Systematic Theology 8: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (4): Sufficiency

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 all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting Him perfectly and for obeying Him perfectly.

Throughout the Bible we see that the Scriptures provide everything we need to hear in order to bring us to Salvation. There is nothing more, no secret knowledge we need to stumble upon, than that is provided in the Bible (see 2 Timothy 3:15, James 1:18 and 1 Peter 1:23).

The Bible also contains everything we need to hear to equip us for living the Christian life (see 2 Timothy 3:16 and Psalm 119:1).

In these senses the Bible is sufficient.

There is an interesting discussion about the amount of scripture slowly increasing at each stage of redemptive history. Wayne Grudem argues that at each stage the amount of scripture available was sufficient.

This is why commands such as “you shall not add to these words” were able to be said by God as early as Deuteronomy 4:2). Of course, God has added to it as He has seen fit.

The sufficiency of Scripture also can encourage us to know that God has not spoken anything more that we need to believe, think or do, that is not already in the Bible.

Interestingly, our tendency to create additional rules for ourselves are met with failure and a lack of follow through, because the Holy Spirit does not empower us to fulfils our man-made rules. This was a problem Jesus addressed with the Pharisees (Matthew 15:3-7), but it is an issue we also must address in our own lives. The tendency to put ourselves under additional laws is very great.

Paul writes: “why…do you submit to it’s [additional] rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules…are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Col 2:20-23).

In my notes below I have also listed seven additional practical applications from this doctrine:

Systematic Theology 7: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (3) Necessity

Fun fact an easy way to remember how to spell Necessary is: Never Eat Cheese Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young. Necessity is only changing the last three letters.

In this chapter we’re continuing our study of the four characteristics of scripture. We’ve already covered Authority (& Inerancy), Clarity and now [Never eat…]cessity.

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 it is not necessary for knowing something about God’s character.

Notice how this definition gives us three things we need the Scripture for, and one thing we don’t.

Necessary for Knowledge of the Gospel – This is mostly justified from Romans 10:13-17. Which reasons that in order to be saved we need to call on the Lord’s name, but in order to do that we need to believe in Him. In order to believe in Him, we need to hear about Him.

In this way one must read the gospel or hear it told to them in order to be saved. I have written about this elsewhere, in: “what about Jesus-dreams”. Where I wrestled with this Doctrine, on the basis of the stories I’d heard where people have had dreams/visions about Jesus and become Christians without the Bible.

Necessary for Maintaining Spiritual Life – Again, this is mostly justified by Matthew 4:4 where Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy “Man shall not live on bread alone”. But I guess we could also use 2 Timothy 3:16, where is says that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Necessary for certain knowledge of God’s will – We may have some knowledge of God’s will without it, but certain knowledge is different. Even if we could conceive a way for God’s justice and mercy to be reconciled, we wouldn’t have enough certainty on it for it to save us.

He has not revealed everything in the scriptures, obviously there is no knowledge of nuclear physics etc, but we do have enough that we may know His will (Deuteronomy 29:29).

From a philosophical point of view, the Bible is necessary for certain knowledge about anything. Because either we know everything (which we don’t). Or we have the words of Someone who knows everything and who never lies.

HOWEVER:

The Bible is NOT necessary for knowing that God exists (or some of His attributes) – The Bible tells us that the heaven’s declare His glory (Psalm 19:1), that rain and fruitful seasons are signs of God’s blessing (Acts 14:16-17) and that God’s invisible qualities have been made known to all so that no one is without excuse (Romans 1:19-21).

Wayne Grudem makes a distinction between “general revelation” and “specific revelation”. Whereas general revelation is available to all as a result of God’s general grace to all people, specific revelation is what God has specifically made know through the Scriptures. (see notes below for more detail).

The Bible is NOT not necessary for knowing something of God’s character or moral laws – Therefore we are still guilty of sin even if we never hear the gospel (Romans 1:32, 2:14-15). The law has been written on our hearts.

This doctrine should make us inspired and challenged to proclaim the gospel as Romans 10 reminds us: How can they call on One they have not heard about, and how can they hear unless someone tells them!”

Systematic Theology 6: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (2) Clarity

One of the reasons we are studying Systematic Theology is because it helps to equip us to carry out the Great Commission; it helps us to make disciples. When Jesus says ‘make disciples’ there are three aspects to this: going, baptising and teaching. This is relevant because in order to teach a subject, it is important to have a good overview of the topic. But not just an overview, but an understanding of how all the parts fit together. Studying Systematic Theology is great at helping us with this!

In this week’s post we’re continuing our appreciation of the four characteristics of Scripture by looking at The Bible’s – Clarity.

‘The Clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it’.

Notice how carefully crafted this sentence is. We are able to understand the teaching of the Bible IF we read it seeking God’s help and with a willingness to follow.

This is something the Bible claims for itself. When it says that even children (Deut 6:6-7) and the ‘simple’ (Ps 19:7) will be able to understand it. Furthermore when Jesus is criticising the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, He never blames the Old Testament for being unclear, instead He simply says: “have you not read”?

It is true however, that the Bible can have complicated and confusing parts. Even Peter says as much about the letters written by Paul (2 Peter 1:20). But this verse also reminds us that we should attempt to carry out interpretation in the context of the Church.

The Doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture is significant for believers because it encourages us that: we are not too foolish or stupid to read scripture and understand it sufficiently. I think this is so important. As I know many Christians who would not feel entirely confident opening the Bible, reading it, and expecting to understand it. The Clarity of Scripture tells us, that if we are genuine in our desire to obey Scripture, and we truly seek God’s help, it is very possible!

Notice that the qualities for understanding scripture are not, educational/intellectual but rather moral and spiritual (1 Cor 2:14).

So then, if Scripture is so easy to understand why does it get misunderstood so much. Why are there still disagreements? Wayne Grudem gives three reasons:

  1. We are still waiting for further events in Salvation History, this is why many Bible-believing Christians today have different views on the end times as an example.) Whilst we have all that we need to know in order to be saved and have eternal life in the Bible, there are events that will need to happen before we ‘know in full’ (1 Cor 13:12).
  2. We have a lack of faith or hardness of heart, the problem may be with us, we are refusing to believe difficult or uncomfortable truths, or to submit to God’s law in our heart.
  3. Church Disagreements produce greater unity in the end, I’d not thought about this before. But Grudem’s optimistic view is actually faith filled in the Clarity of Scripture. When Christians disagree, and can manage the disagreement in a community of love, it produces thought and reasoning and understanding that would not be possible without the disagreement in the first place. As we wrestle with ideas, teachings and commands, and humbly ask each other questions, and present alternative ways of understanding we can discover the truth. In this sense it is so important we read the Scriptures within the context of the Church.

Finally, as a preacher there were two keywords that I learnt from studying this doctrine, a little trivia for myself. #nerdlife 1) Hermeneutics – the study of correct methods of interpretation. 2) Exegesis – the process of interpreting a text of scripture.

Systematic Theology 5: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (1.5) Inerrancy

In my defence the book does say “Four characteristics” even though it gives five. This is the bonus one, Inerrancy’. It is usually covered under ‘Authority’ (see previous post). But due to the cultural context of today, where ‘truth’ is considered more and more subjective and God’s word is seen as an optional Pick N Mix, it needed its own chapter.

The Inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. The Bible always tells the truth and it does so concerning everything it talks about.

I was personally, really glad it got it’d own chapter. As I have found that the truthfulness of scripture is one of the “barriers of belief” for so many people.

Wayne Grudem clarifies that the Bible can be inerrant and still speak the ordinary language of everyday speech. For example talking about the “sun rising” even though the sun doesn’t technically “rise”.

He uses the helpful comparison of phrases which are all true/inerrant, and yet different. Consider:

  • I don’t live far from my office
  • I live a little over a mile from my office
  • I live a mile from my office
  • I live 1.282 miles from my office

Therefore, Biblical statements can be imprecise and still be true: Inerrancy is about the truthfulness, not about the degrees of precision. Such a helpful distinction.

He then outlines six common challenges to inerrancy, (see below for full notes) and then counters each one providing helpful reasoning.

Finally, he raises four problems for a Christian who denies the Inerrancy of Scripture. These include 1) a moral problem (should we imitate a God who lies), 2) a trust problem (can we trust a God who lies/bends truth), 3) an idol problem (do we become the judge of truth) and 4) a doctrine problem (if we can ignore minor doctrines why can’t we ignore major ones).

Please see below my full notes. As always if you are interested in buying this book and studying it for yourself or following along, please do use my affiliate link and support the blog.

Systematic Theology 4: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (1) Authority

We’re continuing our study of the Word of God, by looking at four distinct characteristics of scripture. These are:

  • Authority
  • Clarity
  • Necessity
  • Sufficiency
  • (Inerrancy)

These four characteristics can be rearranged for the purposes of memory into the acronym SCAN(I). Please find below my notes for Wayne Grudem’s chapter on the Authority of Scripture.

“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”

The chapter asserts that all the words in Scripture are God’s words because 1) this is what the Bible claims for itself, 2) we are convinced of this as we read the Bible, 3) other evidence (such as historical & internal consistencies, anecdotal, fulfilled prophecies etc) is useful but not finally convincing!

4) The words of Scripture are self attesting. This means they appeal to their own authority, whilst this is a circular argument, it does not disqualify the claim. Since any argument for ultimate truth but do so by appealing to itself. (E.g. I know the tower is real, because I see it, therefore my seeing it makes something real, I am appealing to my sense of sight to determine truth).

Grudem then goes on to explain that dictation from God is not the sole means of communication. He also uses prophets, writers, dreams, visions, Jesus and other mysterious and unknown methods.

As always if you want to support this blog, and you’re interested in studying Systematic Theology for yourself you can get the textbook using my affiliate link here.

*Apologies for any zooming you will have to do to see these notes properly.

This paragraph was especially meaningful to me, as it links the Doctrine of the Authority of Scripture to preaching! I loved it!
Finally Grudem lays out the truthfulness of Scripture as a source of it’s authority.

As a side note, for those readers who are invested in the schedule of Blog posts. This was intended to be published last Saturday. However due to circumstances with “two socially distanced” weddings this weekend I was unable to post. I intend to offer a fuller explanation on Sunday, with my month summary!

Systematic Theology 3: The Canon of Scripture

Please find below, my notes for Systematic Theology Chapter 3: The Canon of Scripture. This chapter gives a historical account of the formation of the Bible.

It starts with the story of how the Old Testament was constructed, who came up with the idea to write God’s words down. Why it didn’t stop with the 10 commandments and has been expanded into the Law, Prophets, Songs and History books.

It then goes on to explain how the New Testament was compiled, that each author was essentially an apostle (or had close association with one of the apostles), they claim to have been written with the authority of God and remain consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Finally this chapter then examined the various candidates for addition or removal of other books.

Systematic Theology 2: The Word of God

Systematic Saturday!

Please find below, my notes for Systematic Theology Chapter 2: The Word of God. In this chapter Wayne Grudem outlines the different forms of the ‘Word of God’: As Jesus (John 1:1 & 14) and as speech.

He then looks at the different types of God’s speech (Decrees, Words of personal address, through human lips and in written form). Grudem’s attention for his study on Systematic Theology will be with the written word of God. Because, in written form, the words of God are:

  • More accurately presented
  • Are able to be inspected repeatedly
  • Are accessible to many more people

For those of you who are interested in studying Systematic Theology, I would recommend starting with this book. If you wanted to buy it, I’ve become an Amazon affiliate, so you can buy if from this link and in turn support the blog.