THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES TO BE THE ONLY RULE OF FAITH
We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein. For since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: “nay, though it were an angel from heaven”, as the apostle Paul says. For since it is forbidden to “add unto or take away any thing from the Word of God,” it does thereby evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.
Neither may we consider any writings of men, how ever holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of time or persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, since the truth is above all: “for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself.” Therefore, we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule, as the apostles have taught us, saying, “Prove the spirits, whether they are of God.” Likewise: “If any one cometh to you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house.”
This article builds on everything that has come before and is, in many ways, the capstone confessional element related to a doctrine of Scripture. By confessing that “those Holy Scriptures” (i.e. the sixty-six books which have been previously identified) “fully contain the will of God”, the result is that these Scriptures are, to use the classic expression, ‘the final rule in faith and practice’. [‘Rule’ here is meant in the classic sense of ‘standard’ or ‘measure against which all things are compared’.]
On what is this claim based, and what does that mean for us?
It is based on all that has been previously confessed, the logic of which runs like this:
- We can only know God to the extent that he has revealed himself to us.
- God is revealed to all, generally, through the created order.
- God specially reveals his character, purpose, will, promises, and actions to us through Scripture.
- ‘Scripture’ refers to the sixty-six canonical books of the Old and New Testaments.
- Scripture is the inspired work of the Holy Spirit, and is thus infallible and authoritative.
Therefore, the summary confession contained in this article is that Scripture is fully and totally sufficient (yes, that is twice redundant) to direct us to a right knowledge of who God is, what we are to believe, and how we are to live, love, worship, and serve in light of this.
Though there is more to God himself than we can know (Isa 55:9; Rom 11:33-36), there is nothing that we need to know that is not contained in Scripture. Indeed, this revealed Word is fully sufficient to “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). It sufficiently reveals what we are believe and how we are to live.
The doctrine of sufficiency both guards and prevents. It guards the foundational doctrines of revelation (by confessing that God did, in fact, communicate what he wants his people to know), accommodation and clarity (by confessing that God communicated successfully, in a way that we can understand), and it buttresses the related doctrines of necessity (by confessing that Scripture alone directs what we are to believe and do) and authority (by confessing that we are not to deviate from this revelation).
It also prevents us from looking elsewhere for authoritative instruction about who God is, what he has done, or what he is yet to do. The “writings of men”, customs, traditions, “or councils, decrees or statutes” may indeed be very helpful in assisting our study of Scripture. They can help us to understand true things about God. They can deepen our understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ, the call to discipleship, and the full-orbed implications of living as a follower of Jesus “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Phil 2:15)–but they are not to be placed on the same level as Scripture.
Herman Bavinck summarized the idea thus: “Even the most simple believer can and may if necessary, Bible in hand, stand up to the entire church, as Luther did to Rome. Only thus the freedom of the Christian, and simultaneously the sovereignty of God, is maintained. There is no higher appeal from Scripture. It is the supreme court of appeal. No power or pronouncement stands above it. It is Scripture, finally, which decides matters in the conscience of everyone personally. And for that reason it is the supreme arbiter of controversies.” (Reformed Dogmatics, I.iv.14)