The Insufficiency of Scripture

Nobody believes in the sufficiency of Scripture. Not even Protestants.

Ask a Protestant whether a person can be a faithful Christian, if all he does is stay home and read the Bible.
He never prays, never attends church, never listens
to preaching, never receives baptism, never receives communion, never feeds the hungry, never comforts the sick, and never engages in evangelism.  Can such a faith save him?  Is the Bible, by itself, actually sufficient?

“That’s not what I mean by ‘sufficient’,” the Protestant protests. “Even some atheists read the Bible. If you merely read it, but you do not obey it, then of course it will not do you any good. Scripture is not sufficient unless it is obeyed.

Fair enough.  In that case, though, Scripture denies its own sufficiency. The Bible does
not tell us to rely on the Bible alone
. Rather, it says that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.  Scripture instructs everyone to follow Church Tradition, and it praises those who do so.

“That’s not what I mean by ‘obey’,” the Protestant protests.
“You are misinterpreting those passages that talk about the Church and Tradition. Scripture is not sufficient unless it is obeyed, according to the correct interpretation.

I see.  You are telling me that my honest interpretation of Scripture is wrong.  When I read passages like 1 Timothy 3:15, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, and 1 Corinthians 11:2, my first impression is just to take them at face-value, and to believe what they say.  They all seem to suggest that Church Tradition is a good thing I should follow.

Protestant Exegesis

“That’s not what I mean by ‘correct interpretation’,” the Protestant protests.
“Not all Scripture passages are equally clear. Those three passages are not clear to me.
So you should not start with those. Let’s start with
2 Timothy 3:16.
That passage tells us that Scripture is sufficient. So we need to start there. Scripture is not sufficient unless it is obeyed, according to the correct interpretation . . . and the correct method of interpretation has to be defined by Protestants like me.

Ok . . . but 2 Timothy 3:16 doesn’t even say that Scripture is “sufficient” for anything.  Instead, it says that Scripture is “profitable”.  It is profitable for helping a man of God become sufficient, “thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Of course, I agree that Scripture is profitable for equipping Christians in that way.  Lots of other things are profitable too, like prayer, fasting, charity, worship, acts of kindness, etc.  Scripture is
one of the things which are profitable for equipping Christians, but Scripture is not the
only thing.

“That is still not what I mean by ‘sufficient’,” the Protestant protests. “Of course a Christian needs lots of things in addition to Scripture, including prayer, fasting, worship, etc.  But where do Christians learn to do all of those things?  They learn them from the Scriptures!  So when I say Scripture is ‘sufficient’, I do not mean that Bible-reading is the only activity necessary. Rather, I simply mean that Scripture teaches us everything we need to know.  Everything a Christian needs to know, and everything a Christian needs to do, can be found in the all-sufficient Scriptures.”

So, for example, if I want to know how I should pray, I can find out in Scripture. That sounds good to me. I am thankful that Scripture explicitly encourages prayers for the dead.

“PRAYERS FOR THE DEAD?!?”

Yep, the prayers come and go in both directions.  In Revelation 6:9-10, the martyrs in Heaven pray about events on Earth.  And elsewhere in Scripture, people on Earth are encouraged to pray for those who have died.  As it is written:  “It is therefore a holy
and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.

(2 Maccabees 12:46).

“But the book of 2 Maccabees is not even IN my Bible,” the Protestant protests.

1599 Geneva Bible

Then why did you take it out?  The first Protestant Bible ever published with only 66 books in it was the Geneva Bible of 1599. It was originally planned to include ALL the books of Scripture, as had always been done before. But apparently there was a last minute change of plans.  The 1599 Geneva Bible was published with numerous blank pages between the Old Testament and the New Testament, taking up the space originally reserved for the remaining books of Scripture. Even after that, most Protestant Bibles continued to contain books like Wisdom, Sirach, and 2 Maccabees. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Protestants finally made it popular to print Bibles containing only 66 books.

“Well, we removed those books from the Bible, because they never should have been there in the first place.
Maccabees is not Scripture.”

I believe it is the Word of God.  And for 1500 years, the Church taught that it was Scripture.

“Well, you’re both wrong.  It’s not Scripture.  The Bible only has 66 books.”

Really?  Where does your all-sufficient Bible teach that?

::crickets::

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in Church History, Prayers to Angels & Saints, Sola Scriptura, The Canon of Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Insufficiency of Scripture

  1. montypitts says:

    And where does YOUR Bible say that the extra books you include are supposed to be there. And why, then, aren’t the several dozen books that were rejected by your church not in there, as well?

    • There are two answers to your question:

      1) The Orthodox Church does not claim that Scripture is sufficient. So we have no need to use Scripture-alone to prove such things. According to 1 Timothy 3:15, the Church (not Scripture) is the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth.

      2) Nevertheless, the New Testament does contain powerful evidence that the Orthodox Church’s Bible has the correct table of contents. For example, consider the Scripture passages discussed in the following article: The Signature of God

      I hope you find this to be helpful information. May the Lord richly bless you and your family!

  2. A supreme confusion of solo scriptura for sola scriptura. Nice try, but I’ve seen all the usual EO convert gambits and I remain deeply unimpressed.

    • Wyclif . . . There is no difference between “solo scriptura” and “sola scriptura”. They are the same thing. The “sola scriptura” folks claim to give tradition a place in their thinking process, but it is a smokescreen. At the end of the day, they just use their own private interpretations of Scripture to determine which traditions they will accept, and which traditions they will reject. . . . Thank you for bringing this up; it gives me an idea for writing another article!

  3. Fr Michael says:

    They’re not “extra” books – they were in it from the beginning – it was the protestants who REMOVED books from their Bibles. The Orthodox use the entire Bible. And incidentally …. try identifying ALL Christ’s Scriptural references … some are from books that are NOT in the protestant Bible …. go on. look.

  4. Bob Brooke says:

    Sufficient for what?

    • Protestants teach that Scripture-alone is self-sufficient to teach us all we need to know, in order to be godly Christians. They believe it is unnecessary to read the Scriptures through the lens of the Church’s teachings. I agree that Scripture teaches us many things we need to know as Christians. But it does not teach us all that we need to know. If a person wants to become a mature Christian, Scripture is very profitable. But it is not sufficient unto itself.

      • Interesting discussion, Joseph. I’ve been listening to some of Dcn. Michael Hyatt’s podcasts that have been helpful in seeing some things from an EO perspective. Lots of good stuff there worthy of [re]consideration; and, in the spirit of ecclesia semper reformanda, we should humbly and joyfully do so, eager to learn as iron sharpening iron, keeping in mind that our reasoning is handicapped from the Fall. As such, many wise counselors are necessary. If we only glean from those within our own ‘camps’, we risk going into battle with a mere single-edged sword; but, the one our King wields has TWO, yes? (Rev 1:16) 

        One thing that I had noticed before, and would seem to be especially relevant here concerning the 2Timothy passage: the ‘scripture’ spoken of there would have been the OT, presumably the Septuagint, yes? That said, Paul would not have been referencing the Bible as we know it today. Now, that’s not to say that we cannot use the same encouragement toward the use of our contemporary canon; but we surely cannot say that’s what Paul was referencing there. Surely we would all agree that details like this are highly relevant when referencing this passage and others to support our arguments. 

        We are ONE Church, ONE body, HIS body; and we must surely not confuse the beautiful things of our different traditions with that of our Lord’s true bride, who [coincidentally] is adorned with many kinds of precious jewels, all contributing, by design, to her glorious radiance (Rev 21). If we proceed with the end in mind, maybe it would help to guard against the blinders that we sometimes find ourselves wearing. That’s my two-mites’ worth. Thoughts, anyone?

  5. I enjoyed your comments, Brian and appreciate your gentleness. My question is this: If we are ONE Church, One body, His body, then we must all be in unity with the One Church, One body, His body. If we are not in unity with all, how can we be one? It seems you cannot really be “one” with something if you cannot agree with it. For instance, a family member of mine is American Baptist. In researching what they teach, I was mortified to find some of the heresies that my family member is learning. That family member is oblivious…All that matters to her is that she “feels” spiritually fed, that the Pastor preaches from the Bible, and that she feels welcomed and needed at her church. Picking this church is kind of like picking an ice cream cone to this family member. As long as the “cone” is Christ and Christ Crucified, what does the flavor matter?

    In the end, it breaks my heart, because Jesus gave strict instructions when giving the Great Commission, telling His Apostles to go into all nations, teaching EVERYTHING that He has commanded them, etc…Are we teaching everything? There are “Christian” churches that don’t even baptize or give communion. Jesus ordered his Apostles to baptize when He gave the Great Commission. It is monumental! Jesus said that if we do not eat His body and drink His blood, we have no part with Him! We have no life in us! It’s not just important to take the Eucharist, it’s a matter of life and death according to Jesus, and yet at many Protestant Churches, they do not see it that way. If they give Communion at all, it is once quarterly, and they certainly do not hold to the Scripture when Jesus said that “this IS my body, this IS my blood”…They partake only as a symbol.

    No, we are not “one” if we do not agree, and become unified. The early Church held councils because staying unified in the Faith was of utmost importance, and I believe it still is. Jesus was not a fan of division in the Church. It doesn’t seem to me that He is pleased with over 25,000 denominations. I think it grieves Him.

    • @ itsthesimplewife: Thanks for your sincere post– you certainly raise some legitimate concerns, here. I think that we can surely agree that unity in the Body of Christ does not mean that we must (or ever will) agree upon everything, this side of Heaven. Of course, there are the fundamental non-negotiables (i.e. Apostle’s Creed), without which one can hardly be considered a Christian; but, beyond these, we must strive to be charitable and reasonably accommodating toward each other as we all grow in faith. Because each is given a different measure of faith, there will necessarily be a myriad of perspectives, practices, stages, etc., and we should seek to look for and encourage the good in those first and establish a “safe” bedrock of common ground from which we may then [prayerfully] explore our distinctions and differences from an initial position of agreement that we can always return to when discussions inevitably become difficult. We must be intent on building-up that common ground, while still understanding that we all have our different perspectives on the same issues. This doesn’t mean, of course, that every perspective is accurate from whatever particular vantage point that it comes; the point is that no one person/tradition has the complete picture, and we simply need each other to form as much of that big picture as we can while we’re here. Personally, [and, I’m preaching to myself here], I think that it is unwise to simply discount another perspective on it’s face-value alone. No established tradition/practice, however shallow we may consider it to be, is ever that simple. Surely we all know that, intuitively; but, it’s all-to-easy to forget that in practice. And, for many, I don’t think it comes from a position of arrogance — it’s just that we have found richness, safety and comfort from within our own such that we want very much for others to experience the same. Unfortunately, our zeal can so often be received as something else, and we must constantly check ourselves to consider how we’re coming-across. In the same way, we must also give others the benefit-of-the-doubt, understanding that they have the same difficulties, whether they realize it or not. We’ve got to keep in mind that Christ deals gently with us as individuals, lovingly shaping us into his image, each one at a different pace. Consider St. Thomas: Jesus knew that he needed to touch the wounds in his hands and side, and he accommodated him accordingly. Was he any less blessed because he wasn’t one of those who “[had] not seen and yet [had] believed”? We tend to forget that Jesus showed his wounds to the other disciples, too, and ate with them, assuring them that he had “flesh and bones” and was not some mere apparition.

      I understand your frustration with your loved one, and her seeming lack of spiritual depth. These are sources of frustration for me as well. But, there are some praiseworthy things there: she feels spiritually fed, welcomed and needed, and the pastor preaches from the Bible. Now, I look at those things, and my first thought is that feelings are annoyingly subjective, and, the devil himself can “preach from the Bible” if he thinks it will serve some greater sinister purpose. But, I can’t just hammer someone with that thought, true as it may be; and, I have to realize that many, if not most people just don’t initially think that way. It’s good that she has found comfort where she is, and, I seriously doubt that the infamous fallen angel has donned the guise of her pastor and taken up residence assuming his pulpit. Given that, it’s a place to start. The difficult part is to somehow steer the conversation in ways that help her to realize why she feels what she does in a way that is still respectful of those feelings. Yes, it takes time; and, she may never get to a similar place of understanding like yours. You (and all of us, in each of our own circumstances) must be prepared to accept that fact and simply trust that Christ will use your kindness, understanding, and encouragement as a number of many means that he employs to shape her faith his way, in his good time.

      So, how did that make YOU feel? If you’re like me, it can drive you crazy if you let it. I think that we’re all prone not to notice that our own feelings are at work, too, and can easily get the best of us –especially when we’re focused on others. How often do we consider that we’re all still sheep, or concern ourselves more with the green pastures and still waters rather than the Good Shepherd himself, who leads us there? And yet, he understands that we are but dust and need supernatural help to understand heavenly things. We often pray with groanings to deep for words, and the Spirit of God is able to understand perfectly and provide accordingly. We forget how feeble we actually are, and how utterly dependent our faith is upon he who is the very Author and Finisher of it.

      Concerning denominations, I’m not so sure the great number of them grieves Christ so much as does the number of nasty divisions that exist among them. On the other hand, diversity is essential. If we are feet, we must appreciate and welcome the contribution of hands, ears, and eyes even if we haven’t a clue as to the nature of grasping, hearing, or seeing because those things are outside of our experience. Feet know walking first-hand, and are familiar with how important that is to moving forward. They can’t imagine what the point is of having hands around until, of course, they need a shoelace tied. Or eyes, until they stump a toe in the dark. Consider this analogy: Feet receive message from The Head, who has determined that in order to avoid shame and unnecessary trouble, the entire body must be roused from sleep to go to the restroom. Feet, sensing the urgency of the directive, immediately take action. Unfortunately, in their eagerness to protect the whole Body (along with the persistent pleadings from the troubled bladder who originally cried out to The Head for help), Feet failed to ask for assistance from Hands who could have switched on the bedside lamp, and Eyes, who could have alerted them as to the proximity of that infernal solid-oak dresser.

      While we can surely chuckle at that, isn’t this how we see things play out in the Church? It’s not the diversity of the various parts that is to blame for our problems. Rather, we invite trouble when we fail to acknowledge the vital worth and importance of every unique part, and forget that we are all connected and most effective when we are tuned in to our Head, who directs each through a distinct neural pathway. Feet, hands, ears, eyes, etc. should be encouraged to do what they do best and praised when they do that well, even if we don’t completely relate to those things. And, what if we, as eyes, see that the feet are constantly going astray, and communication with them is awkward or just not received well? We plead with our Head (who knows best how to reach them), all the while asking for grace to see more clearly, and humility and courage to check ourselves for splinters [or beams!]. I realize that St. Paul’s original analogy (1 Cor 12) is given in the context of individuals as members; but, as denominations are necessarily made up of individuals, I think we can safely apply this here as well.

  6. @Brian . . . When St. Paul uses the “hand, feet, head, eye, etc.” analogy in 1 Corinthians 12, he uses it in the context of a single local church. The priest is a hand, the deacon is an eye, the groundskeeper is a foot, etc. St. Paul never uses that analogy to describe mutually exclusive sects who disagree over doctrine.

    There are not any denominations inside the Church. However, there are many thousands of denominations *outside* the Church. That is because there is only one true Church. That is the way it has always been.

    The Orthodox Church is The Church. The Orthodox Church is the entire Body of Christ. I pray that all the denominations will repent of their sectarianism, and will reunite with the Body from whence they were severed so many centuries ago.

    Jesus says that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. It is not possible for something to be the “pillar and foundation of truth” and to simultaneously be in error. Thus, according to Christ, the true Church has never been in error. For the past 2000 years, the Church has kept the same doctrine, the same Faith once for all delivered for the Saints. We dare not swerve way from that, even by an inch.

  7. Pingback: Dissin’ Sola Scriptura | The Orthodox Life

  8. Pingback: Sola Scritura is Unbiblical « Anaphora

  9. snouglat says:

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  10. MB-F says:

    Dear Ortodoxlife,
    I would like to address a few of your misconceptions of the Sufficiency of Scripture.
    You said: “Scripture is not sufficient unless it is obeyed.“ Fair enough. In that case, though, Scripture denies its own sufficiency. The Bible does not tell us to rely on the Bible alone.”

    Now, I understand that this is only part of your argument. Yet, in this part of your argument you claim that protestant principle of Sola Scriptura means that Scripture alone is sufficient for Christian life. But that is not what the Protestants teach! We believe that the Scriptures are SUFFICIENT with regards to God’s revelation of truth needed for salvation, belief and Christian life. Or, like our divines said: Scripture is sufficient for faith and practice.
    In other words, when we say that the Scriptures of the OT and NT are sufficient, it means that they give us enough information upon which we can build our faith and according to which we are able to construct our moral and ecclesiastical practice. It means that we don’t use Scripture as our SOLE informant on matters on faith and practice, but as our SOLE authority! Tradition, bishops, popes, church fathers, theologians, pastors etc. all have something to say about what the Scriptures mean (and sometimes they even go beyond “what is written”, which the Scriptures forbid in 1. Cor 4:6), and we are allowed to use it if it helps our understanding of the Bible and inasmuch it conforms to the Bible (because, as you probably know, traditions of men sometimes do contradict and then even your church has to decide who was right (and when, cause even church fathers sometimes change their mind) and who was wrong!
    Therefore, the need for obedience to Scriptures cannot deny its own sufficiency, when the Scriptures themselves indeed COMMAND it (for example, Psalm 119)!
    Now I’d like to address the issue of 2. Timothy 3:16-17. It is not true that this passage doesn’t teach the sufficiency of Scriptures!
    It says (chose the KJV even though I don’t usually use it, but it is one of the oldest translations in English):
    “15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 6 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
    First we see that “the Holy Scriptures” are able to make a man wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. They give wisdom that encompasses all of Christian life: our justification and our daily sanctification (Jesus said: “Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).
    Second, all Scripture is “profitable … that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” In other words, it is profitable unto perfection (that is, completeness; which is the meaning of the Greek word) and furnishing unto all good works (that is, it is able to teach you in ALL matters of morals, and true morals cannot come, we would probably agree, apart from all true doctrine needed to inform it and give you wisdom in it!)

    Now, I could go on, but I think that it is sufficient for now. Be a good Berean: study the Scriptures and believe it! Don’t rely on authority of men and their commandments: Mark 7:7!

    Miro

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