For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible?
Do we need to have a Bible or to have someone tell us what the Bible says in order to know that God exists? Or that we are sinners needing to be saved? Or to know how to find salvation? Or to know God's will for our lives? These are the kinds of questions which an investigation of the necessity of Scripture is intended to answer. EXPLANATION AND SCRIPTURAL BASIS
The necessity of Scripture may be defined as follows: The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God's will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God's character and moral laws. That definition may now be explained in its various parts.1
A. The Bible Is Necessary for Knowledge of the Gospel In Romans 10:13-17 Paul says: For, "everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?...So faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.
This statement indicates the following line of reasoning: (1) It first assumes that one must call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. (In Pauline usage generally as well as in this specific context [see v. 9], "the Lord" refers to the Lord Jesus Christ.) (2) People can only call upon the name of Christ if they believe in him (that is, that he is a Savior worthy of calling upon and one who will answer those who call). (3) People cannot believe in Christ unless they have heard of him. (4) They cannot hear of Christ unless there is someone to tell them about Christ (a "preacher"). (5) The conclusion is that saving faith comes by hearing (that is, by hearing the gospel message), and this hearing of the gospel message comes about through the preaching of Christ. The implication seems to be that without hearing the preaching of the gospel of Christ, no one can be saved.2
This passage is one of several that show that eternal salvation comes only through belief in Jesus Christ and no other way. Speaking of Christ, John 3:18 says, "He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." Similarly, in John 14:6 Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me."
Peter, on trial before the Sanhedrin, says, "there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Of course, the exclusiveness of salvation through Christ is because Jesus is the only one who ever died for our sins or whoever could have done so. Paul says, "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all..." (1 Tim. 2:5-6). There is no
1 1. As the subsequent sections indicate, when this when this definition says that the Bible is necessary for certain things, I do not mean to imply that an actual printed copy of the Bible is necessary for every person, because sometimes people hear the Bible read aloud or hear others tell them some of the contents of the Bible. But even these oral communications of the contents of the Bible are based on the existence of written copies of the Bible to which other people have access.
2 2. Someone might object that the following verse, Rom. 10:18, in its quotation of Ps. 19:4, "Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world," implies that all people everywhere have already heard the gospel message or the message of Christ. But in the context of Psalm 19, verse 4 only speaks of the fact that the natural creation, especially the heavens above, proclaim God's glory and the greatness of his creative activity. There is no thought here of the proclamation of salvation through Christ. The idea that all people everywhere have heard the gospel of Christ through natural revelation would also be contrary to Paul's missionary activities.
other way to be reconciled to God than through Christ, for there is no other way of dealing with the guilt of our sin before a holy God.3
But if people can be saved only through faith in Christ, someone might ask how believers under the old covenant could have been saved. The answer must be that those who were saved under the old covenant were also saved through trusting in Christ, even though their faith was a forward-looking faith based on God's word of promise that a Messiah or a Redeemer would come. Speaking of Old Testament believers such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, the author of Hebrews says, "These all died in faith not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar..." (Heb. 11:13). The same chapter goes on to say that Moses "considered abuse suffered for the Christ (or the Messiah) greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward" (Heb. 11:26). And Jesus can say of Abraham, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). This again apparently refers to Abraham's joy in looking forward to the day of the promised Messiah. Thus, even Old Testament believers had saving faith in Christ, to whom they looked forward, not with exact knowledge of the historical details of Christ's life, but with great faith in the absolute reliability of God's word of promise.
The Bible is necessary for salvation, then, in this sense: one must either read the gospel message in the Bible for oneself, or hear it from another person. Even those believers who came to salvation in the old covenant did so by trusting in the words of God that promised a Savior to come.
In fact, these repeated instances of people trusting in God's words of promise, together with the verses above that affirm the necessity of hearing about and believing in Christ, seem to indicate that sinful people need more on which to rest their faith than just an intuitive guess that God might provide a means of salvation. It seems that the only foundation firm enough to rest one's faith on is the word of God itself (whether spoken or written). This in the earliest times came in very brief form, but from the very beginning we have evidence of words of God promising a salvation yet to come, words that were trusted by those people whom God called to himself.
For example, even in the lifetime of Adam and Eve there are some words of God that point toward a future salvation: in Genesis 3:15 the curse on the serpent includes a promise that the seed of the woman (one of her descendants) would bruise the head of the serpent but would himself be hurt in the process—a promise ultimately fulfilled in Christ. The fact that the first two children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, offered sacrifices to the Lord (Gen. 4:3-4) indicates their consciousness of a need to make some kind of payment for the guilt of their sin, and of God's promise of acceptance of sacrifices offered in the right way. Genesis 4:7, "If you do well, will you not be accepted?" indicates again in the very briefest form a word from God that offered the provision of some kind of salvation through trusting in the promise of God offered in that word. As the history of the Old Testament progressed, God's words of promise became more and more specific, and the forward-looking faith of God's people accordingly became more and more definite. Yet it seems always to have been a faith resting specifically on the words of God himself.
Thus, although it will be argued below that people can know that God exists and can know something of his laws apart from Scripture, it seems that there is no
3 3. On the question of whether it is fair of God to condemn people who have never heard of Christ, see the discussion in chapter 19, pp. 402-3, and chapter 32, pp. 68283.
possibility of coming to saving faith apart from specific knowledge of God's words of promise.4
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