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 The Principles of Theology - Article 6

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


<< Part 3. The Character of Holy Scripture

Part 4. The Sufficiency of Holy Scripture

1. In stating that Holy Scripture contains everything necessary for salvation the Article emphasises one of the fundamental principles of the Reformation, because the Mediæval Church had taught and practised the view that Scripture was not “sufficient,” but had to be supplemented and interpreted by the traditions which the Church possesses and has preserved from the beginning. The question of the place of Scripture was therefore vital in the sixteenth century, and it is not surprising that it is emphasised here and elsewhere with such clearness and force. Without any hesitation or qualification our Church teaches that Holy Scripture contains all that is necessary for “salvation.” The Bible is a book of and for redemption. It is not primarily a collection of literature, though it is full of literature, nor is it scientific in character or purpose, though it contains not a little science. It is not even merely a book of history, though it is probably true that the substance of more than half of it is in the form of history. It is a spiritual book intended for man’s salvation. This statement can be further interpreted and illustrated by the words of the Ordination Service when men are commissioned to the work of the priesthood:

The Bishop. - Are you persuaded that the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all Doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ? and are you determined, out of the said Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach nothing, as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture?

Answer. - I am so persuaded, and have so determined by God’s grace.”

2. The reason for this position is that Scripture presents the written record of the revelation of God in Christ in its purest form. Christianity is built on Christ, and our supreme requirement is the clearest and purest form of that revelation. The books of the New Testament being products of the Apostolic age give this, but at a later date it would have been impossible, because the writings would not have come from men in special and unique association with Jesus Christ.

(1) Our first reason for regarding Scripture as sufficient is found in the claim of Scripture itself. The Old Testament could not claim finality for itself as a whole because of its gradual growth from separate authors, but we can see throughout the process the claim of the prophets to authority and inspiration (Deut. 8:15-20; 2 Sam. 23:1, 2; Isa. 9:8; Jer. 2:1; Ezek. 1:1), and the New Testament sets its seal retrospectively on the sufficiency and finality of the Old Testament. Thus, our Lord’s relation to the Old Testament is seen in His quotations, prefaced by, “It is written”; “Have ye not read?” He also used the facts of the Old Testament (e.g. John 5:39), and He referred to the three divisions of the Old Testament Canon (Luke 24:27-44). Then the Apostles held the same views of the Old Testament, St. Paul referring to the authority of the writings (2 Tim. 3:16, 17), and St. Peter to the inspiration of the writers (2 Pet. 1:21). This is the uniform view of the Old Testament in the New (Matt. 22:29; Acts 17:11; Rom. 15:4). In the same way the New Testament could not claim sufficiency or finality for itself for the same reason of gradual growth, for, of course, Rev. 22:18, 19 and John 20:30, 31 refer to these two books alone. Yet it is impossible to avoid noticing our Lord’s emphasis on His words (John 17:12; 18:9, 37). Then, too, St. Paul makes a claim to inspiration (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Thess 4:2-8), and there seems to be a mutual attestation of various authors (Acts 1:1 and Luke 1:1-4; 2 Pet. 3:15, 16; Luke 10:7 and 1 Tim. 5:18; Cf. Deut. 25:4). One passage in particular is very striking as showing signs of portions of Gospel already known, either orally or in writing. In 1 Cor. 9:9-14 we have the exact order of thought found also in 1 Tim. 5:18. St. Jude is able to speak of the faith “once for all delivered” (verse 3), while special emphasis is laid upon the finality of God’s revelation in His Son in contrast with the fragmentary revelation of older days (Heb. 1:1, 2). We may consider, too, the remarkable significance given by our Lord to the words of Scripture (John 10:34 with Psalm 82:6; John 15:25 with Psa. 35:19). Again, the opening of the Epistles conveys the same idea (Gal. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 1:5), and also the substance of the Epistles (1 Thess. 4:1, 2; 5:27; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:14). All this shows an implicit claim to sufficiency and finality; indeed, it is assumed in the whole matter and manner of the New Testament. A father is not in the habit of frequently reminding his children of his position and authority; the very nature and tone of his commands will lead them to realise and acknowledge his relationship of authority, and this much more effectually than by means of any verbal assertion.

(2) The testimony of Church history is wholly in the same direction. This position of our Church on the sufficiency of Scripture can be supported by writings extending from the earliest ages of the Church. The value of this testimony lies in the fact that the Fathers in bearing witness to the sufficiency of Holy Scripture constitute one of the strongest supports of the view held by our Church. And it is hardly too much to say that these authorities are practically unanimous as to the sufficiency of Holy Scripture as our Rule of Faith:

“The ancient Church did faithfully and continually recur to this pattern, and faithfully recognised the limitation of its function. It is evident how constant is the effect of the scriptural pattern, on which they are mainly occupied in commenting, in moulding and restraining the teaching of Origen and Chrysostom and Augustine. The appeal to Scripture is explicit and constant. These fathers knew that they existed simply to maintain a once-given teaching, and that the justification of any dogma was simply the necessity for guarding the faith, once for all, delivered and recorded. There can be no doubt of their point of view.” [1]

It is not without point that at the Council of Chalcedon the Gospels occupied a place in the middle of the assembly.

(3) Then, too, every heresy in the early ages claimed to be based on Holy Scripture, and in particular the Gnostics asserted that they had their own Canon and interpretation.

(4) Further, certain books that were reverenced in the early Church died out, like the Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, the Epistle of Clement of Rome, and the Shepherd of Hermas.

(5) The ancient Liturgies are saturated with Scripture, and the most severe attacks of opponents were invariably directed against Scripture.

(6) Indeed, the whole record of the Church tells the same story, and if there is one fact plainer than another in Christian history it is that Christ does not fully reveal Himself independently of knowledge and study of the Bible as the Word of God. Whenever Scripture has been neglected the reality of Christ’s presence and grace has been obscured, and as often as men have come back to the Bible our Lord has again become real among His people. As a body of divinely authoritative writings the books of the Bible were accepted by the post-Apostolic age, and the Church history is full of examples of the use of these writings as the sufficient authority on the matters of which they speak.

(7) The spiritual and practical value of Holy Scripture is another reason for believing in its sufficiency as a Rule of Faith. Although the Bible is comparatively small it is, nevertheless, so full that nothing can be required for the spiritual life that is not found there. Then, too, in spite of all that may be said to the contrary, Scripture is clear in regard to the guidance required for man’s spiritual life. It is also remarkable for its definiteness. There is never any real doubt as to its meaning on vital issues, for it contains an answer to every essential question concerning Redemption, Holiness, and Immortality. Such titles as “The Word of God,” “The Gospel of Christ,” “The Law of the Lord” indicate this sufficiency. Indeed, we may speak of the very existence of the Bible as one of the most convincing proofs of the truth of the Article, for obviously any written account is intended to supply a trustworthy record. Even the accessibility of the Bible can be adduced in support of its sufficiency. It is a book easily obtained, quickly read, and admittedly adequate to every conceivable circumstance, and to the soul that receives it it affords its own convincing proofs. To the soul that receives its message the Bible gives implicit satisfaction and thereby proves its own adequacy. [2]


>> Part 5. The Supremacy of Holy Scripture



[1] Gore, The Body of Christ, pp. 222, 223. Detailed testimonies can be seen in Maclear, Introduction to the Articles of the Church of England, p. 104 f., and, as he says, “Such quotations might be greatly multiplied.”
[2]“Unto a Christian man there can be nothing either more necessary or profitable than the knowledge of Holy Scripture, forasmuch as in it is contained God’s true word, setting forth His glory, and also man’s duty. And there is no truth or doctrine necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation, but that is or may be drawn out of that fountain and well of Truth” (First Homily).






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Article 6

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Canon

>> 2 - Limits of the Canon

>> 3 - Character of Scripture

>> 4 - Sufficiency of Scripture

>> 5 - Supremacy of Scripture

>> 6 - Practical Use of Scripture

Content of The Principles

>> Index

>> Preface by J I Packer

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Trinity

>> 2 - Christ

>> 3 - Descent into Hell

>> 4 - Resurrection

>> 5 - Holy Spirit

>> 6 - Holy Scripture

>> 7 - The Old Testament

>> 8 - The Three Creeds

>> 9 - Of Original or Birth Sin

>> 10 - Of Free Will

>> 11 - Of the Justifcation of Man




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