The Word of God

by Wayne Grudem
(see note at the bottom of this page for information on how to obtain this book)

What are the different forms of the Word of God?

Explanation and Scriptural Basis

What is meant by the phrase “the Word of God”? Actually, there are several different meanings taken by this phrase in the Bible. It is helpful to distinguish these different senses clearly at the beginning of this study.

A. “The Word of God” as a Person: Jesus Christ

Sometimes the Bible refers to the Son of God as “the Word of God.” In Revelation 19:13, John sees the risen Lord Jesus in heaven and says, “The name by which he is called is The Word of God.” Similarly, in the beginning of John’s gospel we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). It is clear that John is speaking of the Son of God here, because in verse 14 he says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” These verses (and perhaps 1 John 1:1) are the only instances where the Bible refers to God the Son as “the Word” or “the Word of God,” so this usage is not common. But it does indicate that among the members of the Trinity it is especially God the Son who in his person as well as in his words has the role of communicating the character of God to us and of expressing the will of God for us.

B. “The Word of God” as Speech by God

1. God’s Decrees. Sometimes God’s words take the form of powerful decrees that cause events to happen or even cause things to come into being. “And God said, “Let there be light’; and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). God even created the animal world by speaking his powerful word: “And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so” (Gen. 1:24). Thus, the psalmist can say, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6).

These powerful, creative words from God are often called God’s decrees. A decree of God is a word of God that causes something to happen. These decrees of God include not only the events of the original creation but also the continuing existence of all things, for Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Christ is continually “upholding the universe by his word of power.”

2. God’s Words of Personal Address. God sometimes communicates with people on earth by speaking directly to them. These can be called instances of God’s Word of personal address. Examples are found throughout Scripture. At the very beginning of creation God speaks to Adam: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die”‘ (Gen. 2:16-17). After the sin of Adam and Eve, God still comes and speaks directly and personally to them in the words of the curse (Gen. 3:16-19). Another prominent example of God’s direct personal address to people on earth is found in the giving of the Ten Commandments: “And God spoke all these words saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me …”‘ (Ex. 20:1-3). In the New Testament, at Jesus’ baptism, God the Father spoke with a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).

In these and several other instances where God spoke words of personal address to individual people it was clear to the hearers that these were the actual words of God: they were hearing God’s very voice, and they were therefore hearing words that had absolute divine authority and that were absolutely trustworthy. To disbelieve or disobey any of these words would have been to disbelieve or disobey God and therefore would have been sin.

Though the words of God’s personal address are always seen in Scripture to be the actual words of God, they are also “human” words in that they are spoken in ordinary human language that is immediately understandable. The fact that these words are spoken in human language does not limit their divine character or authority in any way: they are still entirely the words of God, spoken by the voice of God himself.

Some theologians have argued that since human language is always in some sense “imperfect,” any message that God addresses to us in human language must also be limited in its authority or truthfulness. But these passages and many others that record instances of God’s words of personal address to individuals give no indication of any limitation of the authority or truthfulness of God’s words when they are spoken in human language. Quite the contrary is true, for the words always place an absolute obligation upon the hearers to believe them and to obey them fully. To disbelieve or disobey any part of them is to disbelieve or disobey God himself.

3. God’s Words as Speech Through Human Lips. Frequently in Scripture God raises up prophets through whom he speaks. Once again, it is evident that although these are human words, spoken in ordinary human language by ordinary human beings, the authority and truthfulness of these words is in no way diminished: they are still completely God’s words as well.

In Deuteronomy 18, God says to Moses:

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. (Deut. 18:18-20)

God made a similar statement to Jeremiah: “Then the LORD put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth”‘ (Jer. 1:9). God tells Jeremiah, “Whatever I command you you shall speak” (Jer. 1:7; see also Ex. 4:12; Num. 22:38; 1 Sam. 15:3, 18, 23; 1 Kings 20:36; 2 Chron. 20:20; 25:15-16; Isa. 30:12-14; Jer. 6:10-12; 36:29-31; et al.). Anyone who claimed to be speaking for the Lord but who had not received a message from him was severely punished (Ezek. 13:1-7; Deut. 18:20-22).

Thus God’s words spoken through human lips were considered to be just as authoritative and just as true as God’s words of personal address. There was no diminishing of the authority of these words when they were spoken through human lips. To disbelieve or disobey any of them was to disbelieve or disobey God himself.

4. God’s Words in Written Form (the Bible). In addition to God’s words of decree, God’s words of personal address, and God’s words spoken through the lips of human beings, we also find in Scripture several instances where God’s words were put in written form. The first of these is found in the narrative of the giving of the two tablets of stone on which were written the Ten Commandments: “And he gave to Moses, when he had made an end of speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18). “And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables” (Ex. 32:16; 34:1, 28).

Further writing was done by Moses:

And Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years … you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing … that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God….” (Deut. 31:9-13)

This book which Moses wrote was then deposited by the side of the ark of the covenant: “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, “Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you”‘ (Deut. 31:24-26).

Further additions were made to this book of God’s words. “And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God” (Josh. 24:26). God commanded Isaiah, “And now, go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book that it may be for the time to come as a witness for ever” (Isa. 30:8). Once again, God said to Jeremiah, “Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you” (Jer. 30:2; cf. Jer. 36:2-4, 27-31; 51:60). In the New Testament, Jesus promises his disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance the words which he, Jesus, had spoken (John 14:26; cf. 16:12-13). Paul can say that the very words he writes to the Corinthians are “a command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 2 Peter 3:2).

Once again it must be noted that these words are still considered to be God’s own words, even though they are written down mostly by human beings and always in human language. Still, they are absolutely authoritative and absolutely true: to disobey them or disbelieve them is a serious sin and brings judgment from God (1 Cor. 14:37; Jer. 36:29-31).

Several benefits come from the writing down of God’s words. First, there is a much more accurate preservation of God’s words for subsequent generations. To depend on memory and the repeating of oral tradition is a less reliable method of preserving these words throughout history than is their recording in writing (cf. Deut. 31:12-13). Second, the opportunity for repeated inspection of words that are written down permits careful study and discussion, which leads to better understanding and more complete obedience. Third, God’s words in writing are accessible to many more people than they are when preserved merely through memory and oral repetition. They can be inspected at any time by any person and are not limited in accessibility to those who have memorized them or those who are able to be present when they are recited orally. Thus, the reliability, permanence, and accessibility of the form in which God’s words are preserved are all greatly enhanced when they are written down. Yet there is no indication that their authority or truthfulness is diminished.

C. The Focus of Our Study

Of all the forms of the Word of God, the focus of our study in systematic theology is God’s Word in written form, that is, the Bible. This is the form of God’s Word that is available for study, for public inspection, for repeated examination, and as a basis for mutual discussion. It tells us about and points us to the Word of God as a person, namely Jesus Christ, whom we do not now have present in bodily form on earth. Thus, we are no longer able to observe and imitate his life and teachings firsthand.

The other forms of the Word of God are not suitable as the primary basis for the study of theology. We do not hear God’s words of decree and thus cannot study them directly but only through observation of their effects. God’s words of personal address are uncommon, even in Scripture. Furthermore, even if we did hear some words of personal address from God to ourselves today, we would not have certainty that our understanding of it, our memory of it, and our subsequent report of it was wholly accurate. Nor would we be readily able to convey to others the certainty that the communication was from God, even if it was. God’s words as spoken through human lips ceased to be given when the New Testament canon was completed. Thus, these other forms of God’s words are inadequate as a primary basis for study in theology.

It is most profitable for us to study God’s words as written in the Bible. It is God’s written Word that he commands us to study. The man is “blessed” who “meditates” on God’s law “day and night” (Ps. 1:1-2). God’s words to Joshua are also applicable to us: “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night that you may be careful to do all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success” (Josh. 1:8). It is the Word of God in the form of written Scripture that is “God-breathed” and “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16 NIV).

How do we know that the Bible is God’s Word?

With regard to the first characteristic, most Christians would agree that the Bible is our authority in some sense. But in exactly what sense does the Bible claim to be our authority? And how do we become persuaded that the claims of Scripture to be God’s Word are true? These are the questions addressed in this chapter.

Explanation and Scriptural Basis

The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.

This definition may now be examined in its various parts.

A. All the Words in Scripture Are God’s Words

1. This Is What the Bible Claims for Itself. There are frequent claims in the Bible that all the words of Scripture are God’s words (as well as words that were written down by men). In the Old Testament, this is frequently seen in the introductory phrase, “Thus says the LORD,” which appears hundreds of times. In the world of the Old Testament, this phrase would have been recognized as identical in form to the phrase, “Thus says king …,” which was used to preface the edict of a king to his subjects, an edict that could not be challenged or questioned but that simply had to be obeyed. Thus, when the prophets say, “Thus says the Lord,” they are claiming to be messengers from the sovereign King of Israel, namely, God himself, and they are claiming that their words are the absolutely authoritative words of God. When a prophet spoke in God’s name in this way, every word he spoke had to come from God, or he would be a false prophet (cf. Num. 22:38; Deut. 18:18-20; Jer. 1:9; 14:14; 23:16-22; 29:31-32; Ezek. 2:7; 13:1-16).

Furthermore, God is often said to speak “through” the prophet (1 Kings 14:18; 16:12, 34; 2 Kings 9:36; 14:25; Jer. 37:2; Zech. 7:7, 12). Thus, what the prophet says in God’s name, God says (1 Kings 13:26 with v. 21; 1 Kings 21:19 with 2 Kings 9:25-26; Hag. 1:12; cf. 1 Sam. 15:3, 18). In these and other instances in the Old Testament, words that the prophets spoke can equally be referred to as words that God himself spoke. Thus, to disbelieve or disobey anything a prophet says is to disbelieve or disobey God himself (Deut. 18:19; 1 Sam. 10:8; 13:13-14; 15:3, 19, 23; 1 Kings 20:35, 36).

These verses of course do not claim that all the words in the Old Testament are God’s words, for these verses themselves are referring only to specific sections of spoken or written words in the Old Testament. But the cumulative force of these passages, including the hundreds of passages that begin “Thus says the Lord,” is to demonstrate that within the Old Testament we have written records of words that are said to be God’s own words. These words when written down constitute large sections of the Old Testament.

In the New Testament, a number of passages indicate that all of the Old Testament writings are thought of as God’s words. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (NIV). (below, [4:3]) Here “Scripture” (graphe) must refer to the Old Testament written Scripture, for that is what the word graphe refers to in every one of its fifty-one occurrences in the New Testament. Furthermore, the “sacred writings” of the Old Testament are what Paul has just referred to in verse 15.

Paul here affirms that all of the Old Testament writings are theopneustos “breathed out by God.” Since it is writings that are said to be “breathed out,” this breathing must be understood as a metaphor for speaking the words of Scripture. This verse thus states in brief form what was evident in many passages in the Old Testament: the Old Testament writings are regarded as God’s Word in written form. For every word of the Old Testament, God is the one who spoke (and still speaks) it, although God used human agents to write these words down.

A similar indication of the character of all Old Testament writings as God’s words is found in 2 Peter 1:21. Speaking of the prophecies of Scripture (v. 20), which means at least the Old Testament Scriptures to which Peter encourages his readers to give careful attention (v. 19), Peter says that none of these prophecies ever came “by the impulse of man,” but that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” It is not Peter’s intention to deny completely human volition or personality in the writing of Scripture (he says that the men “spoke”), but rather to say that the ultimate source of every prophecy was never a man’s decision about what he wanted to write, but rather the Holy Spirit’s action in the prophet’s life, carried out in ways unspecified here (or, in fact, elsewhere in Scripture). This indicates a belief that all of the Old Testament prophecies (and, in light of vv. 19-20, this probably includes all of the written Scripture of the Old Testament) are spoken “from God”: that is, they are God’s own words.

Many other New Testament passages speak in similar ways about sections of the Old Testament. In Matthew 1:22, Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 7:14 are cited as “what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” In Matthew 4:4 Jesus says to the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” In the context of Jesus’ repeated citations from Deuteronomy to answer every temptation, the words that proceed “from the mouth of God” are the written Scriptures of the Old Testament.

In Matthew 19:5, the words of the author in Genesis 2:24, not attributed to God in the Genesis narrative, are quoted by Jesus as words that God “said.” In Mark 7:9-13, the same Old Testament passage can be called interchangeably “the commandment of God,” or what “Moses said,” or “the word of God.” In Acts 1:16, the words of Psalms 69 and 109 are said to be words which “the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David.” Words of Scripture are thus said to be spoken by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:16-17, in quoting “what was spoken by the prophet Joel” in Joel 2:28-32, Peter inserts “God declares,” thus attributing to God words written by Joel, and claiming that God is presently saying them.

Many other passages could be cited (see Luke 1:70; 24:25; John 5:45-47; Acts 3:18, 21; 4:25; 13:47; 28:25; Rom. 1:2; 3:2; 9:17; 1 Cor. 9:8-10; Heb. 1:1-2, 6-7), but the pattern of attributing to God the words of Old Testament Scripture should be very clear. Moreover, in several places it is all of the words of the prophets or the words of the Old Testament Scriptures that are said to compel belief or to be from God (see Luke 24:25, 27, 44; Acts 3:18; 24:14; Rom. 15:4).

But if Paul meant only the Old Testament writings when he spoke of “Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:16, how can this verse apply to the New Testament writings as well? Does it say anything about the character of the New Testament writings? To answer that question, we must realize that the Greek word graphe (“scripture”) was a technical term for the New Testament writers and had a very specialized meaning. Even though it is used fifty-one times in the New Testament, every one of those instances uses it to refer to the Old Testament writings, not to any other words or writings outside the canon of Scripture. Thus, everything that belonged in the category “scripture” had the character of being “God-breathed”: its words were God’s very words.

But at two places in the New Testament we see New Testament writings also being called “scripture” along with the Old Testament writings. As we noted in chapter 3, in 2 Peter 3:16, Peter shows not only an awareness of the existence of written epistles from Paul, but also a clear willingness to classify “all of his [Paul’s] epistles” with “the other scriptures.” This is an indication that very early in the history of the church all of Paul’s epistles were considered to be God’s written words in the same sense as the Old Testament texts were. Similarly, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes Jesus’ words as found in Luke 10:7 and calls them “scripture.”

These two passages taken together indicate that during the time of the writing of the New Testament documents there was an awareness that additions were being made to this special category of writings called “scripture,” writings that had the character of being God’s very words. Thus, once we establish that a New Testament writing belongs to the special category “scripture,” then we are correct in applying 2 Timothy 3:16 to that writing as well, and saying that that writing also has the characteristic Paul attributes to “all scripture”: it is “God-breathed,” and all its words are the very words of God.

Is there further evidence that the New Testament writers thought of their own writings (not just the Old Testament) as being words of God? In some cases, there is. In 1 Corinthians 14:37, Paul says, “If any one thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.” Paul has here instituted a number of rules for church worship at Corinth and has claimed for them the status of “commands of the Lord,” for the phrase translated “what I am writing to you” contains a plural relative pronoun in Greek (ha) and is more literally translated “the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.”

One objection to seeing the words of New Testament writers as words of God is sometimes brought from 1 Corinthians 7:12, where Paul distinguishes his words from words of the Lord: “To the rest I say, not the Lord …” A proper understanding of this passage is gained from verses 25 and 40, however. In verse 25 Paul says he has no command of the Lord concerning the unmarried but will give his own opinion. This must mean that he had possession of no earthly word that Jesus had spoken on this subject and probably also that he had received no subsequent revelation about it from Jesus. This is unlike the situation in verse 10 where he could simply repeat the content of Jesus’ earthly teaching, “that the wife should not separate from her husband” and “that the husband should not divorce his wife.” Thus, verse 12 must mean that Paul has no record of any earthly teaching of Jesus on the subject of a believer who is married to an unbelieving spouse. Therefore, Paul gives his own instructions: “To the rest I say, not the Lord that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her” (1 Cor. 7:12).

It is remarkable therefore that Paul can go on in verses 12-15 to give several specific ethical standards for the Corinthians. What gave him the right to make such moral commands? He said that he spoke as one “who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” (1 Cor. 7:25). He seems to imply here that his considered judgments were able to be placed on the same authoritative level as the words of Jesus. Thus, 1 Corinthians 7:12, “To the rest I say, not the Lord,” is an amazingly strong affirmation of Paul’s own authority: if he did not have any words of Jesus to apply to a situation, he would simply use his own words, for his own words had just as much authority as the words of Jesus!

Indications of a similar view of the New Testament writings are found in John 14:26 and 16:13, where Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would bring all that he had said to the disciples’ remembrance and would guide them into all the truth. This indicates a special superintending work of the Holy Spirit whereby the disciples would be able to remember and record without error all that Jesus had said. Similar indications are also found in 2 Peter 3:2; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; and Revelation 22:18-19.

2. We Are Convinced of the Bible’s Claims to Be God’s Words as We Read the Bible. It is one thing to affirm that the Bible claims to be the words of God. It is another thing to be convinced that those claims are true. Our ultimate conviction that the words of the Bible are God’s words comes only when the Holy Spirit speaks in and through the words of the Bible to our hearts and gives us an inner assurance that these are the words of our Creator speaking to us. Just after Paul has explained that his apostolic speech consists of words taught by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13), he says, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Apart from the work of the Spirit of God, a person will not receive spiritual truths and in particular will not receive or accept the truth that the words of Scripture are in fact the words of God.

But for those in whom God’s Spirit is working there is a recognition that the words of the Bible are the words of God. This process is closely analogous to that by which those who believed in Jesus knew that his words were true. He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Those who are Christ’s sheep hear the words of their great Shepherd as they read the words of Scripture, and they are convinced that these words are in fact the words of their Lord.

It is important to remember that this conviction that the words of Scripture are the words of God does not come apart from the words of Scripture or in addition to the words of Scripture. It is not as if the Holy Spirit one day whispers in our ear, “Do you see that Bible sitting on your desk? I want you to know that the words of that Bible are God’s words.” It is rather as people read Scripture that they hear their Creator’s voice speaking to them in the words of Scripture and realize that the book they are reading is unlike any other book, that it is indeed a book of God’s own words speaking to their hearts.

3. Other Evidence Is Useful but Not Finally Convincing. The previous section is not meant to deny the validity of other kinds of arguments that may be used to support the claim that the Bible is God’s words. It is helpful for us to learn that the Bible is historically accurate, that it is internally consistent, that it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled hundreds of years later, that it has influenced the course of human history more than any other book, that it has continued changing the lives of millions of individuals throughout its history, that through it people come to find salvation, that it has a majestic beauty and a profound depth of teaching unmatched by any other book, and that it claims hundreds of times over to be God’s very words. All of these arguments and others are useful to us and remove obstacles that might otherwise come in the way of our believing Scripture. But all of these arguments taken individually or together cannot finally be convincing. As the Westminster Confession of Faith said in 1643-46,

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.

4. The Words of Scripture Are Self-Attesting. Thus, the words of Scripture are “self-attesting.” They cannot be “proved” to be God’s words by appeal to any higher authority. For if an appeal to some higher authority (say, historical accuracy or logical consistency) were used to prove that the Bible is God’s Word, then the Bible itself would not be our highest or absolute authority: it would be subordinate in authority to the thing to which we appealed to prove it to be God’s Word. If we ultimately appeal to human reason, or to logic, or to historical accuracy, or to scientific truth, as the authority by which Scripture is shown to be God’s words, then we have assumed the thing to which we appealed to be a higher authority than God’s words and one that is more true or more reliable.

5. Objection: This Is a Circular Argument. Someone may object that to say Scripture proves itself to be God’s words is to use a circular argument: we believe that Scripture is God’s Word because it claims to be that. And we believe its claims because Scripture is God’s Word. And we believe that it is God’s Word because it claims to be that, and so forth.

It should be admitted that this is a kind of circular argument. However, that does not make its use invalid, for all arguments for an absolute authority must ultimately appeal to that authority for proof: otherwise the authority would not be an absolute or highest authority. This problem is not unique to the Christian who is arguing for the authority of the Bible. Everyone either implicitly or explicitly uses some kind of circular argument when defending his or her ultimate authority for belief.

Although these circular arguments are not always made explicit and are sometimes hidden beneath lengthy discussions or are simply assumed without proof, arguments for an ultimate authority in their most basic form take on a similar circular appeal to that authority itself, as some of the following examples show:

“My reason is my ultimate authority because it seems reasonable to me to make it so.”

“Logical consistency is my ultimate authority because it is logical to make it so.”

“The findings of human sensory experiences are the ultimate authority for discovering what is real and what is not, because our human senses have never discovered anything else: thus, human sense experience tells me that my principle is true.”

“I know there can be no ultimate authority because I do not know of any such ultimate authority.”

In all of these arguments for an ultimate standard of truth, an absolute authority for what to believe, there is an element of circularity involved.

How then does a Christian, or anyone else, choose among the various claims for absolute authorities? Ultimately the truthfulness of the Bible will commend itself as being far more persuasive than other religious books (such as the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an), or than any other intellectual constructions of the human mind (such as logic, human reason, sense experience, scientific methodology, etc.). It will be more persuasive because in the actual experience of life, all of these other candidates for ultimate authority are seen to be inconsistent or to have shortcomings that disqualify them, while the Bible will be seen to be fully in accord with all that we know about the world around us, about ourselves, and about God.

The Bible will commend itself as being persuasive in this way, that is, if we are thinking rightly about the nature of reality, our perception of it and of ourselves, and our perception of God. The trouble is that because of sin our perception and analysis of God and creation is faulty. Sin is ultimately irrational, and sin makes us think incorrectly about God and about creation. Thus, in a world free from sin, the Bible would commend itself convincingly to all people as God’s Word. But because sin distorts people’s perception of reality, they do not recognize Scripture for what it really is. Therefore it requires the work of the Holy Spirit, overcoming the effects of sin, to enable us to be persuaded that the Bible is indeed the Word of God and that the claims it makes for itself are true.

Thus, in another sense, the argument for the Bible as God’s Word and our ultimate authority is not a typical circular argument. The process of persuasion is perhaps better likened to a spiral in which increasing knowledge of Scripture and increasingly correct understanding of God and creation tend to supplement one another in a harmonious way, each tending to confirm the accuracy of the other. This is not to say that our knowledge of the world around us serves as a higher authority than Scripture, but rather that such knowledge, if it is correct knowledge, continues to give greater and greater assurance and deeper conviction that the Bible is the only truly ultimate authority and that other competing claims for ultimate authority are false.

6. This Does Not Imply Dictation From God as the Sole Means of Communication. The entire preceding part of this chapter has argued that all the words of the Bible are God’s words. At this point a word of caution is necessary. The fact that all the words of Scripture are God’s words should not lead us to think that God dictated every word of Scripture to the human authors.

When we say that all the words of the Bible are God’s words, we are talking about the result of the process of bringing Scripture into existence. To raise the question of dictation is to ask about the process that led to that result or the manner by which God acted in order to ensure the result that he intended. It must be emphasized that the Bible does not speak of only one type of process or one manner by which God communicated to the biblical authors what he wanted to be said. In fact, there is indication of a wide variety of processes God used to bring about the desired result.

A few scattered instances of dictation are explicitly mentioned in Scripture. When the apostle John saw the risen Lord in a vision on the island of Patmos, Jesus spoke to him as follows: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write …” (Rev. 2:1); “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write …” (Rev. 2:8); “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write …” (Rev. 2:12). These are examples of dictation pure and simple. The risen Lord tells John what to write, and John writes the words he hears from Jesus.

Something akin to this process is probably also seen occasionally in the Old Testament prophets. We read in Isaiah, “Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city”‘ (Isa. 38:4-6). The picture given us in this narrative is that Isaiah heard (whether with his physical ear or with a very forceful impression made upon his mind is difficult to say) the words God wanted him to say to Hezekiah, and Isaiah, acting as God’s messenger, then took those words and spoke them as he had been instructed.

But in many other sections of Scripture such direct dictation from God is certainly not the manner by which the words of Scripture were caused to come into being. The author of Hebrews says that God spoke to our fathers by the prophets “in many and various ways” (Heb. 1:1). On the opposite end of the spectrum from dictation we have, for instance, Luke’s ordinary historical research for writing his gospel. He says:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus….” (Luke 1:1-3)

This is clearly not a process of dictation. Luke used ordinary processes of speaking to eyewitnesses and gathering historical data in order that he might write an accurate account of the life and teachings of Jesus. He did his historical research thoroughly, listening to the reports of many eyewitnesses and evaluating his evidence carefully. The gospel he wrote emphasizes what he thought important to emphasize and reflects his own characteristic style of writing.

In between these two extremes of dictation pure and simple on the one hand, and ordinary historical research on the other hand, we have many indications of various ways by which God communicated with the human authors of Scripture. In some cases Scripture gives us hints of these various processes: it speaks of dreams, of visions, of hearing the Lord’s voice or standing in the council of the Lord; it also speaks of men who were with Jesus and observed his life and listened to his teaching, men whose memory of these words and deeds was made completely accurate by the working of the Holy Spirit as he brought things to their remembrance (John 14:26). Yet in many other cases the manner used by God to bring about the result that the words of Scripture were his words is simply not disclosed to us. Apparently many different methods were used, but it is not important that we discover precisely what these were in each case.

In cases where the ordinary human personality and writing style of the author were prominently involved, as seems the case with the major part of Scripture, all that we are able to say is that God’s providential oversight and direction of the life of each author was such that their personalities, their backgrounds and training, their abilities to evaluate events in the world around them, their access to historical data, their judgment with regard to the accuracy of information, and their individual circumstances when they wrote, were all exactly what God wanted them to be, so that when they actually came to the point of putting pen to paper, the words were fully their own words but also fully the words that God wanted them to write, words that God would also claim as his own.

B. Therefore to Disbelieve or Disobey Any Word of Scripture Is to Disbelieve or Disobey God

The preceding section has argued that all the words in Scripture are God’s words. Consequently, to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God himself. Thus, Jesus can rebuke his disciples for not believing the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:25). Believers are to keep or obey the disciples’ words (John 15:20: “If they kept my word, they will keep yours also”). Christians are encouraged to remember “the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). To disobey Paul’s writings was to make oneself liable to church discipline, such as excommunication (2 Thess. 3:14) and spiritual punishment (2 Cor. 13:2-3), including punishment from God (this is the apparent sense of the passive verb “he is not recognized” in 1 Cor. 14:38). By contrast, God delights in everyone who “trembles” at his word (Isa. 66:2).

Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful words. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, “This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!” Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching.

C. The Truthfulness of Scripture

1. God Cannot Lie or Speak Falsely. The essence of the authority of Scripture is its ability to compel us to believe and to obey it and to make such belief and obedience equivalent to believing and obeying God himself. Because this is so, it is needful to consider the truthfulness of Scripture, since to believe all the words of Scripture implies confidence in the complete truthfulness of the Scripture that we believe. Although this issue will be dealt with more fully when we consider the inerrancy of Scripture, a brief treatment is given here.

Since the biblical writers repeatedly affirm that the words of the Bible, though human, are God’s own words, it is appropriate to look at biblical texts that talk about the character of God’s words and to apply these to the character of the words of Scripture. Specifically, there are a number of biblical passages that talk about the truthfulness of God’s speech. Titus 1:2 speaks of “God, who never lies,” or (more literally translated), “the unlying God.” Because God is a God who cannot speak a “lie,” his words can always be trusted. Since all of Scripture is spoken by God, all of Scripture must be “unlying,” just as God himself is: there can be no untruthfulness in Scripture.

Hebrews 6:18 mentions two unchangeable things (God’s oath and his promise) “in which it is impossible for God to lie (author’s translation).” Here the author says not merely that God does not lie, but that it is not possible for him to lie. Although the immediate reference is only to oaths and promises, if it is impossible for God to lie in these utterances, then certainly it is impossible for him ever to lie (for Jesus harshly rebukes those who tell the truth only when under oath: Matt. 5:33-37; 23:16-22). Similarly, David says to God, “You are God, and your words are true” (2 Sam. 7:28).

2. Therefore All the Words in Scripture Are Completely True and Without Error in Any Part. Since the words of the Bible are God’s words, and since God cannot lie or speak falsely, it is correct to conclude that there is no untruthfulness or error in any part of the words of Scripture. We find this affirmed several places in the Bible. “The words of the LORD are words that are pure silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6, author’s translation). Here the psalmist uses vivid imagery to speak of the undiluted purity of God’s words: there is no imperfection in them. Also in Proverbs 30:5, we read, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” It is not just some of the words of Scripture that are true, but every word. In fact, God’s Word is fixed in heaven for all eternity: “For ever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Ps. 119:89). Jesus can speak of the eternal nature of his own words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). God’s speech is placed in marked contrast to all human speech, for “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent” (Num. 23:19). These verses affirm explicitly what was implicit in the requirement that we believe all of the words of Scripture, namely, that there is no untruthfulness or falsehood affirmed in any of the statements of the Bible.

3. God’s Words Are the Ultimate Standard of Truth. In John 17 Jesus prays to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). This verse is interesting because Jesus does not use the adjectives alethinos or alethes (“true”), which we might have expected, to say, “Your word is true.” Rather, he uses a noun, aletheia (“truth”), to say that God’s Word is not simply “true,” but it is truth itself.

The difference is significant, for this statement encourages us to think of the Bible not simply as being “true” in the sense that it conforms to some higher standard of truth, but rather to think of the Bible as being itself the final standard of truth. The Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word is the ultimate definition of what is true and what is not true: God’s Word is itself truth. Thus we are to think of the Bible as the ultimate standard of truth, the reference point by which every other claim to truthfulness is to be measured. Those assertions that conform with Scripture are “true” while those that do not conform with Scripture are not true.

What then is truth? Truth is what God says, and we have what God says (accurately but not exhaustively) in the Bible.

4. Might Some New Fact Ever Contradict the Bible? Will any new scientific or historical fact ever be discovered that will contradict the Bible? Here we can say with confidence that this will never happen–it is in fact impossible. If any supposed “fact” is ever discovered that is said to contradict Scripture, then (if we have understood Scripture rightly) that “fact” must be false, because God, the author of Scripture, knows all true facts (past, present, and future). No fact will ever turn up that God did not know about ages ago and take into account when he caused Scripture to be written. Every true fact is something that God has known already from all eternity and is something that therefore cannot contradict God’s speech in Scripture.

Nevertheless, it must be remembered that scientific or historical study (as well as other kinds of study of creation) can cause us to reexamine Scripture to see if it really teaches what we thought it taught. The Bible certainly does not teach that the earth was created in the year 4004 B.C., as some once thought (for the genealogical lists in Scripture have gaps in them). Yet it was in part historical, archaeological, astronomical, and geological study that caused Christians to reexamine Scripture to see if it really taught such a recent origin for the earth. Careful analysis of the biblical text showed that it did not teach this.

Similarly, the Bible does not teach that the sun goes around the earth, for it only uses descriptions of phenomena as we see them from our vantage point and does not purport to be describing the workings of the universe from some arbitrary “fixed” point somewhere out in space. Yet until the study of astronomy advanced enough to demonstrate the rotation of the earth on its axis, people assumed that the Bible taught that the sun goes around the earth. Then the study of scientific data prompted a reexamination of the appropriate biblical texts. Thus, whenever confronted with some “fact” that is said to contradict Scripture, we must not only examine the data adduced to demonstrate the fact in question; we must also reexamine the appropriate biblical texts to see if the Bible really teaches what we thought it to teach.

We should never fear but always welcome any new facts that may be discovered in any legitimate area of human research or study. For example, discoveries by archaeologists working in Syria have brought to light the Ebla Tablets. These extensive written records from the period around 2000 B.C. will eventually throw great light on our understanding of the world of the patriarchs and the events connected with the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Should Christians entertain any lingering apprehension that the publication of such data will prove some fact in Genesis to be incorrect? Certainly not! We should eagerly anticipate the publication of all such data with the absolute confidence that if it is correctly understood it will all be consistent with Scripture and will all confirm the accuracy of Scripture. No true fact will ever contradict the words of the God who knows all facts and who never lies.

D. Written Scripture Is Our Final Authority

It is important to realize that the final form in which Scripture remains authoritative is its written form. It was the words of God written on the tablets of stone that Moses deposited in the ark of the covenant. Later, God commanded Moses and subsequent prophets to write their words in a book. And it was written Scripture (graphe) that Paul said was “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Similarly, it is Paul’s writings that are “a command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37) and that could be classified with “the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).

This is important because people sometimes (intentionally or unintentionally) attempt to substitute some other final standard than the written words of Scripture. For example, people will sometimes refer to “what Jesus really said” and claim that when we translate the Greek words of the Gospels back into the Aramaic language Jesus spoke, we can gain a better understanding of Jesus’ words than was given by the writers of the Gospels. In fact, it is sometimes said that this work of reconstructing Jesus’ words in Aramaic enables us to correct the erroneous translations made by the gospel authors.

In other cases, people have claimed to know “what Paul really thought” even when that is different from the meaning of the words he wrote. Or they have spoken of “what Paul should have said if he had been consistent with the rest of his theology.” Similarly, others have spoken of “the church situation to which Matthew was writing” and have attempted to give normative force either to that situation or to the solution they think Matthew was attempting to bring about in that situation.

In all of these instances we must admit that asking about the words or situations that lie “behind” the text of Scripture may at times be helpful to us in understanding what the text means. Nevertheless, our hypothetical reconstructions of these words or situations can never replace or compete with Scripture itself as the final authority, nor should we ever allow them to contradict or call into question the accuracy of any of the words of Scripture. We must continually remember that we have in the Bible God’s very words, and we must not try to “improve” on them in some way, for this cannot be done. Rather, we should seek to understand them and then trust them and obey them with our whole heart.

For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible?

Do we need to have a Bible or to have someone tell us what the Bible says in order to know that God exists? Or that we are sinners needing to be saved? Or to know how to find salvation? Or to know God’s will for our lives? These are the kinds of questions which an investigation of the necessity of Scripture is intended to answer.

Explanation and Scriptural Basis

The necessity of Scripture may be defined as follows: The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws.

That definition may now be explained in its various parts. (below, [7:1])

A. The Bible Is Necessary for Knowledge of the Gospel

In Romans 10:13-17 Paul says:

For, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? … So faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.

This statement indicates the following line of reasoning: (1) It first assumes that one must call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. (In Pauline usage generally as well as in this specific context [see v. 9], “the Lord” refers to the Lord Jesus Christ.) (2) People can only call upon the name of Christ if they believe in him (that is, that he is a Savior worthy of calling upon and one who will answer those who call). (3) People cannot believe in Christ unless they have heard of him. (4) They cannot hear of Christ unless there is someone to tell them about Christ (a “preacher”). (5) The conclusion is that saving faith comes by hearing (that is, by hearing the gospel message), and this hearing of the gospel message comes about through the preaching of Christ. The implication seems to be that without hearing the preaching of the gospel of Christ, no one can be saved.

This passage is one of several that show that eternal salvation comes only through belief in Jesus Christ and no other way. Speaking of Christ, John 3:18 says, “He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Similarly, in John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”

Peter, on trial before the Sanhedrin, says, “there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Of course, the exclusiveness of salvation through Christ is because Jesus is the only one who ever died for our sins or whoever could have done so. Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all …” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). There is no other way to be reconciled to God than through Christ, for there is no other way of dealing with the guilt of our sin before a holy God.

But if people can be saved only through faith in Christ, someone might ask how believers under the old covenant could have been saved. The answer must be that those who were saved under the old covenant were also saved through trusting in Christ, even though their faith was a forward-looking faith based on God’s word of promise that a Messiah or a Redeemer would come. Speaking of Old Testament believers such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, the author of Hebrews says, “These all died in faith not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar..

That definition may now be explained in its various parts.

A. The Bible Is Necessary for Knowledge of the Gospel

In Romans 10:13-17 Paul says:

For, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? … So faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.

This statement indicates the following line of reasoning: (1) It first assumes that one must call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. (In Pauline usage generally as well as in this specific context [see v. 9], “the Lord” refers to the Lord Jesus Christ.) (2) People can only call upon the name of Christ if they believe in him (that is, that he is a Savior worthy of calling upon and one who will answer those who call). (3) People cannot believe in Christ unless they have heard of him. (4) They cannot hear of Christ unless there is someone to tell them about Christ (a “preacher”). (5) The conclusion is that saving faith comes by hearing (that is, by hearing the gospel message), and this hearing of the gospel message comes about through the preaching of Christ. The implication seems to be that without hearing the preaching of the gospel of Christ, no one can be saved.

This passage is one of several that show that eternal salvation comes only through belief in Jesus Christ and no other way. Speaking of Christ, John 3:18 says, “He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Similarly, in John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”

Peter, on trial before the Sanhedrin, says, “there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Of course, the exclusiveness of salvation through Christ is because Jesus is the only one who ever died for our sins or whoever could have done so. Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all …” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). There is no other way to be reconciled to God than through Christ, for there is no other way of dealing with the guilt of our sin before a holy God.

But if people can be saved only through faith in Christ, someone might ask how believers under the old covenant could have been saved. The answer must be that those who were saved under the old covenant were also saved through trusting in Christ, even though their faith was a forward-looking faith based on God’s word of promise that a Messiah or a Redeemer would come. Speaking of Old Testament believers such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, the author of Hebrews says, “These all died in faith not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar. ..” (Heb. 11:13). The same chapter goes on to say that Moses “considered abuse suffered for the Christ (or the Messiah) greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward” (Heb. 11:26). And Jesus can say of Abraham, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). This again apparently refers to Abraham’s joy in looking forward to the day of the promised Messiah. Thus, even Old Testament believers had saving faith in Christ, to whom they looked forward, not with exact knowledge of the historical details of Christ’s life, but with great faith in the absolute reliability of God’s word of promise.

The Bible is necessary for salvation, then, in this sense: one must either read the gospel message in the Bible for oneself, or hear it from another person. Even those believers who came to salvation in the old covenant did so by trusting in the words of God that promised a Savior to come.

In fact, these repeated instances of people trusting in God’s words of promise, together with the verses above that affirm the necessity of hearing about and believing in Christ, seem to indicate that sinful people need more on which to rest their faith than just an intuitive guess that God might provide a means of salvation. It seems that the only foundation firm enough to rest one’s faith on is the word of God itself (whether spoken or written). This in the earliest times came in very brief form, but from the very beginning we have evidence of words of God promising a salvation yet to come, words that were trusted by those people whom God called to himself.

For example, even in the lifetime of Adam and Eve there are some words of God that point toward a future salvation: in Genesis 3:15 the curse on the serpent includes a promise that the seed of the woman (one of her descendants) would bruise the head of the serpent but would himself be hurt in the process–a promise ultimately fulfilled in Christ. The fact that the first two children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, offered sacrifices to the LORD (Gen. 4:3-4) indicates their consciousness of a need to make some kind of payment for the guilt of their sin, and of God’s promise of acceptance of sacrifices offered in the right way. Genesis 4:7, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” indicates again in the very briefest form a word from God that offered the provision of some kind of salvation through trusting in the promise of God offered in that word. As the history of the Old Testament progressed, God’s words of promise became more and more specific, and the forward-looking faith of God’s people accordingly became more and more definite. Yet it seems always to have been a faith resting specifically on the words of God himself.

Thus, although it will be argued below that people can know that God exists and can know something of his laws apart from Scripture, it seems that there is no possibility of coming to saving faith apart from specific knowledge of God’s words of promise.

B. The Bible Is Necessary for Maintaining Spiritual Life

Jesus says in Matthew 4:4 (quoting Deut. 8:3), “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (NASB). Here Jesus indicates that our spiritual life is maintained by daily nourishment with the Word of God, just as our physical lives are maintained by daily nourishment with physical food. To neglect regular reading of God’s Word is as detrimental to the health of our souls as the neglect of physical food is detrimental to the health of our bodies.

Similarly, Moses tells the people of Israel of the importance of God’s words for their lives: “For it is no trifle for you, but it is your life and thereby you shall live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deut. 32:47). And Peter encourages the Christians to whom he writes, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). The “pure spiritual milk” in this context must refer to the Word of God about which Peter has been speaking (see 1 Peter 1:23-25). The Bible, then, is necessary for maintaining spiritual life and for growth in the Christian life.

C. The Bible Is Necessary for Certain Knowledge of God’s Will

It will be argued below that all people ever born have some knowledge of God’s will through their consciences. But this knowledge is often indistinct and cannot give certainty. In fact, if there were no written Word of God, we could not gain certainty about God’s will through other means such as conscience, advice from others, an internal witness of the Holy Spirit, changed circumstances, and the use of sanctified reasoning and common sense. These all might give an approximation of God’s will in more or less reliable ways, but from these means alone no certainty about God’s will could ever be attained, at least in a fallen world where sin distorts our perception of right and wrong, brings faulty reasoning into our thinking processes, and causes us to suppress from time to time the testimony of our consciences (cf. Jer. 17:9; Rom. 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 8:10; Heb. 5:14; 10:22; also 1 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15).

In the Bible, however, we have clear and definite statements about God’s will. God has not revealed all things to us, but he has revealed enough for us to know his will: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). As it was in the time of Moses, so it is now with us: God has revealed his words to us that we might obey his laws and thereby do his will. To be “blameless” in God’s sight is to “walk in the law of the LORD” (Ps. 119:1). The “blessed” man is one who does not follow the will of wicked people (Ps. 1:1), but delights “in the law of the LORD,” and meditates on God’s law “day and night” (Ps. 1:2). To love God (and thereby to act in a way that is pleasing to him) is to “keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3). If we are to have a certain knowledge of God’s will, then, we must attain it through the study of Scripture.

In fact, in one sense it can be argued that the Bible is necessary for certain knowledge about anything. A philosopher might argue as follows: The fact that we do not know everything requires us to be uncertain about everything we do claim to know. This is because some fact unknown to us may yet turn out to prove that what we thought to be true was actually false. For example, we think we know our date of birth, our name, our age, and so forth. But we must admit that it is possible that some day we could find that our parents had given us false information and our “certain” knowledge would then turn out to be incorrect. Regarding events that we personally have experienced, we all realize how it is possible for us to “remember” words or events incorrectly and find ourselves later corrected by more accurate information. We can usually be more certain about the events of our present experience, so long as it remains present (but even that, someone might argue, could be a dream, and we will only discover this fact when we wake up!). At any rate, it is difficult to answer the philosopher’s question: If we do not know all the facts in the universe, past, present, and future, how can we ever attain certainty that we have correct information about any one fact?

Ultimately, there are only two possible solutions to this problem: (1) We must learn all the facts of the universe in order to be sure that no subsequently discovered fact will prove our present ideas to be false; or (2) someone who does know all the facts in the universe, and who never lies, could tell us some true facts that we can then be sure will never be contradicted.

This second solution is in fact what we have when we have God’s words in Scripture. God knows all facts that ever have been or ever will be. And this God who is omniscient (all-knowing) has absolutely certain knowledge: there can never be any fact that he does not already know; thus, there can never be any fact that would prove that something God thinks is actually false. Now it is from this infinite storehouse of certain knowledge that God, who never lies, has spoken to us in Scripture, in which he has told us many true things about himself, about ourselves, and about the universe that he has made. No fact can ever turn up to contradict the truth spoken by this one who is omniscient.

Thus, it is appropriate for us to be more certain about the truths we read in Scripture than about any other knowledge we have. If we are to talk about degrees of certainty of knowledge we have, then the knowledge we attain from Scripture would have the highest degree of certainty: if the word “certain” can be applied to any kind of human knowledge, it can be applied to this knowledge.

This concept of the certainty of knowledge that we attain from Scripture then gives us a reasonable basis for affirming the correctness of much of the other knowledge that we have. We read Scripture and find that its view of the world around us, of human nature, and of ourselves corresponds closely to the information we have gained from our own sense-experiences of the world around us. Thus we are encouraged to trust our sense-experiences of the world around us: our observations correspond with the absolute truth of Scripture; therefore, our observations are also true and, by and large, reliable. Such confidence in the general reliability of observations made with our eyes and ears is further confirmed by the fact that it is God who has made these faculties and who in Scripture frequently encourages us to use them (compare also Prov. 20:12: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both”).

In this way the Christian who takes the Bible as God’s Word escapes from philosophical skepticism about the possibility of attaining certain knowledge with our finite minds. In this sense, then, it is correct to say that for people who are not omniscient, the Bible is necessary for certain knowledge about anything.

This fact is important for the following discussion, where we affirm that unbelievers can know something about God from the general revelation that is seen in the world around them. Although this is true, we must recognize that in a fallen world knowledge gained by observation of the world is always imperfect and always liable to error or misinterpretation. Therefore the knowledge of God and creation gained from Scripture must be used to interpret correctly the creation around us. Using the theological terms that we will define below, we can say that we need special revelation to interpret general revelation rightly.

D. But the Bible Is Not Necessary for Knowing That God Exists

What about people who do not read the Bible? Can they obtain any knowledge of God? Can they know anything about his laws? Yes, without the Bible some knowledge of God is possible, even if it is not absolutely certain knowledge.

People can obtain a knowledge that God exists and a knowledge of some of his attributes simply from observation of themselves and the world around them. David says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). To look at the sky is to see evidence of the infinite power, wisdom, and even beauty of God; it is to observe a majestic witness to the glory of God. Similarly, Barnabas and Paul tell the Greek inhabitants of Lystra about the living God who made the heavens and the earth: “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Rains and fruitful seasons, food produced from the earth, and gladness in people’s hearts, all bear witness to the fact that their Creator is a God of mercy, of love, and even of joy. These evidences of God are all around us in creation to be seen by those who are willing to see them.

Even those who by their wickedness suppress the truth cannot avoid the evidences of God’s existence and nature in the created order:

For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. (Rom. 1:19-21)

Here Paul says not only that creation gives evidence of God’s existence and character, but also that even wicked men recognize that evidence. What can be known about God is “plain to them” and in fact “they knew God” (apparently, they knew who he was), but “they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” This passage allows us to say that all persons, even the most wicked, have some internal knowledge or perception that God exists and that he is a powerful Creator. This knowledge is seen “in the things that have been made,” a phrase that refers to all creation. Yet it is probably in seeing mankind created in the image of God–that is, in seeing both themselves and other people–that even wicked persons see the greatest evidence of God’s existence and nature.

Thus, even without the Bible, all persons who have ever lived have had evidence in creation that God exists, that he is the Creator and they are creatures, and have also had some evidence of his character. As a result, they themselves have known something about God from this evidence (even though this is never said to be a knowledge that is able to bring them to salvation).

E. Furthermore, the Bible Is Not Necessary for Knowing Something About God’s Character and Moral Laws

Paul goes on in Romans 1 to show that even unbelievers who have no written record of God’s laws still have in their consciences some understanding of God’s moral demands. Speaking of a long list of sins (“envy, murder, strife, deceit …”), Paul says of wicked people who practice them, “Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die they not only do them but approve those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32). Wicked people know that their sin is wrong, at least in large measure.

Paul then talks about the activity of conscience in Gentiles who do not have the written law:

When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them….” (Rom. 2:14-15)

The consciences of unbelievers bear witness to God’s moral standards, but at times this evidence of God’s law on the hearts of unbelievers is distorted or suppressed. Sometimes their thoughts “accuse” them and sometimes their thoughts “excuse” them, Paul says. The knowledge of God’s laws derived from such sources is never perfect, but it is enough to give an awareness of God’s moral demands to all mankind. (And it is on this basis that Paul argues that all humanity is held guilty before God for sin, even those who do not have the written laws of God in Scripture.)

The knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law, which comes through creation to all humanity, is often called “general revelation” (because it comes to all people generally). General revelation comes through observing nature, through seeing God’s directing influence in history, and through an inner sense of God’s existence and his laws that he has placed inside every person. General revelation is distinct from “special revelation” which refers to God’s words addressed to specific people, such as the words of the Bible, the words of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, and the words of God spoken in personal address, such as at Mount Sinai or at the baptism of Jesus.

Special revelation includes all the words of Scripture but is not limited to the words of Scripture, for it also includes, for example, many words of Jesus that were not recorded in Scripture, and probably there were many words spoken by Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles that were not recorded in Scripture either.

The fact that all people know something of God’s moral laws is a great blessing for society, for unless they did there would be no societal restraint on the evil that people would do and no restraint from their consciences. Because there is some common knowledge of right and wrong, Christians can often find much consensus with non-Christians in matters of civil law, community standards, basic ethics for business and professional activity, and acceptable patterns of conduct in ordinary life. Moreover, we can appeal to the sense of rightness within people’s hearts (Rom. 2:14) when attempting to enact better laws or overturn bad laws, or to right some other injustices in society around us. The knowledge of God’s existence and character also provides a basis of information that enables the gospel to make sense to a non-Christian’s heart and mind: unbelievers know that God exists and that they have broken his standards, so the news that Christ died to pay for their sins should truly come as good news to them.

However, it must be emphasized that Scripture nowhere indicates that people can know the gospel, or know the way of salvation, through such general revelation. They may know that God exists, that he is their Creator, that they owe him obedience, and that they have sinned against him. The existence of systems of sacrifice in primitive religions throughout history attests to the fact that these things can be clearly known by people apart from the Bible. The repeated occurrences of the “rain and fruitful seasons” mentioned in Acts 14:17 may even lead some people to reason that God is not only holy and righteous but also loving and forgiving. But how the holiness and justice of God can ever be reconciled with his willingness to forgive sins is a mystery that has never been solved by any religion apart from the Bible. Nor does the Bible give us any hope that it ever can be discovered apart from specific revelation from God. It is the great wonder of our redemption that God himself has provided the way of salvation by sending his own Son, who is both God and man, to be our representative and bear the penalty for our sins, thus combining the justice and love of God in one infinitely wise and amazingly gracious act. This fact, which seems commonplace to the Christian ear, should not lose its wonder for us: it could never have been conceived by man alone apart from God’s special, verbal revelation.

Furthermore, even if an adherent of a primitive religion could think that God somehow must have himself paid the penalty for our sins, such a thought would only be an extraordinary speculation. It could never be held with enough certainty to be the ground on which to rest saving faith unless God himself confirmed such speculation with his own words, namely, the words of the gospel proclaiming either that this indeed was going to happen (if the revelation came in the time before Christ) or that it indeed has happened (if the revelation came in the time after Christ). The Bible never views human speculation apart from the Word of God as a sufficient basis on which to rest saving faith: such saving faith, according to Scripture, is always confidence or trust in God that rests on the truthfulness of God’s own words.

Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do?

Explanation and Scriptural Basis

Are we to look for other words from God in addition to those we have in Scripture? The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture addresses this question.

A. Definition of the Sufficiency of Scripture

We can define the sufficiency of Scripture as follows: The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.

This definition emphasizes that it is in Scripture alone that we are to search for God’s words to us. It also reminds us that God considers what he has told us in the Bible to be enough for us, and that we should rejoice in the great revelation that he has given us and be content with it.

Significant scriptural support and explanation of this doctrine is found in Paul’s words to Timothy, “from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). The context shows that “sacred writings” here means the written words of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16). This is an indication that the words of God which we have in Scripture are all the words of God we need in order to be saved: these words are able to make us wise “for salvation.” This is confirmed by other passages that talk about the words of Scripture as the means God uses to bring us to salvation (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23).

Other passages indicate that the Bible is sufficient to equip us for living the Christian life. Once again Paul writes to Timothy, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Here Paul indicates that one purpose for which God caused Scripture to be written is to train us that we might be “equipped for every good work.” If there is any “good work” that God wants a Christian to do, this passage indicates that God has made provision in his Word for training the Christian in it. Thus, there is no “good work” that God wants us to do other than those that are taught somewhere in Scripture: it can equip us for every good work.

A similar teaching is found in Psalm 119: “Blessed are those whose way is blameless who walk in the law of the LORD!” (v. 1). This verse shows an equivalence between being “blameless” and “walking in the law of the LORD”: those who are blameless are those who walk in the law of the Lord. Here again is an indication that all that God requires of us is recorded in his written Word: simply to do all that the Bible commands us is to be blameless in God’s sight.

To be morally perfect in God’s sight, then, what must we do in addition to what God commands us in Scripture? Nothing! Nothing at all! If we simply keep the words of Scripture we will be “blameless” and we will be doing “every good work” that God expects of us.

B. We Can Find All That God Has Said on Particular Topics, and We Can Find Answers to Our Questions

Of course, we realize that we will never perfectly obey all of Scripture in this life (see James 3:2; 1 John 1:8-10; and chapter 24, below). Thus, it may not at first seem very significant to say that all we have to do is what God commands us in the Bible, since we will never be able to obey it all in this life anyway. But the truth of the sufficiency of Scripture is of great significance for our Christian lives, for it enables us to focus our search for God’s words to us on the Bible alone and saves us from the endless task of searching through all the writings of Christians throughout history, or through all the teachings of the church, or through all the subjective feelings and impressions that come to our minds from day to day, in order to find what God requires of us. In a very practical sense, it means that we are able to come to clear conclusions on many teachings of Scripture. For example, though it requires some work, it is possible to find all the biblical passages that are directly relevant to the matters of marriage and divorce, or the responsibilities of parents to children, or the relationship between a Christian and civil government.

This doctrine means, moreover, that it is possible to collect all the passages that directly relate to doctrinal issues such as the atonement, or the person of Christ, or the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life today. In these and hundreds of other moral and doctrinal questions, the biblical teaching about the sufficiency of Scripture gives us confidence that we will be able to find what God requires us to think or to do in these areas. In many of these areas we can attain confidence that we, together with the vast majority of the church throughout history, have found and correctly formulated what God wants us to think or to do. Simply stated, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture tells us that it is possible to study systematic theology and ethics and find answers to our questions.

At this point we differ from Roman Catholic theologians, who would say that we have not found all that God says to us about any particular subject until we have also listened to the official teaching of the church throughout its history. We would respond that although the history of the church may help us to understand what God says to us in the Bible, never in church history has God added to the teachings or commands of Scripture: Nowhere in church history outside of Scripture has God added anything that he requires us to believe or to do. Scripture is sufficient to equip us for “every good work,” and to walk in its ways is to be “blameless” in God’s sight.

At this point we also differ from nonevangelical theologians who are not convinced that the Bible is God’s Word in any unique or absolutely authoritative sense, and who would therefore search not only the Bible but also many other early Christian writings in an attempt to find not so much what God said to mankind but rather what many early Christians experienced in their relationship with God. They would not expect to arrive at a single, unified conclusion about what God wants us to think or do with regard to any particular question, but to discover a variety of opinions and viewpoints collected around some major unifying ideas. All of the viewpoints held by early Christians in any of the early churches would then be potentially valid viewpoints for Christians to hold today as well. To this we would reply that our search for answers to theological and ethical questions is not a search to find what various believers have thought in the history of the church, but is a quest to find and understand what God himself says to us in his own words, which are found in Scripture and only in Scripture.

C. The Amount of Scripture Given Was Sufficient at Each Stage of Redemptive History

The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture does not imply that God cannot add any more words to those he has already spoken to his people. It rather implies that man cannot add on his own initiative any words to those that God has already spoken. Furthermore, it implies that in fact God has not spoken to mankind any more words which he requires us to believe or obey other than those which we have now in the Bible.

This point is important, for it helps us to understand how God could tell his people that his words to them were sufficient at many different points in the history of redemption, and how he could nevertheless add to those words later. For example, in Deuteronomy 29:29 Moses says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

This verse reminds us that God has always taken the initiative in revealing things to us. He has decided what to reveal and what not to reveal. At each stage in redemptive history, the things that God had revealed were for his people for that time, and they were to study, believe, and obey those things. With further progress in the history of redemption, more of God’s words were added, recording and interpreting that history.

Thus, at the time of the death of Moses, the first five books of our Old Testament were sufficient for God’s people at that time. But God directed later authors to add more so that Scripture would be sufficient for believers in subsequent times. For Christians today, the words from God that we have in the Old and New Testaments together are sufficient for us during the church age. After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the founding of the early church as recorded in the New Testament, and the assembling of the books of the New Testament canon, no further central redemptive acts of God in history (acts that have direct relevance for all God’s people for all subsequent time) have occurred, and thus no further words of God have been given to record and interpret those acts for us.

This means that we can cite Scripture texts from throughout the canon to show that the principle of the sufficiency of God’s revelation to his people at each particular time has remained the same. In this sense, these verses that talk about the sufficiency of Scripture in earlier periods are directly applicable to us as well, even though the extent of the Bible to which they refer in our situation is greater than the extent of the Scripture to which they referred in their original setting. The following texts from Scripture thus apply to us also in that sense:

You shall not add to the word which I command you nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. (Deut. 4:2)

Everything that I command you you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to it or take from it. (Deut. 12:32)

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words lest he rebuke you, and you be found a liar. (Prov. 30:5-6)

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Rev. 22:18-19) (below, [8:2])

D. Practical Applications of the Sufficiency of Scripture

The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture has several practical applications to our Christian lives. The following list is intended to be helpful but not exhaustive.

1. The sufficiency of Scripture should encourage us as we try to discover what God would have us to think (about a particular doctrinal issue) or to do (in a particular situation). We should be encouraged that everything God wants to tell us about that question is to be found in Scripture. This does not mean that the Bible answers all the questions that we might think up, for “The secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deut. 29:29). But it does mean that when we are facing a problem of genuine importance to our Christian life, we can approach Scripture with the confidence that from it God will provide us with guidance for that problem.

There will of course be some times when the answer we find is that Scripture does not speak directly to our question. (This would be the case, for example, if we tried to find from Scripture what “order of worship” to follow on Sunday mornings, or whether it is better to kneel or perhaps to stand when we pray, or at what time we should eat our meals during the day, etc.) In those cases, we may conclude that God has not required us to think or to act in any certain way with regard to that question (except, perhaps, in terms of more general principles regarding our attitudes and goals). But in many other cases we will find direct and clear guidance from the Lord to equip us for “every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).

As we go through life, frequent practice in searching Scripture for guidance will result in an increasing ability to find accurate, carefully formulated answers to our problems and questions. Lifelong growth in understanding Scripture will thus include growth in the skill of rightly understanding the Bible’s teachings and applying them to specific questions.

2. The sufficiency of Scripture reminds us that we are to add nothing to Scripture and that we are to consider no other writings of equal value to Scripture. This principle is violated by almost all cults and sects. Mormons, for example, claim to believe the Bible, but they also claim divine authority for the Book of Mormon. Christian Scientists similarly claim to believe the Bible, but in practice they hold the book Science and Health With a Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, on a par with Scripture or above it in authority. Since these claims violate God’s commands not to add to his words, we should not think that any additional words from God to us would be found in these writings. Even in Christian churches a similar error is sometimes made when people go beyond what Scripture says and assert with great confidence new ideas about God or heaven, basing their teachings not on Scripture but on their own speculation or even on claimed experiences of dying and coming back to life.

3. The sufficiency of Scripture also tells us that God does not require us to believe anything about himself or his redemptive work that is not found in Scripture. Among writings from the time of the early church are some collections of alleged sayings of Jesus that were not preserved in the Gospels. It is likely that at least some of the “sayings of Jesus” found in these writings are rather accurate records of things Jesus actually said (though it is now impossible for us to determine with any high degree of probability which sayings those are). But it does not really matter at all for our Christian lives if we never read any of those sayings, for God has caused to be recorded in Scripture everything that we need to know about Jesus’ words and deeds in order to trust and obey him perfectly. Though these collections of sayings do have some limited value in linguistic research and perhaps in the study of the history of the church, they are of no direct value whatever for us in learning what we should believe about the life and teachings of Christ, or in formulating our doctrinal or ethical convictions.

4. The sufficiency of Scripture shows us that no modern revelations from God are to be placed on a level equal to Scripture in authority. At various times throughout the history of the church, and particularly in the modern charismatic movement, people have claimed that God has given revelations through them for the benefit of the church. However we may evaluate such claims, we must be careful never to allow (in theory or in practice) the placing of such revelations on a level equal to Scripture. We must insist that God does not require us to believe anything about himself or his work in the world that is contained in these revelations but not in Scripture. And we must insist that God does not require us to obey any moral directives that come to us through such means but that are not confirmed by Scripture. The Bible contains everything we need God to tell us for trusting and obeying him perfectly.

It should also be noted at this point that whenever challenges to the sufficiency of Scripture have come in the form of other documents to be placed alongside Scripture (whether from extrabiblical Christian literature of the first century or from the accumulated teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, or from the books of various cults such as the Book of Mormon), the result has always been (1) to deemphasize the teachings of the Bible itself and (2) to begin to teach some things that are contrary to Scripture. This is a danger of which the church must constantly be aware.

5. With regard to living the Christian life, the sufficiency of Scripture reminds us that nothing is sin that is not forbidden by Scripture either explicitly or by implication. To walk in the law of the Lord is to be “blameless” (Ps. 119:1). Therefore we are not to add prohibitions to those already stated in Scripture. From time to time there may be situations in which it would be wrong, for example, for an individual Christian to drink coffee or Coca-Cola, or to attend movie theaters, or to eat meat offered to idols (see 1 Cor. 8-10), but unless some specific teaching or some general principle of Scripture can be shown to prohibit these (or any other activities) for all believers for all time, we must insist that these activities are not in themselves sinful and they are not in all situations prohibited by God for his people.

This also is an important principle because there is always the tendency among believers to begin to neglect the regular daily searching of Scripture for guidance and to begin to live by a set of written or unwritten rules (or denominational traditions) concerning what one does or does not do in the Christian life.

Furthermore, whenever we add to the list of sins that are prohibited by Scripture itself, there will be harm to the church and to the lives of individual believers. The Holy Spirit will not empower obedience to rules that do not have God’s approval from Scripture, nor will believers generally find delight in obedience to commands that do not accord with the laws of God written on their hearts. In some cases, Christians may repeatedly and earnestly plead with God for “victory” over supposed sins that are in fact no sins at all, yet no “victory” will be given, for the attitude or action in question is in fact not a sin and is not displeasing to God. Great discouragement in prayer and frustration in the Christian life generally may be the outcome.

In other cases, continued or even increasing disobedience to these new “sins” will result, together with a false sense of guilt and a resulting alienation from God. Often there arises an increasingly uncompromising and legalistic insistence on these new rules on the part of those who do follow them, and genuine fellowship among believers in the church will fade away. Evangelism will often be stifled, for the silent proclamation of the gospel that comes from the lives of believers will at least seem (to outsiders) to include the additional requirement that one must fit this uniform pattern of life in order to become a member of the body of Christ.

One clear example of such an addition to the commands of Scripture is found in the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church to “artificial” methods of birth control, a policy that finds no valid support in Scripture. Widespread disobedience, alienation, and false guilt have been the result. Yet such is the propensity of human nature to make such rules that other examples can probably be found in the written or unwritten traditions of almost every denomination.

6. The sufficiency of Scripture also tells us that nothing is required of us by God that is not commanded in Scripture either explicitly or by implication. This reminds us that the focus of our search for God’s will ought to be on Scripture, rather than on seeking guidance through prayer for changed circumstances or altered feelings or direct guidance from the Holy Spirit apart from Scripture. It also means that if someone claims to have a message from God telling us what we ought to do, we need never assume that it is sin to disobey such a message unless it can be confirmed by the application of Scripture itself to our situation.

The discovery of this great truth could bring tremendous joy and peace to the lives of thousands of Christians who, spending countless hours seeking God’s will outside of Scripture, are often uncertain about whether they have found it. In fact, many Christians today have very little confidence in their ability to discover God’s will with any degree of certainty. Thus, there is little striving to do God’s will (for who can know it?) and little growth in holiness before God.

The opposite ought to be true. Christians who are convinced of the sufficiency of Scripture should begin eagerly to seek and find God’s will in Scripture. They should be eagerly and regularly growing in obedience to God, knowing great freedom and peace in the Christian life. Then they would be able to say with the psalmist:

I will keep your law continually,
for ever and ever;
and I shall walk at liberty,
for I have sought your precepts….
Great peace have those who love your law;
nothing can make them stumble. (Ps. 119:44-45, 165)

7. The sufficiency of Scripture reminds us that in our doctrinal and ethical teaching we should emphasize what Scripture emphasizes and be content with what God has told us in Scripture. There are some subjects about which God has told us little or nothing in the Bible. We must remember that “The secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deut. 29:29) and that God has revealed to us in Scripture exactly what he deemed right for us. We must accept this and not think that Scripture is something less than it should be, or begin to wish that God had given us much more information about subjects on which there are very few scriptural references. Of course, there will be some situations where we are confronted with a particular problem that requires a great deal of attention, far greater than the emphasis that it receives in the teaching of Scripture. But those situations should be relatively infrequent and should not be representative of the general course of our lives or ministries.

It is characteristic of many cults that they emphasize obscure portions or teachings of Scripture (one thinks of the Mormon emphasis on baptism for the dead, a subject that is mentioned in only one verse in the Bible [1 Cor. 15:29], in a phrase whose exact meaning is apparently impossible now to determine with certainty). But a similar error was made by an entire generation of liberal New Testament scholars in the earlier part of this century, who devoted most of their scholarly lives to a futile search for the sources “behind” our present gospel narratives or to a search for the “authentic” sayings of Jesus.

Unfortunately, a similar pattern has too often occurred among evangelicals within various denominations. The doctrinal matters that have divided evangelical Protestant denominations from one another have almost uniformly been matters on which the Bible places relatively little emphasis, and matters in which our conclusions must be drawn from skillful inference much more than from direct biblical statements. For example, abiding denominational differences have occurred or have been maintained over the “proper” form of church government, the exact nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper, the exact sequence of the events surrounding Christ’s return, the categories of persons who should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, the way in which God planned that the merits of Christ’s death would be applied to believers and not applied to unbelievers, the proper subjects for baptism, the correct understanding of the “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” and so forth.

We should not say that these issues are all unimportant, nor should we say that Scripture gives no solution to any of them (indeed, with respect to many of them a specific solution will be defended in subsequent chapters of this book). However, since all of these topics receive relatively little direct emphasis in Scripture it is ironic and tragic that denominational leaders will so often give much of their lives to defending precisely the minor doctrinal points that make their denominations different from others. Is such effort really motivated by a desire to bring unity of understanding to the church, or might it stem in some measure from human pride, a desire to retain power over others, and an attempt at self-justification, which is displeasing to God and ultimately unedifying to the church?

You may want to purchase “Systematic Theology” by Wayne Grudem at your local Christian bookstore. The book is published by Zondervan and is 1290 pages. You may go to or contact Bits & Bytes Computer Resources for the computer-readable form of the book at┬áThe cost of the book or CD is under $40.00. We recommend this wonderful book for every Christian library.

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