Previous article in this series: August 2016, p. 445.
The Bible is the Word of God—the Word of God in the words of men. The Bible is an entirely unique book. There is no other book in the whole world that is like this book. There is only one book that can be called “the Word of God.” There is only one book written in human language, one book that can be read, studied, and meditated on that is “the Word of God.” That book is the Bible, or Holy Scripture, or just Scripture.
Because the Bible is God’s Word, it shares in the perfections of God. Reformed theology and the Reformed confessions traditionally identify five outstanding perfections of sacred Scripture. They are Scripture’s authority, Scripture’s necessity, Scripture’s perspicuity, Scripture’s sufficiency, and Scripture’s reliability or trustworthiness.
The perfections of Scripture are interdependent. Scripture’s necessity depends on the other perfections of Scripture. If Scripture is not the authoritative Word of God, neither can it be necessary for faith and life. It might be an extremely valuable book, an interesting book, a book containing worthwhile insights and helpful advice. But it would not be an absolutely necessary book, one’s life temporally and eternally depending on it. Only if Scripture is clear and understandable, can it also be a book necessary to read and know. If the Bible is not understandable, it might be necessary, but its necessity would be lost on its readers, at least on most of its readers. Only if the Bible is clear can it effectively function as a book that is necessary to read and know.
Further, only if Scripture is sufficient, containing the full revelation of God to man, can it alone be a book necessary for the child of God to believe. If Scripture is not the sufficient revelation of God, at the very least something else must be added to the Scriptures. And only if Scripture is trustworthy, can it also be functionally necessary in the life of the child of God. A book that is unreliable, filled with errors and untruths, cannot be truly necessary in the life of the believer. Rather than be necessary, it ought to be rejected and burned.
In the last two articles we treated the first of Scripture’s perfections, its authority. In this article and the next, we want to consider Scripture’s necessity.
By Scripture’s necessity, we mean that Scripture is in dispensable. It cannot be set aside or replaced by something else. What is written in its pages and the message it contains is unlike that which is written anywhere else. It provides answers to the most searching questions that human beings can ask. It gives guidance for the most perplexing problems, guidance that cannot be found in any other book. It imparts knowledge of truth that cannot be obtained from any other source. And it provides comfort that cannot be derived from any other religious text.
For What Scripture is Necessary
For what is Scripture necessary? Scripture is necessary for everything, absolutely everything of importance in the life of the child of God. Chiefly, Scripture is necessary for the right knowledge of God. Jesus teaches inthat “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” But God cannot be known—known fully or truthfully— apart from the Bible.
By comparison with God’s revelation in creation, what is commonly referred to as general revelation, God’s revelation in Scripture is a much fuller, more complete knowledge of God. And in distinction from general revelation, God’s special revelation in His Word is necessary for salvation. God cannot be known savingly from His revelation in creation. Neither can a saving knowledge of God be derived from an inner voice, a special speech of God that comes from within a person. Rather, what is necessary is that God be known from His Word, the sacred Scriptures. And apart from the Word there is no saving revelation of God. This is Scripture’s necessity.
All this has to do with God’s purpose in special revelation as compared to His purpose in general revelation. God’s purpose in general revelation is simply to reveal enough of Himself in order to leave unbelieving men without excuse. In general revelation, God makes known His deity—that He is God. Connected with that, He makes known something of His greatness, His glory, and the duty of all men to serve Him. But in general revelation, there is no grace. It is only in His revelation in Scripture that God makes known His mercy and His love in Jesus Christ. That is the great difference between God’s revelation in the creation, on the one hand, and God’s revelation in Scripture, on the other hand. In Scripture, God makes Himself known in a saving way. He makes Himself known in the cross and death of His Son, Jesus Christ, as well as the calling of all men to believe on Jesus Christ. That distinguishes special revelation from general revelation, and that makes special revelation— Scripture—necessary.
Since Scripture is necessary for the right knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ, Scripture is indispensable for salvation. Apart from the Scriptures and the revelation of God contained in the Scriptures, there is no possibility of salvation. This is the distinctive message of the Christian religion. This means that the truth claims of the Christian religion stand apart from the truth claims of any other of the world’s religions. It is not the case that the other religions contain some of the truth and, therefore, have a positive religious contribution to make. They are not stepping stones to THE truth. They are false religions. Their adherents are guilty of worshiping gods that are no gods. They must repent and turn from their idolatry in order to worship the true God who is revealed in Scripture. There is only one true religion, and that is due to the fact that there is only one authoritative, infallibly inspired, religious book. It is not the Book of Mormon, or the Koran, or the Bhagavad Gita. It is the Bible and the Bible alone.
Besides the revelation of Himself and the way of salvation in Scripture, there are other important reasons on account of which Scripture is necessary. Scripture is necessary for the faith and life of the child of God. The Bible contains all that we are to believe (faith) and the complete will of God for how we are to live in this world (life). To put it another way, the Bible is necessary for doctrine and for ethics. Apart from Scripture we would not know what to believe or how we ought to live.
Scripture is necessary for the right worship of God. That is an important aspect of Scripture’s necessity. God is to be worshiped, not as we see fit, but as He reveals it is His will to be worshiped. And He has revealed His will for worship in His Word. The nature of worship, the form of worship, and the elements of worship are all made known in Scripture. Apart from Scripture we would not know whom we are to worship—the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Neither would we know the way in which we are to worship Him. Both the object of worship and the manner of worship are contained in Holy Scripture.
For all these reasons and more besides, Scripture is necessary, absolutely necessary.
Scripture’s Necessity Proven
Scripture and the Reformed confessions teach Scripture’s necessity. To the unbelieving leaders of the people Jesus says in, “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” In the Scriptures is to be found eternal life, and apart from the Scriptures there is no eternal life and salvation. The necessity of the Scriptures for eternal life is due to the fact that “they are they which testify of me”; that is, in the Scriptures Christ is revealed. And the clear implication is that outside of the Scriptures, Christ cannot be known.
Similarly, Simon Peter confesses inthat in Christ are to be found “the words of eternal life.” These are not simply words about eternal life, but words that impart eternal life. Still today, Christ “has the words of eternal life.” He has them on the pages of Holy Scripture. They who read and believe the words of Scripture have eternal life. They have it in the sense that they are assured of it, already now possess it, are preserved in it, and will one day inherit it. There is no other book about which it can be said that its words are “the words of eternal life.”
Toward the end of the Gospel according to John, the apostle writes:
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name ().
That which is written in the pages of the Bible is written for the purpose that those who read will believe that Jesus is the Christ. Believing that Jesus is the Christ, they will “have life through his name.” The implication, once again, is that apart from that which is “written in this book,” there is no possibility of faith in Jesus Christ and no enjoyment of eternal life. For the possession and enjoyment of these blessings, Scripture is necessary.
In perfect agreement with the teaching of our Lord and His beloved disciple John is the teaching of the apostle Paul. Writing inhe says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Faith is necessary for salvation. Only believers are saved. But faith “comes,” that is, faith is worked and produced by “hearing,” the apostle teaches. The hearing that he has in mind, of course, is the hearing of the preaching of the gospel. But faith and the preaching that is the means unto faith are dependent on “the word of God.” Apart from the Scriptures there is no possibility of faith and no possibility of the salvation that is enjoyed through faith. So indispensable are the Scriptures!
Both of the classic passages on the inspiration of Scripture teach Scripture’s necessity. In, the apostle teaches the profit of inspired Scripture. The God-breathed Scripture “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” The implication is that apart from Scripture there is no enjoyment of the profit mentioned here: right doctrine, godly reproof and correction when one strays, and instruction in the way of righteousness. Neither is the man or woman of God properly furnished unto all good works to the glory of God and the well-being of the neighbor. All of this invaluable profit is imparted by Scripture and by Scripture alone. Clearly, Scripture is necessary, abundantly necessary.
Inbelievers are admonished that they “do well” to “take heed” unto Scripture “as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” And again, apart from Scripture there is no light shining in this dark and evil world. The only light that penetrates and dispels the darkness, the only light that lights the way so that the child of God can safely walk that way, is Holy Scripture. So necessary is Scripture that apart from the light that it sheds, there is only darkness—nothing but darkness.
In line with the teaching of Scripture, the Reformed confessions teach the necessity of Scripture. The Belgic Confession, in Article 2, speaks of the two means by which God is pleased to reveal Himself, His revelation in creation and in His sacred Word. By comparison to His revelation in creation, “He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word.” The article goes on to say that this revelation is “as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to His glory and our salvation.” Scripture contains that which is “necessary for us to know” both for “His glory and our salvation.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith also affirms Scripture’s necessity. In the very first paragraph of the first chapter, the Confession teaches that “for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary.” Scripture is “most necessary” for the preservation and propagation of the truth and for the establishment and comfort of the church. “Most necessary,” that is altogether necessary, indispensably necessary, with a necessity that cannot be replaced or set aside.
In the sixth paragraph of the Confession’s first chapter, the Westminster divines state that “[t]he 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….” “All things necessary” for God’s glory and man’s salvation are set forth in Holy Scripture. This is Scripture’s absolute and irreplaceable necessity, a necessity that sets it apart from every other book that has been written.
With grateful heart my thanks I bring,
Before the great Thy praise I sing;
I worship in Thy holy place
And praise Thee for Thy truth and grace;
For truth and grace together shine
In Thy most holy Word divine,
In Thy most holy Word divine.
(Psalter, #381, stanza 1)