Interpreting the Bible: Covenants (pt. 3)

Interpreting the Bible: Covenants (pt. 3)

In the previous post we discussed typology. A type is one thing used by God to signify another, greater thing. A type foreshadows something other than itself. Israel was not Jesus Christ, but it foreshadowed the coming Messiah in both positive and negative ways. Positive when Israel obeyed God. Negative when it disobeyed God and caused the saints of old to realize how desperate they were for God’s grace in the coming Messiah. Additionally, that toward which the type looks is also greater than the type. The antitype always surpasses its type. Jesus Christ was the other and greater antitype of the nation of Israel, of the Davidic line of kings, etc.

Following typology, we must look at the concept of covenant, since typology is intimately related to covenant. In this article, I want to begin our discussion on God’s covenants by defining covenant and then relating the concept of covenant to typology.

What Is a Covenant?

Covenants are often defined as mutual agreements between two parties, one greater and one lesser, for the purposes of improving the situation of the lesser party. The greater party, then, imposes conditions on the lesser party, and the lesser party obeys those conditions in order to earn some reward. In the ancient near east, these were referred to as Suzerain/vassal treaties, agreements, or covenants. Covenants between God and man are similar, with some obvious differences worth mentioning. Whereas with purely human covenants, in which both parties must cooperate with one another, divine covenants are unilaterally imposed upon the lesser party, God’s people. Never is there an instance where God asks for the participation of the other party. He simply demands it and then announces blessings and cursings for obedience or disobedience, respectively.

For example, we might take the first covenant found in Scripture, the covenant of works. Though the word covenant is not so much as muttered in the first three chapters of Genesis, there most certainly exists a covenantal transaction. God put Adam in the Garden in order that Adam should tend and keep it (Gen. 3:15). There is already a way of life prescribed in the Garden, but it becomes more specific. There is natural work in the Garden to be done, but then God adds a law, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Gen. 2:16-17).” Now, a law by itself is not a covenant, but a law with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience imposed upon a person or persons is a covenant. In the case of Adam, the blessing for covenantal obedience is life, and the curse for covenant disobedience is death, both spiritual and physical. In the covenant of works, God imposed a law upon man, it was not voluntary on man’s part. But because God is a gracious God, He offered blessings for the obedience of that law, with curses in the case of rebellion.

Another example would be the covenant of circumcision made with Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17. There is much to say about this covenant, but the basic ingredients are conditions (Gen. 17:10), blessings for keeping the conditions, and curses for not keeping the conditions (Gen. 17:14: Deut. 4:1). The Mosaic Covenant contained the same ingredients: conditions, blessings, curses (Lev. 20:22).

Broadly speaking, therefore, a divine covenant is that which is imposed upon man, regardless of man’s agreement or permission. But, because God is a gracious God, He includes blessings for those who keep His covenant for the sake of their improvement, and curses for those who disobey.

Form & Matter

An important distinction with regard to covenants is that made between form on the one hand and matter on the other. We need to be asking the question, “What’s a covenant made out of?” In other words, what’s the material of any given covenant? There are basically two different kinds of material given in Scripture: that of law and that of promise. A covenant is either “made out of” law, in which case obedience is required for covenant membership; or it is a covenant made out of promise, in which case God unilaterally makes a keeps the covenant for His people, irrespective of their works (Gal. 3:18).

Now, the matter of the covenant always dictates the form. Law and promise never intermingle when it comes to how we relate to God. We either relate to God through obedience to the law, or we relate to God through gracious promise. Dr. Sam Renihan writes:

When it comes to justification, the material basis of a covenant is either law or promise. Works/law and grace/promise do not intermingle.

If two parties are committed to each other based on a law, a covenant of works has been established. If two parties are committed to each other based on a promise, a covenant of grace has been established. The matter dictates the form (cf. ‘Form and Matter…’).

So, if the matter is law, the form is works or obedience to that law. If the matter is promise, then God’s free grace [in Christ] is the form. There is no such thing as a conditional/unconditional covenant, where a person is related to God by faith + works. A person or people are always related to God by either law/obedience or promise/grace, never both.

Covenants & Typology

How are covenant and typology related? There are several ways in which types relate to covenants, but the most apparent can be found in the purpose of covenants. God always makes covenants with His people in order to improve their station in the world. Never is there an instance in Scripture where God institutes a covenant for the purpose of moving backwards. New wine always belongs in new wineskins. Newer covenants always improve God’s people from older covenants. What was promised in the Abrahamic Covenant was a people (Gen. 12:1-3), a kingship (Gen. 17:6), and land (Gen. 15:7; 17:8). The subsequent covenants functioned to move Israel toward the fulfillment of those promises. There is a progression of improvement seen throughout the various covenants made in the Old Testament. The Mosaic Covenant instituted laws for the nation to live by in the land they were to inherit. It’s right after this they came to possess the promised land (Jos. 21:43-45). The Davidic Covenant established a line of kings. There was only one promise to be fulfilled, which was that of the skull-crushing Messiah (Gen. 3:15; 12:3, 7; Gal. 3:16).

How does all this relate to typology? Remember our definition of types. Types are that which point forward to other and greater things. Likewise, covenants always look toward better covenants, the greatest of which is the New Covenant. The Old Covenant looks forward to the New. As with types, the Old Covenant, which began with Abraham, goes away when the New Covenant arrives. The older covenants serve to typify the New Covenant. The New Covenant contains the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises (2 Cor. 1:20). Hebrews 8:6 tells us, “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.”

Again, as with typology, covenants never look back to what was, but always move God’s people toward what is to come. Covenants progress to better covenants, and the New Covenant is the best of the best. Never is there an instance in Scripture where a covenant reverts back to an older covenant. Thus, the New Covenant doesn’t move God’s people backward to an earthly temple, an earthly land, and an earthly king, but forward to a heavenly temple, a heavenly land, and a heavenly king (Heb. 11:16; 12:22).


A covenant, most basically put, is an imposed relationship between God and man, upon man, for the improvement of man. Covenants are made out of conditions, blessings, and curses. Blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The New Covenant differs from the older covenants in that it was not a covenant of works, but a covenant of grace. In the New Covenant, conditions are kept by Another, and the blessings received by Christ from the Father as a result of His obedience are mediated to Christ’s blood-bought people. Covenants are closely related to types because the older covenants subserved the New, ultimate, covenant by foreshadowing or revealing it. Like types, the older covenants looked forward to another, greater New Covenant. When the New Covenant came, the older ones passed away.

In the next post of this series, I’d like to discuss how covenants should relate to our biblical-interpretive endeavor.

Interpreting the Bible: Typology (pt. 2)

Interpreting the Bible: Typology (pt. 2)

Out of Egypt I called My Son.

— Matthew 2:15

In the first post, we looked at the necessity of allowing the Bible to speak for itself. We need to avoid defining terms such as “literal” in extra-biblical ways. What is literal and what is not literal is ultimately determined by the Bible itself, not by any standard we arbitrarily choose to impose upon it. An example I used was Psalm 102:25, where the Scriptures attribute an arm to God. Here, the Scriptures do not mean to tell us that God has an anatomical arm. It’s using non-literal language (anthropomorphism) to communicate some deeper literal truth about God (His power to defeat His enemies). Thus, Scripture sometimes uses non-literal means to communicate literal truths.

Here in this second post, I want to talk about a distinct, yet relevant concept: typology. Typology refers to God’s use of things to signify or foreshadow other and greater things. For example, I believe Matthew 2:15 shows us that the nation of Israel was a type of the other and greater Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ. The purpose of the nation of Israel, though imperfect, was to foreshadow its other and greater antitype, the Son of God.

How Does Typology Work?

As mentioned above, a type is purposed to show forth it’s other and greater antitype. The antitype is the fulfillment of the type. Now, we need to properly understand these terms “other” and “greater,” respectively. Jesus is not national Israel, so Jesus is other than national Israel. Likewise, Jesus is better or more desirable than national Israel, being the sufficient Lord and Savior of His people, so Jesus is greater than national Israel. Jesus, as the antitype, is other and greater than His type.

So, if Jesus is other than national Israel, in what sense are the two related? The two are related insofar as Israel’s purpose is to reveal something about its greater fulfillment. Israel is God’s “son” in the sense that it reveals something about the coming, greater Son of God (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15). The nation of Israel is not God’s ultimate Son, Israel is not the firstborn of all creation; Israel is intended to bear witness to that ultimate Son, to the firstborn of all creation. Sometimes it bears witness to Christ positively. When Israel obeys God it is positively foreshadowing the one Who will perfectly obey God. Sometimes, however, Israel bears witness to Christ in a negative way. When Israel rebels against God, we learn that the people of old were in desperate need of something other and greater to stand in Israel’s place—Someone who would perfectly fulfill that righteousness to which the nation of Israel was commanded.

There are some implications to be drawn out here. Since the antitype is always other and greater than the type, when the antitype arrives, the type goes away. A shadow flees when the shadow-caster stands in its place. The Eiffel Tower and the Eiffel Tower’s shadow cannot occupy the same place at the same time and in the same relationship (cf. formal laws of logic). So, wherever the Eiffel Tower is present, its shadow is absent. So too, when the fulfillment of the type arrives—the great and wondrous Lord Jesus—the type goes away.

Jesus communicates this point clearly using the analogy of wine and wine skins. He says:

Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

When the new comes, it can’t be shoved back into the old. It doesn’t fit. Nor is the old the right context for the new. Jesus, referencing the Old Covenant ordinances says that something greater has come. Therefore, since something greater has come, let’s not try to go back to the old. When the antitype comes, the type goes away. When the other and greater Sacrifice comes, the lesser sacrifices disappear. Their purpose has been fulfilled.

Hebrews 9 in its entirety is another wonderful place where this principle is drawn out and explained. The author of Hebrews contrasts the earthly tabernacle and old ordinances with the heavenly sanctuary, saying, “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.” Again we see that when the greater comes, the lesser goes away.

Applying This View of Typology

Perhaps two instances wherein this view of typology may be brought to bear in the most lucid of terms is within two different, yet related and ongoing discussions. The first discussion is that had between baptists and paedobaptists, concerning their respective views of God’s covenants. Is circumcision a type of baptism? The paedobaptist would answer “yes” assuming the antitype to only be better (in a qualitative sense), yet not other than its type. Like circumcision, baptism still applies to children of covenant members, and it continues to not only be a sign but also a seal of covenant membership. 

The Baptist, however, believing that a type must be not only better but other, would say that baptism’s design isn’t like that of circumcision. In fact, they wouldn’t really say circumcision and baptism are related along typological lines at all. Circumcision is a type of the atoning work of Christ—the other and greater blood of the covenant. It’s other because it’s not our flesh and blood which was cut, but Christ’s; and it’s greater because it’s sufficient for the expiation and propitiation for our sins, whereas circumcision was not. It also brings us not into a covenant of works but a covenant of grace. It’s other and greater.

The second discussion may be one had between the Reformed and dispensationalists or futurist premillennialists who believe in an eschatological return of the national, theocratic state of Israel. The dispensationalists have essentially the same view of types as our presbyterian friends do, where the antitype is really just a better version of its type, yet not necessarily other. The imperfect national Israel of the Old Testament is a type of a better, more pure national Israel yet to come. The seventeenth century London Baptists would argue that the antitype of national Israel has to be other and greater. It would have to be Christ who, according to Matthew 2:15, is the other and greater Son. Other in that this Son is not a nation. Greater because this Son was perfectly obedient, even unto death on a cross, and secures a better inheritance than that of earthly land (Heb. 1:4), which is all national Israel could secure with its obedience (Deut. 6:18).


This post was not intended to present every view of typology discussed in an exhaustive fashion. However, I hope you are able to see the significance of how Christians view the relationship of types to their antitypes. Types, while related, are not their antitypes. Antitypes are always other and greater. God’s covenants are always intended to improve the situation of His people. The New Covenant is the superior arrangement and we, therefore, ought to return to the other and lesser arrangements which have gone before us. The Substance has come, the shadows must now go away.

In the next post, I will begin a discussion on the covenants and their relationship to one another. I will begin that discussion with a post defining the term covenant.

J. S.

Interpreting the Bible (pt. 1)

Interpreting the Bible (pt. 1)

Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.

— Psalm 102:25

Does God have hands? Absolutely not. If God had hands, He would not be God, because He would be composed of a body. Lest we fall into the historical heresy of the Anthropomorphites, we need to understand that the Bible uses language we are familiar with in order to communicate true or literal things (phenomenological language). The idea of literal interpretation has been terribly misunderstood over the two-hundred or so years. Literal interpretation has been hijacked by biblicists who, if consistent, would end up in the heresy of the Anthropomorphites, ascribing literal hands, arms, and noses to God. Thankfully, many biblicists are not consistent. But, there are still significant issues plaguing those who hold to a false view of what literal interpretation is.

Literal interpretation does not say that all modes of communication in Scripture are literal. Literal truth can be communicated via various means, such as allegory, metaphor, metonymy, idiomatic statements, etc. Moreover, there is a popular idea that what is spiritual is therefore not literal. But, this too risks skewing the true meaning of the Scriptures. What makes heaven less real than earth? What makes our souls less real than our bodies? These false assumptions arose along with Enlightenment thinking and have been perpetuated by postmodern and higher critical thought. The postmodernist says the Spirit is less real than matter. The Bible says nothing is more real than the Spirit. The postmodernist says literal meaning can only be communicated literally or not at all. The Bible says God often communicates literal things through non-literal modes of communication.

All of this boils down to a fundamental error of not allowing the Bible to speak on the Bible’s terms. For many years, we have not derived our hermeneutic from but have imposed it upon the pages of Scripture.

Literal Meaning

We need to understand, given the above, that we should always be trying to discover the literal meaning in the Scriptures on Scriptures’ own terms. But, this means that the literal meaning is not always communicated literally. In other words, God often reveals His literal truth to us through metaphor or allegory. For example, when the Bible attributes arms, hands, fingers, and noses to God it doesn’t mean to say that God literally has arms and noses (Ex. 15:8; Ps. 89:10). Yet, while the divine arms and noses are metaphorical, they are communicating something literally true about God. In the case of Psalm 89, God’s mighty arm stands for God’s ableness, His power. God is literally able to scatter His enemies, and this is a great comfort to His people.

Moreover, when the Bible speaks of spiritual things, it’s not speaking of anything that’s less real or literal than the material. In fact, it appears that the biblical authors viewed the spiritual as more ultimate, more literal, more stable, more significant, and more foundational than the material. Hebrews 12:27 says, “Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.” Speaking of the old creation, the author of Hebrews indicates that, while this world is passing away, that which cannot be shaken will remain. Again, we need to let the Bible speak on its own terms. The spiritual or heavenly is no less literal than the material, currently visible world around us. In fact, it appears to be even more literal than the first creation.


Following from this first article, I would like to publish a second on typology. The idea that God uses historical, literal things to signify that which is other and greater is crucially important to consider as we read the Old Testament as New Testament people. The take-away from this article is that God’s meaning is always literal—if by literal we mean objectively true—but it’s not always communicated through literal or univocal language. We need to let the Bible speak on its own terms, and sometimes the Bible speaks in terms of metaphor and allegory in order to communicate absolutely literal things. Conversely, and hopefully a follow-up article will help to clarify, God often uses literal things to signify other, better literal things. This is the idea of typology.

— J. S.

Hermeneutics & Liberalism

Hermeneutics & Liberalism

I was reading an excerpt from Craig Carter’s Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition when I noticed him make a rather profound point. If a person was to take two Bible commentaries, one modern and the other ancient, they will notice a vast difference in methodology and even in conclusions drawn from the text. You might think of Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on Romans or John Calvin’s commentary on 1 Corinthians as compared to a more modern commentary like that from the publisher Nelson, the Word Biblical Commentary; your comparison may quickly turn into more of a contrast, as you begin to notice more differences than similarities in both method and content. I once had an enlightened M. Div. friend tell me that he doubted whether or not the Nicene fathers knew what the Greek meant and how it may have been used in the first century. Those ol’ cave men knew nothing! Never mind that their first language was Greek and that the Creed itself was penned by some of the most astute men of the day (proof read by the Emperor himself, no doubt). All jests aside, modern commentaries are usually more critical while pre-modern commentaries are less so.

What I’m trying to get at is that there is a chasm between how we interpret the Bible now and how they interpreted the Bible then. Carter writes:

The irrational bias of the myth of progress can be seen in the tendency to criticize orthodox church fathers for reading Greek metaphysics into the text, while overlooking the influence of Baruch Spinoza’s rationalism and Bruno Bauer’s Hegelianism on their own biblical interpretation. Is this because “Greek” metaphysics is bad, but “German” metaphysics is good? According to the history of hermeneutics as told from an Enlightenment perspective, if it were not for the pagan Enlightenement, Christians would still be reading Greek metaphysics into the Bible like Augustine and making it say whatever they pleased like Origen. Is it not rather bizarre that this narrative asks us to believe that it took the paga Epicureanism of the Enlightenment to rescue us from the “subjectivism” of the Nicene fathers, medieval schoolmen, and Protestant Reformers (96)?

While there is much here to engage, I’d like to draw your attention to what I believe to be the most valuable part of the quotation. The underlying assumption in the divide between today’s interpreters and yesterday’s interpreters, if you will, is that we are more enlightened than them. We have grown past the ridiculous games they used to play before the Enlightenment, or so it’s thought. The other assumption is that the metaphorical or allegorical tendencies so pronounced within the pre-modern interpretive schema were totally false and uncalled for. We’ve traded assumptions the old fathers once held in exchange for a more rigorous, historical-grammatical practice.

The problem here, of course, is that such an over commitment to the montratic plain meaning of the text prevents Scripture from being interpreted on its own terms. Dr. John MacArthur will serve as a prime example. In the first part of his series ‘Why Every Calvinist Should Be a Premillennialist’, he said:

There are over two thousand references to Israel in Scripture; not one of them means anything but Israel. So, if you say the promises of the Old Testament that refer to Israel really meant the church, you have no precedent for such an interpretation. Not one reference anywhere in Scripture – and there are over two thousand, referring to Israel – means anything other than Israel. There are 73 references to Israel in the New Testament; each of them refers to Israel.

Eschatology aside, words like this do a massive disservice to the text of holy Scripture. By “Israel” MacArthur means ethnic Israel and, since that’s the case, his statement is absolutely false. In a paper I wrote on the issue of dispensational hermeneutics, I talk about how the term Israel is used in three different ways in the Old Testament alone. It’s used as a proper name of a person in Genesis 32:38; it’s used to describe God’s Old Testament remnant in Zephaniah 3:13; and it’s used to speak of the nation of Israel in places like Nehemiah 13:26 and numerous others. But, because MacArthur is so committed to the so called plain meaning of the text, he finds it hard to let the Bible speak for itself. The plain meaning must always be one. Israel means Israel. What’s not disclosed, at least in this case, is that the pious sounding verbiage, “plain meaning of the text,” actually means, “imposition of preconceived assumptions upon the text.” Moreover, another nagging assumption of the new way is that allegory is completely opposed to literal meaning. For almost 1800 years of church history this was largely unheard of. Method and meaning are two different things which are often confused by the critical crowd. For example, what happens when Scripture communicates literal meaning by way of allegory or metonomy? Think of Galatians 4 and Paul’s allegorizing of Sarah and Hagar. What about the heavenly and, therefore, spiritual Jerusalem in Hebrews 12:22? Is that not a literal thing simply because it’s spiritual? The post-modern hermeneutic isn’t built from the Scriptures, it’s built by humanistic rationalism and then imposed upon the text. What’s literal can never be spiritual—a perfect fall into the naturalists snare!

I remember having professors throughout Bible college who would actively discourage students from interpreting passages of Scripture using other passages of Scripture. Instead, we were to read the passage and determine its meaning by looking solely at the original languages and the historical context—the intent of the human author and the understanding of said author’s human audience. Then, as a footnote, we were to do this prayerfully and seek the Spirit’s guidance. All of these things, in themselves are good, but they do not themselves stand on their own. They are not and cannot be the end all to the interpretive agenda. In pre-modern times, the Spirit’s guidance was not some mystical interaction between the Spirit and the reader of the text. It was the Spirit as He spoke through the written Word. So, the Spirit’s guidance would come by means of the biblical text itself. Scripture interprets Scripture. Scripture tells us what Scripture means. Unquestionably so, this principle has been lost in post-modern times.

The Enlightenment had within it presuppositions which, if followed consistently, would bar its disciples from presupposing the spiritual character of the Scriptures. Any spiritual conclusion, including inspiration, divine authority, biblical sufficiency, if any of those things exist at all, must be concluded from the text rather than assumed within the interpretational exercise. If this is the case, it therefore makes sense that the Bible could not and should not be interpreted on its own terms. It must be interpreted on naturalistic terms and then, just maybe, we’ll squeeze some divinity out of it. Because of this, things like inspiration and sufficiency have come into question. Neither of the two were hardly up for debate prior to the modern era.

Admittedly, sufficiency came into question with the Protestant Reformation and Rome’s insistence upon the authority of ecclesial tradition. But, even that debate occurred for different reasons, having more to do with the question of how God reveals Himself and His truth to us. Inspiration was questioned throughout the twentieth century because of naturalistic tendencies found within the church more so than without. The current debate over social justice calls into question the doctrine of sufficiency on the basis of a naturalistic understanding of man and even justice, referring to critical race theory and intersectionality as useful tools. If our hermeneutics can be and has been aided by critical theory, why not our anthropology and missiology?

This is a huge discussion and can’t be comprehended in a single blog post. My hope is that this tiny, insignificant piece of literature would be a starting point. Perhaps it will get you thinking about this issue more, and even send you on a journey of your own to recover the goodness of the past in opposition to the wickedness of the present. We live in confusing times. It is my hope that the recovery of our doctrine of Scripture and a sound hermeneutical methodology will, by God’s grace, set us upon a path to victory.

— J. S.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

The Sufficiency of Scripture

We pay it lip service, but do we believe it?

Used as a doctrine to combat Roman Catholicism and every cult imaginable, the sufficiency of Scripture first and foremost must be seen as a doctrine intended to protect us from ourselves. When we preach on the sufficiency of the Scriptures, when we lecture on the sufficiency of the Scriptures, the polemical section is rightly aimed at our outside antagonists. But, lest we forget, our worst enemy is often times ourselves and our tendency to forget what kind of treasure we have in the Word of God.

It’s important we get this right. If we get it wrong, we could end up on one of two opposite sides of the spectrum. Either we will become biblicists who throw out any possibility of good and necessary consequence, thereby destroying systematic theology; or, we will become servants of another master, as the Roman Catholic Church has with its attribution of ultimate authority to church tradition rather than to God’s Word—a notion Dr. James White brilliantly coins sola ecclessia. Getting the sufficiency of Scripture right is not difficult if and only if we allow the Word of God to teach us what it says about itself.

The Doctrine Stated

The doctrine of sufficiency states that the Scripture is the sole ultimate authority for Christian faith and practice. Scripture itself teaches us that all Scripture is breathed out by God:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Now, this passage doesn’t exhaust a defense of the sufficiency of Scripture. But, let’s ask the question, “What good work could another source of authority give us?” It says Scripture equips us for every good work. Is it a good work to teach “Scripture + something else”? Is your discipling a person with your “wisdom” a good work? If so, where does Scripture teach that? After all, Scripture equips us for every good work! If your wisdom, if Rome’s tradition, isn’t grounded in the Bible, then it can’t possibly be a good work, and it can’t possibly, therefore, bind the Christian conscience. The Second London Baptist Confession puts it this way:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture… (1.6)

The whole counsel, that is, everything God wanted to reveal to us concerning His will for our lives is revealed in the Scripture. The Scriptures reveal all “necessary” things for His own glory, man’s reconciliation to a holy God, man’s doctrine (faith), and man’s living (practice). It reveals these things in a two-fold way. Either God’s will is revealed expressly, the primal example being, perhaps, the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, or it’s necessarily contained, meaning doctrine necessarily following from biblical data (e.g. the Trinity, church membership, the incarnation, etc). Later, in the same paragraph, we are told that those things concerning which the Scriptures fall silent, such as some facets of church government and the nuances of regular worship procedure, must be ordered by the light of nature and prudence. This doesn’t mean we do whatever we want. It means we proceed with minds bound by Scripture, having a primal concern to glorify God in all we do.

You may ask, “Where does Scripture teach ‘good and necessary consequence?’” Ah, I’m glad you asked. In Acts 2, beginning in v. 25, Peter quotes David. After he concludes the quotation, Peter interprets David using words not found directly in what David actually wrote. Peter says, “he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.” David never said the word “Christ,” nor did he expressly use the word “resurrection.” Thus, Peter drew a conclusion which maintained the same substance but differed in language. This is what we do in order to formulate systematic theology. We uses extra-biblical language to express doctrines concluded from the Scripture. The doctrines, in substance, may be richly biblical, but the language we use to express them might be found nowhere in Scripture. This is the effect of good and necessary consequence. “Well, that’s an apostle! He’s allowed to do that!” you may object. Ah, but remember, the Scriptures are sufficient to equip us for every good work! Is interpreting the things of God rightly a good work? If it is, the Scriptures can and must teach us how to do it!

The Doctrine Defended

Chapter 1, paragraph 6 sounds really attractive to just about every orthodox Christian—I mean, it’s an orthodox statement, after all. But, stating something and actually applying it are two different things. In the most recent controversy, having to do with the “social justice” movement, Scriptures have taken a backseat and emotions have become the guiding principle. Even worse, when Scripture is employed, it’s not exegeted. The substance of sacred writ is traded for anachronistic readings of any and every verse that mentions graciousness, love, and especially justice. In other words, we’re no longer interpreting Scriptural terms on Scripture’s terms (so to speak), we are reading a 21st century, emotive, and even effeminate understanding into 1st century words.

So, while 1.6 of the Confession is parroted by just about any practicing Protestant, it’s certainly not consistently implemented, as can be seen in recent times. The sufficiency of Scripture is not Scripture + man’s wisdom, or man’s emotion, or whatever other predication we could make use of. Don’t get me wrong, man’s emotions are important, but man’s emotion is subject to the authority of Scripture and it’s to be brought into conformity with it. Because of this, man’s emotion alone cannot determine the legitimacy of any truth claim, nor can it adjudicate concerning the ethics of a particular angle of response. An example of the latter would be the almost-mind-blowing tapestry of emotional reactions to the recent Founders Ministries cinedoc.

Corporate outrage may be capable of demonstrating what group-think looks like, but it does not give us truth. God’s Word is the only authority that finally binds the conscience of the Christian. No believer can be forced by another believer to repent of something the Scriptures never speak on. Now, it’s precisely at this point that people begin quoting verses out of context which use the words “grace” or “love,” and then anachronistically make the claim that the cinedoc, for example, was “unloving.” This is nothing but a circular argument which smuggles in a definition of love closer to that of eros-love rather than agape-love. The former is sensual, emotional, touchy-feely love. The latter is divine love manifest in action, such as Jesus giving Himself up for His bride, flipping tables to protect His Father’s house, and making the Pharisees look like morons (the unpopular version of Jesus). Scripture never uses the term eros, and that should tell us something. Again, emotions are important, but they’re only helpful if conformed to the emotions of Christ Himself (Rom. 8:28-29).

Concluding Thoughts

In case you think I’m beating a dead horse, I’m only attempting to apply timeless doctrine to contemporary issues for further illumination. This is what the church has always done. We are in danger every hour and if our practical understanding of sufficiency continues to be “Scripture + (insert whatever you want here)” then we are in for a rude awakening. What’s going on now is nothing compared to what will happen if we lose sufficiency. Professing Christians joining Rome in droves is what we have in our future if we lose a rigorous understanding of the doctrine of sufficiency. A Baptist or Presbyterian in a church whose pastor preaches “Scripture + (insert whatever)” is only one word of specificity away from Rome, who says “Scripture + tradition.” Once the cracks are in the dam, it’s only a matter of time, folks.

-J. S.