Scripture’s Sufficiency and Foundations of Knowledge
Representing the entire canon and the whole choir of biblical authors singing in harmony, David, Paul, and the Lord Jesus celebrated, declared, and modelled the divine, perfect, and truthful nature of the Bible and its subsequent sufficiency for the purposes for which it was given. What is now necessary is to move from Scripture’s testimony regarding itself to application for the Christian life today. Having been reminded of the nature and purpose of God’s word, we’re faced with the perennial question: How now shall we live?
As has been pointed out elsewhere, “There are four major areas of philosophical inquiry that make up the basic components of worldview: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and socio-political philosophy.”1
Epistemology, the study of knowledge and how one knows what they know, is the primary lens through which metaphysics, ethics, and socio-political issues must be viewed, and, in that order. If an inquirer is unsure as to their source of knowledge, its authority, and its understandability, an exploration into the truth claims of the latter three areas and the development of a consistent worldview will be futile and yield uncertainty and insecurity. It is through the lens of a trusted epistemology that, in turn, metaphysics, ethics, and socio-political issues are rightly understood, developed, and defended.
An Example to Consider
Take the issue of capital punishment as an example. Should a nation punish individuals determined guilty of particular egregious crimes by taking their life? This is a socio-political issue, the answer to which will be rooted in a nations’ answer to the question Is it ever right to take a human life?, i.e., an issue of ethics. All of sudden we find ourselves back in the area of metaphysics asking questions like What is human life?, What is one worth? and What is justice? To answer those questions one must appeal to a source of knowledge, i.e., an epistemology. How do I know what a human life is worth? Where can I find that information and trust that information is as true as it is authoritative?
In this admittedly simplistic illustration we see that how one knows shapes ones’ view of reality which, in turn, undergirds ones’ morality and, finally, dictates how one understands the best way for people to live together in community. Thus, the starting point, i.e., the source of knowledge and the consistency to which that source is submitted (ones’ epistemology), is of inestimable importance.
None are Exempt
To put it another way: All people—whether consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally—have a final authority, i.e., an epistemological foundation, to which they appeal to determine and apply truth. For children, their parents may occupy the place of final authority. Some students may have a favourite teacher hold that role. For many today, “science,” “scientism,” or the scientific method casts the decisive vote on what is and what is not factual. For others, personal preference, emotion, and pleasure are the ultimate arbiter of truth. Whatever sits on the throne of final authority swings the gavel and declares the veracity of a truth claim regardless of its offence or disagreement with competing but lesser authorities.2 It holds the epistemological trump card.
For the Christian, Scripture must sit on this throne consistently and unrivalled. The word of God must function as the sole foundation of any worldview being built; the lens through which all other truth claims are viewed, evaluated, and judged. Why? Because of its unique nature and its self-attested function and because of its sufficiency for the purpose for which it was given.
This is not to say that all truth not explicitly claimed in the pages of Scripture is invalid. Rather, the sufficiency of Scripture demands that all other truth claimed is filtered through, seen through, and weighed against the explicit truth revealed in its God-given pages with primacy given to that which David called “perfect … sure … right … pure … clean … true,” that which Paul declared “inspired,” and that which our Lord himself leaned upon in the face of alternative truth claims.
As no other source of truth has the perfect nature of Scripture, they are all insufficient as an epistemological foundation for worldview. Church history, tradition, creeds, and confessions are not breathed out by God. The scientific method, properly used, is a mere investigative tool for the exploration of a reality it has no authority to define. Human psychology, philosophy, and ideologies are all subject to the noetic effects of sin and, thus, when untethered from the infallible revelation of God are at best mistaken and at worst misleading. Personal desires, emotion, longings, and intuition are potentially deceptive and confusing as they, unlike the Bible, are marred by sin.
Again, it’s not to say the above are all-together uninformative, but, without their being viewed through the lens of the inerrant word, that which was given for the express purpose of our adequacy for life and godliness, they are wholly insufficient for the task. To mould ones’ view of reality, ones’ moral ethic, and ones’ socio-political ideology according to any errant epistemology is obviously ruinous. Scripture, and Scripture alone, is capable of filling the role of final authority and epistemological foundation.
1 Christopher Cone, Priority in Biblical Hermeneutics and Theological Method (Raymore, MO: Exegetica Publishing, 2018), 1. Cone continues in explanation: “Epistemology (the study of knowledge) addresses the question of how can [we] know what is true and what is not. Metaphysics (the study of reality) addresses the question of what exists. Ethics (the study of what should be done) addresses the question of what we should do in light of what reality is. Socio-political philosophy (the study of ethics on a societal scale) addresses the question of how communities and society should behave.”
2 For example, if a young man’s final authority is his own desires, what his parents say, what the Bible claims, and what his friends advise will all become subservient to his ruling hedonism. It’s not that they won’t be heard or considered, but it’s that their voices are subjected to the Louder Voice of the flesh.