Sola Scriptura, Tota Scriptura

by Josiah Audette

O gracious God and most merciful Father, which hast vouchsafed us the rich and precious jewel of thy holy word, assist us with thy spirit, that it may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to thine own Image, to build us up, and edify us into the perfect building of thy Christ, sanctifying and increasing in us all heavenly virtues. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen

The preceding prayer was one from the Reformation era and is fitting for today’s lecture on the third question from the Westminster shorter catechism.

– What do the Scriptures principally teach?

– The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.


“This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” This maxim certainly sounds familiar, yet who do you suppose announced it? First translator of the English Bible, John Wyclif, made this  reformist pronouncement. This doctrine of God’s special revelation of the Scriptures being the only means of grace in both  the knowing of God and the obedience to God has reconstructed whole societies and nations. As forerunners of the protestant reformation both John Wycliff of England and John Huss of Bohemia promulgated the doctrine of the authority of Scripture and consequentially both were burnt at the stake for heresy. With the introduction of this Biblical doctrine to society from these martyrs, Martin Luther, followed by John Calvin, established the defining reformation doctrine of, “Sola Scriptura.” Thus, the reformation in the midst of a renaissance age much like ours, one which saw humanistic man as the autonomous centre of the universe, removed the humanist distortions which had entered the church. At the time, humanism within the church had foisted the man’s authority upon Scripture’s authority.  The church had consequentially begun to synthesize the Biblical thesis of God’s sovereignty and the humanist antithesis of man’s centrality. Dr. Francis Schaeffer acutely observed, “One could say that the Renaissance centered in autonomous man, while the Reformation centered in the infinite-personal God who had spoken in the Bible.”  The reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura hoisted the philosophy of humanism on its petard in proffering a unified answer to the the humanistic problems of discovering knowledge and existence.


This catechism question addresses knowledge (belief) and existence (duty required in life.) The question of knowledge and existence has not been limited to the realm of the Church. Men throughout the centuries have endeavored to establish the source of both these elements. The Catechism states that our knowledge is found in Scripture. And that our existence is also found in Scripture. Furthermore it states that both our knowledge and existence are defined in terms of God and his law. Now if there was a humanist catechism I suppose it would state thus: “What does the Humanists principally teach?” “The Humanists principally teach what humanists are to believe concerning humanists, and what expressions humanism requires of humanists.” Let us compare the two. The Church places prime importance on matters pertaining to the existence of God. The Humanist places prime importance on matters pertaining to the existence of Man. The Church embraces Scripture as being the principle authority on what is to be believed. The Humanist embraces humanistic experience and rationality as being the principle authority on what is to be believed. The Church seeks to exist in accordance to God. The Humanist seeks to exist in accordance to himself as a humanistic man. The Church’s existence is derived and validated by God’s decree in Scripture. The humanist’s existence is derived and validated by his act of will in life. Much like the Church in the renaissance age, modern evangelism attempts to synthesize humanist notions of man’s divinity with the Christian affirmation of Scripture’s authority. This, “Soft evangelical humanism” informs us that God cannot be sufficiently understood in Scripture. Especially, it is warns we cannot solely take Scripture for our instruction in practice.


Scripture brings this resolution to the humanist dilemma in telling men and women true things about God which they in return are to embrace. God has expressly told us who He is in Scripture. No longer is He a just a “philosophic other” of humanistic thought, but the God of the Bible.  The contrast which was between the reformation and humanism was the understanding that what we believe about God is not to be based on wisdoms originating with man, but with the wisdom of God. “Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” 1 Cor 2:5. It was the acknowledgment that man is errant and a spurious authority on the verity of God. “For what man knoweth the things of man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”  1 Cor. 2:11. It was the embracement of God’s Word over man’s words “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Collisions 2:8. It was the receiving of the tradition of Christ and the refusal of the tradition of men. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith.” Collisions 2:6-7. The revelation of God is not unattainable, unreachable, or unknowable to us. “It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in they heart, that thou mayest do it.” Deut. 30:12-14. Therefore it is evident that we will know God through sola Scriptura and tota Scriptura, only the Scriptures and all the Scriptures.


Concluding that God’s Words in Scripture is thee authoritative revelation over man’s words we proceed to perceive the principle revelation of Scripture concerns the truth about God. The most important, that is, the principle parts, are those which teach us faith and practice. Theologian Wayne Grudem writes, “The Bible alone tells us how to understand the testimony about God from nature. Therefore we depend on God’s active communication to us in Scripture for our true knowledge of God.” Dr. Joseph Morecraft commented, “To believe in what the Bible says about God is to give assent, trust and adoring submission to the infallible truth and divine authority of the Bible, and principally, to the living God, who has revealed Himself and to His glorious perfections in the Bible. It is to believe what the Bible teaches solely upon the authority of God, whose Word the Bible is.” As confessed previously, God is unable to be understood by man except from the divine revelation in Scripture, and even with Scripture God still is unable to be fully understood. Notice the key word here is “fully.”  It is not the case with Scripture that God is unable to be understood, but rather that He is unable to be fully understood. Naturally, the reason being is the incomprehensibility of God. As David observed in Psalm 139:6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.” Psalm 145:3. Even Paul had to conclude after consummating 11 glorious chapters in the books of Romans, engaged with peerless theological truths, that, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36. While we are unable to fully understand God as revealed in Scripture we may understand something about the interminable Person of God. This human limitation of divine knowledge is a predicament with magnificent repercussions. Though we advance in our understanding of God from dawn to dusk we may be assured that under no circumstances, even in the perfections of heaven, that we shall ever encompass the knowledge of God without reservation. This is the eternal pursuit of the Christian from regeneration, to know God. This is the fervid quest of the Christian for time and eternity. We will on no account rest our intellectual anchor in the fathomless depths of Scripture. As much as this is an encouragement to the Christian it is equally a injunction. Do not at any time postulate you have attained sufficient knowledge of God, for such is mere pretense. Furthermore, that part which we may understand of God from Scripture we may be assured is true. Grudem writes, “We have true knowledge of God from Scripture, even though we do not have exhaustive knowledge.” “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight.” Jer. 9:23-24.


The post-reformation Church has given credence to Scripture being the principle revelation of God and furthermore is cognizant of the revelation of God as being Scripture’s principal part and so the humanistic idea of the centrality of man’s mind has been supplanted by the centrality of God’s Word. Although when it comes to the Church’s concession of law as being the second principle part of Scripture, humanistic distortions once again emerge. The reformist notion that “This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people” has been put to rout by the dogma’s of humanistic society. “In Western culture, law has steadily moved away from God to the people as its source, although the historic power and vitality of the West has been in Biblical faith and law.”  said R.J. Rushdoony. Humanistic ideology repudiates God’s law as having any binding force for man today. God’s law is either contested altogether, delimited in its scope, minimized in its demands, diminished in its importance, or underestimated in its relevance. Antipode to the humanistic ideal is Scripture. God’s statutes are not to be taken away from any more than they are to be added to. Deutoronomy 4:2, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” Deut 12:32. God’s commandments are not to be partially followed, “Ye shall observe to do therefore as the Lord your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.” Deutoronomy 5:32-33. God’s commandments are not to be put on a shelf, “Beware that thou forget not the Lord they God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day.” Deut 8:11. We are to do that which is right and good in the eyes of God, not our own. “And thou shalt do that which is right and good in the sight of the Lord: that it may be well with thee.” Deut 6:18. God’s commandments are not to be neglected, “That he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.” Deut 8:3. God’s law is not trivial, “For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.” Deut 32:47. Above all, God’s law is not to be denied, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” Deut 27:26. Positively, we are to hearken, to give attention to, God’s laws, “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you.” Deut 4:1. We are to observe God’s Word, “Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord thy God.” Deut 12:18. We are to keep God’s laws, “Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” Deut 4:6. We are to fear God and keep his commandments, “O taht there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” Deut. 5:29. We are to store up God’s laws in our hearts, “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.” Deut 11:18. We are to teach God’s law to our families and the next generation, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” Deut 6:7-9. Scripture is not only an infallible revelation of God to mankind, it is furthermore the holy revelation of the will of God for mankind. God has vouchsafed in His external Word, the Scriptures, a vocable revelation and exposition of the functions which we are obligated toward for all of life.


The modern humanist contrivance of controverting Scripture’s law as being sufficient and applicable for all of life is no new defiance. This is a function which God parlously  forbid of man from the beginning of his existence. From the moment of Adam’s introduction to this created world God denied him but one thing. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I have always wondered the significance of this. What could possibly be so wrong with the knowledge of good and evil? Why that  specific branch of knowledge? Why not the knowledge of Election and Reprobation?  The Trinity and Lucifer? For mercy’s sake why couldn’t it be the knowledge of biology and spelling? Why good and evil? Reading Francis Bacon’s “The Advancement of Learning” I encountered a statement on this matter of incredible perspicacity. “It was not the pure knowledge of Nature and universality, a knowledge by the light whereof man did give names unto the other creatures in Paradise as they were brought before him according unto their properties, which gave the occasion to the fall; but it was the proud knowledge of good and evil, with an intent in man to give law unto himself, and to depend no more on God’s commandments, which was the form of the temptation.” Astounding. It was man’s attainment of the knowledge of good and evil for the purpose of creating a law unto himself that God forbid the tree from mankind. It was the desire of the knowledge of good and evil for the purpose of founding a new law and order that was the temptation to our first parents to which they had so grievous a fall. Just as our first parents desired for and partook of the forbidden function of law in Paradise, we too collude against God in mounting our own knowledge of good and evil today. This is the essence and peerless transgression of humanism. We still have a proclivity as evangelicals to ingest the selfsame fruit today. Modern Christianity capitulates with one foot in man’s law and one foot in God’s law. Upon each point where we would contest the viability, sufficiency, and totality of Scripture’s ruling we directly become humanists and atheists on that matter. I would again quote Dr. Joseph Morecraft as I did in my last lecture “To make the assumption that there is an area of life or thought, however limited, that can be understood without reference to the written revelation of God is to be a humanist at that point. It is to think as an atheist. A humanist/atheist is one who thinks he has the right and ability to determine good and evil, truth and error, reality and illusion by himself without submission to the governing and enlightening authority of the divinely-revealed, all-sufficient Bible.”When we so impugn the government of Scripture we eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is a sin not oft mentioned, yet it is the very transgression which overset this world from a state of paradise to a fallen nature.


Law is religion externalized. All law is unequivocally moral in nature or is “modus operandi” (Way of operating) to a moral concept. Consequentially a religiously neutral law is a mythical concept. Because law governs man and society and because law defines justice, righteousness, and restitution, the law is inescapably annexed to religion. Concomitant to the principle of the religion nature of law, it can be ascertained that whoever gives the law in society is ultimately the superior of that society. Rushdoony commentated, “In any culture the source of law is the god of that society.” The Christian establishes law in God and His Special Revelation. Modern Humanism locates law in the state, or the people as they are a component of the state. Furthermore we can deduce that no disestablishment of religion is achievable in any society. A particular religion or church could be disestablished in society, but society can only replace it with another. The religious foundations of law are inexorable, and no society can exist without a law-system which codifies the morality of that societies religion. Another fallacy of the humanist’s law-system is that it can be tolerant to law-systems of other religions. Modern humanism professes to be an “open” system. But the reality depicted in history of such a notion has only revealed nations using toleration to introduce a new law-system as a prelude to a new intolerance. We have witnessed many such intolerances through the decades in our own province and nation. For a society to corroborate a new religious law-system it commits social suicide to its own. Modern humanism also promulgates the theory of law as being a changing, evolving, and adapting concept. Humanism recongizes law only as a social convention which transmogrifies throughout the ages at the capricious volatility of society. For instance, capital punishment may have been appropriate in “Biblical times”, it even may have been suitable in Canada just 60 years ago, but it is no longer pertinent for this day. The Christian,  on the other hand, upholds the eternality of God’s Word and Law. Man, times, culture, and societies may change, but God’s law does not. Modern humanism also bruits about a proposition called, “Natural law.” They believe law can be determined from  what Christians call General Revelation. As Christians we affirm that God has created the universe in such a way as to be revelatory of Himself but we also recognize creation’s limitations. General Revelation is not sufficient in its declaration of how we are to live and what duty God requires of us. This deficiency is due to the reality of the fall which directly affected General Revelation. General Revelation in its current state is only a present evidentiary analysis of physical things around us. It is not a transcendent code, it does not fulfill the role of God’s Special Revelation. I summarize once again with Rushdoony, “There is no law in nature but a law over nature, God’s law.” Summarily it is either God or chaos. The quintessential question of law is, “Hath God said?” As Christians we hold to be true the principle of Higher Law, the belief that God has revealed Himself in Scripture and that this revelation is sufficient for faith and practice as the Catechism states. We do not dissent on whether Scripture should be authoritative. We rather exhort one another to best apply and obey the authority of Scripture. While we renounce the humanists in declaring that God’s law is good, we also deny those who would state that the law saves. Or that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New. Or that salvation was different in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. Or that the Old Testament is nullified by the New Testament. Or that the law binds the consciousness of the believer and deprives his liberty in Christ. We affirm that God has revealed law by His Special Revelation in the Scriptures through principles and accompanying case laws, all of which are designed to restore God’s creation order. Scripture principally teaches what duty God requires of man.


We have observed today the two principle teachings of Scripture. The truth about God. The duty of man. The first relates to faith, and the second to practice. The one must come before the other. “Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else. Thou shalt therefore keep his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, for ever.” Deut 4:39-40. We must first be redeemed and embrace God before we can keep his law. This is the sequence we observe in Scripture. Isreal was redeemed and crossed the red sea before they were given the ten commandments. This typifies the Christian, who, is first redeemed to God and then enabled and summoned to offer himself up as a living sacrifice daily. Scripture equally admonishes those who would controvert Biblical law, “And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: 20 The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.” May we as followers of Christ live according to Sola Scriptura and Tota Scriptura. Only Scripture and all of Scripture.