Revelation, inspiration, and infallibility (23): “What saith the Scripture:” The Bible’s sufficiency (2)

Previous article in this series: March 1, 2018, p. 252.

Additional proof of Scripture’s sufficiency

We ended our last article by demonstrating Scripture’s sufficiency from the two classic passages on the infallible inspiration of Scripture, II Timothy 3:16-17 and II Peter 1:19-21. Besides the support for the sufficiency of Scripture that is found in these two classic passages, there are other texts that underscore this truth concerning the Bible. One of those texts is Deuteronomy 4:2, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”

This text was part of Moses’ exhortation to the children of Israel as they were about to enter the promised land. An entire generation that had been disobedient to the Word of God had perished in the wilderness. In the very next chapter, Deuteronomy 5, Israel would receive the law of God for the second time; hence, the name of the book “Deuteronomy,” which means “second [giving of the] law.” Deuteronomy 5 contains the repetition of the Ten Commandments, the moral law of God, first given to the children of Israel in Exodus 20, after they had been delivered from the bondage of Egypt. But before the second giving of the law, Israel must hear the sharp exhortation that she is not to add unto or take away from the word of God’s law. God’s Word is to be obeyed, without any deletions from or additions to that Word of God.

What was true for the Old Testament people of God with respect specifically to the Old Testament law, by implication applies to the entire Word of God, including the New Testament. It is all the law of God, inasmuch as it is all the revelation of His will and is all His Word. To it we are not permitted to add anything, and from it we are not permitted to take anything away.

In Proverbs 30:5, 6 we read: “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” Once again, the admonition given is that we are not to add anything unto the Word of God. The idea is that we are not to change God’s Word in any way as that word comes to us in the Scriptures. Changing the Word of God would include not only adding to the Scriptures, but also taking away from them. Both adding to and taking away from God’s Word involve changing His Word, which is forbidden by this admonition. Strikingly, the ground upon which the warning rests is that “every word of God is pure.” The purity, that is, the infallibility and perfection of the Word of God is the reason on account of which the Scriptures cannot and may not be altered in any way.

That only makes sense. The need to change the Word of God could only be necessitated by one of two things. Either there is some fault in His Word, which would require that something be deleted from it. Or, there is something lacking in God’s Word, which would mean that there is a deficiency in it that must be made up. Either alternative brings into question and, ultimately, denies the purity of the Word of God. If God’s Word is pure, without any fault or error, it necessarily follows that nothing can be added unto or taken away from His Word. It is altogether sufficient in itself.

And finally, there are the closing words of the entire Bible, in Revelation 22:18, 19:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book.

What the apostle John through the Spirit says here does not only apply to the book of Revelation, as though “the prophecy of this book” refers exclusively to this one book of the Bible. Rather, what applies to the book of Revelation as inspired, God-breathed Scripture, applies to the entire Word of God. What applies to the last book of the Bible, by clear and necessary consequence, applies to the whole Bible. It is all prophecy, that is, it is all the very Word of God. That is the nature of prophecy. The book of Revelation is the last of those books of prophecy; it closes the canon of Scripture. What applies to the book of Revelation, by extension, therefore, applies equally to the whole of Scripture. If any man adds to the words of Scripture, or takes away from the words of Scripture, the judgment of God rests on him. God will visit upon him the plagues that are written in the book of Revelation and God shall take away his part out of the book of life.

Severe warning! Awful judgment!

The sufficiency of Scripture in the Reformed creeds

In line with the teaching of Scripture regarding its sufficiency is also the testimony of our Reformed confessions. The Reformed confessions are explicit with regard to the sufficiency of Holy Scripture. The title of Article 7 of the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) is: “The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures to be the Only Rule of Faith.” The article begins:

We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently (emphasis added, RLC) taught therein. For, since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in them at large, it is unlawful for anyone, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures; “nay, though it were an angel from heaven,” as the apostle Paul saith. For, since it is forbidden “to add unto or take away anything from the Word of God,” it doth thereby evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) is in complete agreement with the Belgic Confession of Faith on the issue of Scripture’s sufficiency. In the first chapter, “Of the Holy Scripture,” at the beginning of the sixth paragraph, the Westminster divines state:

The 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: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (1562/63) also contain a statement concerning the sufficiency of Holy Scripture. The title of Article 6 is, “Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scripture for Salvation.” The article begins:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

The Scots Confession (1560), written principally by John Knox, also affirms the sufficiency of Holy Scripture. In Chapter 19, the title of which is “The Authority of the Scriptures,” the confession puts in the mouth of every Scotch/Irish Presbyterian these words: “As we believe and confess the Scriptures of God sufficient to instruct and make perfect the man of God, so do we affirm and avow their authority to be from God, and not to depend on men or angels.” Scripture is sufficient both to instruct and to make perfect the child of God.

At the time of ordination/installation into office, three questions are put to every minister of the gospel, according to the Reformed Form of Ordination of the Ministers of God’s Word. We ought to remember, at this point, that the Reformed liturgical forms are “minor confessions.” The second question in the Form of Ordination is: “Whether thou dost believe the books of the Old and New Testament to be the only Word of God and the perfect doctrine unto salvation, and dost reject all doctrine repugnant thereto?” The question calls for more than merely an affirmation of the infallibility and divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, as important as that is. It also calls upon the minister to affirm the sufficiency of Holy Scripture. It does so in two respects. First, not only is Scripture referred to as the “Word of God,” but it is the “only Word of God.” Nothing can be added to it or taken away from it; Scripture is the “only” Word of God. Then, secondly, Scripture contains the “perfect doctrine unto salvation.” “Perfect” here is “complete.” Scripture contains the complete doctrine unto salvation. Everything that is necessary to know for salvation is contained in Holy Scripture. Nothing need be and nothing can be added to Scripture or subtracted from it.

The incentive to use the Scriptures

The truth of Scripture’s sufficiency puts tradition in its place, its rightful place in the church. The Reformers and the Reformed churches did not throw tradition out the window. They did not reject tradition, the valuable role of tradition, or the benefit of the traditions of the church. The Reformers to a man had high regard for ecclesiastical tradition. And the Reformed believer today ought to have high regard for church tradition.

Of what profit for the church today are the writings of the theologians and preachers of the church of the past! Of what enduring value are not the writings of an Augustine, a Luther, a Calvin, a Bavinck, and a Hoeksema. Of what great value are the creeds and catechisms of the church of the past: the Belgic Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, the Westminster Standards. What good does not the church today derive from the Church Order of Dordt, the liturgical forms, the Directory for Public Worship, and the Directory for Family Worship. There have been so many beneficial decisions of the church and church assemblies of the past: the Council of Nicea, the Synod of Dordt (1618-’19), and the synods of the Protestant Reformed Churches. And there is so much more that we have received from the church of the past by way of tradition. No, we must never reject tradition because it is tradition, but hold the traditions in highest regard. Nevertheless, none of the traditions may be held above the Word of God. None of them is an authority alongside the authority of the Word of God. And none of them is to be held in contradiction to the teaching of God’s Word.

Scripture’s sufficiency ought to be a great incentive to the believer to read and to use the Word of God. Since Scripture is the complete Word of God, the minister ought to be encouraged to preach the Scriptures. In doing so, he preaches the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). That preaching is sufficient and that preaching must make plain that the Word of God is sufficient unto salvation for every child of God. The sufficiency of Scripture ought to convince the faithful minister and elder that Scripture has the answers for the needs of the people of God—all their needs. The solution to even the most difficult pastoral situation can be found in the Holy Scriptures. This is all that we need on the mission field. We need not and we may not bring anything else in missions than the Word of God, for the Word of God answers to the needs of God’s people everywhere and in every age.

The sufficiency of Scripture ought to be an incentive to read and meditate on Scripture for the benefit of our marriages and families. Everything that a husband and wife need in their marriage, everything that parents need in their calling to rear their children, every difficult problem that they face with their teenagers, has an answer. And that answer is to be found in Holy Scripture. It is to be found in Scripture because Scripture is sufficient—the Word of God in its entirety.