Does the use of apologetics and scholarship contradict the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture? Are critics justified in using it to avoid arguments?
The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture states that the Biblical canon is divinely inspired and any deuterocanonical texts or laws should not possess divine authority. Many ill-intentioned critics make sure to keep Proverbs 30:5-6 and Rev. 22:18-19 close to their side whenever they’re recommended a scholarly work to understand a Biblical text.
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar. (Prov 30:5-6)
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: 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. (Rev 22:18-19)
Do these verses instruct us to put away apologetics and scholarship when we defend the Bible? To answer this we need to understand why the doctrine at hand was decided.
The sufficiency of Scripture was formulated by Martin Luther during the reformation in response to the introduction of Catholic laws claiming to possess divine authority. Interestingly enough the reason these laws arose was one critics use today. Since there were so many interpretations of Scripture Christians created additional laws and ordinances in order to cease theological division.
“As a result of this undertaking (though they meant well), arose the sayings that the Scriptures were not sufficient, that we also needed the laws and the interpretations of the councils and the fathers, and that the Holy Spirit did not reveal everything to the apostles but reserved certain things for the fathers. Out of this finally developed the papacy, in which there is no authority but man-made laws and interpretations according to the “chamber of the holy father’s heart.””
Robert Preus, The Theology of Post Reformation Lutheranism (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1969), 309.
The sufficiency of Scripture wasn’t formulated to cease contextual works regarding the Biblical canon but “divinely inspired” texts, revelations, and laws in addition to the Bible. The above verses are to be read as admissions to the divine authority of Scripture alone. It does not in any way prohibit the use of works that attempt to contextualize the Bible.
Now, if the critic continues to insist that he is right here is a trick you can use on him. First, tell him how he reads the Bible. Does he read it in Greek, Hebrew, or English? Most likely he’s reading it in English. However, the Bible was originally written in Greek and Hebrew. By the critic’s understanding, by reading it in a language the Bible was not originally written in, he is not adhering to the doctrine or the above verses because he is using a foreign language to understand it. He would need to understand the Bible’s original language before he can read and apply Scripture and even then he would still need to read books outside of the Bible to learn the language, which only denies the doctrine again. Only a first-class dimwit or someone with an ideological axe to grind would think the Bible was to be seen this way.
A final argument I’ve seen critics use is that because the Holy Spirit is omnipotent He should teach us/them the meaning of Scripture. Will the Holy Spirit teach us? Only as far as is relevant for a specific circumstance. For example, if I’m afraid of financial lack the Spirit may bring to mind Matthew 6:28-30. However, He isn’t going to give me a detailed contextual study of the language, culture, and history of the text. He expects us to do that because it shows that we are diligent and that we have a desire to know Him and His word. If I sit around and expect the Holy Spirit to do the work is that showing God that I really want to know Him? Not at all. It shows that I don’t care about His word or being His disciple. The argument is nothing more than a rationale to excuse ignorance.
The bottom line is critics who lean on this doctrine have no justifiable reason to avoid apologetic and scholarly arguments. If they are truly interested in knowing the truth they need to show it.