Scripture, Sufficient for What?

When I was young and living under my parent's tutelage, cleaning my room was a primary chore assigned to me.  However, even though I was the chief custodian of my room I was not the boss!  After cleaning, my mother would show up for the inspection.  More often than not, she would look at me with her head cocked to one side, hand on her hip, and say, "It will suffice."  I always took that as a negative statement.  It was as if she said, "You pass…but barely!"  When I got a little older, I discovered that the word suffice is from the Latin word sufficere meaning "to supply as a substitute."  Here is the way I came to understand my mom's unenthusiastic stamp of approval.  She was saying, "You, as a cleaner, stand in as a substitute for my cleaning - and it is a poor substitute!" 

Now, what does this have to do with the sufficiency of Scripture?

Well, Benjamin B. Warfield, Old Princeton professor of Systematic Theology, is able to help us.  He argued that when men bring their native powers of reason to bear upon general revelation they may rise to the knowledge of God "which is trustworthy and valuable, but is insufficient for their necessities as sinners."[1] Now, a question arises, what is insufficient?  Is it the creation or man?  And if it is man, then what is insufficient about him?

Well, the able John Murray eliminates creation as a culprit when he says in his commentary on Romans 1:20, "Stress is laid upon the perspicuity afforded by the things that are made in mediating to us the perception of the invisible attributes - they are 'clearly seen'."  But if the insufficiency is not in creation, then it must be in man. However, Paul says in Romans 1:20 that what is clearly seen in nature provides a knowledge that leaves men without excuse.  In other words, man is able to receive what general revelation offers leaving him without excuse before the living God.  In other words, man is able to see what is clearly seen of God in nature.   But this leaves us asking, what is insufficient? 

The answer is very simple, it's the creation.  Now, I can just hear the objections, "Wait a minute!  I thought you just said that it was not the creation! How can you now say that it is the creation?"  Again, the answer is simple.  Warfield says that man's fall into sin interrupted his relationship with God leaving general revelation valuable but insufficient to redeem man from his fallen state.[2]  General revelation was not lacking prior to Adam's fall.[3]  It was sufficient for its purpose.  However, the moment that man fell into sin he needed more than general revelation could offer.  Man now required a revelation from God that would speak to his fallen condition. 

In his 1907 article titled, "Augustine's Doctrine of Knowledge," Warfield argued that special revelation assists fallen man in the same way that a crutch helps a lame man.  In this sense, special revelation is needed for the purpose of man's salvation, which was something that general revelation was never fitted to accomplish. So, in this sense, the problem is with creation.  This is not to say that man is off the proverbial hook, he is lame.  In other words, he is morally lame or in this case morally culpable because, being dead in sin, he rejects the knowledge of God that is offered to him. 

Now, it is in this way that we see the sufficiency of special revelation or the Bible.  In other words, the sufficiency of Scripture rests in the fact that it alone can provide man with the knowledge needed to be reconciled to God.  The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way, "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture."[4] In other words, Scripture provides for what general revelation lacked after man's fall - a way of salvation.

But one more thing needs to be said lest we think that general revelation is looking at special revelation with her hand on her hip saying, "You will suffice!"  Warfield provides us a way of looking at both general and special revelation that is very helpful.  He describes them as a being a unitary whole.  In other words, without special revelation, general revelation would be incomplete and ineffective and without general revelation, special revelation would lack the basis for a fundamental knowledge of God.  In other words, general revelation and special revelation are complimentary.

So, where does this leave us? Well, if we have eyes to see, it leaves us praising God for being sufficient for our every need! 

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R Publishing) and Managing Editor for Place for Truth.

[1] Benjamin B. Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration, vol. 1, of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 45.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Warfield did believe that there was positive or verbal communication from God to man prior to the fall.

[4] Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6.



Jeffrey Stivason