The Divine Breath: The Sufficiency of Scripture
During every era of church history men and women have proclaimed, apart from Scripture, “God told me,” “God revealed to me,” and “God said to me,” as if these “revelations” are equal to the authority of God’s revealed Word in Holy Scripture.
Why do we do this? Why do we seek additional revelation from God? Why do we desire more than we have already been given in the Bible?
There is an insatiable impulse, albeit sinful, within fallen man to create and divulge our own truth – a truth of our own invention in order to affirm our own desires. In other words, we have all acted, at one point or another, as if the Bible – God’s final and complete revelation to man – is not sufficient to guide us into all truth. As a young Christian, I remember thinking to myself that there was something more than the Bible to offer instruction and help. I read great Christian books that assisted me with doctrine, theology, and Christian living, but the more I read the greater I realized, while these books were good, they could not stand above that which proceeded directly from the mouth of God.
If we believe God’s word is infallible, inerrant, and authoritative, then it follows that we must also regard the Bible as the preeminent authority and guide for our lives. The Apostle Paul describes the Scripture as the very breath of God (2 Tim 3:16). Sinclair Ferguson has aptly stated, “There can be no more authoritative word than one that comes to us on divine breath.”
What Sufficiency is Not
While it is accurate to affirm the Bible as God’s full and complete revelation to man, the purpose of which is to guide men and women into all truth, there are several things we are not affirming. Within the Bible we do not find answers to everything there is to know about everything. For example, Scripture does not provide information on how to change the oil in your car, or how to complete complex mathematical formulas, or what insurance policy is best for your family. If you find yourself on the side of the road with a flat tire, the Bible is not the first manual you should reach for in learning how to change your tire. Further, the Bible does not offer answers to some of our most probing questions: What is the density of a black hole? What is DNA? Who should I marry?
To affirm that Scripture does not have all the answers to everything about everything does not reveal a deficiency within what is revealed but demonstrates that the Bible has a very particular goal. In other words, Scripture was given by God for a purpose. Joel Beeke adequately summarized this thought: “The sufficiency of Scripture is limited to the Bible’s purpose in revealed truth for our salvation, faith, and obedience (Ps 19:7–11; Jn 20:31).” Nowhere does the Bible claim to be an exhaustive manual on every subject, but instead, gives us “the words of the wise” so “that your trust may be in the Lord” (Prob 22:17, 19).
What Sufficiency Is
When believers speak of the sufficiency of Scripture we are affirming exactly what the Bible affirms about itself. That is, the Bible reveals everything God has decreed us to know about himself, how to know him and his will, and how to enter into relationship with him through Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the most complete statement about the sufficiency of Scripture is found from the pen of David in Psalm 19:7–14. In verses 7–9 David makes six affirmations about Scripture as being “the law of the Lord,” “the testimony of the Lord,” “the precepts of the Lord,” “the commandments of the Lord,” “the fear of the Lord,” and “the judgments of the Lord.” John MacArthur has pointed out that by adding “of the Lord” at the end of each description of Scripture, David is affirming with overwhelming confidence that Scripture is not a scheme of human invention but proceeds directly from God himself. Further, the psalmist in Psalm 119:105, describes Scripture as a “light” to one’s path. The New Testament also repeatedly upholds the sufficiency of Scripture. For example, the Apostle Paul affirms in 2 Timothy 3:15 that Scripture is able to lead a person to saving faith.
Throughout church history, the church has sought to solidify our belief that Scripture is absolutely sufficient. The extent of its sufficiency is precisely summarized in Question 3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
The Shorter Catechism is clear that Scripture is sufficient for a specific task: to reveal who God is, who man is in relation to him, what man is to believe about God, and how that relationship works in a life of obedience, holiness, and obedience.
The Bible is the sufficient authority for the whole of the Christian life. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, the Word of God is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” A closer investigation of each of these declarations clearly validates that Scripture is wholly sufficient to equip a believer to faithfully live out the Christian life.
The first declaration Paul makes concerning Scripture is its sufficiency in “teaching.” The word Paul uses for “teaching” literally means instruction and is closely related to the concept of doctrine and content. He uses the same word in Titus 2:1, “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.” Paul has in mind here the sufficiency of Scripture in directing the believer in how to live every facet of the Christian life, in what doctrine to believe, and in what God expects of him or her.
The second declaration made by Paul regarding the sufficiency of Scripture is, “reproof,” which establishes the quality of admonishment inherent within Scripture. Paul had in mind here confronting those who have fallen into error and departed from what God requires. Scripture is profitable in judging the heart to the extent of pointing out areas of deviation from the faith once delivered to all the saints. When believers stray in practice or doctrine from the faith, Scripture reproves that individual and points the way home. In 2 Timothy 3:16, acting as a companion to “reproof” is the term, “correction.” Those who stray into doctrinal error or sinful lifestyle patterns are not only reproved and confronted by Scripture in the error of their ways, but are corrected through the renewing of their mind, holiness, and truth (Eph 4:20–24).
Finally, Paul reminds Timothy that Scripture is profitable for “training in righteousness.” Not only is Scripture able to teach you the right doctrine and holy living, point out error by reproving and correction, but it also demonstrates how to put its teaching into practice on a daily basis. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus in Ephesians 4:25–32:
Lay aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you…be angry and do not sin…do not give the devil an opportunity…steal no longer…share with one who has need…let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Scripture does not shroud in mystery the manner in which believers are to love, live, and conduct themselves. On the contrary, Scripture is profitable for “training in righteousness” to the extent that apart from the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, no additional revelation is required in order for a believer to know how to live the Christian life.
Scripture attests to its own sufficiency in providing everything that is profitable and essential for all believers to live faithful, holy, and righteous lives to the glory of God.
We don’t need any more inspired and inerrant words. God’s breath is sufficient for all believers in every age to glorify him throughout eternity.
This article originally appeared in Theology for Life Magazine.