On Prophecy and the Sufficiency of Scripture

"Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion." ~ C.H. Spurgeon

It's my own fault. There are some blogs out in the wider Christian blogosphere that I really should stop reading. They do more to make me cross, than to bless me. Some of my regular readers may want to skip this post while I get this off my chest...!

There is a widely used argument against modern-day prophecy that I have seen resurface over the last couple of days. It goes like this:
  1. The Scriptures are sufficient [ie. there is no more to come]
  2. The Scriptures are God's word
  3. If God were to speak today it would either:
    1. Constitute new scripture
    2. Carry less authority
Since it is heretical / absurd that either we should expect new Scripture to be written, or that the voice of God should be somehow diminished in authority, the only conclusion is that God no longer speaks.

By putting forward this argument I think they honestly believe that they are championing the sufficiency of scripture and the authority of God and his word, when in reality they undermine both!

Let's indulge in a little reductio ad adsurdem, and assume for the moment that their logic is correct.

The logic does not just apply to prophecy, but to any direct or indirect communication from God. It's not just that prophecy doesn't happen - it cannot happen! Nor does it stop there, in order to preserve the sufficiency of his word, God is bound not only to not communicate through prophecy, but he is bound to keep silent for as long as his word is sufficient. Since the scriptures are not just sufficient, but eternal, God, by inspiring the last line of Revelation, effectively struck himself dumb for all eternity!

So what will happen on the day of Judgement, when God comes in glory to judge the world? How will he say "Well done good an faithful servant"? How will he accuse the wicked of their sins? Through mime?! With a game of charades?! Will we have to spend eternity with our fingers in our ears going "la la la", lest we accidentally overhear the voice of God, the sufficiency of Scripture is proved false, and thus God is proved a liar, and the whole of existence disappears in a puff of logic!

Consider also how ironic, that the great almighty living God, the one who rebuked the idolator, and mocked the idols for being mute, is now mute himself.

Absurd! Absurd! Absurd!

So where is the argument flawed? Well, it is a well know logical fallacy known as "Affirming the consequent". It goes like this: If A is true, then B. B is true therefore A must also be true. For example: "Cats climb trees. My brother climbs trees. Therefore my brother must be a cat!" In this case the fallacy is in assuming that because all Scripture is the word of God, every word of God must also be Scripture.

If it can be shown that God speaks outside of his sufficient self-revelation contained in the Scriptures then the whole argument collapses. This is easily demonstrated by reading what the sufficient Scriptures themselves say, rather than postulating supposition upon supposition based on notions of their sufficiency.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Ps 19:1)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (Jn 10:27)

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. (Heb 3:15)

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1Co 14:1)

etc... etc... etc...

Just how eternally sufficient are the Scriptures if they were out of date the moment they were complete? If as soon as the Scriptures were completed all the passages referring to the charismata no longer apply, that puts the eternal word of God on a par with the church phone-book. Hardly an endorsement for sufficiency!

No, here is what the sufficiency of the Scriptures means. In all the vast stretches of eternity that we spend with the Lord, hearing his voice directly [and that is why prophecies will cease] we will never hear a single phrase, not a single word, that contradicts God's self-revelation contained in his word. There will never come a day when "all bets are off", and God redefines himself by another standard. What a mystery, what a miracle, that though we will spend all eternity hearing from the Lord and growing in our knowledge and appreciation of his infinite worth, we will never find anything that is not first laid out in the Scriptures themselves. This is why the Scriptures are always our ultimate test for any prophecy - God will never say anything, not now, not ever for all eternity, that contradicts his word.

If the sufficiency of Scripture can cope with an eternity of direct revelation from God, it can certainly cope with today's prophecy.

God no more needs our efforts to protect the sufficiency of his word, than the ark needed Uzzah's outstretched hand!


Libbie said...

OK, here's what I don't understand about ongoing prophecy. If it is all consistent with God revealed word, and that is the plumbline, as it were, what is the purpose of it?
What I mean is, if you have to line any given prophecy up with what is already revealed in scripture, why is scripture itself not sufficient?
As always, this is a genuine question, asked with no agenda or malice.

Chris HH said...

Libbie, that's a sensible question.

Let me put it to you in a context we both agree on:

Is the cross sufficient? Does God still bless us today? If God meets a specific need of mine today, does this mean that his blessings to me in the cross were less than sufficient?

Even if God never did another thing for me, never blessed me again, I'd still have enough to praise him forever in what he has already done for me in the cross. Yet his mercies are still new every morning!

In the same way, even if God never spoke another word, he would still have said enough. Yet he still speaks.

My cup is full, and yet he still keeps pouring. It doesn't come out of necessity, but out of his very nature.

Matthew said...

In many ways Samuel is the "daddy" of things prophetic. The way the scripture descibes the dynamic by which Samuel received his revelation and therefore inspiration to prophesy is brief, but enlightening:

"The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word." (1 Sam 3:21)

"The word" (to Samuel the Torah) was the means through which God brought greater revelation. So even from the Samuel's time it was the sufficiency of (the incomplete canon of) Scripture that lead to prophetic proclamation.

This is why prophecy is in no way a replacement for Scripture, but has a complete dependance upon it, and serves for the exact same purpose as it did for Samuel - to bring the word and will of God to the heart of the life of the Kingdom.

Libbie said...

Ok, I follow you - but the cross is declared as a finished work, to be fair, and blessings are quite clear in their use for us.

What I struggle with is the neccessary conclusion that the bible doesn't really contain something applicable to everything we need to know, spiritually speaking.
I guess what I'm saying is - I do believe God still speaks, emphatically, I do. And by his Holy Spirit, too. But when I say scripture is sufficient, there's no sense in that that it's missing something neccessary - something that would come from a supernatural picture perhaps, or words spoken by another praying for you in a church service, perhaps.

As always, much to ponder.

Chris HH said...

What is prophecy, at the end of the day, if it is not hearing what God is saying, and then communicating that to someone else.

If you believe God still speaks, is it such a stretch to believe that he might speak to you? And if he speaks to you about you, may he not also speak to you about someone else, or to someone else about you?

Elwyn Jones said...

Chris, If God speaks to us today (that voice within ) How will we know it's God ?

Chris HH said...

That is an excellent question, and one that is worthy of a post in its own right. But briefly...

After discounting everything that is contrary to God's word, you must learn to distinguish between God's voice and your own sanctified imagination. There is no short-cut to experience here.

At the end of the day the bottom line is that while the inner voice remains inner, you will never know for sure. You must speak it out before it can be weighed. You don't have to stand before hundreds and say "Thus sayeth the Lord", but you do have to vocalise it to someone - a mature believer of accountability.

There are a few other safeguards:
1) You can only prophesy according to the measure of your faith.
2) God confirms every word in the mouth of two or three witnesses.

Elwyn Jones said...

Thank you for answering my question Chris. I will echo Libbie by saying there is no agenda or malice here either.
This subject has always troubled me " does God talk to us today ?
I have believed in Jesus Christ for the past twenty years and every day I thank Him for His Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness and Kindness towards me a vile sinner.
I've never heard the voice of God! and I am quite envious and confused of those who claim they have. I have learnt that when I am troubled, distressed,frightened I go to Him in humble Prayer and rely on His sure Word the Bible. I have found the Bible contains everything to live a life that is pleasing to Him. I have found doctrines, promises and comfort in the Bible to guide me in every case. I cherish the Lords words that He spoke to us clearly through Paul the Apostle.

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instuction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. ( romans 15: 4 )

If God speaks to us today through Men and Women let them speak as Peter the Apostle said in 1 peter 4: 11 If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.....

Thank you for this blog , very interesting.

Barnabas said...


Best post yet. Keep'm coming.

As I was reading your post I was thinking of my calling to the ministry. If God did not speak a word to me how would I have known to go into ministry or now teach adult sunday school. Last I checked, there is no verse in the Bible that says "Bill, go into youth ministry" or "thou shalt teach sunday school."

In His Grip

Elwyn Jones said...

But Barnabas, the qualifications for any leader in the Church of Jesus Christ is in 1 tim 3 1-7. So if any man desires the office of a leader he desires a good work (1 tim 3. 1 ) It's responsibility is enormous! That responsibility is directly accountable to God (heb 13; 17 ) and james 3;1 says let not many of you become teachers, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgement.

Mark Robins said...

It’s been my experience that adherents of hearing from God, and those that speak on God’s behalf very often don’t know scripture well enough to know that what they are saying is nothing more than unbiblical garbage! The second problem is that those that do know better are not practicing testing what the prophets speak as you have rightly said. I’m personally so sick of people saying what “God said” and then get the most unbiblical garbage I’ve ever heard vomited up from people who have been in the faith long enough to know better, that I’d rather never hear another prophesy, and let me tell you; I’ve heard some whoppers that have lead me up the garden path. Just this week one lady told me that she has separated from her husband for no better reason than he’s an unbeliever, and then told me she’s waiting for God to tell her to divorce him! I say; no reason to wait, just read the bible and be reconciled with your husband, God has already spoken. I don’t doubt that God can use an individual to speak on His behalf, He’s used donkeys in the past so why not now, there’s still plenty of them in the church today! Of course there is a big difference between us now with the canon of scripture in easily accessible form, the early church Christian didn’t have a bible under his arm. They had to have the foundation laid by the Apostles and Prophets who themselves had been taught by Jesus personally (Hebrews 1:1-2) and once that foundation was laid and codified in the N.T. there can be no new doctrine, and therefore no foundation laying Apostles and Prophets like that of the apostolic period. Of course that doesn’t limit God from speaking to you personally in a given situation, but the way people are behaving because of a lack of teaching; most can’t even go to the toilet now without consulting God first! So, my opinion for what it’s worth: No new doctrine, otherwise who’s to say that the Mormons are wrong. God speaks today? Of course He can; personally and directionally, but for the love of our Lord be careful who you listen to, most of the mighty get it wrong. And remember God doesn’t like it when you speak on His behalf falsely, in the O.T. you were put to death for it!

Mark Robins.