The Finality and Sufficiency of Scripture Part 1 of 2

image70Part 2 is here

Reading through John Murray and his collected writings I have come across an interesting chapter in volume 1, “The Finality and Sufficiency of Scripture”. I found it a helpful reminder for us in a time when such a position may seem out-dated or irrelevant. We are at a pivotal point in our society. Now, more than ever, we must affirm our position of the finality and sufficiency of Scripture. This doctrine, cannot be  taken for granted. It is still worth our time and careful examination.

The Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 1.8:

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them.

and WCF 1.10:

The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

There is a spectrum at hand. On one end of the spectrum is Rome and their appeal to tradition and the voice of the church. The other end of the spectrum is the anabaptist thought, they would eliminate any distinction between clergy and laity, means of grace, and focussed on the special revelation to their inner light. They could best be summarized with the popular slogan “Just me and my bible”.

A clause for this discussion, is in section 10 “the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” The confession has already dealt with this question in section 5:

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture, and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole, (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.

Section 5 is concerned with the agency by which “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority” of Scripture are induced. Section 10 however deals with the Scripture as canon and when the Holy Spirit is speaking it signifies that Scripture is not dead but living. It is living because of the person behind the text speaking, not because there is some mystical power in the bible itself. The Scripture is God’s word and therefore when God speaks it is always effective and never dead. The Reformers had two distinct challenges. Rome argued that a living voice is needed for the faith and guidance of the Church. The anabaptists argued that all we needed was the inner voice of the believer.

I spoke with a Papist apologist about Sola Scriptura once. One of the rather obvious observations he made was that we didn’t always have the bible. This would be his wedge through which the voice of the Church would take primacy for him over Scripture. This same conversation has happened in conversations with Mormons regarding the essence of Scripture. To begin this discussion on the sufficiency and finality of Scripture a definition of Scripture is necessary. Scripture is inscripturated. It is more than just the printed words on the page. Scripture is distinct from other words in other books, such as the Iliad. Scripture is revelation. It is God communicating to us. Communicating something to us that we couldn’t know without it. Closely related to the definition of Scripture is the particular place in history. We must consider our current place in history to the place in history when God has revealed his will.

An obvious observation on the finality and sufficiency of Scripture in light of our place in history   means there was a time when “finality and sufficiency of Scripture” didn’t mean then what I understand it to mean today. There were clearly times when God’s revelatory word was not in written form. God communicated his will and revelation in other methods. But clearly there was a time when there would be a word that was committed to writing. This writing was also considered authoritative as our Lord would cite “It is written” when rebuking the devil. Jesus cites Scripture and in doing so communicates that Scripture is irrefutable. There is no higher argument than Scripture.

However, even when Jesus died and ascended, God’s revelation was not complete. The process of revelation would continue through the apostles till they died. Their teachings are captured in Scripture and therefore we view the canon of Scripture as closed. Revelation is not happening now in the same way it did when the apostles were writing. Thus, Scripture plays a unique role because it contains revelation as it was happening and, since Scripture is no longer being written, Scripture is complete. It is the consensus, even among those who disagree with us, that Scripture is a closed canon.

We do not have prophets, since we no longer have our Lord with us as he was with the disciples. And we do not have new organs of revelation as we did in apostolic times. Scripture in it’s total extant is therefore the only revelation of the mind and will of God available to us. This is how Murray explains what the finality of Scripture is to be understood.

There is the position that maintains: since Christ is the incarnate Word, that he is the revelation of God. Christ is the center of Scripture itself and that Scripture is the medium to encounter Christ. With this we do not only admit but proclaim! However, that being said, taking into account this emphasis we also take into account the uniqueness of Christ in the history of revelation and redemption so that we do not fail to discern the place of Scripture in the revelation of Christ and our encounter with him. Only through Scripture do we have any knowledge of or contact with him who is the “image of the invisible God”. We do not know Christ apart from it.

3 thoughts on “The Finality and Sufficiency of Scripture Part 1 of 2

  1. You say: “We do not have prophets, since we no longer have our Lord with us as he was with the disciples.”

    I do lean toward the idea that we no longer have prophets, but I don’t see how your premise leads to that conclusion. Was the Lord with Moses and Samuel the way he was with the disciples? If the answer is “no,” then it doesn’t follow that we don’t have them for that reason.

    1. Hi Jeff

      That (Was the Lord with Moses and Samuel the way he was with his disciples?) is too simplistic of a way to see revelation through history and is erroneous. It also misses the point that I communicated in this blog (which is probably my fault). God has not always communicated to us in the same way throughout history. There is a progression of revelation with its climax/fulfillment being in Jesus. I quote Warfield “This is not the place to trace, even in outline, from the material point of view, the development of God’s redemptive revelation from its first beginnings, in the promise given to Abraham…to its completion in the advent and work of Christ and the teaching of His apostles; a steadily advancing development, which, as it lies spread out to view in the pages of Scripture, takes to those who look at it from the consummation backward, the appearance of the shadow cast athwart preceding ages by the great figure of Christ.” (Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 81)

      Hebrews 1:1 reads that God spoke to our fathers by the prophets (Moses and Samuel) but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. There were prophets to declare the will of God prior to the Incarnation, who captured for us the deeds and mighty acts of God that showed he is a savior or sinners. Through the prophets God communicated with his chosen people who would not live to witness those events or hear those words firsthand. Through the plane of history God was making (since the fall) a further revelation of himself by grace. This special/supernatural revelation was granted at first only to individuals, then progressively to a family, a tribe, a nation, a race, until, when the fulness of time was come, it was made the possession of the whole world. Revelation has for its purpose the product of knowledge. (Warfield, 81)

      Christ has come and given his teachings to his apostles. Thus the only authoritative and infallible teaching we have of God’s will is in the revelation of Scripture. To think of revelation without a progression it to flatten it out. As if our place in history is irrelevant. This is kind of questioning can lead to a view of Scripture as “insufficient” rather than a sufficient. Not that you are advocating that (I know you aren’t) but if we are to think of revelation as “flat” rather than progressing and culminating in the Incarnation of the Son of God then we will miss out on the context of history with revelation.

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