The Sufficiency of Scripture (1) – 2 Timothy 3:16-179 min read
One of the believer’s greatest losses comes when he forgets the resource he possesses in God’s Word, and we are severely losing in modern Christendom. One has well said that there has never been so great a spiritual lethargy toward understanding Scripture despite our unique access to much Scriptural teaching. Though we are privileged with deluxe bound copies of the Bible, reading it is the first routine we omit―all in the name of not being a “perfect Christian.” (Apparently, this is the standard excuse of Christians who would obey on their own terms). This is the fault of many factors, one of which is our ignorance of Scripture’s sufficiency.
With the supplements of modern methods, the traditions of denominations, and the invasion of subjective reasoning, believers are increasingly pressured to reject a simple commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture. When we neglect it, we become spiritually crippled. When we understand and embrace it, we become so linked with God that His cause becomes our life’s greatest passion.
What is the sufficiency of Scripture? It is that quality of Scripture that fully meets the needs of the Christian’s person, abilities, and actions in both faith and service. Thus, the Christian need not look to anything above or beyond it. Sufficiency claims that Scripture is the only body of truth which binds the believer and that he needs nothing for worship and service apart from its proper understanding and application.
Scripture Claims to Be Sufficient – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
While the sufficiency of Scripture is an underlying assumption throughout all Biblical texts, there is one text in particular which asserts it with special clarity. That text is 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
All Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be completely adequate, fully equipped unto every good work.
Paul begins by addressing the origin of Scripture. He says, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” While this is primarily a statement of origin, it is also a statement of definition. The holy writings given to us by God are what they are because they are His very words—what breathing out implies. There is no need to belabour this point, however, since we have covered it in the past.
Briefly notice three things about this clause:
- Scripture is not inspired to varying degrees: all Scripture is inspired.
- Timothy knew what Paul meant by “Scripture” even without Paul’s explanation. Therefore, there must be a very real definition of what is “Scripture.”
- Scripture is the words of God; it bears the mark of His authority. Since God is deliberate in everything He does, all that it includes and all that it omits is purposeful and binding.
Having stated the doctrine, Paul applies it to both Timothy’s and the assembly’s spiritual needs. It is “profitable,” in other words. Just as God breathed into Adam that he might govern His physical creation, so God breathed out Scripture that it might govern His spiritual creation. It serves a purpose. This is really point number one in understanding Scriptural sufficiency. Many fail to see how all of the Scripture applies in the twenty-first century, yet this practical application is what it was designed for. The moment we forget the profound relevance of Scripture is the moment we forget its sufficiency. It is profitable; it seeks our benefit. While foundation number one is the origin and nature of Scripture, foundation number two is its necessity for practical life. This is qualified by the four uses of Scripture that Paul gives in verse 16.
The first use is teaching. Scripture imparts the knowledge of God’s truth and serves as our basis for it. For the student, the Bible is the entirety of what he is to believe. But this would have special significance for Timothy the teacher. This text affirms that the teacher’s goal is not to create a message and then fill it with Scripture. The teacher’s message is the text itself. In chapter 4 Paul tells Timothy to “Preach the Word.” Peter tells the speaker to act as “the oracles of God.” It is implied, then, that our thoughts and messages must be so intertwined with Scripture that the entirety of our content is indeed from God. The calling is high, but the necessity is real. Is the simplicity of Scripture in our assembly enough to feed our souls? Or do we need something more? To want more is to deny Scripture’s sufficiency.
The second use is conviction. This is both positive and negative. On the one hand, it refutes error; on the other hand, it assures of the truth. Titus 1:9 is a perfect example of this. “[An overseers must be] Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to reprove the gainsayers.” While academic apologetics has its place, the Christian’s chief resource in his defense is an ability to handle the Scriptures well. Scripture is not only sufficient to cure ignorance, but it is sufficient to stand in opposition.
The third use is correction. One must not only know God’s truth and be assured of it, but he must conform to it. This must be true for both doctrine and practice. Believers are often better at correcting Scripture than at being corrected by it. We must be cautious of this mentality. While evangelicalism teaches us that we must not be dogmatic on anything except the gospel, the text tells us that every Scripture is profitable for correction, whether it be a gospel verse or not. This implies the meaning is clear enough to hold us accountable to it. Thus, whether it be developing our own convictions or addressing an error in the assembly, we can have full confidence in the clarity of Scripture; we are able to say “This is of the Lord” when we find it in Scripture. May we learn to bow to that sort of simplicity.
The fourth use is instruction in righteousness, that is, disciplined training. Such tutoring in secular fields is aimed toward making professionals and scholars. So with righteousness, God desires us to have a profound and influential grip on it. One may be inclined to think, “Yes, Scripture is the basis for Christianity, but surely when it comes to real growth we need step-by-step discipleship programs and psychological pep talks.” Yet the Scripture is not only a book of information; it is also a book of power. And when applied in its simplicity, it has the ability to turn the plainest of Christians into profound scholars and standard-bearers of godliness. Saintly fellows are not made by monasteries; they are made by loving Scripture. Indeed, even the least-gifted Christian can be a master at his profession through biblical commitment.
Notice the progression here. First, we know the truth. Second, we believe the truth. Third, we conform to the truth. Fourth, we grow in the truth. Scripture is our beginning-to-end resource to love the Lord our God with all of our mind (teaching), heart (conviction), soul (correction), and strength (training). The person who has tested the sufficiency of Scripture has never found himself to need more. Replacements and supplements are only needed when we doubt Scripture’s true potential, and that is an insult to God’s face.
In doing these four things, the Scripture fulfills all that the man of God needs to be in this life. Of course, this includes all believers. But it also includes only believers, because the prerequisite of salvation must be fulfilled before the equipping power of Scripture can be felt. It is not the skeptic that is equipped or made complete. Scripture is a spiritual book designed to accomplish spiritual goals in Spirit-led people. While it holds ultimate authority over the unbeliever, it will not empower him for service. We must get this order right (first saved, then equipped).
When we veer from this order, a hopeless mess is made by nominal, false converts. A proper understanding of the simple gospel must precede the teaching of the Word. That is why a family Bible hour (where teaching is mixed with evangelism) is far inferior to a dedicated gospel meeting in the assembly.
As well, when we veer from this order, false tradition arises. For as a church tries to demand Scriptural obedience of its nominal converts, it will find that they cannot comply. Thus, it will replace Scripture with vague traditions which even the infidel can keep. The church will see its tradition filling in the gaps, as it were, compensating for the lack of power in applying the Scripture to the unsaved. Thus tradition overrides Scripture, and a false church system is made. This is true in the Catholic Church, the mainline denominations, many Charismatic churches, and even many evangelical churches that adopt an entertainment mentality.
Oh, we must get the order right! There is much danger when we do not. But there is much power when we do, for Scripture affects all three spheres in the true Christian: his person (“adequate”), his abilities (“fully equipped”), and his actions (“unto every good work”).
Scripture makes the man of God adequate in his person. The credentials of the man of God are not his formal training, but rather his proven grasp of the Scriptures. The idea of a seminary’s qualifying a man for the ministry is utterly erroneous. The elder is not qualified by a psychology degree, nor the preacher by a divinity degree, nor the believer by a system of tradition. God qualifies his men by Scripture, and believers need not despise such men because they are not religiously educated. So with any position that God calls a person to, their adequacy must come from Scripture. Why? Because Scripture is sufficient for God’s spiritual purposes.
And Scripture also fully equips the man in his abilities and his actions. A person called to spiritual service knows both what to do and how to do it by Scripture. A man who embraces the Scripture fully will never be inadequate for his position, ill-equipped for his role, or uninformed in his duty. The people to whom he ministers will not be lacking if he is a man of the Scriptures. So it is with any sphere of service for both men and women.
If Scripture is sufficient for every Christian to give them every resource they need for every good work, there is no gap left for a man-made system to fill. Everything the believer needs for spiritual service is Scripture and its proper administration (such as teaching, for example). Everything flows from the Book; so has God designed it.