Have you struggled to know what to do with your life, wishing you had some special word from the Lord? Have you ever wanted a more direct, more personal revelation than what you get from slowly reading through the Bible? Secretly wanted to add something to the word of God—you know, just to make things safer? Or to take something away to make it more palatable? Have you ever felt like the Bible just wasn’t enough for living a faithful life in today’s world?
If you answer yes to any of these questions—and we all will at times—then you are struggling with the sufficiency of Scripture.
The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture
This doctrine states that “Scripture is clear enough to make us responsible for carrying out our present responsibilities to God.”1
No one can say God has not revealed enough for us to be saved or to live a life pleasing to him. Scripture makes us competent and “equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). We do not need to add to it to meet today’s challenges or subtract from it to mesh with today’s ideals. The word of God is perfect and complete, giving us all we need to know about Christ, salvation, and godliness.
As evangelicals, we can say all the right things about the Bible and even read it regularly, but when life gets difficult, or just a bit boring, we look for new words, new revelation, and new experiences to bring us closer to God. We feel rather ho-hum about the New Testament’s description of heaven, but we are mesmerized by the accounts of school-age children who claim to have gone there and back. We can easily operate as if the Bible were not enough. If we could only have something more than the Scriptures, then we would be really close to Jesus and know his love for us.
Unless, of course, the finality of Christ’s redemption for us is intimately tied to the finality of his revelation to us.
God’s Superior Son
The big idea in the first verses of Hebrews is the big idea for the whole book of Hebrews. God has spoken by his Son, and this Son is superior to all persons, heavenly beings, institutions, rituals, and previous means of revelation and redemption. Christ is superior to:
- Angels (chs. 1–2)
- Moses (ch. 3)
- Joshua (chs. 3–4)
- Aaron (ch. 5)
- Abraham (ch. 6)
- Melchizedek (ch. 7)
- The old covenant (ch. 8)
- The tabernacle (ch. 9)
- The high priest (ch. 10)
- The treasures of this world (ch. 11)
- Mount Sinai (ch. 12)
- The city we have here on earth (ch. 13)
The Son is our Great Superlative, surpassing all others because in him we have the fullness and finality of God’s redemption and revelation.
Sufficiency in the Son and in the Scriptures
So what does any of this have to do with the sufficiency of Scripture? Look more closely at the conclusion just stated above: the Son is superior to all others because in him we have the fullness and finality of God’s redemption and revelation.
God has definitively made himself known. Christ has once for all paid for our sins. He came to earth, lived among us, died on the cross, and cried out in his dying moments, “It is finished!” We are awaiting no other king to rule over us. We need no other prophet like Muhammad. There can be no further priest to atone for our sins. The work of redemption has been completed. And we must not separate redemption from revelation. Both were finished and fulfilled in the Son.
The word of God versus the Word of God? The Bible versus Jesus?
Hebrews gives no room for these diabolical antitheses. True, the Bible is not Jesus; the Scripture is not the Son. The words of the Bible and the Word made flesh are distinct, but they are also inseparable. Every act of redemption—from the exodus, to the return from exile, to the cross itself—is also a revelation. They tell us something about the nature of sin, the way of salvation, and the character of God. Likewise, the point of revelation is always to redeem. The words of the prophets and the apostles are not meant to make us smart, but to get us saved. Redemption reveals. Revelation redeems.
And Christ is both. He is God’s full and final act of redemption and God’s full and final revelation of himself. Even the later teachings of the apostles were simply the remembrances of what Christ said (John 14:26) and the further Spirit-wrought explanation of all that he was and all that he accomplished (John 16:13–15).
So are we saying that God no longer speaks?
Not at all. But we must think carefully about how he speaks in these last days. God now speaks through his Son. Think about the three offices of Christ—prophet, priest, and king. In a very real sense, Christ has finished his work in each of these three offices. And yet he continues to work through that finished work:
- As a king, Christ is already seated on the throne and already reigns from heaven, but the inauguration of his kingdom is not the same as the consummation of it. There are still enemies to subdue under his feet (Heb. 2:8).
- As a priest, Christ has fully paid for all our sins with his precious blood, once for all, never to be repeated again. And yet, this great salvation must still be freely offered, and Christ must keep us in it (Heb. 2:3).
- Finally, as a prophet, God has decisively spoken in his Son. He has shown us all we need to know, believe, and do. There is nothing more to say. And yet, God keeps speaking through what he has already said. “The word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12); and when the Scriptures are read, the Holy Spirit still speaks (3:7).
So, yes, God still speaks. He is not silent. He communicates with us personally and directly. But this ongoing speech is not ongoing revelation. In these last days, God speaks to us not by many and various ways, but in one way, through his Son. And he speaks through his Son by the revelation of the Son’s redeeming work that we find first predicted and prefigured in the Old Testament, then recorded in the Gospels, and finally unpacked by the Spirit through the apostles in the rest of the New Testament.
Scripture is enough because the work of Christ is enough. They stand or fall together. The Son’s redemption and the Son’s revelation must both be sufficient. And as such, there is nothing more to be done and nothing more to be known for our salvation and for our Christian walk than what we see and know about Christ and through Christ in his Spirit’s book.
And why does any of this matter?
What difference does the sufficiency of Scripture make for your Christian life?
One reason is that since the Bible is sufficient, we can expect the word of God to be relevant to all of life. God has given us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3); Scripture is enough to make us wise for salvation and holy unto the Lord (2 Tim. 3:14–17). If we learn to read the Bible down (into our hearts), across (the plotline of Scripture), out (to the end of the story), and up (to the glory of God in the face of Christ), we will find that every bit of the Bible is profitable for us. Scripture does not give exhaustive information on every subject, but in every subject on which it speaks, it says only what is true. And in its truth we have enough knowledge to turn from sin, find a Savior, make good decisions, please God, and get to the root of our deepest problems.
The word of God is more than enough for the people of God to live their lives to the glory of God. The Father will speak by means of all that the Spirit has spoken through the Son. The question is whether we will open our Bibles and bother to listen.
1 John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2010), 226.
This post was adapted from Taking God At His Word by Kevin DeYoung.
Kevin DeYoung (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He blogs at The Gospel Coalition and has authored or coauthored numerous well-known books such as Just Do Something and The Hole in Our Holiness, as well as the award-winning books Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church (with Ted Kluck).