Is Scripture Sufficient? – On Its Proper Role

Is scripture sufficient?

Students of Christian theology always encounter this question at some point.

They are presented with a bible, then believe it to hold the truth, and they then wonder if any additional material is necessary for coming to know God.

So they consider learning from outside sources, and they begin to ask the question the value of the Bible

After all, the Bible may be true, but that does not tell us if it contains all the truth. Is it possible that more needs to be revealed?

And, considering this, students look for guidance concerning the use of outside sources for understanding their religion.

So, is scripture sufficient?

No. Scripture is not sufficient. Reason and philosophy are required in order to understand scripture. Moreover, divine revelation not found in scripture must also be accepted. If one only accepts what is found in scripture, then they must reject prophethood. Yet Jesus did not abolish the Prophets.

Scripture is not sufficient for understanding religion. To believe otherwise is to reject prophethood, new revelation, reason,a dn many other facets of Christianity.

Moreover, all Catholics and Orthodox Christians must reject the idea that scripture is sufficient for knowing the religion. Both churches have declared the contrary view to be heretical.

The name of this heresy is Sola Scriptura.

What follows is a review of those arguments, both for and against Sola Scriptura, which Thomas Aquinas presents in his Summa Theologica.

Whether, besides philosophy, any further doctrine is required?

The views shown here are of two types: those in favor of and those against influences aside from scripture and philosophy. St. Thomas asserts the need for revelation in addition to philosophy. He does not go on to forbid or condone the use of other works.

Protestants often posit the view that further knowledge is not require din order to understand Christianity. The Catholic and Orthodox churches reject this notion. They call the view a heresy named Sola Scriptura.

It is the view of this author that outside sources are needed in order to fully grasp scripture. Foreign ideas alter one’s state of mind and point of view. This altered view can then be reveal new meanings within known texts. Some of these may be true and of such a type so that they could not be found elsewise.

Argument #1: We don’t need knowledge outside of philosophy.

We need philosophy and those things which it reveals in order to know the meanings of scripture.

But we do not need anything else besides.

This is because man should not attempt to know anything that is beyond his ability. To do so would be a mistake for the same reason that trying to grow wings and fly would be.

And the human brain is designed in order to be good at some things and not at others. Humans use this flawed tool, the human brain, to understand the world around them.

Yet the brain has a poor grasp of metaphysics and is unable to discern more than a small part of what is true.

And humans use their brains to find truth with deductive reasoning. During this process, the brain uses one idea as a platform from which to move to another. Then it does so again, and again, and again.

So things which cannot be discovered by this method exist outside of human reason and, therefore, should be ignored. To do otherwise would be a type of category error. A human would be using a non-human method for determining truth.

Argument #2: Theology is a part of philosophy.

As an extension to points made in the first argument, knowledge can only be concerned with being. We know if a thing is, if it is not, or if it could be. A fourth subset of knowledge does not exist.

Now, theology is a subset within philosophy. And theology is concerned with the nature of God and man’s relation to Jim. So, philosophy is sufficient for knowing God.

Philosophy also contains subsets dealing with the nature of truth and methods for reaching it.

Therefore, because philosophy contains both theology and methods of establishing truth, nothing outside of philosophy is needed in order to know God.

Aquinas’ Position: Scripture is useful as a starting point for reason.

Scripture is a valid tool for use in knowing God, His nature, and our relationship with Him.

Yet scripture is divinely inspired. It comes as a revelation. Therefore, it is not philosophical.

This proves that at least one thing outside of human reason is necessary for the development of theology.

Moreover, God desires something for man. This something is often called “God’s Plan”. God’s Plan is known to God, and both His knowledge and His ability to know far exceed that of a human. So we should not bother trying to discern its fullness. To do so is futile. Instead, men must rely upon things given by God in order to know His aim.

Therefore, to believe that philosophy is sufficient for knowing God is to reject further revelation. this includes a renunciation of further prophets.

Yet Christ Himself clearly said that He had not come to abolish the Law or the prophets. So Christians may not reject them.

So before men act to do God’s will on earth, He must be pointed toward the desired end.

What about revealed things which man might have discovered?

Now, human reason may stumble upon truths which God has revealed.

And people may say that their being proves that God is unneeded.

But those same people ignore that these truths, which do exist, were known only to a small few, and the few who found them did so only after a long time had passed. Then, when they tried to teach what they had learned, they were rejected by the vast hordes of common people.

That the Israelites condemned their prophets is a famous tradition of this.

So man’s salvation, which requires some knowledge of God and His intention for mankind, could not come about as a result of philosophy. Salvation is meant for all, yet thoughtful men would be ignored by those whom they tried to save.

So divine revelation must be accepted alongside philosophy in order to bring about the redemption of mankind.

Counterargument #1: Unknown things may be revealed by God. These must be taken on faith.

On The Wisdom of Sirach

The following argument is drawn form a book called The Wisdom of Sirach. this book is found within the Catholic and Orthodox bibles. It does not exist within Protestant versions. This is because the book is considered to be a part of Greek culture and, therefore, inauthentic in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The author is an Orthodox Christian and accepts The Wisdom of Sirach as Thomas Aquinas did.

Argument from Sirach

Sirach 3:25 says:

“For many things are shown to thee which are above the understanding of man.”

This verse affirms that certain things are shown to humans which they could not know without divine intervention. These things are unable to be learned through reason. However, because they are revealed by God, they must be accepted.

So the idea that philosophy alone is sufficient for developing theology is contradicted by scripture.

Counterargument #2: Sacred science and its similarity to other studies

Certain things have been revealed by God. These revelations are to be believed and taken on faith. Then they should be used to build coherent answers to questions concerning God. This construction process is theology.

So theology is a type of science. It is not empiricism. It is a different type of science. Theology has its own methods, axioms, and standards for determining truth.

Its method is reason.
Its axioms are scripture and revelation.
And its standards include canons and dogma.

Now, of the three classes of things used to build theology, only dogmata are unchangeable. A variety of methods can be used to construct theological knowledge, and new axioms may be added, albeit rarely.

So methods aside form pure reason may be of value when building a religion’s theology.

Counterargument #3: Evidence from The New Testament

It is written in 2 Timothy 3:16 that:

“All Scripture, inspired of God is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice.”

Now, scripture is divinely inspired. It is not part of philosophy. This is because scripture does not arise from human reason.

This same scripture must be accepted by Christians.

And the given verse affirms the value of scripture.

So Christians must reject the notion that philosophy is needed in order to know God.

Atheists are aware of this argument. They tend to claim it’s fallacious because it takes the following form:

“Scripture is valid because scripture says it is.”

One can see why atheists would conclude this, and they would be right if not for one detail.

The word scripture is used twice in the same sentence, and its meaning is different in each case.

Consider the following statement:

“The ruler owns a ruler.”

In this sentence, the word ruler means both “king” and “a measuring stick”. Yet no distinction is made between the two.

The same is true for our argument.

In the verse from Timothy, the author, Paul, is using the word scripture to refer to the Old Testament. He does not refer to his own words here.

He couldn’t.

Paul did not know his writings would be recognized as religious scripture until hundreds of years after his death. Therefore, when he wrote his letters to Timothy, he could not refer to his own letters as scripture.

In Paul’s mind, he was merely giving good advice to a fellow Christian on proper teaching. He did not know his writings would later be said to have been divinely inspired.

A more accurate phrasing of the seemingly-fallacious argument would be:

“The Old Testament is valid because St. Paul said it was.”

Is Scripture Sufficient? Conclusion

So, scripture is not sufficient. This is the view which Catholic and Orthodox Christians must hold. To believe otherwise is heresy.

Protestants must also accept the view if they want to believe that prophethood and divine revelation are still possible. No new revelation or divine prophecy will be found within what already exists.

And the proper role of scripture for those who accept its insufficiency is as a single member of a larger collection of sources. This collection is then used to construct theology.

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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