Is the Bible enough? (2023)

Evangelicalism is currently immersed in a controversy of no small magnitude. Authors we have trusted for years, whose advice has enhanced our Christian experience and deepened our understanding of ourselves and God, have been branded "heretics."

Why were these men slandered? Because they promote principles derived from psychology and not specifically from the Bible, producing a toxic mix of godless philosophy and biblical wisdom.

The Bible is more than enough, say critics like the Biblical Counseling Foundation. "The word of God was given to man assinglesource to find God's solutions to the real problems that afflict you.1(Emphasis mine). The Foundation condemns "vain attempts to mix God's Word with unrestored assumptions and theories."2

It's hard to question the noble desire to focus on training materials that are more directly biblical. It is also possible that the respected leaders among us can harm us. Wolves come disguised as sheep, Jesus warned.

However, sometimes the distinction between fleece and fur is not so easy to determine. Even proof texts that initially seem very clear take on a different meaning when examined more closely or when compared to other biblical teachings.

I will not comment here on the role of psychology in the Christian life, except to say that I am a centrist on the subject. I am concerned with a more fundamental idea: is the Bible "sufficient" in the sense these critics claim?

Scripture on the "appropriation" of Scripture

Proponents of "Bible only" resort to a handful of references to show that the Scriptures offer the only solutions to life's problems. These three are characteristic:

"You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor shall you take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2).3

"Do not add anything to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:6).

“And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:19).

None of these verses teaches what is stated. The Deuteronomy passage simply prohibits anyone from altering the specific revelation just given by Moses. Keep in mind that 61 more books of the Bible were written after Moses penned these lines in the Pentateuch. The passage does not prohibit the use of human observations about human life and behavior.

The Proverbs passage simply says not to add anything to the Word of God. However, I do not know of any Christian who takes the principles of psychology as equal to the authority of Scripture.

Revelation 22:19 forbids reading the "words of the book of this prophecy," i. h add something to the revelation itself. This verse does not even limit the scope of the canon, much less exclude human wisdom about man's problems.

The 2 Timothy 3:16–17 passage is more substantial.

2 Timothy 3:16,17

Paul writes in his last letter: “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful to teach, to correct, to correct, to instruct in justice; that the man of God be fit and equipped for every good work.”

The argument of the "Bible only" advocates goes something like this. Paul says that the Scriptures are sufficient. If writing is sufficient, then nothing else is required. When nothing else is required, the use of external material implies the insufficiency of the Bible and contradicts Paul's statement. Therefore, nothing but Scripture can be used to equip us, for nothing else is "useful for teaching, for correcting, for correcting, for instructing in righteousness." This function is the exclusive domain of the Bible.

That is the point. This is what's wrong with it. First, the word "proper" in the 2 Timothy passage modifies the believer, not Scripture. The words Paul uses to describe the Scriptures are "inspired" and "profitable." The Bible is useful for achieving a specific goal—a properly equipped Christian—because it is the very counsel of God. Paul's teaching in 2 Timothy was designed to do just qualifythe nature of writing, not toodisqualifythe utility of other materials.

Second, the argument proves too much. The scriptures Paul has in mind are the Old Testament, specifically the scriptures of Timothy's childhood (see v. 15). Paul identifies them as capable of "giving you wisdom unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."

If the Old Testament Scriptures are adequate, and if Paul is implying that adding any useful information about the man is wrong, how do we justify adding the New Testament words to the perfectly adequate Old Testament? Even the words of Paul (as well as those of Peter, John, etc.) would be inadmissible, including the words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 making this claim.

Since this is ridiculous and self-defeating, the whole objection falls apart. Paul did not mean that other sources of knowledge were an attack on the integrity of Scripture.

Third, and further weakening this view, 2 Timothy 3:15 does not even teach that Scripture is adequate. A close look at the text shows that the words "inspired" and "beneficial" describe the Scriptures. However, the word "adequate" does not describe the Scriptures but rather "the man of God" who uses the inspired Scriptures in a profitable way. Note carefully: “...thisthe man of godmaybeappropriate, equipped for every good work.” Once again, the prooftext itself has been unintentionally smeared to say something that, given the context, it simply doesn't.

What does "enough" mean here? It probably means what is normally meant by proper, that the man of God has all that is essential. Food, air and water are enough to stay alive, but their sufficiency does not mean that nothing else is beneficial.

Some have suggested that my argument could be used to teach that Paul thought only the Old Testament was inspired, not the New. Not so. Paul's testimony referred to the Holy Scriptures, which we then call the Old Testament. He did not say that the "God-inspired" writings would no longer appear. The corpus of Scripture was augmented by the New Testament Scriptures and is therefore included under the statements of this verse.

The problem only arises when one imposes an odd sense of adequacy on that passage, meaning nothing else is allowed. If we assume that Paul and the apostles wrote legitimate scriptures, then this proves that Paul did not intend such a restriction. That is my point.

Proverbs and wisdom of nature.

There are other problems with the Bible Only perspective. The Scriptures themselves seem to encourage us to look to other sources of information for guidance. The commission to be fruitful and multiply in Genesis seems to require man to observe his environment, learn useful things, and then use it to improve his condition, anything but direct revelation.

That is exactly what we find in the Book of Proverbs. According to Solomon, wise counselors are those with life experience, including the ability to observe the natural realm and gain spiritual truth, moral knowledge, and life skills.

Notice this statement in Proverbs 24:30-34:

I passed through the field of the lazy and through the vineyard of the foolish; and behold, it was all covered with thistles. Its surface was covered with nettles and its stone wall was torn down. As I saw, I thought about it;I looked and received instructions.. "Sleep a little, doze a little, fold your hands a little to rest," then your poverty will come like a thief and your need like an armed man.

dr. John Coe, professor of psychology at Rosemead University, says the following about Proverbs 24:

Although elsewhere the wise man acknowledges Scripture as a source of wisdom (Prov. 29:18), here he tells us that his own reflections and observations were sufficient to obtain this practical and moral wisdom. In fact, this pattern seems to fit well with many of his proverbs that do not explicitly depend on theToraor other divine revelation. Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that the special task of the sage is opposed to that of the priest and prophet.It implies insight in the observation and reflection for the interpretation of natural phenomena, especially human ones.Their considerations result not only in theoretical and technological insights for the natural sciences, but above all in moral insights for the humanities (namely, theproverbs). In the above case, through observation and reflection, the sage discovers that laziness leads to financial ruin and self-harm.

The sage is therefore convinced that by observing and reflecting on the structures of order, in particular the human situation, he will discover quasi-causal laws that govern the human situation. He claims to receive instruction and wisdom from these observations, that is, moral knowledge.4[emphasis in the original].

Dr. Coe's point is important. Proverbs 24:30-34 shows that through keen observation of the world we can draw true conclusions about proper conduct. Even before the sage says: “My son, obey your father's commandment” (6:20), he says: “Go to the ant, you lazy one. Guard his ways and be wise ”(5: 6).

Coe continues:

Scripture in general, then, finds its authority in the fact that it was given by God. However, the Scriptures also acknowledge another source of wisdom to which the Old Testament sage draws in search of wise principles from him. Of course,as a member of the religious communityThe Hebrew sage acknowledges that God is the ultimate source of all wisdom (2:6), that a relationship with Him is necessary for a perfectly wise life (1:7), and that the Scriptures are necessary for the spiritual health of a community. (29:17, 30:5-6). Nevertheless,as a member of a community of scholarshe ventures into the natural order of things - Writing in hand and God in mind - to discern the wisdom that is also available in natural and human phenomena.5[emphasis in the original].

dr. Coe argues that God's will is expressed propositionally (Scripture) and non-propositionally (nature). By observing and reflecting on both, if correctly interpreted, one can derive principles for living such as "because."bothinform people how to live well.

The wise man of the proverbs, following his own advice, makes this observation:

Four things are small on earth but extremely wise: ants are not a strong people, but they prepare their food in the summer; badgers are not powerful people, but they build their houses on rocks; the locusts have no king, but they all march in ranks; the lizard you can lay your hands on, but it is in the palaces of kings (30:24-28).

Consider this scenario. When violence stalks a city, the people choose to execute the murderers. Immediately, the murder rate drops and peace returns to the city. These people used their fallen human wisdom to apply a biblical solution: a government with swords to mitigate the effects of evil. They accurately assess and solve a human problem without even knowing the Scriptures. Something like that happens all the time.

wisdom of the pagans

WhatAmenomope Wisdom Literatureis a collection of works from the Middle East before Proverbs. It is interesting because it contains a section of material almost identical to Proverbs 22:17-24:22. It seems obvious that the authors of the latter part of Proverbs borrowed this material from theAmenomopeand inserted it into the inspired text.

Some scholars see this as a serious compromise in the doctrine of inspiration. However, a more robust (and I would say more biblical) view of natural theology removes this objection. A natural man, separated from God, is clearly capable of discerning the truth, which according to the writer of Proverbs is from God.

Paul's classic teaching in Romans 1:18ff identifies the universal and innate ability to make inferences about the nature of God without the aid of special revelation—an ability so effective that willingly suppressing it implies God's judgment.

Remember that the specific details that Paul identifies here, “his invisible qualities, his eternal power, and his divine nature,” are just that.examplesof natural revelation, not ofTotalFrom that. He does not limit our knowledge to just basic information about the existence of God.

In Genesis 18:25, Abraham challenges God's plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah: "Far be it from you to do such a thing as to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it! of you! Shall not the judge of all the earth act justly?" Where did Abraham get his idea of ​​justice from? It was an innate and natural revelation, a moral law built into his humanity.

What is at stake here is natural theology, which can be known through general revelation about God and the spiritual condition of man. Can an unborn person know something significant without the help of special revelation? The Bible seems to teach that he can know a lot.

Knowledge by natural revelation

The late Dr. Francis Schaeffer pointed out that the Bible is the true truth, but not the exhaustive truth. It's perfectly true in everything it addresses, but it doesn't talk about everything there is to know. There is much more to discover.

dr. Bruce Demarest, professor of systematic theology at Denver Seminary, makes the following observation:

Although man is sinful, he bears the image of God in a unique way. The paralyzing effects of sin on the human mind are partially overcome by a general illumination of the Logos (John 1:4, 9). God wants man, the crown of his creation, to use his reason to ensure the truth, including elementary truths about himself. Endowed with an intuitive knowledge of God, including the light of conscience, and strengthened by universal grace, Man draws conclusions about God's character and work through rational reflection on the data of the natural and historical order. By contemplating the created order around him and by the discursive workings of the mind inferring one thing from another, man comes to conclusions that confirm the fact of God's existence and his understanding of the character of the Creator, the Guardians, and the Judges. it expands above everything. to the.6

Man, created in the image of God, acquires knowledge on the basis of general revelation. He has an innate ability to know first principles and the basic rules of logic, Demarest argues, and he knows how to apply those skills to learn the truth, not just about his world but about things spiritual as well.

Demarest concludes: "The Scriptures support our thesis that more truth about God is obtained through rational reflection on God's general natural revelation in history."7

An illustrative case is Dr. Bernard Nathanson. An atheist, he was one of the founders of the National League of Action for the Right to Abortion (NARAL). Nathanson ran one of the largest commercial abortion operations in the country. He later rejected this practice and became a passionate advocate for the rights of the unborn child.

Why the change of heart? Because he was convinced that abortion is a serious violation of human dignity.

Ironically, Bernard Nathanson remained an atheist. One could argue that it is very difficult to justify the concept of human rights - a kind of transcendent law - when there is no God. However, Nathanson's inversion demonstrates that even those with flawed philosophical foundations (like Freud, Maslow, Jung, etc.) can think rationally.inconsistentto a conclusion that turns out to be true. Nathanson's thinking is inconsistent with his world view, but his intuitive knowledge of human worth, a function of common revelation, is correct.8

The Reformers' Perspective

Even reformers, aggressive in asserting total depravity and advocates ofwriting aloneHe did not stick to this radical version of "Only the Bible." Calvin Note:

Reading profane authors, the wonderful light of truth that manifests in them should remind us that the human mind, however much it has fallen from its original integrity and become perverted, is still adorned and endowed with wonderful gifts from its Creator. ...How can that be then? Do we deny that the truth should shine on those ancient legislators who provided civil order and discipline with such justice? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their exquisite investigations and skilful descriptions of nature? ....Since it is evident that the men whom the Scripture calls natural are so acute and perceptive in the investigation of inferior things, their example must teach us how many gifts the Lord has left in possession of human nature, despite be deprived of it. true goodness.9

Calvino does not take this "looting" lightly. Regarding spiritual discernment - "the knowledge of God, the knowledge... of our salvation, and the method of regulating our conduct in accordance with divine law" - he said that "the spirit of man must always remain a chaos of "Confusion. Human reason does not come anywhere near the great truths of what God is in himself and what he is in relation to us."10

Calvin distinguished between two types of knowledge. He calls them natural gifts and supernatural gifts. Calvin agrees with Augustine that man's natural gifts have been corrupted by sin, but not taken away.11He then continues for nearly five pages in hisInstituteDetails of Fallen Reason's abilities.

According to Calvin, only the supernatural gifts of man were lost, especially "the light of faith and justice, which would have sufficed to achieve heavenly life and eternal happiness."12

Would this great reformer condemn the contributions of modern psychology as mere world wisdom? No, it is all part of the natural gift that God gave to man. Calvino even praises what he calls Aristotle's astute observations:

It seems to me that Aristotle made a very clever distinction between incontinence and licentiousness. Where there is incontinence, he says, passion suppresses special knowledge: lest the individual see in his own wrongdoing the evil that he sees in similar cases generally; but when the passion is over, repentance immediately follows.13

The larger context of this passage clarifies Aristotle's point. People tend to accept general moral principles but deny them when they personally contemplate committing sin. After that, guilt and regret set in.

Whether one agrees with the respective point or not is beside the point. Importantly John Calvin, a great reformer who fully subscribed to the Biblical teaching of "total depravity".14– quotes an unregenerate Greek philosopher on the vicissitudes of the human psyche.Calvin uses Aristotle's psychology to articulate one aspect of the human fall.


The question "Is Scripture fair?" is very similar to asking "Is Christ fair?" The answer depends entirely on what one expects from either one. They all do something specific for us; neither everything. In a way, God was not even appropriate for Adam in the garden. Although Adam walked in unfallen fellowship with the Father, God nonetheless said: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18).

The Bible is sufficient to impart “wisdom unto salvation” and to enable the godly man to be “sufficient and equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15–17). Such sufficiency does not exclude other sources of learning that provide more guidance on mental health and life skills.

Scripture is the standard of truth to be studied, applied, and appreciated. However, the Bible itself does not support the "Bible Only" view. It does not teach that man is so distorted by sin that he loses his ability to discover useful truths for himself. Rather, it teaches that man has a great capacity to make accurate and useful judgments about life and its problems based on common revelation.

Christians who, however well-intentioned, encourage this narrow view encourage unnecessary conflict in the church. They also deny believers a source of wisdom and knowledge that the Bible itself encourages us to contemplate.

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