Disciple Hour: Systematic Theology (The Necessity of Scripture – Chapter 7)

The Whole Counsel of God[1]

Lecture Notes[2] Chapter 7: The Necessity of Scripture

26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all,
27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God

(Acts 20:26-27)

For what purpose is the Bible necessary?

How much can people know about God without the Bible?

The necessity of Scripture may be defined as follows: The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws.

A. The Bible is Necessary for Knowledge of the Gospel

Romans 10:13-17 (ESV)
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

This statement indicates the following line of reasoning: (1) It first assumes that one must call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. (In Pauline usage generally as well as in this specific context [see v. 9], “the Lord” refers to the Lord Jesus Christ.) (2) People can only call upon the name of Christ if they believe in him (that is, that he is a Savior worthy of calling upon and one who will answer those who call). (3) People cannot believe in Christ unless they have heard of him. (4) They cannot hear of Christ unless there is someone to tell them about Christ (a “preacher”). (5) The conclusion is that saving faith comes by hearing (that is, by hearing the gospel message), and this hearing of the gospel message comes about through the preaching of Christ. The implication seems to be that without hearing the preaching of the gospel of Christ, no one can be saved.

John 3:18 (ESV)
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 14:6 (ESV)
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Acts 4:11-12 (ESV)
11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.
12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
1 Timothy 2:5-6 (ESV)
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

What about the OT people?  How were they saved since they never heard the name of Jesus?

Jesus Christ also saved those who were saved under the Old Covenant.  Their faith looked forward based on God’s word, which promised a coming Messiah/Redeemer.

Hebrews 11:13 (ESV)
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
Hebrews 11:26 (ESV)
26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
John 8:56 (ESV)
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
The Bible is necessary for salvation, then, in this sense: one must either read the gospel message in the Bible for oneself, or hear it from another person. Even those believers who came to salvation in the old covenant did so by trusting in the words of God that promised a Savior to come.

B. The Bible Is Necessary for Maintaining Spiritual Life

Jesus says in Matthew 4:4 (quoting Deut. 8:3), “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (NASB). Here Jesus indicates that our spiritual life is maintained by daily nourishment with the Word of God, just as our physical lives are maintained by daily nourishment with physical food.

Moses writes,
Deuteronomy 32:47 (ESV)
47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess

C. The Bible Is Necessary for Certain Knowledge of God’s Will

It will be argued below that all people ever born have some knowledge of God’s will through their consciences. But this knowledge is often indistinct and cannot give certainty. In fact, if there were no written Word of God, we could not gain certainty about God’s will through other means such as conscience, advice from others, an internal witness of the Holy Spirit, changed circumstances, and the use of sanctified reasoning and common sense.

Deuteronomy 29:29 (ESV)
29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
Psalm 119:1-3 (ESV)
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!

D. But the Bible Is Not Necessary for Knowing That God Exists
What about people who do not read the Bible? Can they obtain any knowledge of God? Can they know anything about his laws? Yes, without the Bible some knowledge of God is possible, even if it is not absolutely certain knowledge.
People can obtain a knowledge that God exists and a knowledge of some of his attributes simply from observation of themselves and the world around them. David says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). To look at the sky is to see evidence of the infinite power, wisdom, and even beauty of God; it is to observe a majestic witness to the glory of God.
Romans 1:18-20 (ESV)
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Thus, even without the Bible, all persons who have ever lived have had evidence in creation that God exists, that he is the Creator and they are creatures, and have also had some evidence of his character. As a result, they themselves have known something about God from this evidence (even though this is never said to be a knowledge that is able to bring them to salvation).
E. Furthermore, the Bible Is Not Necessary for Knowing Something About God’s Character and Moral Laws
Romans 1:32 (ESV)

32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Unbelievers still have been given a conscience…

Romans 2:14-15 (ESV)
14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

The knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law, which comes through creation to all humanity, is often called “general revelation” (because it comes to all people generally). General revelation comes through observing nature, through seeing God’s directing influence in history, and through an inner sense of God’s existence and his laws that he has placed inside every person.

General revelation is distinct from “special revelation” which refers to God’s words addressed to specific people, such as the words of the Bible, the words of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, and the words of God spoken in personal address, such as at Mount Sinai or at the baptism of Jesus.

However, it must be emphasized that Scripture nowhere indicates that people can know the gospel, or know the way of salvation, through such general revelation. They may know that God exists, that he is their Creator, that they owe him obedience, and that they have sinned against him. The existence of systems of sacrifice in primitive religions throughout history attests to the fact that these things can be clearly known by people apart from the Bible. The repeated occurrences of the “rain and fruitful seasons” mentioned in Acts 14:17 may even lead some people to reason that God is not only holy and righteous but also loving and forgiving. But how the holiness and justice of God can ever be reconciled with his willingness to forgive sins is a mystery that has never been solved by any religion apart from the Bible.

1. How should the necessity of Scripture affect our missionary efforts?


2. When we are actively seeking to know God’s will, where should we spend most of our time and effort?


[1] Based on and various Quotes from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Zondervan

[2] All Scripture from ESV Bible, Crossway

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