Previously, I wrote two blog entries about the doctrine of scripture, in which one follows a biblical outline and another theological outline, according to Timothy Ward’s Word of Life. I keep on with Ward’s writing, and go over the attributes of the Scripture, or the doctrinal outline of the doctrine as Ward calls it. These attributes are the common headings, or the attributes, when a lot of theologians discuss about this doctrine, such as necessity, sufficiency, clarity, authority etc.
The necessity of the Scripture refers to that everything we need to know about God, including the saving knowledge, has to be found in the Scripture. John Calvin, in light of Romans 1:19-20, said that we knew about God and His glory through His creation, but due to our sinfulness, our necessary knowledge about God is suppressed. And the necessity includes the fact that the Scripture is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, ensures that humans have the right knowledge to focus on God. Ordinary languages are used in Scripture to record, transmit, and be read, in both verbal and written form.
The sufficiency of Scripture is, as Francis Turretin put, “the perfection of the Scriptures,” or, as Ward puts, “a completeness of God’s law and words.” Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:15 that the Old Testament is complete in foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ, and Apostle John stated the divine curse to those who add or subtract from the Word of God at the end of Revelation (Revelation 22:18-19), and marked the end of the New Testament canon. Athanasius of Alexandria said “the sacred and divinely inspired Scriptures are sufficient for the exposition of the truth.” And Augustus of Hippo said “among the things that are plainly laid down in Scriptures are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life – to wit, hope, and love.”
However, as history progressed, the Roman Catholic Church stayed away from this doctrine, adding that God’s Word has to be interpreted by an authoritative institution, i.e., the Pope in this case. However, the Reformers reasserted this doctrine, and reinforced the point that the Scripture is able to interpret itself. And our understanding of the Scripture is ensured by the illumination of the Holy Spirit in the believers and the believing community.
Ward defined the sufficiency as: “because in the ways in which God has chosen to relate himself to Scripture, Scripture is sufficient as the means by which God continues to present himself to us such that we can know him, repeating through Scripture the covenant promise he has brought to fulfillment in Jesus Christ.” (page 113)
Instead of the church as the authoritative interpreter of the Scripture, the Reformers such as Martin Luther insisted that the ultimate interpreter is the Holy Spirit speaking through the Scripture. The fallenness and the finitude of human are the reasons of our lack of understanding of Scripture, but the illumination of Scripture enables us to understand it.
There are the internal clarity and external clarity. 1 Corinthians 2:14 talks about the internal clarity, which refers to a person understanding the Scripture while reading or hearing it as the Holy Spirit opens their mind. The external clarity is the claim that the Scripture claims about itself. If words, about essential knowledge, are obscure at one place, it must be clear at another, as Luther pointed it out. But there are things in the Scripture that are unclear, but Deuteronomy 29:29 said that there are secrets that belong to God while we have all the essential knowledge that are revealed to us.
So given the clarity of the Scripture, why is preaching still necessary? Clarity does not rule out the need to preach, but it warrants that the believers can judge faithfully if an expository preacher has delivered faithfully. Clarity of Scripture ensures the unanimity of teaching of major things, albeit there are diverse interpretation in smaller matters.
Ward emphasized that the phrase “the authority of Scripture” is a shorthand for “the authority of God as he speaks through the Scripture.” The authority is not about the book, but its author.
All these attributes lead to the emphasis of the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scripture, in a response to the attack against all these attributes. The biblical inerrancy was asserted in the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.”
- Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God, IVP Academic (2009). [Amazon]
- Kwan-yuet Ho, “Theological Outline of the Doctrine of Scripture,” WordPress (2016). [WordPress]
- Kwan-yuet Ho, “Biblical Outline of the Doctrine of Scripture,” WordPress (2016). [WordPress]
- Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, P & R Publishing (1997). [Amazon]
- R. C. Sproul, Can I Trust the Bible? Reformation Trust (2014). [Amazon]
- Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 1: Prologomena, Baker Academic (2003). [Amazon]
- Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan (2009). [Amazon]