Article 6: Of the Sufficiency of the Scriptures for Salvation Part 1
The sixth article of Religion is the longest we’ve covered so far. Here it is in its entirety:
VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books.
Genesis, The First Book of Samuel, The Book of Esther,
Exodus, The Second Book of Samuel, The Book of Job,
Leviticus, The First Book of Kings, The Psalms,
Numbers, The Second Book of Kings, The Proverbs,
Deuteronomy, The First Book of Chronicles, Ecclesiastes or Preacher,
Joshua, The Second Book of Chronicles, Cantica, or Songs of Solomon,
Judges, The First Book of Esdras, Four Prophets the greater,
Ruth, The Second Book of Esdras, Twelve Prophets the less.
And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:
The Third Book of Esdras, The rest of the Book of Esther,
The Fourth Book of Esdras, The Book of Wisdom,
The Book of Tobias, Jesus the Son of Sirach,
The Book of Judith, Baruch the Prophet,
The Song of the Three Children, The Prayer of Manasses,
The Story of Susanna, The First Book of Maccabees,
Of Bel and the Dragon, The Second Book of Maccabees.
All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.
Note: Several of the names of the Old Testament books recorded in the first section of this article have changed as has the way in which people refer to them. What the writers of the 6th Article refers to as “The First Book of Esdras” and “The Second Book of Esdras” are presently called “Ezra” and “Nehemiah.” The “Four Prophets the greater” was a reference, of course, to the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel and the “Twelve Prophets the less” are today referred to in a similar manner as the “Twelve minor prophets” which are the twelve prophetic books found at the end of the Old Testament. The list of Old Testament books includes all of the books included in Protestant bibles.
With the sixth Article, the focus of the Articles shifts from the nature of God and the Persons of the Godhead to the nature of revelation. How does God reveal himself to humanity and what authority is granted to the various sources of divine revelation? There are, in fact, many sources or ways in which God makes himself known.
These ways have generally been grouped into two categories: Natural Revelation and Special Revelation. “Natural Revelation” refers to God’s self revelation in and through the created order. The universe is the theatre of God’s handiwork. Through it, as Paul says in Romans chapter one, the nature of God and his character is made known. All human beings have access to God’s natural revelation and for that reason, whether or not they have access to the written revelation of God in scripture, all men are “without excuse.”
The second category of revelation is generally called “Special Revelation.” Special revelation is God’s own direct personal revelation through his Word. Special revelation has been delivered to us through the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s Word and his truth infallibly and without error.
It is at this point in our discussion of the Articles of Religion that some of the differences between historic evangelical Christianity and Catholic Christianity become manifest. Catholics and evangelicals generally agree on the content of the first five articles. We stand together and affirm the anciently revealed and confessed truths regarding the Trinity, the nature of God the Holy Spirit, and the dual natures of Christ. But we disagree when it comes to the relationship between the Bible and the Church. Those who authored the Articles of Religion were by and large committed to Reformation principles and that is especially true with regard to the primary place of the scriptures in the life of the Church. Before going on to explain the language of Article 6, it is therefore necessary to flesh out some aspects of the Reformed view of scripture.
Those who hold to the historic evangelical view believe that the Bible is the sole infallible source of special revelation. This doctrine is called “Sola Scriptura” or “Scripture Alone”. Sola Scriptura does not imply that the bible is the “only” source of special revelation. Sola Scriptura is not “solo” Scriptura. Scripture “Alone” does not mean Scripture “Only”. The Reformers certainly recognized that God reveals himself through the teaching, tradition, and proclamation of the Church and, moreover, that submission to sound teaching and orthodox teachers is a necessary discipline for all believers.
Nevertheless to hold to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is to believe that while there are other sources of special revelation, Bible itself is the only infallible source of special revelation. While God certainly speaks infallibly every time he speaks and while God certainly speaks to the Church, those who hold to the evangelical position believe that the message is not always received, proclaimed and/or recorded infallibly. By contrast, God revealed his Word to the prophets and apostles by the Holy Spirit and superintended, by his Holy Spirit, the composition of their holy writings in such a way that while their various historical settings and personalities are clearly evident in what is written, what they produced is, without error, a true revelation from God.
Since the scriptures are the sole source of divine revelation, all other sources of revelation; church teaching, tradition, preaching, must be measured by it. The bible is the “norma normans” or the measure by which all other measures are measured. This principle is exemplified in Acts 17 by the people of the city of Berea
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to
see if what Paul said was true.”
The implicit assumption of Acts 17:11 is that the scriptures both found and govern the proclamation of the Church. They are to be used as the final test and arbiter of doctrine. The Bereans did not blindly accept Paul’s proclamation because he was Paul or because he was an apostle but they tested his gospel in light of what had already been revealed in the Old Testament. It may be and should be inferred that had Paul’s gospel contradicted the scriptures of their day, the Old Testament, the Bereans would have rejected it.
We must be careful at this point. To profess that the scriptures are the measure and the test of all teaching and tradition is not to say that everything the church does and decides must have a “precedent” in scripture. One distinctive of Anglicanism is the rejection of the “regulative principle.” Many Reformed Christians believe that even the smallest matters of ecclesial polity and discipline must be determined by scriptural precedent. Reformed Anglican Christians believe that the church has the authority to make decisions about polity and worship and other matters in so far as those decisions do not contradict or go beyond the limits set by scriptural revelation.
If, for example, the church wants to establish a new canon affirming the use of musical instruments during worship, she would certainly want to be sure that such use did not violate any biblical command or principle. She would not, however, need to worry about limiting the scope of the canon to include only those instruments specifically named in the bible. The church is free to take actions and make decisions that do not have biblical precedent so long as she does not affirm or do or command anything that the bible forbids.
She has the authority, moreover, to rule on matters about which the bible is unclear or silent. There are those matters, and Paul discusses them in Romans 14, for which there is no clear rule in the scriptures, here also, in so far as the church does not violate what is clearly taught, she has the authority to act.
With the doctrine of Sola Scriptura as background, let’s turn, now to the actual text of the article.
The text begins by affirming that: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation…”
To get a firm grasp of the importance of this phrase we might begin by turning to Jesus’ account of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. The rich man cries out from the place of torment and begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers who are still alive:
“I beg you,” says the rich man, “send Lazarus to my Father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”(16:27-28)
The subtle implication here is that had he been warned beforehand, the rich man would’ve made different decisions; had he known that the place of torment exists and that those who reject God end up there, he would have lived differently and he would have believed differently and that the same is true of his brothers. If only God had made and, presently, would make things more clear; if only he would speak more forcefully; if only someone would go back from Hades, the place of death to warn the world, then no one would willingly go to the place of torment. Notice how the rich man’s request shifts the burden and the blame to God. If only God were forthright about hell. He is, in effect, saying, “If only God had been clearer regarding salvation, then I wouldn’t be here because had I known what was right, I would have done it and had I known of this place I would have done all in my power to avoid it.”
But Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”(29) The “they” refers specifically to the rich man’s brothers, but the brothers are representative of all those yet to die. “They” or “we” have “Moses and the Prophets”. The phrase “Moses and the Prophets”, of course, refers to the Old Testament.
Abraham says, and through the voice of Abraham Jesus says, no one needs to be sent to those who have access to the scriptures because the scriptures themselves are sufficient to reveal the truth of God and the way to salvation for all who seek it.
The scriptures, then, are sufficient. They contain all that is necessary for anyone with access to them to be saved. If you have a bible at home, if you live in a country where you can get a bible, if you live near a library that has a bible in it, if you’ve heard of the bible and have a means to get it, if you can read or have it read to you, then you have all that you need to be saved.
The bible does not save you. The bible contains all that is necessary to be saved. That’s not all it contains. It contains much more. But, at the very least, whoever you are wherever you live, if you have access to a bible, then you have all the information you need to be saved because in this book it is made abundantly clear that God commands righteousness and that you and I are unrighteous. It is made clear that God will punish sin and we are sinners. It is made clear that on our own and through our own efforts we are doomed. But it is also made abundantly clear that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; that whoever seeks will find; that for all who knock the door will be opened; that all who are willing to repent of their sin and rebellion, fall down at the foot of the cross, and surrender to Jesus Christ and trust in him alone as Savior and as Lord will be saved from the place of torment and, ultimately, heaven will be their home.
Moreover, to say the scriptures are sufficient, that they contain all that is necessary for salvation is also to say that if you have access to this book but neglect it, then ignorance is no excuse. You have Moses and the Prophets, says Abraham, “listen” to them and if you do not listen to them, you cannot claim that you needed a personal address from the grave because God’s answer will be, “I have given you that and more but you did not listen to my words”
The Word of God contains all things necessary for salvation and therefore if you have access to it, you have access to salvation.
The next phrase will require some parsing: “so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”
And yet though I would love nothing more to delve into it now, we’ll have to get to it next week because my sermon is waiting to be composed this morning and time is short. I hope, in my next article to address both the phrase above and the criteria by which the books that comprise the New Testament Canon and Old Testament Canon were received and by which the books of the Apocrypha were set aside.
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