by Steve Spurlin
– What follows is a portion of a presentation that I made several years ago. The topic is a “life and death” issue, figuratively speaking, for the Church today. Unfortunately, some of my documentation has been lost and some quotes are not attributed to the original authors. Some may criticize for moving forward with publishing it for that reason, but I believe that what I wrote years ago is still fresh for today and needs to be reviewed by others. For those whom I quote and have lost the proper notations, please forgive me.
I have played the great game of basketball from the time I was in the fifth grade all the way through my college years. One thing that all teams, leagues, conferences and divisions had in common was a single book; the official rulebook of basketball. During any game the rules written in that book governed the competition and were binding for everyone involved whether it is the coaches, players, scorekeepers, or referees. No one involved would dare question that book for it is the final authority for all things basketball. It is also sufficient to answer any question, settle any dispute, and completely govern the game.
In each game there were at least two men, sometimes three, who were to oversee each contest to make sure the rules of the rulebook, were understood and obeyed. These were the referees. Anytime there was any question concerning error or infraction concerning the rulebook these men would have the final say in deciding the answer, because these men had the rulebook memorized (theoretically and ideally). In my recollection of the years I spent playing basketball there is not one time that I can point to when my opinion was allowed to make the final decision when there was a violation of the rulebook. That is because the rulebook had already decided the outcome, and the referees would simple make a declaration of the rules already established. Even some 20 years after I played my last college game it is still that rulebook that governs the game of basketball. Not much has changed.
For thousands of years there has been one thing that was the final authority on all things, period; “Then God said…” (Gen. 1:3). Yet, seemingly no sooner had those words been uttered that another voice was heard casting doubt on the authority of the word of God; “Indeed, has God said?”(Gen. 3:1) Or in other words, “Is what He said really accurate?” And so the battle over the authority of God’s word began.
Such a battle has raged since that first question in the Garden with various waves of victory and loss of ground for those who would hold to the authority of Scripture. Along with that battle over authority must necessarily be included the question of sufficiency, for sufficiency is inextricably linked to authority. If the word of God is THE authority, then it must also be sufficient. This has been the orthodox understanding of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments as well as in both the religion of the Jews and of the Christian Church. It is the purpose of this paper to discuss various aspects of the sufficiency of Scripture, and will do so with the presupposition that Scripture is the inspired, infallible, authoritative word spoken by God to man.
I will attempt to offer a simple definition of sufficiency, a brief description of the millennia long battle over the authority and sufficiency of the word of God, the recent developments in the battle and its effects upon the Church, and will close with an overview of what Scripture has to say concerning its status as sufficient providing the answer to the question; “Is God’s Word enough?” It is not within the scope of this article to delve into every deep crevasse that such a battle creates. However, it is my desire to discuss the issue as thoroughly as time and space allow.
Definition and Description of Sufficiency
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition) defines the word “sufficient” by the following: “1.a: enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end…b: being a sufficient condition. 2….being what is necessary or desirable.” Thus, we may picture the word “sufficient” with the following simple illustration: the two-inch round peg is sufficient to fill the two-inch round hole. To use another phrase, the round peg is just what the doctor ordered; it is exactly what is needed to meet the need at hand. Some synonyms given are, “enough, adequate, competent.”
Dr. James T. Draper has offered a simple, yet adequate definition and description of the sufficiency as it relates to Scripture. He states:
“The ability of the Word of God to address every area of human existence is called the sufficiency of the Scriptures…An inerrant Bible is an authoritative Bible. Just as the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture logically leads to belief in its authority, even so the doctrine of the authority of the Bible necessitates the confidence that the Scriptures are sufficient. Christians did not arrive at the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Bible simply by way of logical reasoning; we believe that the Bible is the road map for living because it is what the Bible claims about itself.” Added to this, another definition offered by John MacArthur; “the Bible is an adequate guide for all matters of faith and conduct. Scripture gives us every truth we need for life and godliness.”
Based on the preceding discussion I will begin this study by stating that it is my belief, as well as that of orthodox Christianity at least since the Reformation, that Scripture is sufficient, totally adequate, and competent to meet the needs of every individual Christian in every circumstance of life (see 2 Peter 1:2-3). Nothing else is needed to guide us in our everyday living. These definitions along with their corresponding descriptions will serve as our standard for the understanding and study of this most important subject.
How does scripture guide someone with diabetes? The Bible says, “be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” That is guidance but what about the Christian who has anxiety and follows the guidelines above yet is still anxious or even more anxious? How does the Bible guide a persons sexuality when they have testicular feminization (male genotype yet female phenotype)? How does the Bible guide the Christian with schizophrenia who has auditory hallucinations of what they believe are demons telling them awful things?
“The ability of the Word of God to address every area of human existence is called the sufficiency of the Scriptures.” Maybe I am misunderstanding your point but I don’t agree.
Matthew, thank you for your questions. Questions such as yours are helpful in that they help to put skin on the bones of the discussion. I will attempt to offer some skin for these bones.
I want to begin at the end of your response. I assume that you are not disagreeing with the definition of sufficient. We have to trust authority for the definitions of words. I took that definition from a respectable dictionary and compared it with another respectable dictionary to verify its accuracy. Sufficiency means that (insert noun here) is “enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.” Think of that for a moment, and then rethink your statement denying that Scripture is sufficient for every aspect of life. I would urge you to use caution here because you are saying, to God, that the written word that He left and preserved for us is not enough to meet your needs.
I would also ask you, by what standard do you make that claim? What is your ultimate authority by which you make such a statement? It is not Scripture since Scripture offers the exact opposite assessment of itself. Allow me to elaborate with Scripture. I n the opening remarks of 2 Peter, Peter prays that grace and peace would be multiplied to the recipients “[by or in] the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (v.2). He goes on to offer how the knowledge of God/Jesus facilitates such multiplication; “seeing that His divine power has [gifted] to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, THROUGH [or “by means of] THE TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF HIM who called us by His own glory and excellence” (v.3). True knowledge of Jesus Christ is ONLY found in Scripture. Please let me be blunt, but if I need to argue with a believer concerning this point, then we are in real trouble.
Briefly, Peter is saying that everything that is necessary to live a pious (Greek word eusebeia, “godliness) life is found in Scripture. That life includes all of the situations that you demand answers for in your response.
Furthermore, at the closing of this same letter Peter urges his readers to be on guard and not fall from their steadfastness. Instead he pleads with them to, “grow in/by the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3:18). I will say again, and do so dogmatically, that the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the true understanding of grace is found nowhere outside of Scripture.
I would like to address your specific questions concerning instructions for the hypothetical situations you’ve listed. Let’s begin with the question of the person with diabetes. My father, father-in-law, and mother-in-law each have diabetes. I’m not sure what the actual question is, but I’ll attempt to answer it. This may be overly simplified, but since Luke was a physician, and Paul offered Timothy medical advise (1 Tim. 5:23) I would tell them to see a doctor and learn to live with the illness. There is no known cure, per se. I would encourage them to practice Philippians 4:6-8 and 1 Thess. 5:17 (“Pray without ceasing”). I would encourage them to ask for wisdom (James 1:5) and remember the words of 1 Corinthians 10:13 where “temptation” may well have the meaning of test or trial, and then have them recall the words of James in James 1:1-4. When all of these are put together the Christian has his marching orders. The faith and diligence to obey and follow through with these directives lies solely with our positive volition combined with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
As to the one who is anxious I believe that I am the perfect one to answer that question seeing that I am a chronic worrier. Yes, I sin by worrying. I will simply return to all of the previous verses and conclude with this; I know what to do to combat my anxiety and if I don’t then its my fault not the Lord’s. I will add to the previous verse yet another passage from Peter: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7). If I obey, I’m promised the peace of God. It is a moment-by-moment choice that I must make. It is a habit that I have to develop, and when I fail I must confess my sin and get back on the horse, so to speak.
Now, as to the one who suffers from hermaphroditism (I’m assuming that is what you are addressing) I would first attempt to offer comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-5). Seeing that most cases, at least in western cultures, are dealt with in infancy or a young age I would not expect to meet an adult who hasn’t dealt with the issue. I would also need to know if the issue at hand is one of how to deal with the disorder, e.g. surgery, or is it a matter sexual attraction/intercourse. Once the proper medical treatment has been taken, then they should either remain celibate or get married prior to sexual intercourse and remain married (1 Cor. 7:25-35; Matthew 19:4-6, 8-9). I would also direct them to James 1:2-4 and remind them that their particular trial/test has a perfect result/outcome when endured. If the person has not received such a surgical procedure, I would offer the same advice as I gave to the diabetic; seek out medical advice and treatment. The remaining advice is as previously stated. I would add that they should pray (Heb. 4:16) and seek out fellowship with other believers (2 Cor. 1:3-11; Heb.12:12-15).
Schizophrenia is a devastating illness. I have a friend whose brother is a believer and schizophrenic. How would you counsel a schizophrenic if Scripture is not sufficient to guide him? By what standard would you give direction to him or his family? As already stated, advising medical treatment is a biblical model (1 Tim. 5:23, and Luke). The biblical model can also be found in the Old Testament Law for Israel – treatment of leprosy is described throughout Leviticus 3 and 4. Furthermore, where else would the family or individual go for counsel/treatment – see John 6:66-69. At the risk of sounding insensitive; if a schizophrenic hears from God is that reliable? If the written word is not sufficient for that one, would a direct message be trustworthy? These questions are not meant as a jab or a joke. The word of God written and preserved is the only comfort that he or his family have. So along with treatment by a qualified doctor, I would highly recommend hours of Bible reading and study for both the sufferer and his family. Also, I would again add that they should pray (Heb. 4:16) and seek out fellowship with other believers (2 Cor. 1:3-11; Heb.12:12-15).
Matthew, part of our problem is that people want perfection here and now. Part and parcel with that is a lack of patience that sees waiting and trusting in God as not an option. We live in a fallen world and will suffer problems that seem insurmountable until the Lord Himself returns to create a new heaven and new earth – Revelation 21:1-4. Until then we are called to know His word, trust His word, grow by His word, and conduct our lives in accordance with His word. It is the lamp that provides light for our EVERY step (Psalm 119:105).
You may still not agree with my assessment of the word of God, but I pray that you will reconsider.
Thank you for the thoughtfulness of your response and thank you for responding. I was not expecting a reply based on previous lack of reply to comments on other posts. You encourage and challenge me. This is greatly appreciated for growth. While I have not come close to reading all the entries on 1024, the ones I have read don’t have comments or they have short, pat on the back types of comments from other members or readers. I think you are the first contributor who has responded to my comments. I have not seen people wresting with truth and seeking understanding rather most of 1024 seems to be preaching to the choir. I would like to see more discussion as it helps to clarify and deepen our understanding and application of scripture. So, thank you again.
I continue to ponder your response and have had the opportunity to read your subsequent entries. The history of how the church has viewed scripture is an important study as it pertains to sufficiency but for what purpose you are weaving together the history of sufficiency of scripture, literal & grammatical hermeneutic, and eschatology I am still unclear. While I await clarification from your future entries it appears your articles are more a statement of faith endorsing dispensational theology than what it means to believe and apply the sufficiency of scripture in everyday living. If this is the case my examples were off topic and my extended response is not relevant to your articles. If wrong, I await your future entries. However, I would like to add to my original comment for clarity sake.
My original point can hopefully be clarified by the following fictitious situation. Imagine going to a surgeon who believes he/she can perform surgery based on scripture alone without any medical training in the art of surgery. Absurd and silly I hope is your response. The medical training is “necessary” for surgery but is scripture “necessary” and “sufficient” for surgery? Of course this is an absurd, narrow, and literal understanding of sufficiency as it pertains to scripture. Unfortunately, I see many situations where a “literal” understanding of sufficiency of scripture is this absurd just not as physical as surgery. Of note, I do believe all of life needs to be seen and processed through the lens of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ but let us pause and not be too hasty to jump to a simple understanding of what sufficiency of scripture means in the reality of our lives and others. There is a continuum of understanding pertaining to what sufficiency of scripture means when applied to everyday living. I have seen tremendous suffering and even physical death from the literal and simple understanding of “sufficiency of scripture.” A cautionary tale I hope.
Matthew, sorry I haven’t responded. I didn’t receive notice of your comment for some reason. To my knowledge, and forgive me, i’m not looking at my articles presently and don’t remember everything I’ve addressed to this point, but I don’t recall mentioning anything about dispensationalism. But since you brought it up, I will attempt to address this briefly. It is my contention as well as many who write for the 1024project that the proper hermeneutic, the normal, grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture, will not only lead one to the conclusion that Dispensationalism is correct, but will also clearly demonstrate the absolute sufficiency (possibly redundant) of Scripture in every aspect of life. Therefore, if I did mention Dispensationalism it is simply the natural result of both the practice of the normal interpretation of Scripture, and the understanding that Scripture is sufficient to meet every life situation of the believer.
As to your fictitious story, I believe that you have the whole scenario backwards, and its not a very good comparison. In fact if one believes that one can live a Christ-pleasing lifestyle without complete reliance on Scripture, that one should be the one portrayed as the surgeon who attempts surgery without proper training. The reality is that there is only a surgeon because man is made in God’s image, and the intrinsic knowledge of the God of the Bible is part of the operating system hard-wired into each human being to such an extent that none can escape that knowledge (Rom. 1:18ff). It is the continuous revelation of God to man that drove men to make the discoveries that enabled surgery.
Before you get too excited that I mentioned the continuous revelation of God to man, allow me to define what is meant by that. In Romans 1:18-23 Paul states that mankind continually attempts to suppress (katecho – “prevent, hinder, restrain”) the truth of God, and that God’s wrath is poured out on man because “that which is known about God is evident (phaneros – “clear, evident, widely known”) WITHIN them; for God made it evident to them.” Paul continues by stating that God’s “invisible attributes, (namely) His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” In other words, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands…” (Ps. 19:1-6). God’s creation, which includes mankind, is His continuous and constant testimony, call it revelation, of Himself and His ways to mankind.
However, natural revelation was not enough to inform man as to how He is to be reconciled to the God against Whom he has rebelled. Therefore, God “spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (Hebrews 1:1). God revealed verbally to man through HIs interaction with a few people throughout history, which is recorded in the written word. Slowly through time God continued to reveal His will and requirements to certain individuals and groups. Israel is a great example of how God leads man by His revealed word. After giving the Law to Israel it and not continued revelation was to serve as their guide in daily life. With few exceptions the Law directed them as to how to maintain fellowship with God, and how to find forgiveness when they failed. Knowing the guidelines enabled them to walk daily in a pleasing manner to God without having to continually ask Him for further guidance. It was when the leaders strayed, and the people, en masse, followed, that God sent further messages to attempt to shepherd them back in line. We all know the outcome.
Then in the fulness of time, or, “in these last days (God) has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Heb. 1:2). In other words, God’s ultimate self-revelation came in the Person of His Son, Jesus Messiah. His words, too, have been recorded and preserved in order that we may “keep (His) commandments,” (Jn. 15:10) and thus “abide in (Him),” and thereby “bear much fruit” (Jn. 15:5). He repeatedly tells His disciples to abide in Him, keep His word, and His commandments (Jn. 14). He then promises that He would send the Helper (14:26) to teach them what He was unable to teach them at that time, while at the same time enabling them to remember all that He had already taught them. Those were promises for the Apostles, not us.
But praise God that it was through the Spirit’s work in them that He enabled them to record the further teachings that Jesus would reveal to them through the Spirit. Only the Apostles and those who were under their authority were enabled to pen Scripture. Not every believer of that time was given a message from God to guide their daily life, and like Israel, He expects us to know His word and make all life decisions based upon the wisdom given in His word and by the indwelling Spirit – “But if any of you lacks wisdom, (knowledge to apply His word in order to endure the testing of our faith) let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jm. 1:5). That wisdom here is equated to His implanted Word is seen in passages such as Proverbs 1:2; 2:1-12; 4:5-7 and 16:16.
Matthew, I have seen much suffering and pain by those who have continuously sought a private message from God, and who knew little to nothing of what His word teaches. We can go back and forth with your example and my example, but that would be feeding into your argument, and merely presenting your witness against mine. The most important path for us to follow is to allow the ultimate authority to settle these arguments, and He does that through His inspired, inerrant, all-sufficient word.
Matthew, I’m sorry. I miss read part of your response, You mentioned eschatology in the mix, and not dispensationalism. However, I believe the rest of my response is fairly in keeping with answering your reply.
To address the eschatology issue; I spoke with a Hebrew scholar today who said that he disagrees with Dispensationalists on the whole support of Israel, and future plan of God for Israel issues. Only by NOT engaging in the normal interpretation of Scripture and instead following the allegorical/spiritual approach of the Catholic church and others can one come to such a conclusion.
By the way, my articles on this site are originally written for my blog site. The editors of the 1024Project simply take the ones they like and repost them. Since this site is meant to deal with many and various issues (all of which Dispensationalist theology should influence or have a say) they post many different types of articles from those involved.
Its late and I may have missed some points in your reply. For that I apologize. God bless.
Thank you again for taking the time to response and your thoughtfulness. At this point I realize this is not a good venue for 2 strangers to discuss theology. Maybe that is why I don’t see discussions on the 1024 site. The topics of sufficiency of scripture and dispensationalism are better suited for discussants who know more about each other as it would likely be a several year process (at least) with ongoing discussion. I am throwing in the towel.
I always learn from everyone I encounter and am thankful for what you have taught me. Thank you again for your grace, your teaching, and for caring enough to respond. If I am ever in Lubbock Tx I would enjoy attending your church and hopefully get to meet you in person. I did grow up in Texas and was in Lubbock 32 years ago for an interview so you never know.