This article is part of an effort to support our One Million Bibles Initiative, which is focused on providing Bibles to parents, children, and others in need throughout the Global South.
What We Want Most
Most of us, deep down, want the same things out of life. Of course, I’m talking about ultimate things, not immediate things. On the immediate level, people have a wide variety of desires. Some people like to travel. Some people like fine dining. Some people prefer indoor plumbing and a comfortable bed. And other people like camping. There are a million different tastes, interests, and hobbies. But if we get to the level of the heart, I think people all around the world generally want the same things: We want purpose. We want to be happy. We want to know we are okay. We want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to be known by someone bigger than ourselves. We want to live forever.
And if you dig around in those desires, you’ll find that most people are waiting for some word from somewhere so that they can finally know this good life. They want a law or a list that will tell them steps to take to get there. They want their teacher to say, “You’ve passed,” or their parents to say, “I love you.” They want to get a call from their dream job or their dream date. They want to hear good news about their retirement fund or their health or their kids. Many of them are listening intently to hear from the most sacred voice they know: their own. And some are desperate to hear from God.
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The doctrine of the necessity of Scripture reminds us of our predicament: the One we need to know most cannot be discovered on our own. And it assures us of a solution: this same ineffable One has made himself known through his word. As the Westminster Confession of Faith explains, “Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation.” Holy Scripture, the Confession goes on to say, is therefore “most necessary” (WCF 1.1). The Scriptures are our spectacles (to use Calvin’s phrase), the lenses through which we see God, the world, and ourselves rightly. We cannot truly know God, his will, or the way of salvation apart from the Bible. We need Scripture to live the truly good life.
We need Scripture to live forever. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). There is no other book like the Bible. It reveals a different kind of wisdom, comes from a different source, and tells of a different love.
A Different Source
So where do we go to learn the things God has revealed? Do we look to the trees? What about the inner light? How about community standards? Maybe human reason and experience? The clear testimony of 1 Corinthians is that only God can tell us about God. Just as the spirit of a person discloses the thoughts and feelings and intentions of that person, so also no one can make known the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11). The only Being knowledgeable enough, wise enough, and skillful enough to reveal God to you is God himself.
Which raises an interesting question: isn’t Paul really talking about the inner working of the Spirit and not the necessity of the Scriptures? You might be thinking to yourself, “I agree completely. We need God to tell us about God.
I can’t know the truth unless God reveals it to me. And God speaks to me through the still small voice in my heart. When I look deep inside myself, that’s where I hear from God. We receive the Spirit of God, who speaks to our spirit, telling us the things we can learn only from God.”
We cannot truly know God, his will, or the way of salvation apart from the Bible. We need Scripture to live the truly good life.
Sounds plausible, but is that Paul’s point? The “we” in 1 Corinthians 2:12 (“we have received . . . the Spirit [of] God”) does not refer to all the Corinthians or to all of us, but to Paul and his companions. The contrast starts in verses 1–5 with Paul’s “I” and then transitions to the “we” who imparted to the Corinthians “a secret and hidden wisdom of God” (v. 7). Paul is clearly thinking of “you Corinthians” and “we who have ministered the gospel to you” (see 3:9). So while it’s true that every believer receives the Spirit and each of us needs the Spirit of God to illuminate the word of God, Paul is speaking here of the unique apostolic deposit of truth he has received and has passed on to the Corinthians. This is precisely what Jesus promised would happen (John 16:12–15), and it is how the apostles understood their teaching: not as the word of man but as the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Rev. 1:1–2). Nothing in 1 Corinthians 2 suggests that the real way to hear from God is to seek out the bewildering ruminations of the self. Already in Corinth—Paul’s most “charismatic” congregation—we see there is an objective standard of truth which supersedes private impressions or experience (1 Cor. 14:37–38; 15:1–4).
True, for a time the early church existed without the completed New Testament. But even then, their life and doctrine were in submission to the Scriptures they already had. And the new revelation being placed alongside the Old Testament had been carefully scrutinized as coming from the apostolic band (Eph. 2:20) and adhering to the apostolic gospel (Gal. 1:8). “Naturally, as long as the apostles were alive and visited the churches,” Bavinck writes, “no distinction was made between their spoken and their written word. Tradition and Scripture were still unified. But when the first period was past and time-distance from the apostles grew greater, their writings became more important, and the necessity of the writings gradually intensified. The necessity of Holy Scripture, in fact, is not a stable but an ever-increasing attribute.”1 Paul knew the Corinthians needed the wisdom of God that could come only from the Spirit of God, and he wrote to them this word with the understanding that he had uniquely received the Spirit whereby he could proclaim to them the truth of the gospel.
People talk about “spirituality” as if it were generated by concentrated attention to the inner workings of the human soul. But true spirituality is not something found within us. It is something outside of us, created by the agency of God’s transcendent Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit who is from God if we are to understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:12). And where do we go to hear from God’s Spirit? To those who were entrusted to be the very mouthpiece of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9–13), to those who wrote the very oracles of God (Rom. 3:2), to those who have written down what God himself has breathed out (2 Tim. 3:16). So this is the necessity of Scripture in a nutshell: We need the revelation of God to know God, and the only sure, saving, final, perfect revelation of God is found in Scripture.
A Different Love
It may seem like there is nothing left to say about the necessity of Scripture, but that would be to miss the heart of Paul’s argument. The reason for revelation is that we might know God’s mercy and be saved. The uniqueness of Scripture is found not just in its wisdom or even in its divine origin. What makes the Bible utterly unlike any other book—religious or otherwise—is the unsurpassed grace we encounter in its pages. We need Scripture because without it we cannot know the love of God.
Our God speaks, and he speaks not simply to be heard and not merely to pass along information. He speaks so that we can begin to know the unknowable and fathom the unfathomable (1 Cor. 2:9; cf. Isa. 48:8). You may think you’ve seen it all, and you’ve heard it all, and you’ve experienced everything there is to experience. But you haven’t seen or heard or imagined what the God of love has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9). This is the good news of the cross. This is the good news for the forgiven and redeemed. And this is the good news you won’t find anywhere else but in the word of God.
- Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 470.
This article is adapted from Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung.
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