Does Everything Have to Be in Scripture?
Question: A friend of mine and I are in a discussion and he said, “Where in Scripture does it say everything has to be in Scripture?” Thoughts?
This is one we better be careful with. You and I must have a common ground of understanding, or we can never determine truth. In fact, the denial of God’s existence has brought about the post-modern idea that there is no absolute truth. Since there is nothing upon which to base truth, in the post-modern mind, truth is solely based upon my experiences, beliefs, feelings, and convictions. Frankly, I am of the opinion that my experiences, beliefs, feelings, and convictions are not worth a warm bucket of spit (as they say in the south). A Jew may base his convictions on what the Rabbis say. A Roman Catholic may base his beliefs on what church tradition says. But if I was talking to a Jew and said that something must be true because “this is what the preachers say,” that Jew would (rightly) dismiss this as a basis for truth. If I was talking to a Roman Catholic and said, “Baptist tradition says…,” that Catholic would (rightly) dismiss this as a basis for truth. And until we can come to a common basis for truth, we will never be able to fully agree.
Since the Protestant Reformation, sola scriptura has been the standard for truth in both faith and practice for the Christian life (at least in theory). Those of us who are Christians in the protestant, and (more so) evangelical, and (even more so) fundamentalist environments have determined that there is enough evidence of the validity of the Scriptures that we will use them as the sole source of authority for faith and practice.
But, does something have to be specifically stated in Scripture for a Christian to adopt a certain belief? If so, does the Scripture say that?
In truth, we do not need to have a “chapter and verse” to conclude that we have a strongly biblical foundation. Some things are not specifically addressed in Scripture, and yet are true.
For example, I’ve written a booklet called Why I am a Pretribulational Premillenialist. But I freely admit that there is not a single verse of Scripture that proves my position. If there was, then the world wouldn’t have any posttribulationalists or amillenialists. So, my position has no biblical support, right? WRONG! What I have done is taken clear biblical teachings on the Second Coming, the Tribulation, and the Rapture, then systematized those teachings and determined that the only logical conclusion is a pre-tribulational rapture. My position is wholly based on Scripture, even though no individual Scripture states my belief.
So, rather than insisting you see a “chapter and verse,” I would prefer that you insist on seeing that a particular practice or doctrine has a biblical foundation. Is there anything in Scripture which is in opposition to the position? Does the clear teaching of Scripture lead one to make logical conclusions that would lead to the position?
Another example is dispensationalism itself. Of course, I am a staunch dispensationalist. But there is not a single verse in the Bible that teaches the dispensational system. What is in the Bible, however, is the instruction to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). As the student of the Word, I am obligated to figure out what rightly dividing means and how to do it. Doing a word study, I realize that the term means to make a straight cut. From there, I determine, “Where can I cut or divide the Bible in a manner which makes sense?” I then begin reading my Bible and notice that, at certain times, some revelation is given that fundamentally changes the way in which man relates to God. I “cut” the Scriptures at that point, noticing logically that the requirements on one side of the cut are fundamentally different from the requirements on the other side of the cut. In doing this, I determine to read the Bible according to its divisions, or dispensations. Dispensationalism, then, is biblical, but I cannot point you to a particular Scripture that says, “Thou must be a dispensationalist.” Dispensationalism is a logical conclusion that is thoroughly biblical.
So, do we need a “chapter and verse” to prove a truth? Absolutely not. Rather, we need the whole counsel of the Word of God.
Note: this answer is summarized from our Ask the Theologian program for March 27, 2018.