The Sufficiency of Scripture and John Frame

Some time ago I did a post on the sufficiency of Scripture. My question was with regard to the appeal to passages like Psalm 19 or 2 Timothy while including within the definition of sufficiency the idea of “no further revelation is needed.” If Psalm 19 is teaching the sufficiency of Scripture and that entails no more revelation how can we justify further revelation which every Protestant does. Recently I was reading in John Frame’s book The Doctrine of the Christian Life and he addressed my question directly. Frame first lays out the definition of the sufficiency of Scripture from the Westminster Confession of Faith. After walking through this definition he makes a helpful distinction between “general” and “particular” sufficiency. Here are some excerpts from his discussion.

“We should notice that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ascribes sufficiency to the Old Testament. That is an interesting point, that the Old Testament is actually a sufficiency moral guide for the New Testament Christians. Why, then, does God give us the New Testament as well? That question leads to a distinction between general sufficiency and particular sufficiency.”

“At any point in redemption history, the revelation given at that time is sufficient. After Adam and Eve sinned, God revealed to them how they would be punished, and he also revealed to them the coming of a deliverer, the seed of the woman, who would crush the serpent’s head. . . Was this revelation sufficient for them? Yes, it was. Had they to trust this revelation, they could not have used as an excuse the fact that it wasn’t full enough. In this revelation, they had all the divine words they needed to have. So that revelation was sufficient.

Nevertheless, God added to that revelation, by speaking to Noah, Abraham, and others. Why did he add to a revelation that was already sufficient? Because Noah needed to know more than Adam did. The history of redemption is progressive. In Noah’s time, God planned to judge the world by a flood, and Noah had to know that. The Adamic revelation was sufficient for Adam, but not for Noah. . . . Similarly, the revelation of the Old Testament was sufficient for the first generation of Christians. But God graciously provided them with much more, including the letters of Paul. In God’s judgment, these were necessary for the ongoing life of the young church, and when they were collected and distributed, believers recognized them as God’s word. . . . That consideration raises the question of whether God will add still more revelation to the canon. Sufficiency in itself, what I am calling ‘general sufficiency,’ does not preclude divine additions to Scripture, though it does preclude mere human additions.” (161-62, Emphasis mine.)

Frame goes on to explain the concept of “particular sufficiency.” He explains, “But there is an additional principle that should lead us not to expect any more divine words until the return of Christ. That principle is that Christ’s redemption is final. When redemption is final, revelation is also final.” ((162) Frame appeals here to Hebrews 1:1-4. With Christ’s final act of redemption he says “nothing can be added to the revelation of that redemptive work.” (163) He elaborates, “Scripture is God’s testimony to the redemption he has accomplished for us. Once that redemption is finished, and the apostolic testimony to it is finished, the Scriptures are complete, and we should expect no more additions to them. Scripture is the deposit of the apostolic testimony, its written record. It is the only form of that testimony passed on to us beyond the apostolic generation. Once that testimony is complete, Scripture, too, is complete.” (163)

This makes sense to me and I think provides a satisfactory answer to the question I had. If I adopt Frame’s terminology then I would say the doctrine of general sufficiency allows for further revelation. This idea of sufficiency is found in places like Psalm 19 and 2 Timothy. But the doctrine of particular sufficiency does not allow for further divine revelation due to the finality of Christ’s redemption and the apostolic testimony to that act.

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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One Response to The Sufficiency of Scripture and John Frame

  1. I’ve appreciated Frame’s “Doctrine of the Word of God” as well. He devotes the entire book to questions like these. I used it pretty extensively when teaching this past summer about the sufficiency of scripture as it is expressed in the Belgic Confession of Faith.

    Regarding 2 Tim 3:16-17, I found it interesting that even some Roman Catholic commentators recognize that one must force the argument a bit to undermine Sola Scriptura. Of note is Daniel Keating’s treatment of 2 Pet 1 in his volume in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture on the epistles of Peter and Jude. I don’t have the page number handy, but in a footnote, he notes that using the word “scripture” refers initially to the Old Testament text, but *by extension* to the completed New Testament as well – i.e., it refers to everything that goes by the name “scripture.” 2 Pet 3:16 would seem to prove Keating’s point – things other than the OT are recognized as “scripture.”

    I’ve not read Frame’s volume on the Christian Life, but it’s received some good accolades. I’ll have to pick it up, eventually.

    I’ll be in Grand Rapids in a week for my annual “Christmas Bookstore Binge.” Granted Frame’s books are published by P&R, but I’ll look forward to browsing the shelves at Baker!

    Like

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