by Steve Spurlin
– I recently began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture. I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency. By way of introduction and reminder, the following is our definition: Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end. It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need. Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.
Our last discussion ended with the historical development of the Roman Catholic standard form of hermeneutic, an allegorical method of interpreting Scripture. A major concern with this approach is that Scripture becomes putty in the hands of the interpreter who is free to mold its “meaning” into anything that suits his/her fancy. Added to this method is the practice of the Pope making proclamations ex cathedra regardless of whether the proclamation is in harmony with previous proclamations or not, or whether it harmonizes with the real teachings of Scripture or not. At least one of the results prior to the Reformation was rampant superstition, which is a glaring display of the abandonment of the sufficiency of Scripture.
Reformation Hermeneutics –
By the time the Reformation came about the damage was so ingrained that even the Reformers never quite returned completely to sound biblical interpretation. Granted the hermeneutical principles established by the two most influential Reformers, Luther (1483-1546) and Calvin (1509-1564), were sound and good; in practice they did not always follow their own rules.
Luther rejected the allegorical method completely. As he said, “When I was a monk, I was an expert in allegories. I allegorized everything. But after lecturing on the Epistles of the Romans I came to have knowledge of Christ. For therein I saw that Christ is no allegory and I learned to know what Christ is.” Because of his turn from allegorical method Luther developed a form of literal, grammatical hermeneutics. Briefly, his principles were as follows:
- The psychological principle. Luther believed that the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit was of absolute necessity.
- The authority principle. Scripture is the final and supreme authority above all church authority.
- The literal principle. Literal (normal) interpretation is key.
- The sufficiency principle. Luther held to the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture and therefore believed that any devout Christian is capable of understanding them apart from the church’s authority.
- The Christological principle. Luther believed that the function of all of interpretation is to find Christ.
- The Law-Gospel principle. Luther believed that there must be a careful distinction held between Law and Gospel.
John Calvin also established sound hermeneutical practices. “Calvin stressed the Christological nature of Scripture, the grammatical, historical method, exegesis rather than eisegesis…the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit, and a balanced approach to typology.” (Quote attribution lost)
The problem that existed with both of these great scholars, and men of God, was that they each continued to hold to allegorical/spiritual interpretation when it concerned the Church, Israel, and end times prophecy propagating the Catholic Church’s teaching of amillennialism and that the Church is the Kingdom of God. Therefore, despite the great success and blessing from God that the Reformation was, its success was incomplete leaving the door open for building good doctrine on top of bad.
Regardless of the progress towards sound hermeneutic principles of the Reformers the issue remained; through all the years prior to and following the Reformation the sufficiency of Scripture was (and is) challenged. This challenge has often been by interpreters seeking to help make Scripture plain, or by the Roman Catholic Church seeking to centralize the power of Christendom. It may be safe to say that the situation has worsened with the addition of numerous sects and cults, and the failure of conservative churches to teach the sufficiency of Scripture. The result can be seen in the current drift back to superstition, which includes the current tide of continually seeking new direct revelation from God for everyday guidance instead of simply living in obedience to His revealed word.
To be continued…
Thank you Steve Spurlin for this clear succint article. These principles you have been showing in this “Sufficiency of Scripture” series have been most helpful.
Christian, thank you for the encouragement. Hold fast to the word of God.