There have been books about the “sufficiency of Scripture”, but yesterday as I was reading the Bible I happened across a verse which testifies to the insufficiency of Scripture. 2 John 12 reads:
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
How are we to understand this Scriptural witness to Scripture’s own insufficiency in certain respects? Of course, most of us will agree that the author of this letter did not think of himself as writing Scripture. Be that as it may, the church has included this letter in its canon, and some readers would go so far as to ignore the author’s voice and claim to hear only the voice of God. For such readers, this verse presumably is to be taken as an expression of God’s desire that readers of the Bible not become so focused on it that they fail to realize that personal interaction is better than communication via writing.
For other Christian readers, this presumably serves for us too as a reminder that personal interaction is more important than interacting with writings – even writings in the Bible. There are some things that personal relationships can accomplish that reading often cannot. We find it easy to persuade ourselves that writings (whether the news, a letter from a spouse, or texts in the Bible) mean what we deeply hope they mean, even when their plain sense would not seem to support it. But “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Other people who challenge us are often harder to tune out – although that doesn’t prevent us from trying.
For those of us who are at times tempted to focus too much attention on the Bible, or to believe that it contains all the answers and solutions to all problems, this verse is a helpful reminder that an author of a letter that is now part of Scripture thought some things were better said face to face – that there were things that could not be accomplished as well or as effectively or simply as joyfully through written words as through personal interaction.
The Reformation sola scriptura notwithstanding, I think most Christians including most of the Protestant Reformers would have agreed that in this important sense, “Scripture alone” is not enough. And yet if there is something that characterizes much contemporary North American Christianity, it is the lone Christian reading the Bible in private.
And so, to my blog readers, I close by saying that I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use pixels and bytes. It would be far better to talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.