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Today, I’m starting a new intermittent blog series. I can’t tell you when the next installment will be or how many I’ll do, but given the subject matter there could be dozens (if the series seems to meet a need). I want to look at different areas of systematic theology and write a short primer on a given topic in under 500 words. We’ll start with the attributes of Scripture. My 500 words are on the clock…now.

Historically, Protestant theologians have highlighted four defining attributes of Scripture: necessity, sufficiency, clarity, and authority. Each of these attributes is meant to protect the truth about the Bible and safeguard against common errors.

The doctrine of Scripture’s necessity reminds us that we need God’s word to tell us how to live and how to be saved (1 Cor. 2:6-13). General revelation is not adequate. Personal experience and human reason cannot show us the gospel. We need God’s gracious self-disclosure if we are to worship rightly, believe in Christ, and live for ever in heaven.

The doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency reminds us that God’s word tells us all we need to know for life and godliness in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:14-17). We don’t need new revelations. We don’t need dreams or vision. We don’t need a council of prophets or a quorum of apostles to present to us new information about Jesus Christ and the gospel. Scripture doesn’t tell us everything we might want to know. But it tells us everything we truly need to know.

The doctrine of Scripture’s clarity (or perspicuity) reminds us that the saving message of God’s redemption can be understood by all who care to hear it (Deut. 30:11-14). This does not mean every passage in the Bible is obvious or that we should shun proper training in all the biblical disciplines. But when it comes to the central tenets of Scripture, we can discern God’s word for ourselves, apart from official church interpretation. There is a meaning in the text and God knows how to communicate it to us.

The doctrine of Scripture’s authority remind us that God’s word stands above all earthly powers (Psalm 138:2). On every matter in which the Bible means to speak, the last word goes to Scripture, not to councils or to catechisms or to science or to human experience, but to the word of God. We all have someone or something that we turn to as the arbiter of truth claims. For Christians, in the final analysis, this authority must be, and can only be, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

These evangelical attributes are an easy and important way to remember all that Scripture is for us and to us: necessity, sufficiency, clarity, and authority. Or to put the list into four sentences:

God’s word is needed.
God’s word is enough.
God’s word is understandable
God’s word is final.

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28 thoughts on “Theological Primer: The Attributes of Scripture”

  1. Michael says:

    Love the idea. Looking forward to more.

  2. DRT says:

    Necessity – It sure seems to me that 1 Cor 2 as referenced supports word of mouth teaching and tradition based on word of mouth teaching as much if not more than biblical teaching. Not a very good basis for necessity there.

    Sufficiency – Your sufficiency argument is just as bad. 2 Tim quoted does say “the sacred writings are able to make you wise for salvation”, and I agree, but it does not say that other methods are inadequate. OK, the sacred writings are sufficient, but so are other methods.

    Clarity – how do you get around the fact that there is pervasive differences in interpretations? There are 38,000 sects and they are primarily in existence because of differences in interpretation. The scripture is not clear. Perhaps in the time of Deut, which you quote, it was more clear, lots of laws that were clear. But that is not the way it is now.

    Authority – yes scripture is our source, but you totally miss the boat here and it is misleading to a great many people. Everyone needs to interpret scripture so it is interpretation vs interpretation. By stating it the way you do you have all kinds of people believing that they can read that slavery is OK in the bible and believe that should be the final word. The bible means nothing without us applying what we know to understand it.

    There, 236 words.

  3. Laurette says:

    Thanks for this! I also look forward to more.

  4. Jeff says:

    Great post Kevin. I espiecially liked your “authority” comments. The authority of Scripture is something too many are ignoring.

  5. Jeanie Schwagerman says:

    I am looking forward to more as well. Good point made is our view of the word. Do we value the word of God. Do we look at the context of the word. Knowing the history of the context brings better understanding and intrepretation. I think what is interesting the word is not written to convince people that God is God, or that the flood happened, etc. As a people of God we have to read with faith and the holy spirit guiding us. The word is like jello in our hands, we will never grasp it all.

  6. DRT says:

    Kevin, in my zeal for the Lord I forgot to thank you for posting this and sharing these thoughts with everyone. I particularly appreciate your willingness to allow others with differing views to post here. I am a fan.

  7. John says:

    This is helpful, thanks! Sounds like you’re still feeling this project out so this might be premature, but once you’re done, this might be a good thing to put into a .pdf at the end. While I’d love folks in my church small group to pick up a full Systematic or Biblical Theology book, the size often discourages them. Something like this might be more reasonable.

  8. John says:

    @DRT – I find it ironic that you made this comment,
    “I particularly appreciate your willingness to allow others with differing views to post here. I am a fan.”

    Given that you don’t allow the same on your blog.
    (And I would have contacted you another way but you don’t have any other means to contact you listed.)

  9. DRT says:

    John, perhaps you did not read this post on my site:

    Here is what it says:

    I have been told that it is not exactly fair to have comments on my blog blocked when I post on other people’s blogs. I simply have the system set to shut down comments after 7 or 30 days, I forget which, because I get many more spam comments than actual blog comments. I will try to keep one thread open for comments at all times so people can post about me here.

    I welcome others to post dissenting opinions. I certainly post dissenting opinions on other people’s blogs and would hope that people would give me the courtesy to engage me here too. God bless.

    Thanks for prodding me to open a new comments thread….I will do it shortly

  10. Nathan says:

    Kevin, this is a great way to simply teach truth about the Bible. I’ll be incorporating this into a lesson or sermon somewhere down the road…

  11. Justin Taylor says:

    In teaching on this I’ve sometimes used the acronym SCAN to help folks (including myself) easily remember these four attributes.

    Thanks for writing this, Kevin!

  12. Does, “God’s word is final” leave any room for continued revelation through prophecy by the power of the Holy Spirit, as is laid out in the scriptures?

  13. I think the “Clarity” portion seems to be the greatest struggle for my generation (20’s-30’s). I hear questions like:

    1.) Why do you think your interpretation is more meaningful than mine?

    2.) Who really has the right to say what that means?

    3.) But what about everybody else’s religion?

    The clarity of Scripture has come into question by the religious and the non-religious alike. I always point back to Grudem’s scripture on this one!

  14. Daniel Alva says:

    Hi Kevin, thanks for the post, I always enjoy and very often agree with all you write. In this case I must agree with DRT in the sense that the references for the three first attributes of Scripture you cited, in my point of view, are not very good basis for them. Anyway I’m looking forward to more!

  15. Interesting, given that the longer tradition, perhaps even evidenced and at work in Paul’s articulation of the Old Testament, is that Scripture has these four senses: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical. When we say that “These evangelical attributes are an easy and important way to remember all that Scripture is for us and to us: necessity, sufficiency, clarity, and authority.” have we missed something important about the vibrancy of the Word?

  16. James Rednour says:

    The problem with 4) is that people apply the Bible’s teachings in places where it has no business being applied. Like science, for example.

  17. Michael says:

    All 4 points are clearly defended in the Bible and to question them is very dangerous to the faith.

    You should also add inerrancy as a sub-point of the Authority of Scripture.

  18. Tim says:

    Thanks Keith. Perhaps my thinking is off on this matter and although I do not argue against what you have written I am however wondering where do prophets, preachers, and others fit in to the equation? They’re are often times the source of many problems, yet they are no doubt an indispensable component of salvation in its several parts. Please consider the following verses in your response:
    “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:9-17, KJV.

  19. Stephen Dunning says:

    Verbal Inspiration? A vital link in the Authority chain.

  20. Thank you so much for posting this. So many of us Reformed-types know the “5 solas” or “5 points of ‘Calvinism'” (and praise the Lord for that!), but I think that most would be hard pressed to summarize the doctrine of Scripture in 4 points.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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