The Attributes of Scripture
I think a follower of Christ could, maybe with a little time and thought, list of a series of attributes or characteristics of God. He’s unchanging, holy, immutable, transcendent, omniscient….
Okay, there are a few. But what about the attributes or characteristics of the Scriptures? Traditionally, theologians have highlighted four key characteristics of the Scriptures, and these four make a helpful acronym: sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity (or SCAN).
These four attributes are meant to protect the important truths of the Bible. Let’s take a look at each one.
The Scriptures contain everything we need for knowledge of salvation and godly living. We don’t need any new revelation. What we get in the Bible is more than enough to teach us how to live and what we need to do to come to a relationship with Jesus Christ. Second Timothy 3:17 tells us that the Bible is God-breathed and that when reading it, a person can be “equipped for every good work,” so we don’t need anything new. We do not need new words, revelation, or experiences. Jesus became the final revelation of God (Heb. 1:1-4). We get the full picture in Jesus, which means we do not need a fuller picture in new revelation. We have already received everything we need. In the end, Scripture is what we test everything against. Tradition, doctrine, preaching, and experiences offer the final and complete revelation of Jesus found in the Scriptures.
The saving message of Jesus Christ is plainly taught in the Scriptures and can be understood by all who have ears to hear it. We do not need a special mouthpiece to instruct us. The Holy Spirit can utilize His word in the hearts of the readers. The Westminster Confession of Faith carefully defined this:
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (WCF 1.7)
Although some things in the Bible are more difficult to understand than others, the main things we need to believe are clearly seen. The information necessary for our salvation can be comprehended by anyone regardless of religious training. The most important points of the Scriptures may not be understood perfectly but can be understood sufficiently.
The last word always goes to the Word of God. We must never allow the teachings of science, human experience, or church councils to take precedence over the Bible. Wait—can’t the Bible be misconstrued and misinterpreted? Of course! The faithful reading of the community of believers over the centuries has kept the essential teachings of the Scriptures from error. The common praxis of this community is the authority and importance of reading the Bible without prejudice and agenda. Here’s the point. When the Bible is faithfully read and studied, a common doctrine or faith is taught. When a person’s teachings or edicts take authority over the Bible (cult leaders and mystery religions), we see the harmful detours from what God wanted from His people. Again, the Westminster Confession gives great insight on the authority of the Scriptures:
The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. (WCF 1.10)
Whether we realize it or not, we have the tendency to give the last word to someone or something—our parents, our culture, our community, our feelings, the government, magazines, opinion polls, impressions, or anything else. For the followers of Jesus, the last word is the Scriptures, and we have to continually align our lives with God’s revelation to us.
General revelation is not enough to save us. We need the special revelation of God found in the Bible to explain what a person must do to come to a saving faith in Jesus.
What I mean by general revelation is evidence of God found in created reality. When we look to His creation, both humanity and nature, we see God’s fingerprints everywhere. However, this revelation is limited. There are pieces of the puzzle not set in place. This is where special revelation fills in the gaps. Jesus reveals to us God and the steps necessary for salvation. Jesus said that “no one has seen the Father,” but His ministry was to make him known (John 6:46). Romans 10:13 says that “all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved.” How do we hear about Jesus? Paul further explains, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Where do we look for the things God has revealed? Can the trees give us this knowledge? Can man’s inner light? Maybe human reason and experience? Revelation is found in Scriptures, and the Scriptures are necessary for any person to come to God.
This is a quick and, I hope, helpful overview of the key attributes of the Bible. Try to remember these as you gain a deeper understanding of the Bible, the book we use every day to deepen our faith in Jesus Christ.