On page 48 of Knowing God, J.I. Packer says, “Through this revelation, which is made available to us in holy Scripture, we may form a true notion of God; without it we never can.”
While I believe in the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, I think that relegating all truth only to Scripture limits the full scope of God’s intent of revealed truth. Furthermore, Scripture has only been available for the last 1900 years or so; and for much of that time has only been available to a small percentage of the population. Would Packer say that it was only this small percentage who had the entirety of Scripture–not only in possession, but held in the mind–could rightly make an act of devotion and worship through the knowledge of God? Might other people have been pleasing to God in their worship? Are we ever really to the point of knowing God accurately? Can we ever say that there are no errors in our thinking about Him – even if we try to derive our thoughts from the Bible?
We should be careful not to make claims about the Bible that the Bible itself doesn’t claim (or by proper inference). In order to derive an accurate view of what the Bible is, we must examine what the Scriptures themselves claim to be. Does the Bible itself imply that it encompasses all the beneficial truth that we can know?
Here are some of the significant things that Scripture records about Scripture:
-God’s word is true (Psalm 119:160, John 17:17)
-Mt. 26:54- Jesus implies that Scripture will necessarily be fulfilled.
-John 10:35- It seemed generally accepted and reiterated by Jesus that Scripture can’t be broken.
Avoiding error: John 22:29- Being misled is associated with not understanding Scripture (in accord with God’s power).
About Jesus: Luke 24:27-32-Jesus explains how all previous Scripture is inseparable from him.
Can be misinterpreted: 24:45- God must enlighten the mind to understand Scripture appropriately.
Is not an end in itself: John 5:39- Jesus condemns the religious for looking at Scripture apart from receiving life from him.
Acts 17:2, 18:28- Paul reasoned with and powerfully refuted Jewish leaders from the Scriptures.
Acts 17:11- Scripture was the Bereans’ measure of truth.
Romans 15:4- Prior Scripture was written in order to instruct, encourage, and remind us of our hope.
Gal 3:22- Prior Scripture was for exposing sin and emphasizing the promise of Jesus Christ.
Scripture was of utmost priority for the earliest believers: 1 Tim 4:13- Paul instructed the church to be about Scripture reading, teaching, and exhortation.
1 Timothy 3:16 (Most famously)- “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
Scripture contains objective truth: 2 Peter 1:20- Scripture is not subjective in nature (according to personal preferences in a person’s mind), because it originated with God.
Scripture included New Testament writings: 2 Peter 3:16- Peter associates Paul’s writings with the totality of Scripture.
It can also be shown that the Bible itself teaches against the idea of it being the only (or totality of) truth:
-The Holy Spirit makes things known: 1 Cor. 2:9-10 says that the mind and heart of a person is not able to grasp what God has planned for us. Such things are only discerned by the Spirit interacting with our spirit.
-God must open the eyes to what the truth is: Eph. 1:18- Paul prays that the eyes of the heart may be enlightened in the saints. (He did not trust his written words alone to accomplish what was necessary.)
-2 Peter 1:3- “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him.”*
-God, albeit a quite limited understanding, could be known by examining the works of His hands (“natural theology”): Romans 1:19-20- People from the beginning (before the writing of Scripture) could be aware of the glory and attributes of God by looking at creation.
Without diminishing the inspiration and the infallibility of Scripture, there are a few ways to determine that this does not mean that it must contain all the truth that is in existence. First, the Bible itself doesn’t affirm this (John 21:25). Second, the Bible does affirm the need for the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Third, the Bible intentionally leaves some truths untouched (Acts 1:7). People are considered wise for reasons that are both biblical and not directly biblical (Dan. 2:21, Matt. 7:24). Fifth, we are supposed to be continual learners within our particular context (Pro. 1:5, Dan. 1:20).
What do you think? What is the scope of truth that the Bible is intended to contain?
*New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.