The Biblical Basis for the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures
Sola Scriptura is the belief that the Holy Scriptures are the sole, sufficient, infallible rule of faith. The importance of affirming and defending this doctrine stems partly from the need to know God personally for salvation and to know his will in order to carry it out in our lives:
“This is what the LORD says: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
“‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’… Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him’… Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.’” John 14:15, 21, 23-24
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3
The Holy Bible teaches that there are grave consequences in failing to know and obey God:
“my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.” Hosea 4:6
What Sola Scriptura Does Not Teach
Before presenting the biblical basis for Sola Scriptura, we first need to explain what Sola Scriptura does not teach or deny. Sola Scriptura:
Does not deny that God’s Inspired Word was transmitted orally.
When there were inspired prophets and apostles walking this earth, God’s inspired word was being transmitted both orally and through written letter:
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” 1 Corinthians 2:13
“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13
“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15
After the death of the last Apostle, God consummated the revelation of his word and has preserved it in the inspired Scriptures.
Does not deny the ultimate importance of the Holy Spirit.
It is only by the Holy Spirit’s illumination that a person is able to understand and believe in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one who enables a person to accept the inspiration, sufficiency, infallibility and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures:
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:13-14
“Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:3
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” Ephesians 1:17-18
“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth… I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit-just as it has taught you, remain in him.” 1 John 2:20, 26-27
Does not deny the use of General Revelation.
General Revelation refers to God revealing himself through creation and conscience:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:18-20
“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” Romans 2:14-16
Yet General Revelation does not save apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. God saves through the Spirit along with the preaching of the Gospel:
“for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:13-17
Does not deny the importance of pastors, teachers and evangelists.
“And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?” 1 Corinthians 12:28-29
“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it… It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:7, 11-15
What Sola Scriptura teaches is that all pastors, teachers and evangelists are subject to God’s ultimate authority, the God-breathed Scriptures:
“As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:10-11
Does not claim that all of its parts are equally clear and understandable.
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” 2 Peter 3:15-16
Rather, it teaches that the message of salvation is clear enough that the person empowered by the Spirit is able to understand and accept it. As Paul told the Corinthians:
“For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end;” 2 Corinthians 1:13
Furthermore, the Scriptures exhort the man of God to make sure that he carefully and rightly divides the word of truth:
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
Does not claim that the Scriptures are exhaustive, that everything God ever said or did are contained within the Holy Bible.
“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25
What Sola Scriptura Does Teach
It teaches that:
The Holy Scriptures are the sole, infallible rule of faith by virtue of it being breathed out or inspired by God. As such it is completely sufficient in and of itself to thoroughly equip Christians in all things necessary for salvation and sanctification.
The Bible is the only certain norm, since it is the only revelation that can be demonstrated to have come from inspired men of God. This cannot be said of oral traditions.
Finally, the central focus of the Scriptures is to reveal and make known the risen Lord and immortal Savior Jesus Christ, God’s eternally beloved Son, who alone grants eternal life to all who believe.
The following citations demonstrate that the foregoing points are thoroughly scriptural in nature.
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40
“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31
John states that not everything Christ did was recorded, and yet what has been recorded is sufficient to obtain eternal life. If Scriptures are sufficient to lead a person to eternal life, then nothing else is needed.
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:19-21
Peter claims that the Holy Scriptures were produced as a result of God’s Holy Spirit moving men of God to write. Hence, the Scriptures are both divine and human in origin. In other words, the Bible is God’s Word which is communicated through human vessels, using human language.
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are ABLE (ta dunamena) to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God (theopneustos) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent (artios), equipped (exertismenos) for EVERY GOOD WORK.” 2 Timothy 3:14-17 ESV
Paul teaches that:
The Scriptures make one wise for salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus.
The word translated here as “able” conveys the idea that Scriptures have an inherent ability, an inherent sufficiency to accomplish its purpose. Again, if the Scriptures are capable of leading one to salvation, what need is there for anything else?
- The Scriptures are God-breathed or breathed out by God. In other words, the Scriptures originate from God and not from man, although God used men to write it.
- The Scriptures thoroughly, completely furnish or equip the man of God not just for some or many good works, but also for EVERY good work that is necessary for the Christian life.
Exertismenos is the participial form of exartizo. Thayer’s Lexicon defines it as “to complete, finish, to furnish perfectly.” Louw & Nida, in their Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, Volume 1, p. 680, write:
“… to make someone completely adequate or sufficient for something- ‘to make adequate to furnish completely, to cause to be fully qualified, adequacy.”
Thayer defines artios as “complete, perfect.”
Bauer&Gingrich&Danker’s A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christianity Literature, second edition, defines it as “complete, capable, proficient=able to meet all demands.”
Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1940, states:
artios , a, on (os, on Aristid.Quint.1.25): ( [arti] ):–complete, perfect of its kind, suitable, exactly fitted, a. allêloisi sponduloi Hp.Art.45 ; artia bazein speak to the purpose, Il.14.92, Od.8.240; hoti hoi phresin artia êidê thought things in accordance with him, was of the same mind with him, Il.5.326, Od.19.248; artia mêdesthai Pi.O.6.94 ; meet, right, proper, Sol.4.40, Thgn.946; a. eis ti well-suited for . . , IG14.889.7 (Sinuessa); artiôtatên echein taxin most perfect, Philostr.VS1.21.3. (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3D%2315683)
This last point is extremely important and crucial in demonstrating the sole sufficiency of the Scriptures. If the Scriptures are able to make the man of God complete or perfect, as well as thoroughly adequate or sufficient for EVERY GOOD WORK, then what else does he need apart from the God-breathed revelation?
In fact, can those who deny Sola Scriptura produce a good work that is necessary for either salvation or sanctification that are not found in the Scriptures? Obviously not, since if they could they would be falsifying Paul’s claim here and attributing error to the inspired Scriptures.
The Holy Bible teaches that what God says the Bible says and what it says God says. In other words God’s words and the words of Scripture are one and the same.
What God says the Bible says
“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.’” Genesis 12:1-3 RSV
“And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’” Galatians 3:8 RSV
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh, and say to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me… but for this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.’”’” Exodus 9:13, 16 RSV
“For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’” Romans 9:17 RSV
- What the Bible says God says
“Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:23-24 RSV
“He answered, ‘Have you not read that HE who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?’” Matthew 19:4-5 RSV
“Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?” Psalm 2:1 RSV
“And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, didst say by the Holy Spirit, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things?”’” Acts 4:24-25 RSV
“For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit.” Psalm 16:10 RSV
“And as for the fact that HE raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, HE spoke in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore he says also in another psalm, ‘Thou wilt not let thy Holy One see corruption.’” Acts 13:34-35 RSV
With the foregoing in perspective we are ready to proceed to the final section of our post: An Articulation of Sola Scriptura Pt. 2.