The Sufficiency of Scripture Slogan is a Dodge

The Sufficiency of Scripture Slogan is a Dodge December 10, 2021

What do Protestants in general, specifically fundamentalists/evangelicals, mean when they speak of the sufficiency of Scripture? Here, in a general way, is a fairly good take on what they mean. This writer defines the idea this way:

“Scripture is sufficient in that it is the only inspired, inerrant, and therefore final authority for Christians for faith and godliness, with all other authorities being subservient to Scripture.”

The writer goes on to note that this doesn’t mean we should never avail ourselves of extra-biblical sources. He writes:

“Does sufficiency mean all extra-biblical resources should be eliminated? No. To say it does is to confuse sola scriptura with nuda scriptura. Remember, sola scriptura does not preclude other authorities in the church (such as creeds, councils, church leaders, theologians, traditions, etc.). Rather, it is to say Scripture alone is our inspired, inerrant, and therefore final authority. While there may be many important authorities, they are all subservient to Scripture, which alone is God-breathed and without error, fully trustworthy and sufficient for faith and practice. Scripture alone is our magisterial authority; all other authorities are ministerial.”

The writer also goes into the historical circumstances of where this understanding came from (sola scriptura) and it being a part of the Reformation’s break with Rome in general. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox streams of thought take a high view of tradition and the papal or conciliar decisions regarding doctrine and practice. However, those traditions also believe there is no conflict between those and scripture. Protestants disagree, but that is another matter.

Here, in my view, is the problem with the idea or assertion of the sufficiency of scripture: It’s a dodge—in reality it doesn’t mean anything. It operates more as a slogan than anything substantive. What does it dodge? The matter of interpretation and the matter of how interpretation is never done in a vacuum.

For instance, the writer asserts this:

“As seen in these confessional statements, sufficiency distinguishes the Protestant evangelical, who turns to Scripture as that which contains all that is necessary for salvation and godliness.”

What is really being asserted here though? It isn’t that we turn to the Bible as that “which contains all that is necessary…” We turn to our interpretations of what the Bible contains—interpretations already formed by a presupposition of sufficiency understood in a specific and historical context.

Even Catholics and Eastern Orthodox would assert that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation and godliness but would also add, and correctly so, that such has to be interpreted correctly and what helps us do that is tradition and the teaching authorities in those traditions.

A clear tell though comes here:

“Nonetheless, we should naturally worry if any extrabiblical source claims superiority to scriptural truth or poses itself in opposition to biblical Christianity.”

I hate to break this to the writer, but inanimate extrabiblical sources don’t claim anything. And neither does the Bible.  Only people make claims. I’ve never placed my ear real close to the Bible and heard it claim anything.  Science, history, philosophy, social science, astronomy, geology, archeology, or any other area of inquiry one wants to name do not make claims of superiority or opposition to anything. People do.

And people make those claims depending upon how they interpret the information, the facts, and the evidence provided by any source of information, biblical or otherwise. The way they interpret said information is through the philosophical presuppositions they bring to bear upon those aspects. All Information/knowledge is interpreted information and knowledge. Further, that is all done in a context of a myriad of other factors and influences.

Does that mean we can have our own “facts” or that there are “alternative” facts? No. But it does mean that facts/information/evidence can be viewed differently, from different perspectives, and lead to more than one reasonable conclusion. If one doesn’t believe this, simply delve into the history of science or any area of inquiry.

But I digress. Back to the point, when fundamentalists/evangelicals tell us they are worried about an extrabiblical source becoming a superior or greater authority than the Bible, what they really mean is they fear another source may question or even possibly demonstrate that their interpretation of the Bible is wrong. Some good examples would be the belief in a 6000-year-old earth or pre-Civil War views on slavery.

That it’s difficult for them to see the possibility only their interpretation might be wrong or in question and not the Bible’s content or authority, just shows how mixed up they have all these aspects to begin with. Look, the Bible may be sufficient in many areas but that doesn’t mean our interpretation or understanding of the Bible is—and that’s the true issue.

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