The insufficiency of scripture

“You search the scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the scriptures point to me!

Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – Jesus  (John 5:39-40 NLT)
The Bible is not enough…  It never has been and it never will be.  The Bible is not sufficient for the Christian life.
Being a Christ-follower seems to me to be about living and loving, by the Spirit, in community, within a tradition, centered around Jesus.  Somehow, in all of that, there is a “relationship with God.”  See, we are not “people of the book” (the Bible)… we are “the people of God” and the book is sacred tradition for the people of God.  It was written and assembled by tradition, and has been given a place of authority in various ways among various Christian traditions throughout Christian history.  But I’m a little worried that some trends within the Church have given the Bible a place in the Christian life that God never intended, and it can never fill…
Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in John 5 for trying to get their “life” from the scriptures.  Jesus claimed that the scriptures pointed to him and that real life was found in him, not in the scriptures.  The Pharisees were the masters of applying the Bible to their lives (and everyone else’s lives too!).  They were great at using the scriptures for spiritual leadership principles.  They had the “answers”!  But, Jesus breaks it to them… the scriptures are never the true source of life.  The real answer was right in front of them.
For us today, “Getting into the word” can never be a true source of life.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read the Bible, but the Bible is not an end.  The end is God.  Getting the “right beliefs” or the “right principles” from the Bible will never be a true source of life, but you wouldn’t know that by walking into your local Christian bookstore.  You can find plenty of Bibles that double as self-help books, complete with practical “life application” or “leadership principles” or “promises” or “Bible Answers” for all the success or problems of your life.  (As if the role of the Bible in the Christian life was that!?)  The Bible is not anything like a tidy “answer book”…  But I’m afraid we have too many treating it as if it is, and going on about our lives forgetting God, living a rather community-less, tradition-less, Godless Christianity, in a relationship with a book, that supposedly has “all the right answers” to life’s complexities.
Who needs God if we have all “the answers” in a book?  Who needs a community?  Who needs a tradition?  Who needs Jesus?
The Bible is important, yet it’s so insufficient.
Kirk out. :)

About kurtkjohnson

Husband to Abbey Johnson, proud father, irregular blogger and occasionally creative. View all posts by kurtkjohnson

16 responses to “The insufficiency of scripture

  • tgbelt

    Spot on Kurt. You’re absolutely right. In the sense you specify, which is the sense Jesus specified, the Scriptures are absolutely insufficient.

  • mjbreithaupt

    Good job Kurt. Jesus is God’s sufficiency, but how do we know Jesus? Through the Holy Spirit, Communion of the saints (Church/Traditions),Scriptures. All three in balance. Learn to love the tension! Grace and Peace brother!

  • Marcelo_Plioplis (@mplioplis)

    Came here from How do we combat false doctrine, false conceptions of God, false gospels then, if the bible isn’t enough? Warm fuzzy feelings in our bellies? Our own brain? Our heart? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

    • James Harmer

      Hey Marcelo… while I don’t agree with some of the ways he said this, I don’t think he’s implying what you think he is. He’s not saying “the Bible isn’t enough”, he’s simply saying “the Bible isn’t enough to be your Jesus.” In other words… the Bible IS enough for what it was meant to do, but it’s not meant to do EVERYTHING.

      One of the purposes of the Scripture is to combat false Doctrine in my opinion… so it is enough to do that. But, it doesn’t do that alone… the Holy Spirit will “lead us into all Truth” so we need the Spirit within us to properly understand the Scriptures in regards to Doctrine. I don’t know if Kurt would agree with everything I have said here… I don’t really care either. :-p

      But I know he wasn’t saying “forget the Bible, we don’t need it.” And I know he doesn’t think Doctrine doesn’t matter… I think this is just him saying, let the Bible do what it is supposed to do in the Christian life… because it’s sufficient for that. But don’t try to make it do what only Jesus can do(even perhaps THROUGH the Scriptures… or through a Donkey or Burning Bush), because it’s not sufficient alone to do that. We probably won’t all agree on every detail of what it is or isn’t meant for… but just get his main point.

  • T. C. Moore

    Interestingly enough Marcelo, false doctrine in the first century wasn’t settled on the basis of Scripture alone, because for Christians the canon hadn’t been closed yet; God was writing a new chapter in his on-going story of redemption—a chapter we now call the New Testament. Peter is concerned some could be confused by Paul’s letters, and others would twist their meaning (II Pet. 3.16) …imagine that!? ;) But Paul instructs Timothy to prevent false teachers from teaching in the church on his apostolic authority alone. He actually specifically instructs him against engaging in debates over “disputable matters.” So, Paul’s answer to your question is ecclesiological authority. But beyond that is more than some election process where leaders are “voted” on. No, Paul was “chosen” by God, and chose Timothy to lead the Ephesus congregation. Beyond even that is the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When the ‘pillars’ of the Church came together to discuss the ‘Gentile issue’ (Acts 15), they considered several sources for insight: Scripture, the testimonies of apostles, they reasoned together, and the Holy Spirit guided them. That seems to be the best model: 1) Observable reality; 2) Revealed truth; 3) Community dialogue; 4) Guidance of the Holy Spirit.

  • James Goetz

    Excellent Kurt. In my similar view, the New Testament is a collection of divinely inspired ad hoc literature. The NT addressed the issues in the apostolic church while the primary NT principles need fresh and innovative application in every generation of every culture. Peace, Jim

  • nathanbanker

    Scripture: Not the fourth part of the trinity since… ever.

  • Nita

    great article, Kurt! blessings on you and your family…

  • David

    2 things. 1) misinterpretation of the passage. 2) straw man argument.

    1) Jesus is not telling the Pharisees that they just follow the Bible but “the Bible is not enough” and is “not sufficient for the Christian life.” Quite the opposite in fact, Jesus is telling them that they claim to believe the Scripture, but that they do not actually believe it because the Scripture testifies of Christ so if they believed in the Bible then they would believe in Him. The address is at the end of a list of things that testify about Christ: Christ (31), John (33), His works (36), God (37), and Scripture (39). (And we see Christ’s work, Christ’s, John’s, and God’s testimony in the Bible.) Additionally, Jesus did not then end by telling the Pharisees that He accuses them because they rely on the Bible instead of believing in Him. Rather, Jesus told the Pharisees that Moses accuses them because they did not believe what Moses said about Christ in the Scripture. In short, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are lost because they do not believe in the Scripture!

    2) The straw man argument is that the author suggests that sola scriptura means that the Bible is sufficient without having a relationship with Christ. The Bible contains God’s communication and revelation about himself to man. It contains everything man needs to know for life and godliness. The Scriptures “are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith” and they equip us “for every good work” (2 Tim. 15-17). The Bible does have the right beliefs, principles, and answers. Sola scriptura does not mean that simply knowing about God or righteousness is sufficient, but that one must be a doer of the word and not just a hearer (Jam. 1:22,23) and actually believe in God, have a prayer filled relationship with him, loving God and man, and living righteously.

  • Scooch

    I think you make a good point. Many a Christian brother or sister is proud that they go to a bible study or have studied the bible at great length over many years. And yet they are judgemental, closed-minded, and altogether afraid to live life led by the Spirit.

    God also gave us people, experience(s) and the Holy Spirit. God knows those who are His and many of them are simple folk who have only a cursory understanding of scripture. But they live larger than life thanks to their faith and practice what they have been taught and shown by others.

    Jesus never once told people they needed to spend time “in the word,” He said they needed to show mercy more, have faith a small as a mustard seed, help the poor, take risks, turn the other cheek.

    Never once does he say, “spend more time at Church and think about joining a bible study.”

    Gotta love Jesus! He is my man!

  • worshippastorbrian

    Jesus said, “the volume of the book is written of me.” I think there’s a real danger here to say that scripture is not sufficient. It is sufficient for ALL things. The Pharisees held to the law and rejected grace. They couldn’t wrap their mind around salvation apart from works. Jesus said things like, “I am the Bread of Life.” John 1…In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God. He also said when tempted by Satan, that man should live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. I would never tell a new believer or a long-time Christ follower to “not worry so much about scripture; just pray and and fellowship and you’ll have all that you need, but read the bible when you have time.” If I don’t think scripture is sufficient in all things, then I am certainly off the mark, out of balance, out of line, and, in actuality, telling God, He is not sufficient.

  • Scooch

    I know the title shocks many, especially Evangelical or Conservative Christians. Because they rely on ‘the book’ more-so than others such as wings of the faith. So, to say that is “Insufficiency of Scripture.” Well, that really gets their goat!

    However … it IS a true statement. Scripture is one input to the Christian life (albeit an important one) and not the only one needed. We do not throw bibles at people to missionize them, do we? No, we mentor, tutor, pray with, fellowship, etc etc. The title is accurate, even scripture (if you really know scripture) says that scripture is insufficient.

    This blog raises a valid issue within the Christian culture.

  • Mark

    Dear Kurt, I really like what you have written as I arrived to the same conclusion about our worshiping the bible instead of God. I would like to know how do you view the relationship with God outside the bible? What are the means of communication with God from your point of view? Thanks for your blog btw :)

    • kurtkjohnson

      Mark, well, I think the obvious thing is prayer. That’s what we see modeled by Jesus. I don’t think that prayer gets its due in Christian thinking that prizes the scriptures as communication from God that is somehow less subjective than communication from God within context of prayer. Both are highly subjective, and such is all of life. I think sometimes Christians get a false sense of security with this relationship between ‘me and the text’… that this somehow removes significant ambiguity compared to ‘me and God’ as if, ‘me and the text’ is somehow a more objective relationship and more trustworthy. ‘Me and the text’ is more comfortable to the modern mind, when clothed in assumptions. But these assumptions are the emperor’s new clothes.

  • Eden Stahr

    Kurt, you sound like all my atheist friends. very negative towards the written Word…

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