The Sufficiency and Finality of Scripture
W. E. Vine, Bath
WE MEET NOT INFREQUENTLY with the opinion that the Bible was not intended to be a complete guide in the matters of doctrine and practice throughout the present era. Some hold that, while the Scriptures are of divine origin and authority, they were not a final revelation, and that the authority of the Church would be such as to provide for additional doctrines and guidance. Others hold that truths essential for Christians in the early days may not be essential in the changed circumstances of modern times; in other words, that the advance of civilization has rendered much of the apostolic teaching out-of-date.
Now the epistle of Jude declares that the faith was 'once for all delivered unto the saints', v. 3; 'once for all' is the correct translation, as in the Revised Version. The Authorized Version 'once' might mean 'once upon a time'; the word hapax in the original will not bear that meaning, which is represented by pote. Since the faith has been delivered 'once for all', it is obvious that it was not the divine intention for it to receive addition or modification. The faith is contained in the Bible as we have it handed down to us. To attempt to add to it or readjust it or to issue additional decrees as if they were of divine authority, is to impugn the perfect work of the Holy Spirit and to be guilty of presumptuous impiety. It is doubtless with this in view that a warning against tampering with Scripture is given three times in the Book. The first is in the injunction given to Israel, 'Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it', Deut. 4. 2; 12. 32. The second is in Proverbs. 30. 5-6; 'Every word of God is tried: . . . Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee and thou be found a liar'. The third is in the Apocalypse where the warning is given, 'I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add into them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book', Rev. 22. 18-19. This last refers, of course, immediately to the contents of the Apocalypse, but taking the three passages together they constitute a prohibition against any attempt to extend or diminish any of the contents of the Word of God.
The apostle Paul gives clear intimation of die finality and permanency of Scripture. He instructs Timothy to give a charge that no other doctrine was to be taught, 1 Tim. 1. 3; he was to guard, through the Holy Spirit, that which had been committed to him, 2 Tim. 1. 13-14. The things he had heard from Paul he was to commit to faithful men, that they might be able to teach others also. The duty devolving upon him therefore was to maintain the truth, not to produce more. Again, he predicates in 2 Timothy 3. 16-17 the absolute sufficiency of Scripture. In declaring both that it is God-breathed, and that thereby 'the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work', he enforces both the divine origin and authority of the Scriptures and their finality in doctrine. If a man of God by their means was thus to be complete and completely furnished, no additional doctrine was required, or was expected. The apostles warn believers to abide in the teaching already given them. The apostle John says, 'Let that therefore abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning', 1 John 2. 24; and Paul, 'Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned', 2 Tim. 3. 14 (see also 1 Tim. 6. 20).
Certain teachings in 1 Corinthians have been regarded by some as applicable merely to the church to which that epistle was addressed. It was written, however, not only to that church, but to 'all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord', 1. 2. Many of its teachings are the foundations of the faith, and what was of local application contains principles essential for churches at all times. As to the injunction in the fourteenth chapter regarding the conduct and arrangements of church meetings, concerning, for instance, oral ministry, the exercise of gift, the silence of women, and the regulation as to their wearing a covering for the head, the apostle says that the things which he was writing were 'the commandment of the Lord'. Again, in chapter 4. 17 and 7. 17 he says that what he is inculcating is what he teaches in every church.
The apostle John insists upon adherence to the faith as follows: 'Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: ... if anyone cometh unto you and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house and give him no greeting', 2 John 9. 10, R.v. It imposes an undue limitation on the phrase 'the teaching of Christ' to make it refer merely to one doctrine concerning Him. From this it will be seen that 'the teaching of Christ' is all the divine revelation concerning Him, and this is 'the truth' of which the apostle says in verses 1 and 2 'shall be with us for ever'. He makes a startling claim for the teaching given by himself and his fellow-apostles, a claim which were it not valid, would be nothing short of presumption, but which, in point of fact, bears witness both to his divine authority and the completeness of the doctrines of Scripture. He says: 'We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error', 1 John 4. 6. From this, obviously, the teachings of the apostles are the standard by which to judge what is true or false in doctrine. Therefore what is not corroborated by the New Testament has not the authority of God.
By the word of God we are to be judged hereafter; for it is given as the standard of our life and for our obedience to the faith. How important therefore it is to see that our ways are directed in adherence to the Scriptures, both in private life, and in dealing with our fellow-men ! Important too, that in matters relating to the Church we should follow not the traditions and tenets of men, but the Scriptures of truth! Being the handiwork of the Spirit of God, who Himself has come to guide us into all truth, as our Lord promised, the Scriptures are infallible councillors. Being sufficient and final as the complete Word of God, they should be sufficient and final for us in everything in the regulation of all our affairs. Let our appeal be 'What saith the Scripture?' and, having received an answer, be it ours to say 'I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more'. Thus in the fulfilment of His 'good and acceptable and perfect will' shall we be able to say, 'I have kept the faith', and shall look forward with confidence to receive from our Lord His commendation, 'Thou didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name' .