A Question On Passages Used to Support the “Sufficiency” of Scripture

I recently heard a sermon by John MacArthur on the sufficiency of Scripture. His text was Psalm 19:7-4. You can find the same material here. I was tracking pretty well with him until close to the end of the sermon. He states, “Contrary to what many are teaching today, there is no need for additional revelations, visions, or words of prophecy. In contrast to the theories of men, God’s Word is true and absolutely comprehensive. Rather than seeking something more than God’s glorious revelation, Christians need only to study and obey what they already have!” (172-73) John Piper says the same based on 2 Tim. 3:15-17 and Jude 1:3 (“The sufficiency of Scripture means that we don’t need any more special revelation.”)

Here’s what I think might be confusing to some. If Psalm 19 teaches the sufficiency of Scripture, which entails no more need for revelation, then why doesn’t the canon stop with the Psalms? If we recognize the New Testament as revelation (which we all do) then how can Psalm 19 teach the sufficiency of Scripture? Part of the problem is in the meaning of “revelation.” I’ve been helped by D.A. Carson’s discussion of this in his book Showing the Spirit. Here are some excerpts from that discussion:

“In all of the occurrences, the revelation is granted by God, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit, or brought about directly by them or in connection with them. . . For instance, when Peter makes his confession at Caesarea Philippi he has to be told that the Father had revealed this truth to him (Matt. 16:17 par.): apparently revelation can take place without the individual knowing that is taking place or has taken place. . . . More revelation takes place in the believer’s life as he or she grows in grace and understanding. Paul can write to converts and explain some foundational Christian truth, and then add, ‘All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear [lit., ‘will reveal’] to you’ (Phil. 3:15) A similar understanding of revelation lies behind Ephesians 1:17, and probably also behind some passages where the terms revelation and reveal are not actually used (e.g., Eph. 3:14-19). . . . Apparently, at least some of this revelation came through a quiet (possibly even unrecognized but no less gracious) divine disclosure, part of the Christian’s growing grasp of spiritual realities–a growing grasp that can come only by revelation, which is to say it comes by grace.” (162-63)

To think that such revelations threaten the canon of Scripture, Carson says, “is to confuse the terminology of Protestant systematic theology with the terminology of the Scripture writers.” (163) So perhaps what Piper and MacArthur are referring to is that we don’t need any more revelation which would be on par with canonical Scripture. If so, then I’m back to my original question: If this is the teaching of Psalm 19 or 2 Timothy then why do we have/recognize any Scripture beyond that?

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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6 Responses to A Question On Passages Used to Support the “Sufficiency” of Scripture

  1. Rev. Bryant J. Williams III says:

    Dear Louis,

    The use of Psalm 19:4-7 for the purpose of sufficiency of Scripture is perfectly acceptable. If one was to look at the application of the passage at that time, strictly speaking, it would apply to only the Law of Moses, Genesis to Deuteronomy; maybe including Joshua and Judges (?).

    I think what is happening is that MacArthur, et al, are using the idea of these passages by way of extension. II Timothy 3:15-17 speaks of “all scripture.” At the time of writing by Paul, the Scriptures he was definitely referring to would be the Tanakh or OT. But, by way of extension, it would apply to both testaments. The same would apply to the warning to subtract or add to the “word of this prophecy” in Revelation 22:18-19. Strictly speaking, this warning only applies to Revelation, but, by way of extension, it is applied to all of Scripture.

    What is more important is the misuse of the word, “revelation.” The word in every day use today is misused by those who claim “new” revelation. What they actually mean is “illumination.” The Canons of the OT & NT are “closed.” Since that is true, then by definition, there is no longer any new or special revelation; otherwise we have the problem of Ellen White of SDA, Mohammed of Islam, Joseph Smith of LDS, even the Montanist Movement. All of these persons or movements have made some claim to “new” or “special” revelation.

    If Scripture is sufficient, is the final authority on all that it teaches (not just faith and practice), then nothing else is required.

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    • Louis says:

      Rev. Williams,
      Thanks for the feedback. I guess my question is what justifies this “extension?” In other words if the author of Psalm 19 is teaching that Scripture is sufficient and entailed in that sufficiency is that no further revelation is needed then how can we justify an extension beyond what he would have understood to be Scripture? Wouldn’t the author of Psalm 19 object to us adding the New Testament (not to mention portions of the OT)? My question isn’t so much on the issue of canon but rather on the notion of “sufficiency” and its alleged support from passages like Psalm 19 and 2 Tim. The sufficiency may be a valid theological construct but I’m simply wondering about the validity of supporting it from these passages. For example, the Trinity is a valid theological construct but appeals to some OT passages in support of it I find doubtful. Doubting the use of some passages used to support the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t mean I would doubt the Trinity as a valid teaching of Scripture.

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      • Rev. Bryant J. Williams III says:

        Dear Louis,

        I would think that the idea behind the use of Ps. 19, II Tim., et al, is the idea of the trust in the Word of God. Hebrews 1:1-2, even though it does not speak regarding sufficiency, does speak on the finality of revelation, “in His Son.” We know that revelation is progressive. I remind myself the requirements of an apostle is found In Acts 1. Nobody, since the Apostle John died ca 95-100 AD, has seen Jesus in the flesh. That makes any one claiming to be an Apostle today a liar. The one who claims to be a prophet not only has to say the words of the Lord, his behavior must be consistent with the word of the Lord, but his prophecy must come true. If the prophecy does not come true, then he is labelled a “false-prophet.” Even that person made 1000 predictions, if he misses just 1, then is a false-prophet and is NOT to be listened to. Thus, scripture is sufficient for all scenarios.

        I wonder if the question you are asking is, “Does this text (Psalm 19 or II Timothy 3) have “application” beyond the time it was written to today?” That is a different question than one about sufficiency. Ask the wrong question and get the wrong answer. My answer to the above question is yes. Just because the text speaking about that time and the Law of Moses (Psalm 19) or the Tanakh (II Timothy 3) does not mean that there is an application for us today. David seem to think so. Paul seem to think so.

        Romans 11:29, “For the gifts (promises) and calling of God are irrevocable.” God made promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and “in Christ,” to the church. Those promises, those gifts, are irrevocable (ametamelomai). God walked between the animals (Genesis 15), swore an oath (Genesis 22), promised an eternal throne ( II Samuel 7), and gave us the Holy Spirit as down-payment on the promise made to those who believe “in Christ” for the forgiveness of sins of an eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1). Those are just some of the promises, the gifts that God has made on behalf on Israel (God’s Chosen People), and also on the Church (which is “in Christ;” see Ephesians 2:11-22 especially 2:20).

        That is sufficiency, taking at God at His Word and believing.

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  2. bitznbitez says:

    You are on the right path with your thinking with the Psalms. But take it to the Timothy passage etc next realizing that the New Testament was itself not yet complete either when those were penned. Which brings you to the question who / what declared revelation complete and halted the growth of scripture.

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    • Rev. Bryant J. Williams III says:

      I would seriously recommend that one read Michael J. Kruger’s, ***Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books*** and The 10 Misconceptions About the NT Canon at http://www.michaeljkruger.com “Canon Fodder” He deals with this very issue. The whole issue of canon was pretty much settled by the 2nd Century AD. There were questions over certain book, but even then it was settled by the 3rd Century. It was the 4th Century that Athanasius’ Festal Letter listed the 27 books of the NT Canon. The Councils only AFFIRMED what the churches were already using. The Councils never chose what was in the canon.

      Furthermore, I remind myself that no new revelation occurred after the death of the Apostle John. That is an historical fact. It was not until the arrival of Montanist (and two former pagan priestesses), ca 170 AD, and his rejection of pastoral authority and claiming that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, specifically, that of prophecy, that the whole issue started again. Also remember that Marcion, ca 130-150 AD , the gnostics Valentinus, Basiledes, etc also were questioning the whole issue of authority.

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  3. Pingback: The Sufficiency of Scripture and John Frame « Baker Book House Church Connection

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