Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.”


The following Article has two important heads: Firstly, the sufficiency of Scripture, “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation”. Secondly, canonicity, “In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the church


  1. Sufficiency of Scripture


In order to appreciate the Article 6’s insistence on the sufficiency of Scripture, we need to grasp…


  • Its original intention: Countering Roman Catholicism and the Anabaptists “New Revelation”


With the Council of Trent in 1545, the Roman Catholic Church officially placed tradition on an equal authoritative level as Scripture as a source of doctrine or building a basis for belief. Moreover, during the 16th Century, some Anabaptist groups affirmed the continuation of revelation or inspiration, considering the Scriptures being “only to the weak” (Kidd 1899:95; Baker 1883:49-50). Conversely, the Anglican Church sought to affirm what Jude 3 claims that “the faith… was once for all delivered unto the saints”.  As the 17th Century Anglican Bishop, Gilbert Burnet put it, “We, on the contrary, affirm that the Scriptures are a complete rule of faith and that the whole Christian religion is contained in them” (1842:92; Baker 1883:49-50)


19th century Anglican, William Baker, for example, points out that Jesus strongly condemned the extra-biblical traditions of the Jewish Rabbis/elders which were put on par with the Old Testament Scriptures in Matt. 15:3-9 and Mk. 7:7-13, “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your traditions?… They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (1883:49-50).


Question: Why did the Anglican Church strongly condemn any notion of extra-revelation or the authority of human tradition? Why should we be bothered by this?


I would like to propose two reasons… Firstly,


  • To protect the church from a common pattern…


It is quite interesting, when you study various sects and heretical movements during the course of the history of the church, you will notice that they all have a common pattern. And the pattern is threefold…


Firstly, there is the claim of “New Revelation” or knowledge of an equal authoritative source. Early church heretical groups (like Gnosticism and Montanism) all claimed extra-biblical revelation or knowledge from the Divine (Kelly 2007:26; Turner 2006:9; Hill 2003:23; Pearson 1984:67-68). Similarly, 7th Century Islam’s leader Mohammed claimed extra-biblical revelation. Roman Catholicism, especially during the 10-13th Century claimed that the papal interpretation and church tradition is an equally authoritative source as the Scriptures (for example, Pope Gregory VII’s “Dictatus Pape”). Modern (18th-20th Century) sects like Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons and the New Apostolic Church all claimed extra-biblical revelation. When Liberal Theology gained momentum in the 19th Century, it viewed itself as a New Theology. All of them claim “new knowledge” that supersedes former revelation.


Secondly, all of them depreciate the centrality of Christ. For all the above heretical groups, Jesus is not the only means to knowing God and receiving salvation. Even though Jesus enjoys a high estimation (whether being a supreme being, the Son of God, an incredible prophet or good teacher), to all of them Jesus is just a step in the process. Christ is merely the catalyst. Which leads to the third point…


Thirdly, all of them revert to a type of legalistic system in order to know God and reach salvation. In Gnosticism it was through practicing various rituals and rites. For Montanism it was rigorous asceticism. For Islam it is the 5 pillars of Islam. For Roman Catholicism it is the sacraments and various other rites and rituals through which grace is applied to the person.  Even liberal theology (in its beginning stages) motivated a type of societal moralism. In the end Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees holds true for all these movements, “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men”.


Yet, there is also a second reason why Article 6 stresses the sufficiency of Scripture…


  • Sufficiency underscores Christology, Certainty, Salvation and Maturity (Matt. 5:17-18; Lk. 24:27; Jn. 1:1-3; 5:39; 14:6-7; Heb. 1:1-3; Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 3:15-16)


Maybe something a bit lost today is the Early Church and the Reformation’s strong link between Christology and our Doctrine of Scripture. For both periods, Christology and Scripture are inseparable. In fact, the debate about the sufficiency of the Scriptures was actually a debate about Christology. Sola Scriptura and Solus Christus went together.


Let me explain… In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes the striking claim, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17). Luke tells us in Lk. 24:27 that Jesus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” John starts his Gospel by affirming that Jesus is indeed “The Word of God” (Jn. 1:1-3) through whom we will come to know God the Father (Jn. 1:18). And like Matthew and Luke Jesus tells the religious leaders in Jn. 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me”. Matthew, Luke and John’s Gospel affirm that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, being the full revelation of God the Father’s character and purposes. Hence, Jesus’ powerful claim in Jn. 14:6, “I am the way, and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”.  The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Col. 2:2-3, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ: in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. As Hebrews 1:1-3 puts in, “In these last days he (God the Father) has spoken to us by his Son… He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature”.


Christ is the fullness of God the Father’s revelation and that historical revelation is recorded for us in the Old and New Testament Scriptures. God the Father can only be known through the revelation of His Son, which is embodied in the Scriptures. To deny the Scriptures’ sufficiency is to deny the centrality of Christ as the ultimate revelation of the Father. Everything outside the Scriptures, that is separate from Christ, is speculation. Luther put it this way in the Heidelberg Desputation, “Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross… For this reason true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ… God can be found only in suffering and the cross”…  Or as 20th Century Dutch Theologian Herman Bavinck puts it, “Religion and the Knowledge of God can have their origin only in revelation… John calls Christ the ‘Word’, because in Him and through Him God reveals Himself both in creation and in redemption”.


In addition, Christian assurance and maturity is built on the idea of imitating or following Christ; as Jesus called us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk. 8:34). The mission of God the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:29 is to ensure that we are, “being conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). Hence the Apostolic emphasis on Christ-likeness… Paul put it this way, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 1:13) or Peter in 1 Pet. 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Consequently, if Christian assurance and maturity is built, “in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” in whom we “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13)… the denial of the sufficiency of Scripture undermines Christian discipleship, since it denies the sufficiency of the revelation of Jesus Christ (the basis of our Christian maturity). Christian discipleship is dependent on the sufficiency of Scripture (pause).


Question: Why did the Article on the sufficiency of Scripture include Canonicity?


The Anglican Church also understood that there is a direct relationship between the sufficiency of Scripture and Canonicity. The one is dependent on the other…


  1. Canonicity


The only way we will know whether the Scriptures (Old and New) are sufficient is whether they always have been accepted or regarded as thus. And the Article makes the claim that that is the case, “In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.” William Baker, commenting on this Article, wrote, “The Christian church has never been without Holy Scripture, that is, without written documents which it has held and reverenced as the word of God” (1883:46)


Yet, the issue of Canonicity is not based on individual preference or the doctrinal affinity of the books and letters of the Bible, but rather whether the historical church always accepted the current Canonical books of the Bible. As Kidd put it, it is a “matter… of historic inquiry” (1899:100). Did God’s people always accept the Old and New Testament? Or more importantly, did the church always accept the Scriptures as they are now prior to them being officially declared to be canonical in the 4th Century?


Question: Why is it important that we know the answer to this?


For both the Old and New Testament, the Church has always called on the Witness of the Apostles and the Witness of the Early Church. So, looking at…


  1. a) The Acceptance of the OT


Looking at the…


  • The Apostolic Witness


It does not take too much investigation of the New Testament Scriptures to know that Jesus and the Apostles regarded the Old Testament as the inspired or Spirit-breathed Word of God. Jesus considered the authority of the Old Testament to be absolute, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:18). Moreover, as we have already noted, He only used the Old Testament in reference to Himself and His teaching. The Old Testament witnesses to Him and Him to them (Lk. 24:27; Jn. 5:38-39). Moreover, Paul calls the Old Testament Scriptures as being inspired by God, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:15-16; cf. Rom. 15:4). Similarly, the Apostle Peter writes, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”


Consequently, it should not surprise us, when we look at…


  • The Early Church Witness


That the Early Church wholeheartedly accepted the Old Testament as God’s Word. In fact, as J.N.D. Kelly (2007:52) observes, during the first 100 years all the churches used the Old Testament as their Scriptures. Consequently, when we read the earliest documents of the church and they wrote, “th/j grafh/j” (the Scriptures) or “ge,graptai ga,r” (for it is written) or “le,gei ga.r h` grafh,” (for the Scripture says), it primarily referred to the Old Testament (1 Clement 23:5; 34:6; 35:7; 46:2ff; Barnabas 4:7, 11; 5:4; 6:12) (Kelly 2007:52).


Keeping with the Apostolic Fathers, the 2nd Century Apologists (like Justin and Athenagoras) all agreed that the Old Testament is written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Athenagoras, in his “A Plea for Christians” explains in Chapters 7 and 9 that the prophets were used by the Holy Spirit as instruments to proclaim or utter God’s Words. Consequently, they enjoyed a higher authority than philosophy in formulating doctrine.


Yet, what about the New Testament? Did the Early Church view the New Testament writings as a) being Apostolic and b) having equal authority to the Old Testament as God’s Word? So, looking at…


  1. b) The Acceptance of the NT


We first observe the internal witness of the New Testament, namely…


  • The Apostolic witness


What should strike us is that the Apostles did not view their words as being human opinions. For example, Paul tells the Galatian church, “I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Declaring anyone accursed who teaches a different Gospel (Gal. 1:11-12). Similarly, Paul explains his apostolic teaching to the Corinthian church as being from the Holy Spirit, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit,” (1 Cor. 2:13). In fact, Paul describes his ministry as merely delivering what he received from Christ, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (1 Cor. 11:23) and being direct from the Lord Jesus, “the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). Furthermore, what Paul has received from Jesus Christ is in “accordance with the (Old Testament) Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). Paul makes similar claim in 1 Thessalonians 4:15.


In addition, the Apostle Peter puts Paul’s letters in 2 Pet. 3:15-16 on equal footing with the Old Testament Scriptures, “Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” Furthermore, the Apostle John consider his work “Revelation” to be, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants” and pronounces a blessing (similar to Jesus’ beatitudes and the Old Testament blessings to all who read and apply these words (Rev. 1:1-3).


Consequently, just by looking at these internal examples, the Apostles did not view their own works as being human inventions, but revealed to them by the Lord Jesus Himself. Their works should be included as being part of Jesus’ revelation. They are the one to whom the Spirit of Truth gave all Truth (Jn. 14-16).


Yet, did the Early Church accept the Apostolic Witness?


  • The Early Church Witness


  • Apostolic fathers (approx. 70 A.D. to 110 A.D.)


In Ignatius’ (a disciple of the Apostle John) letter to Smyrneans 5:1, Ignatius refers to the Gospels as having authority to the Old Testament when he says, “They have been convinced neither by the words of the prophets nor the Law of Moses, nor, until now, by the Gospel…” Similarly in 7:2, Ignatius writes, “… but instead to pay attention to the prophets, and especially to the Gospel, in which the passion is clearly shown to us and the resurrection perfected”.


In 1 Clement 42:1-2 (one of the earliest church documents. It is even older than some New Testament books and letters), Clement highlights that the Apostles’ teaching was not their own opinion, but was given to them by Jesus Christ who was sent by God the Father, forming a chain of authority, “The Apostles were given the Gospel for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. Thus Christ came from God and the Apostles from Christ”. In 2 Clement 2:4, Clement quotes the Gospel of Matthew, referring to it as Scripture (the term used in reference to the Old Testament), “And also another Scripture says…” and regarding it as the words of Cristo.j (Christ) (2 Clement 2:7). Furthermore, in 2 Clement 14:2, Clement puts the Old Testament and the Apostolic witness together as equal authorities when he writes, “And, as you know, the Bible and the Apostles indicate that the church has not come into being just now, but has existed from the beginning”.


Similarly, The Epistle of Barnabas 4:14 quotes Matthew’s Gospel, using the Old Testament formula of “it is written”. In addition, Polycarp (disciple of Ignatius), in his letter to the Philippians 3:2-3 speaks in elevated terms of the Apostle Paul, “When he was with you he accurately and reliably taught the word of truth to those who were there at the time. And when he was absent he wrote you letters. If you carefully peer into them, you will be able to be built up in the faith that was given you. This faith is the mother of us all”.


What would seem clear is that from the earliest church witness, the Apostles and in particular the Gospels were revered with an authority that is equal to the Old Testament. The Apostles received their words from Christ and Christ from God and the Apostle Paul’s words embodied the faith that builds up the body of Christ. Polycarp’s reference to Paul does indicate that the apostolic teaching was formerly delivered orally, but later on through the written form of epistles (Kelly 2007:58; Richardson 2006:21-22).


  • Irenaeus (2nd Century)


Irenaeus, third generation after the Apostles, was the first writer to classify the Apostles’ Writings as being a New Testament in relation to the Old Testament (Irenaeus, Adversus Heareses, 4:9:1).

Regarding the New Testament books, Irenaeus viewed the four Gospels as being the pillars of the church (Adversus Haereses 3:11:8-9). Quite interestingly, Irenaeus admitted that there was a difference between the four Gospels’ accounts of the life of Christ, yet considered this as a confirmation of its authenticity as well as reliability (Pagels 2002:347). Nevertheless, from our earliest records it is only Tatian and Irenaeus who make mention of the Gospel of John as completing a fourfold Gospel account. Yet, Irenaeus did say that his acceptance of the Gospel of John is based on the tradition he received from Asia Minor (Adversus Haereses 3.3.4; 3.11.9) (Pagels 2002:361). Irenaeus referred to almost all the New Testament books except for two or three shorter epistles, which illustrates that Irenaeus was one of the first to use the entire scriptural corpus as subsequent generations would (Hardy 2006:352).


  • Tertullian (2nd-3rd Century)


Tertullian mentions in De Praescriptione Haereticorum 36:5 that, “(The church) combine the law and the prophets with the Gospels and the letters of the apostles”. In Adversus Praxean 20 Tertullian refers to both testaments as, “the whole store of both testaments”. What is even more striking is Tertullian’s comprehensive list of New Testament books he mentions in Adversus Marcionem. In Adversus Marcionem 4:5:3 Tertullian mentions the four Gospels in relation to their apostolic origin. In Adversus Marcionem 5:1-21, Tertullian mentions Galatians, 1&2 Corinthians, Romans, 1&2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 1&2 Timothy and Titus. In De Pudicitia 19-20, Tertullian refers to the Apocalypse of John; 1 John; and the Epistle to the Hebrews, attributing its authorship to Barnabas (Kelly 2007:59).


  • Muratorian Fragment (170-190 A.D).


Finally, one of the first lists of New Testament writings, or at least a compilation of texts, is the Muratorian fragment, which was discovered in 1740 and dates back to about 170-190 A.D. The following books are found in it: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, 1&2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, 1&2 Thessalonians, Romans, Philemon, Titus, 1&2 Timothy, Jude, 1&2 John, the Apocalypse of John, the Apocalypse of Peter and the Wisdom of Solomon. The last two, however, was not incorporated by the universal church. The fragment itself mentions that not all were willing to accept or publicly read the Apocalypse of Peter (Shelley 2008:66).


  • In Conclusion


In conclusion, it would seem that at a very early stage the apostles’ teaching enjoyed equal authority with the Old Testament. Yet, during the 1-2nd Century, their writings were not evenly distributed, which implied that most churches did not have a complete collection of all the apostolic writings. Even so, whatever works the church possessed of the apostles were considered as being from Christ and therefore of equal authority to the Old Testament. It was only by the time of Irenaeus and Tertullian that churches in general had a more complete collection of the apostolic writings. Given the current evidence, it is overwhelmingly plausible to conclude that by 200 A.D. most churches had the complete collection of Apostolic writings which is known today as the New Testament. Subsequent councils in the 4th Century merely formalized it (Brown 2003:74; Baker 1883:53).


Consequently, we know the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are sufficient for knowing God, receiving salvation and becoming Christ-like, being the full revelation of Jesus Christ, since the Apostolic and Early Church Witness viewed it as complete; both, we believe, as Calvin put it, due to the inspiration of Apostles by the Holy Spirit and the internal witness/illumination of the Church by God the Holy Spirit (Institutes 1:7:1, 5).


Article written by Carel Pienaar.