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Vol. XVIII No. 50
12 September 2021

THE AUTHORITY AND SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE

Samuel Joseph

A sermon preached at TLBPC on the Lord’s Day, 25 July 2021

2 Timothy 3:16, 17, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

“What does the Bible have to do with me?” This is a question that you may have asked, or been asked. There are many in the world who find it strange, even bizarre, that Christians should esteem an ancient book so highly, to the point even of building our lives according to what is written in it. This is an attitude that has, sadly, infiltrated the church, and there are professing Christians who view the Bible as no more than a general compendium of ancient moral codes ‒ useful, perhaps, but open to adjustment according to modern sensibilities.

Yet because the Bible is in fact crucial to the life of the church, and to our individual Christian lives, it is important for us to hold to a biblical understanding of scripture. The apostle Paul clearly understood this, for in this his final epistle he took pains to impart to Timothy the specific view of scripture that we find in our text. It is this view of scripture that we need to hold as well; a view that can be described by two questions: first, what is the Bible? and second, what is the place of the Bible in my life? The first has to do, broadly speaking, with the authority of scripture, and the second, with the sufficiency of scripture.

Authority of Scripture

When Paul speaks of “scripture” here in verse 16, he is referring simply to the Bible ‒ at the time, the New Testament was in the process of being written, but both Old and New Testaments fall into the category of “scripture” (compare 2 Peter 3:15–16, where the apostle Peter identifies Paul’s epistles as “scripture,” along with the Old Testament). What then is the Bible? Paul answers, the Bible is that which has been “given by inspiration of God.”

Put simply, this means that the Bible is the word of God. This is a phrase no doubt familiar to us, and it is to be feared, perhaps, that due to its frequent use we have lost sight of its significance. The Bible is God’s word. Now when we speak of someone’s “word,” we are referring to the act of communication: a transfer, if you like, from one mind to another. There is a mystery to this, and a wonderful intimacy ‒ God has designed humans with the capacity for language, such that my inner-most thoughts can be expressed and understood by another person. But the true wonder of language is, that God has designed it not only that we might communicate with one another, but that He might communicate with us.

It is an amazing thought: God, perfectly sufficient in Himself, the three Persons of the Triune Godhead in perfect communion from eternity, has yet condescended, by His word, to bring us into an intimate relationship with Himself. This is what we mean when we say the Bible is God’s word! It is God speaking to us. And just as my word, or your word, derives its impact and significance from the identity of the speaker, so the Bible comes to us with supreme and final authority, because it is God’s word.

This has a significant implication for how we ought to treat the Bible. Consider how Israel responded, at the foot of Sinai, when they heard the voice of God (Exodus 20:18–19). They trembled in fear; they responded with awe‒ because they had heard the voice of God. What a contrast to the way we treat our Bibles! So often we open these pages with a yawning reluctance, a routine apathy.

Now you might say, there is a difference, because I am not hearing an audible voice; I am not seeing fire and smoke. If I were, I would be awed. If God wants me to pay attention, let Him speak directly to me. But this would be a misunderstanding of the nature of scripture. We should not be tempted to think that what we have, in the Bible, is less than what the prophets of the Old Testament had. See how the apostle Paul goes on to emphasise precisely the directness of the revelation we have in the Bible! Remember, it is “given by inspiration of God”‒ it is, as it were, breathed out by God. The Bible is the word which proceeds out of the mouth of God. It is direct revelation from the Almighty.

True, human instruments were used in the production of the Bible. Holy men, chosen by God, spoke “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). Yet God so superintended the writing, that however these human instruments were used and moved (without overriding or negating their humanity), God nevertheless ensured that every word written is His.

Then again, what about translations? What we use commonly is a translation of God’s inspired word. It is true that no translation will ever be able to capture all that is in the original ‒ but God has intended and used translations to carry His message to all nations and peoples, as part of the fulfilment of His great commission to the church. We thank God for faithful, accurate translations, and insofar as such a translation represents the words of the original, we have in our hands the word of God.

The bottom line is this: what we have in the Bible is what God wants to say to us. It is direct revelation, from His mouth to our ears. This is so even today! God has taken care to preserve every word that proceeded out of His mouth. The Bible derives its nature and character from God Himself: if He cannot lie, His word cannot contain error; if He is sovereign, His word carries sovereign authority; if He is omniscient and perfect in goodness, His word is precisely what we need for His good purpose to be accomplished in our life. From this doctrine of inspiration, then, comes the important and eminently practical truth about the authority and applicability of scripture for us today. When you open your Bible, you are dealing with God ‒ and God is dealing with you.

Sufficiency of Scripture

This right understanding of what the Bible is, leads us also to a right view of its place in our lives. Thus Paul continues, reminding us that as the Bible is inspired, it is profitable. It is sufficient to ensure our spiritual profit. God promised that His word would never return to Him void (Isaiah 55:10–11); so His word is profitable and sufficient to accomplish His purpose, for our life and our growth (1 Peter 2:1–3).

It is profitable for doctrine. This speaks of the content of our knowledge, about God, about His nature, about His character, about His will. God wants us to know Him: not vaguely, but rightly and robustly; not via mystical and subjective experience, but by His objective revelation. The Bible tells us the truth about who God is. It tells us the truth about who we are, as God made us. It tells us the truth about God’s plan for the world, and our place in His plan.

It is profitable for reproof and correction. No one likes to be corrected, but this is only because of our pride. In fact, it is to our great spiritual profit when we are reproved and turned away from error. We ought to be measuring our lives against the standard of scripture; we ought to be examining ourselves in light of its truth. We ought to allow the Bible to correct us, not the other way around. This is profitable for us.

The Bible is profitable for instruction in righteousness. We very highly prize the education of our children; we want for them the best schools, the best teachers. But what they ‒ and we ourselves ‒ need most of all, is education in righteousness: education in how to live a righteous life. Nor has God left us without such instruction. He has given us the manual, for how to build a life that will be strong, stable, and godly. He has told us how to build our families: what the husband and father is to do; what the wife and mother is to do; what the children are to do. He has told us how to build our churches: what the pastor is to do; what the elders, the deacons are to do; what the members are to do.

What God has given us in His word, is sufficient for us to put together a life that is “perfect” (verse 17); that is, complete, fully furnished, with every piece present and in its proper place. Without this book, we do not know what it means to be human. Without this book, we do not know how to be men, or women. The world is full of ideas about these things: all of them contradictory, unsatisfactory, and false. Building our lives according to these instructions, is in fact the only way to life. It is not strange, it is not bizarre, that Christians should esteem this ancient book so highly, nor that we should order our lives according to its precepts. Not strange at all ‒ because it is the word of God.

Conclusion

The authority and sufficiency of scripture is not a truth to be taken lightly. It is not something to be held only intellectually. If we would profit from this authoritative, sufficient word, we must obey it. Just as food profits nothing, if not chewed, swallowed, and digested; so God’s word will not profit, if we do not hear it, meditate on it, and prayerfully apply it. The Bible is meant to be applied! Take it in, digest it, let its nourishment flow to every aspect of your life. Every true student of scripture, is one whose life is transformed by it.

Remember: this is a powerful book, because it is the word of God. If you will approach it rightly, reverently, with diligence and delight; if you will set yourself to obey it; if you will allow it to shape your doctrine, reprove your error, and instruct your living ‒ your life will be transformed, for the better. There will be true, spiritual profit, of eternal value. God will deal with you, through His word, for good.

But be warned: if you despise and neglect this book, God will deal with you in judgment. There will be no one to blame for your ruined life, but yourself ‒ you had the instruction, and discarded it. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12–13).

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