“That Book in Your Hand”
In continuing our study of Bibliology, what the Bible teaches us about itself, we have come to the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture — that they give us all we need to know God, follow Him, and please Him. In this post, we’ll look at the fact that the Bible is a finished work.
Sermons on the nature of the Bible (Bibliology):
- The inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16.
- The moving of the Spirit in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21.
- The inerrancy of God’s Word (its complete reliability).
- The preservation of God’s Word.
- The illumination of the Scriptures, the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us to understand spiritual truths.
- The perspicuity of Scripture — the Scriptures can be understood and rightly interpreted.
- The canon of Scripture — this wasn’t a sermon, but it belongs in this study on Bibliology
- The unity of Scripture — it is one Book by one Author with one unifying message.
In this ninth topic (eighth sermon), the sufficiency of Scripture, I’ve written on the following:
- The Scriptures are perfect and complete, from Psalm 19. When God established a covenant with man, He didn’t fail to make full disclosure.
- The Scriptures are a sufficient guide and tool for holiness. They tell us God’s standard and equip us to follow it.
A Completed Canon
I won’t reinvent the wheel by discussing the Canon of Scripture here at length (see The Canon of Scripture). The Old Testament books were given through prophets, the New Testament by apostolic authority, and both were given by God and are conveyors of His divine nature by which we receive life.
Although there was some debate in parts of the early church as to whether some books belong in the canon of Scripture, there was no debate about whether the canon was complete. There was never any significant support for canonical claims for any books written after the first century. Everyone knew that God’s work of giving the Scriptures was complete.
Some Christians believe God still gives prophecies today, while others believe He is no longer working in that way. But no one ever considers the possibility that a new book might be Scripture. This work of God, the giving of the Scriptures, has finished.
The implication of the completed canon is clear. The story of the Scriptures is that God loved us and gave His Son so that we could have restored fellowship with Him (see The Unity of Scripture). Since the goal of the Scriptures is restored fellowship, if the Scriptures are complete, then we know God has given us in them everything we need to know for fully restored fellowship. If something was lacking, God would have been wise enough and loving enough to provide it. The completed canon tells us that the Scriptures, a finished work, lack nothing that we need. You or I might finish a book and leave something important out of it, but God did not overlook anything.
Sufficient Once Finished
5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
6 Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
This verse gives a general warning — we should never add to God’s words. If I say that God has said something, and He hasn’t, I will be found a liar.
This is NOT a statement that the Scriptures are complete, because they weren’t complete when this was written. It IS a statement that you don’t need anything besides the words of God. Once He finished giving the Scriptures, there would be no need to add anything to them. Thus, this verse teaches the sufficiency of the Scriptures once they were completed. For verses telling of their completion, we need to look elsewhere.
“Finished” Statements in Scripture
God gave us two great epochs of revelation in Scripture, the Old Testament Law, and His Son, Jesus Christ:
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son….
After the completion of the Law, in the first five books of the Old Testament, the rest of the Old Testament tells the story of Israel’s struggle to keep the Law, of God sending His prophets to rebuke them for failing to keep it, and ultimately, of the promise of a Messiah who would fulfil the Law and bring in salvation for lawbreakers.
The second epoch was that of the Son, that promised Messiah. The Gospels tell of His time here on earth. After He ascended to Heaven, the rest of the New Testament tells what His life, death, and resurrection meant for the early church, what it means for us today as we live life in Christ, and what it will mean in the future.
As we look at these great revelations, I think it is interesting that God gave three great “this is complete” statements in Scripture, two of which include warnings.
The Law is a Finished Work
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Moses, the Lawgiver, declared that the words he commanded in the Law were complete. No one was to add to them. The terms of God’s covenant with Israel were completed in the Law. The rest of the Old Testament tells of what happened after it was given, and Israel’s response to it, but the Law itself was complete.
The Account of Jesus’ Earthly Ministry is a Finished Work
30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:
31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
This is not usually seen as a “finished” statement, comparable to the ones in Deuteronomy and Revelation, but I believe it belongs. Scholars are virtually unanimous in believing that this was the last of the Gospels to be written, but whether it was or not, God in His sovereignty has so worked that it would be the fourth in order in the Bible. Those who set out to read the story of Jesus in the Bible will read through four Gospels, and come to this statement near the end of the last, which could be summarised thus: “a lot more could be said, but this is enough.” There is no need for more, this is enough for you to believe and have life.
Thus, the two great revelatory events, the giving of the Law and the earthly ministry of Christ, are sealed with statements affirming their “finished” status.
The Bible is a Finished Work
18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Revelation is called “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (that is the beginning words of the book). It is a mistake to view the book as merely a future history map — almost every symbol in the book is anchored firmly in Old Testament prophecies. The book shows the culmination of both Old Testament and New Testament revelation — it ties up the remaining strands of prophetic revelation, Old and New, in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament runs through this book more than any other New Testament book except perhaps Hebrews and Matthew. It is no coincidence that Revelation 15:3 tells of the saints singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.
Revelation is the culmination, bringing it all together. Probably the very last Scriptural book written, it is by God’s sovereignty the last in order in our Bibles, and just a few verses from the end, it gives the verses I cited above.
Those (such as Mormons) who want to add their book to the Bible will say that these verses at the end of Revelation are parallel to the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 4, that Moses was saying not to add to the Law, and John was saying not to add to the book of Revelation, but that just as new books were given after the Law, so their book has been given after Revelation. This ignores the nature of the two great strands of God’s revelation to us, the “finished” statements accompanying them in John and Deuteronomy, and the nature and special place of the book of Revelation.
Revelation closes the Scriptures, closing out all the remaining threads that need tied together, and this statement from Revelation 22 tells us God’s great Book is complete. He has finished the work of giving us His Word. Nothing needs to be added. If God has finished giving us the Scriptures, then we know that they are completely sufficient for everything we need to know, believe, and do to be in fellowship with Him.
More to come….