrine of the resurrection is certainly not express or explicit in Exodus 3. Jesus deduces it from that passage by what must be called good and necessary inference. Not only what is express in Scripture, but what is necessarily contained or implied in Scripture is Scripture truth. We must not allow the idea that every divine truth must have a single proof-text to steal from us the riches of all that is necessarily implied by God’s inspired Word. We must not be afraid to learn more of God’s revealed truth by comparing Scripture with Scripture and using the logical minds God has given us. We must be careful and suspicious of our logic, but we must remember that we cannot interpret Scripture without it.

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Should People Use Cuss Words?

Should People Use Cuss Words?

The Bible prohibits unclean language. This includes all language that society understands be obscene or dirty. Obscenities and vulgarities refer to things that are offensively revealing, disgusting, dirty, ugly or crude.

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