Without extrabiblical literature we cannot make use of the Bible, argues John Frame. He makes this point in a chapter on the sufficiency of scripture (ch 32) in his new book, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P&R, 2010), 220–238. On pages 232–233, Frame writes this of our need of extrabiblical books in order to properly apply Scripture to our lives:
All our use of Scripture depends on our knowledge of extrabiblical data. Scripture contains no lessons in Hebrew or Greek grammar. To learn that, we must study extrabiblical information. Similarly, the other means that enable us to use Scripture, such as textual criticism, text editing, translation, publication, teaching, preaching, concordances, and commentaries, all depend on extrabiblical data. So in one sense even the first premises of moral syllogisms, the normative premises, depend on extrabiblical knowledge. So without extrabiblical premises, without general revelation, we cannot use Scripture at all.
Then he writes:
None of those considerations detracts from the primacy of Scripture as we have described it. Once we have a settled conviction of what Scripture teaches, that conviction must prevail over all other sources of knowledge. So Scripture must govern even the sciences that are used to analyze it: textual criticism, hermeneutics, and so on. … Scripture must remain primary. …
Frame’s argument culminates here:
Certainly, it is a misunderstanding, then, to think that the sufficiency of Scripture rules out the necessity of extrabiblical information. At every stage of our use of Scripture, we should legitimately refer both to the content of Scripture and to extrabiblical revelation. But each in its proper place: when we are convinced that a teaching is the teaching of Scripture itself (even when we used extrabiblical information in reaching that conviction), that teaching must take precedence over any conclusion derived from outside Scripture.
4 thoughts on “Extrabiblical Books and Scripture’s Sufficiency”
Wow! Thanks for sharing that. Very helpful.
It’s not just a postmodern realization that the meaning of a text is intertextually and socially determined. With biblical texts, I’ve often suggested that Christians, while rightly trying to understand the text as the original human author intended it, must also finally interpret the entire revelation (and thus all the texts that comprise it) as canonically bound together by and culminating in the person of the Christ. The fundamentalists demur (like the liberals), and the pragmatists worry about the intellectually demanding nature of such reading; I’m hoping that out of the theological resources of the Reformed tradition God will raise up teachers who are not bound to modernism.
Thanks Tony. Using this in my counseling class next Wednesday.
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