This article is about the sufficiency of Scripture. Do we need revelation outside of the Bible for our salvation and in order to know the will of God?

Source: Faith in Focus, 1997. 4 pages.

Is the Bible Enough?

The central cry of the Reformation was that everything in the Church, everything in religion, should be based on Scripture alone. When Luther and the rest of the Church at that time took up that cry and worked it into their creeds and confes­sions, they did so over against two other trends.

On the one hand was the Roman Catholic idea of an Oral Tradition alongside the Bible which actually added unbiblical teachings to the Church – in much the same way as the Pharisees did with their traditions and laid heavy burdens on the people which they themselves were unwilling to bear. At the same time there were the anabaptists and mystical groups and sects who claimed God spoke to them directly. That, of course, is always more exciting than having to read and study a mere book.

It may not look like it at first, but there is something common to both those groups – elitism. With the Roman Catho­lics and their oral tradition which only the Church knows and preserves, there arose an elite intellectualism, a clique of clerics who alone could preserve the oral tradition and interpret Scripture in accordance with that tradition. It was quite logical then that ordinary people should not have the Bible. With the mys­tics, the result was the opposite – an elite anti-intellectualism, a kind of super-spir­ituality that has direct contact with God. And who will dare argue with someone to whom God has spoken directly? Once again, and necessarily, the Bible is pushed into the background. The Refor­mation opposed both these views and said, instead, two things;

  1. the Bible tells us all we need to know for salvation, faith and life; and

  2. the Bible can be understood with or­dinary intelligence and learning by all believers who can read. This latter is well expressed in the Westminster Confession;
    All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due sense of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (1.7)

So, over against the secrecy and con­trol of the self-perpetuating clerical elite of Roman Catholicism or the few 'spir­itual' men of the mystics to whom God had particularly spoken, the Reformers demanded openness. They demanded open and accessible church courts and open dealing because they worked from an open and available-to-all Bible. Under the Reformation, all believers are truly equal before God and their fellows. Sure, we don't all have the same gifts and abilities and there is still such thing as office. But all believers are equal in their persons before God and all owe each other the same love and respect and holding office in the Church is no sure step to higher sanctification.

The moment Scripture is not enough for us and not readily available to all, we will begin to go down that path, and whether we're in the Roman lane or the baptist/mystical lane doesn't make too much difference. It might take us a while to get there and, of course, the Lord might bring one back and preserve one from going too far, but that is the direction that way of thinking leads. And that can be seen in the Church today.

The Roman Church is still a patronising and elite organisation. After all, it is the Church that is infallible, not the Bible, so the Church must be implicitly obeyed. As our friend, Mr. Martindale, says, "The Church claims that she ... has the right, and alone possesses the right, to tell us what Scripture means (The Faith of the Roman Church, p.52)."

On the other hand, look at any number of Pentecostal or charismatic groups (not all perhaps, but many) and see how they are either,

  1. dominated by one 'spiritual,' 'anointed' individual, or;

  2. they are swayed this way and that according to this or that new revelation given to Tom, Dick or Harry.

As a matter of fact, you can extend that to any group/church where there is not a well, biblically-edu­cated eldership. It never ceases to amaze me how the congregations of so many churches apparently change their theology overnight when a new minister comes. The Church's strength will always be, under God, in a humble obedience to an open Bible. When a Church's strength lies in her ministers alone, she has lost it – if not now, then in a genera­tion or two.

Our specific question then, is; is the Bible enough for the believer/Church in this world? The Westminster says it is;

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: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. (1.6)

Let me firstly make my point as baldly as I can and then I shall try to give some reasoning for it.

1. The Last Book's Last Warning🔗

In  Revelation 22 we read these words;  I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this proph­ecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

When Jesus was here on this earth, just before He went to the cross, He told the disciples that He had told them all things that had been revealed to Him by His Father. He also told them that when He left, He would send the Holy Spirit to remind them of all the things He had told them (John 15:15; 14:26; 16:13). Thus we have the Scriptures. Now Jesus never meant He had told the disciples abso­lutely everything He ever knew. He just meant something like what we mean in the phrase, "all things necessary for salvation, faith and life."

John was the last surviving Apostle. He must have been 90, maybe even 100 years old, when he wrote Revelation and he simply says; we must not add to the prophecy of his book. But what exactly did he mean by that?

  1. Did he mean that that prohibition ap­plied only to the book of Revelation? It certainly does apply to Revelation, but don't forget also that the warning is not only that we are not to add to the book; neither are we to subtract from it. If it is only that we are not allowed to add to Revelation, but that we can add to other books of the Bi­ble, is it now okay to take away from the other books of the Bible? And the only book we are not allowed to take away from is Revelation? Is that what John means?

    But someone will remember that Mo­ses said almost exactly the same thing in Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32. Yet there have been another 61 books added since then! That is true, but don't forget that John says this at the end of a Tes­tament that is full of both hints and outright announcements that it is set at the end of the ages and the end of God's saving and, therefore, revelatory work. (Check out 1 Corinthians 10:11; 13:8-13; Ephesians1:9f.; 2 Timothy 3:16f.; Hebrews 1:1f.; 7:27; 9:27; 10:10-12 cf. Jude 3.) The whole of the NT is full of the idea that it is the fulfilment of the Old. On the other hand, Moses made his statement in a Testa­ment that is full of hints and outright prophecies of another age and further revelation coming in the future. Indeed, Moses himself gave one of the clearest prophecies of that in Deuteronomy itself (18:18f.).

  2. But granted all that, we might go on and say that when we look for con­tinuing revelation today, or, if not look­ing for it, it may nevertheless come, we are speaking only of 'occasional' revelation and in no way intend it to be added to Scripture, nor even be accorded the same authority as Scrip­ture. This is the way our brothers and sisters in Australia have spoken in certain synodical decisions. Let's take this bit about these occasional rev­elations not being authoritative first. I understand our sister churches to mean by occasional revelation some­thing that might give me guidance in some activity or specific situation in life. (In their synodical reports, they give this sort of example.)

But how can that be? If God has spo­ken, can we do what we like with it? Must we not obey it? To be completely hon­est, it sounds to me as though some­body is trying to have their cake and eat it too here. Surely, if God speaks, it is authoritative and it must be obeyed. When people say these revelations do not add to Scripture, I fully accept that they mean that. But, with whatever protestations, they do add to Scripture. Of course, nobody puts them in the Book. But they add them to the Book in effect, for the Book itself wasn't enough for them. And after a while, like all new things, the new things, especially since they are renewed every day, become more important and the old Book be­comes neglected and interpreted in the light of the new revelations. So in the end, not only has Scripture been added to, but taken away from as well.

Matthew Henry says on Revelation 22; "This sanction is like a flaming sword to guard the canon of the Scripture from profane hands." Intentionally or not, if we believe God speaks to us freshly still today, we are, with profane hands, both adding to the Bible and taking from it. And we invite its plagues upon our heads and shun its blessings. That is the last book's last warning. Why does it speak so? Simply because,

2. The Bible is Enough🔗

"All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteous­ness, that the man of God man be com­plete, thoroughly equipped unto every good work," says the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16f. That is a very simple and plain passage of Scripture. It is just what the Confession says, this time the Belgic (Art.7);

We believe that those Holy Scrip­tures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein. For since the whole manner of worship which God re­quires of us is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach other­wise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apos­tle Paul says. For since it is forbidden to add unto or take away any­thing from the Word of God, it does thereby evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.

That is why the Bible was given us. "All the Scriptures testify of me. You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life," said Jesus. And, drawing those two lines together, Paul adds, "The Scriptures are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ." The only other question to ask, therefore, is how are we to live this saved life? How will we grow in faith and become mature Christians so we will not be blown about by every wind of doc­trine or by the cunning craftiness of men and the devil? Answer: by the same book that gave us that life. Read those verses from Timothy again; and the Bible teaches us those good works to perfec­tion! We are only allowed to do good works and Paul says we may be thor­oughly equipped to do them by the Scrip­tures.

But what about all those situations in life about which the Bible does not speak directly – whom to marry, where to live, what career to pursue, and so on? Wouldn't we like a word from the Lord about those things? Maybe we would. But, as a matter of fact, the Bible does tell us what to do in situations like that. It doesn't tell us to ask for a so-called "word of knowledge" or anything like that. Instead, it says, "Let him who lacks wis­dom ask of God who gives to all men liberally and upbraids not; only, let him ask in faith, not doubting (James 1:5f.)." It is wisdom that God has said He will give us, not a word: do this, do that, don't do the other thing, as if we were babies and toddlers. And why is wisdom enough? Because the Church has now come of age. The Church of the NT is an adult Church; she has been given the key to the door. And one thing young people don't like when they begin to get older is to be treated like little children and constantly to be given all sorts of very detailed instructions. That is how we should want to be treated as a Church, as NT Christians.

Once the Church was like that – in the OT. So the law, very detailed commands about everything in life, was put in charge to lead us to the time of Christ. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (Galatians 3:24f.). But faith that God is leading them by spiritual wisdom through His written Word is not enough for some people. For as much as many Christians of this ilk talk about faith, they actually want to live by sight, by a special and specific word here and another there. When people find that the Bible is not enough, all they are doing is showing how childish they are. God has brought the Church to the New Age of adulthood, but they want to be treated like babies. It is a sad, sad sight to behold. But God treats us like adults now. He gives us principles of Law, not everyday details. He has given us the Holy Spirit to under­stand those principles and to understand the life situations into which they are to be applied. This is the great blessing Joel prophesied, the day Abraham longed to see. But we, if I may pick up an illustra­tion of CS Lewis, are like poor slum chil­dren offered a holiday at the seaside; instead, we turn our backs on it and con­tinue to puddle in our mudpond between the cobblestones on a dirty city street, all the while deluding ourselves about the height of our pleasures.

I can quite understand why charismatics get on so well with Roman Catholics. They both believe in the Bible plus. In that respect they both pander to the childishness and irresponsibility that so characterises our age. The very same thing that demands rights without re­sponsibilities; that doesn't want to work hard or think hard. Let us not be sinful like that. We are to grow up and be ma­ture. And a large part of maturity is learn­ing to be content. If humility is the first Christian virtue, contentment must be the second. We should strive for the kind of maturity that will be content with such things as we have, in this respect, the written Word, even when that will mean not having certainty here and there in life, having to go out on a limb occasion­ally, simply having faith that God has, in fact, given me the wisdom for the deci­sion I have had to make; and we will rest in that.

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