The Perfection of Scripture

Chris Thomas Doctrine of Scripture, Francis Turretin, Turretin's 21 Questions Leave a Comment

QUESTION 16: Does Scripture contain whatever is necessary for their salvation to the extent that after it was given there was no need for unwritten traditions? Affirmative.

I. In order to avoid the tribunal of Scripture, which they know as an adversary, the Roman Catholics not
only reject its authenticity and integrity, but also seek to deny its perfection and perspicuity. So the
question of the perfection of Scripture stands between us and them.
II. On the nature of the question, note (1) it is not to be asked whether Scripture records everything that
Christ and the saints said or did, or

[whether any omitted item] has some significance for religion. We do
not deny that many things were done by Christ that were not recorded in writing (John 20:30), and there
are many matters, appendices and bylaws, as it were, to religion, dealing with the worship and polity of
the church, which are not specifically covered by Scripture, and are left to the decision of the rulers of the
church, who should take care that all things are done properly in the church (I Cor. 14:40). The question
concerns matters necessary for salvation, whether of faith or of conduct: whether all of these are in the
Scripture, so that it can be a full and sufficient rule of faith and practice, which we affirm and our
adversaries deny.
III. (2) The question is not whether all [doctrines] must be stated in literal terms and exact words, or
directly and explicitly, in Scripture; we admit that many things are properly deduced from Scripture by
logical reasoning, and then regarded as the word of God. But the question is whether [all doctrines] are
so stated in Scripture, either in express statements or as valid conclusions drawn from it, that there is no
need for another unwritten principle of faith from which knowledge affecting religion and salvation should
be sought.
IV. (3) This is not a question of intensive or qualitative perfection, which is found in the
detailed truth of dogmas and precepts and a completely perfected means of communicating them. It is a
question of extensive and quantitative perfection, which extends to all articles of faith and practice. The
first is found partially in individual portions of Scripture; the second in the whole.
V. (4) This is not a
question whether the perfection of Scripture as to degree (gradus) always existed. We admit that
revelation changed in accordance with the different ages of the church, so that as the church grew,
revelation grew, not as to the substance of the articles of .faith, which were always the same, but as to
the clarity of their manifestation and application. But the question is whether now [the Scripture], without
any supplement of tradition, is the sufficient rule of faith and conduct.
VI. (5) The question is not whether there ever was an oral tradition in the church. We admit that God
once taught the church by an unwritten word, as before Moses. But the question is whether, once the
Scripture had been committed to writing, there were oral traditions which should be received with the
same reverence as Scripture, which the Roman Catholics teach and we deny.
VII. (6) It is not to be asked whether all traditions whatsoever are to be completely rejected, for we grant
that there are historical traditions which record events and ritual traditions which deal with rites and
ceremonies of optional nature. It is a question only of dogmatic and moral traditions, that is, ones that
concern either faith or conduct. We deny that such are given except in Scripture.
VIII. (7) It is not a question whether divine and apostolic traditions, that is, all teachings which were
handed down by Christ or the apostles, are to be accepted; everyone readily grants this. The question is
whether any such traditions are given except in Scripture. Therefore, until our adversaries can show by an
unquestionable proof that their unwritten traditions truly rest on Christ and the apostles, which will never
be done, we shall reject them as human work.
IX. The question therefore comes to this: does Scripture contain perfectly, not absolutely everything, but whatever is necessary for salvation, not explicitly and in exact words, but with equal force [to explicit
statement] or by valid conclusion (aequipollenter vel per legitimam consequentiam), so that there is no
need to resort to any unwritten word; or, is Scripture a full and sufficient rule of faith and conduct, not
merely a partial and inadequate one? We uphold the first; the Roman Catholics, who maintain “the
unwritten traditions, whether referring to faith or to conduct (mores), are to be received with the same
pious feeling and reverence as Scripture” (Council of Trent, session 4; Bellarmine, De Verbo Dei 4.2 – 3), uphold the second.
X. The Jews anticipated the Roman Catholics in accepting traditions. They divided the law into the written,
and the oral, which Moses, receiving on Mount Sinai, delivered to Joshua, he to the seventy elders (Num.
11:16), they to the prophets, they to the Great Synagogue, until at last it was written and codified in the
Talmud. So various “secondary traditions” (deuterwseij), for which Christ rebuked them, developed
among them, which were a wile of Satan by which he the more easily called the Jews away from the
written law. By the same device he brought it about that the Roman Catholics thought out the double law
of God, written and unwritten, as if Christ and the apostles taught much by the spoken word that they
never passed on in writing. Hence arose the “unwritten traditions,” so called not because they were never
written, but, according to Bellarrnine, because they were not written by the original author, or because
they are not found in any apostolic writing.
XI. In order not to seem to uphold the insufficiency of Scripture, some among them, such as Stapleton
and Serarius, distinguished between explicit and implicit sufficiency, or, like Perronius, between indirect
and direct. Scripture is recognized by them as insufficient in the direct and explicit sense, but it can be
called sufficient in an indirect and implicit sense, because it is supplemented, in those matters for which in
itself it is insufficient, by the church and tradition.
XII. We, on the other hand, attribute to Scripture a direct and explicit sufficiency and perfection, such that
there is no necessity of resorting to any other tradition, even one offered as divine and apostolic.
XIII. [The reasons are:] (1) Paul says that all Scripture is inspired by God (pasan grafhn esse
qeopneuston), and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of
God may be complete, equipped for every good work (II Tim. 3:16 -17). Here lie a number of arguments
for the perfection of Scripture. First that the sacred writings can instruct for salvation (v. 15). Who would
ask for more than that we be made capable of salvation? Second, it is useful for all purposes, theoretical
and practical: for teaching faith, and for guiding conduct. Third, it can make the man of God complete for
every good work. But what is enough for the shepherds (pastores) is enough for the sheep.
XIV. The Roman Catholics make futile objections. First, [they say] to be called useful is not to be called
sufficient. Water is necessary for life, air for health, but they are not enough. [We reply] what is useful,
not only for some purpose, but universally, for all, by a total and adequate usefulness, not a partial and
incomplete one, is sufficient of necessity. But Scripture is presented as such, when it is said to be able to
instruct for salvation and to be useful for instruction in truth, refutation of error, the correction of evil and
the growth of good. Nothing more is needed for perfection. Similar [objections] brought forward are no
more relevant; for it is one thing to speak of usefulness that is directed toward some distant and
incidental purpose, which is the function of air in health and of water in life, for such usefulness may
indeed be called a support (adminiculum), but not a sufficient support (sufficienta). But it is another thing
altogether to speak of a usefulness which deals with its own immediate, natural purpose; such usefulness
of necessity involves sufficiency, as when fire is called useful for burning. It is plain the Scripture is called
useful in this sense. Secondly [they object] that the Old Testament is meant here [in II Tim. 3:15 -17]. If
it is called sufficient for everything, then either the New Testament has been condemned as superfluous
or there is no reason why something cannot be added even today to the New Testament. [We reply] (a)
Paul was speaking of the whole Scripture as it existed in his day, when in fact not only the Old Testament
but also several parts of the New had already been written. (b) If the Old Testament was sufficient, the
New is much more so. (c) If the Old Testament was sufficient in its time, the New is not superfluous for that reason; just as the ages of the church differ, so do the degrees of revelation, not that they are made
more complete as to substance of teaching, but as to circumstances and a greater clarity of presentation.
(d) If the New Testament is added to the Old, it does not follow that anything can still be added to the
New, because the canon of Scripture is complete in every respect, not only as to the substance of articles
to be believed, but also as to the form and degree of revelation that is possible in this life. Thirdly [they
object] that [II Tim. 3:15 -17] does not say “the whole,” but “all Scripture,” and if this is understood
strictly, this perfection would be found in any individual part of Scripture, which is absurd. But the word
all is not to be understood here as a reference to particular parts of Scripture, or to single verses, but
collectively for the whole, a sense in which it is often used (Matt. 2:3; 27:45; Acts 2:36; Luke 21:32; Acts
20:24 [25]), and so it is understood by Cornelius a Lapide, Estius, and the Catechism of the Council of
XV. (2) God expressly forbids to add to, or take away from, his Word. “You shall not add to the word
which I command you, nor take from it” (Deut. 4:2); “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach
to you a gospel other than that which we have preached, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8); “if anyone
adds to them, God will impose upon him the plagues written in this book, and if anyone takes away
anything, God will take away his share of the book of life” (Rev. 22:18 -19). It cannot be said that this
refers only to the law given orally to Moses, which was more extensive than the written, because the
written and unwritten words of Moses differed only in form; he taught nothing by spoken word that he did
not write. So he was ordered to write the whole law, with nothing left out, for the perpetual use of the
church, and he wrote it as a servant of believers (Exod. 24:4; Deut. 31:9, 11, 19, etc.). Thus often by
“law” is understood the book of the law (Deut. 28:58; Josh. 1:7). Nor [can it be said] that the
commandment refers to wholeness of obedience, because wholeness of obedience implies the wholeness
of the law, which is such that it is forbidden for anyone to add to it. Nor [can it be said] that it is a matter
of additions that corrupt, not of those that complete, because no tradition is given to complete what has
been completed already, and it is not corruption, but simple addition that is condemned; placing along
with (appositio), not only placing against (oppositio), so that Paul does not say “contrary to,” but “in
addition to,” or “other than what was preached”; as Theophylact rightly says, “He does not say ‘if
anything is preached against,’ but ‘even if a little is preached besides what has been preached.’ ” Any
addition to the content of the faith is corrupting, because it is added to the foundation which ought to be
itself only (unicus), and anyone who adds to the foundation shall himself be destroyed, just as a circle is
destroyed if you add the smallest point, and a correct weight is not improved if you add more than is
called for. The prophets and apostles who added so much to the Mosaic canon are not to be blamed,
because it is necessary to distinguish the ages of the church in accordance with which it was proper for
revelation to develop, not [indeed] with regard to substance of dogmas, but with regard to form and
circumstances. Paul, who declared that he had preached the whole plan of God to the believers (Acts
20:20, 27), nevertheless declared also that he taught nothing except what Moses and the prophets had
taught (Acts 26:22). Further, many additions that the Roman Catholics have made are not only other
than the word, but also contrary to it. And indeed, as regards John, he had in mind not only his prophecy
when he forbade changing it, but also, as he was the last writer of Scripture, his apocalypse closed the
canon of Scripture, and he sealed it with threats in the final words. Add that the argument from equality
is always valid; what is said of this book [Revelation] holds true also for the others [of the Bible].
XVI. (3) The law of God is called “perfect, reviving the soul and giving wisdom to the foolish” (Ps. 19:7).
But the conversion and reviving of the soul are impossible unless everything necessary for salvation is
known. Nor can it be said that this text refers only to intensive, qualitative perfection, because the law is
pure without any lack in particular parts, certainly not in extensive perfection with regard to quantity and
fullness; because the primary meaning of the word tamim [“perfect,” Ps. 19:7] is a perfection from which
nothing is lacking, and the very nature of the case requires this, because it is a question of reviving the
soul and giving wisdom to the foolish, which cannot be done except by a complete sufficiency.
XVII. (4) The purpose of Scripture requires this perlection, for it was given that we might have salvation
and life from it (John 20:31; I John 5:13; Rom. 15:4). How could this purpose be accomplished, unless[Scripture] were perfect, containing all that is necessary for salvation? It was given to be canon and rule of faith (canon et regula fidei) but a rule which is not full and sufficient is no rule; a rule is a standard
from which nothing can be taken and to which nothing can be added, “an inviolable law and infallible
measure, allowing no addition or substitution,” as Favorinus says. It was given as the testament of Christ,
and if no one dares add anything to a human will (Gal. 3:15), much less can that be done to the divine
one, which the lawful heirs believe, no less safely than firmly, contains fully the final desire of the
testator. Finally, it is the bond of the covenant given us by God; who would say that either more [terms],
or other ones should be required, either for God to promise or to be required from us?
XVIII. (5) All dogmatic traditions outside Scripture are to be rejected. “In vain do they worship me,
teaching doctrines and precepts of men” Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:4-9). Nor can it be answered that Pharisaic,
not apostolic, traditions are rejected. For all teachings of human origin, not given by Scripture, are
rejected as a class, and it is an arbitrary assumption to suppose that the apostles gave traditions beside
Scripture. So believers are summoned “to the law and testimony” Isa. 8:20), and destruction is
threatened for those who would not speak in accordance with it. By “testimony” the traditions cannot be
understood, because they are often rejected by God, but either the law itself, which is often called
testimony, that is, that law which is interpretatively the testimony of God, or else it refers to the other
writings of the prophets, which were added to the law. Paul forbids “thinking above what has been
written” (I Cor. 4:6), not only in respect to conduct, lest he seem wise to himself, according to Solomon’s
precept (Prov.3:7), but also in respect to doctrine, lest anyone, puffed up by the presumption of empty
wisdom, proclaim strange doctrines, other than the Scriptures, in the church, as the false apostles were
doing among the Corinthians.
XIX. (6) No adequate reason can be suggested for God to wish part of his word to be written and the
other part passed on only by the spoken word. And he would have guided his church badly if he had
entrusted part of the necessary teaching to the unreliable tradition of human kind, since there is no
tradition that cannot easily be corrupted with the passage of time. Add that no rule is given for the
recognition of tradition except that based on the witness and authority of the church, and this authority
itself is controversial to the highest degree. Since therefore their origin is doubtful, their authority
uncertain, their content confused and ambiguous, and it is impossible to have a means of recognizing
them, no one fails to see that [traditions] are properly rejected by us, that we may adhere to Scripture
alone as the altogether perfect rule of faith and conduct.
XX. (7) The Fathers taught this most clearly to us. Tertullian says, “I revere the fullness of Scripture,” and
again, “Let Hermogenes show that it is written, and if it is not written, let him fear that woe [pronounced] upon those who add anything” (Against Hermogenes 21 [22]), and again, in Against Heretics, “There is no
need among us for inquiry beyond Christ or for investigation beyond the gospel; when we believe we
believe this above all: that we ought not to believe anything else.” Jerome says, “What does not have
authority from Scripture is brought into disrepute by the very means through which it is demonstrated.”
Augustine declares, “In those teachings which are clearly based on Scripture are found all that concern
faith and the conduct of life” (On Christian Doctrine 2.20). . . .
XXI. Although everything is not written down in all details (kata meros), as noted in John 20:30, since an
isolated detail is neither a category nor knowledge, yet they are written with regard to every element
(kat’ ei-doj), as to the substance of necessary teaching. So it is one thing to say that many things were
said and done by Christ and the apostles that are not recorded in Scripture, which we grant, and another
to say that these words and deeds were different in substance from those recorded in Scripture, which we
XXII. Whatever the Roman Catholics seek to have accepted besides Scripture is sometimes actually in
Scripture, like the Trinity, in substance, infant baptism, which Bellarmine defends from Scripture (De
baptismo 8), the impropriety of rebaptizing, the number of sacraments, at least those numbered [in
Scripture], the admission of women to the holy fellowship (Acts 2:42; I Cor. 11:5), the change from the
Sabbath to the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10; I Cor. 16:2; Col. 2:16 -17). Or they are not dogmas necessary for salvation, like the perpetual virginity of Mary, or they are false and imagined, like the local descent of
Christ into hell, purgatory, the mass, or the return of Enoch and Elijah.
XXIII. The “deposit” mentioned in I Timothy 6:20 means anything but an oral, unwritten tradition: either
a sounder form of the words to which he is directed (II Tim. 1:13), in opposition to profane innovations
and the attacks of “wisdom falsely called,” or the wealth (talentum) of gifts given him, which has nothing
in common with a mishmash of unwritten traditions.
XXIV. Those many things which the disciples of Christ could not bear (John 16:12) do not imply the
insufficiency of Scripture or the need for traditions, both because they were not new dogmas different
from those given earlier (John 14:26), but the same ones spoken more clearly and demonstrated more
firmly by the Spirit; and because, when later taught by the outpouring of the Spirit, they committed them
to writing.
XXV. The apostle’s word in II Thessalonians 2:15 does not prove that unwritten traditions were given, but
indicates the twofold manner in which the same teaching was passed on; first by the spoken word, then
by the written, and the disjunctive particle eite (“or”), which can also be copulative, as in Romans 14:8, I
Corinthians 15:11, and Colossians 1:20, shows diversity not in content, but in form, which could be two
forms of the same thing (alius et alius), especially in those early times when the canon of the New
Testament Scriptures had not yet been written. Finally, although not all [necessary teachings] are found
in the letter which Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, it does not fbllow that they are not found elsewhere in
XXVI. Tradition sometimes means any teaching which is handed down to us, whether by written or by
spoken word, and sometimes a teaching handed down only by the spoken unwritten word. There is no
question about tradition in the first sense, so that all dogmas contained in Scripture may be called
traditions, as Paul speaks of the institution of the Eucharist (I Cor. 11:23); but we are concerned over the
XXVII. Direct and indirect sufficiency are distinguished, to no avail, by Perronius. [His grounds are] that it
leads us to the church, which then makes good the insufficiency (defectus) of Scripture. [He gives these
arguments:] (1) the true insufficiency of Scripture is known in this process, because if it leads us to the
church which has this sufficiency, it states that in itself it does not have it. (2) In the same way the law
can be said to be complete for [purposes of] salvation, for it leads to Christ in whom is salvation. (3)
Scripture does not lead us to a church that sets forth new articles of faith, but [leads] in order that [the
church] may interpret and apply those which are in Scripture. The reply should not be that we teach this
indirect sufficiency when we hold that Scripture contains all [doctrines] necessary for salvation, if not
expressly at least by logical deduction (per consequentiam), because when Scripture teaches anything in
that way, it does not lead to another who teaches, but brings forth from within itself (ex sinu suo)[teachings] that were implicitly lying there. Nor can a similar [illustration] which is brought forward by
Perronius, that of letters of credence, which do not coritain everything that the envoy has in his
instructions, be used here, for Scripture is not like a letter of credence, but like an edict by a ruler, which
contains everything that is to be believed or done, to such extent that nothing can be added to it or taken
away from it.
XXVIII. The perfection of Scripture which is affirmed by us does not exclude either the ministry
(ministerium) of the church, which was established by God for the proclamation and application of the
word, or the necessary work (virtus) of the Holy Spirit for internal conversion, but it does exclude the
need for any other rule (regula) for external guidance which can be added to Scripture for its completion.
The plan (regula) that requires the hand of the builder for its completion is not for that reason imperfect.
XXIX. Positive and affirmative teachings which explain clearly (positive) what we must believe are one thing; negative ones which teach what is to be rejected are another.
The question of the sufficiency of Scripture should not be raised concerning negative articles, as if it ought
to contain the rejection of every error and heresy which had then arisen or which would arise up to our
time, for just as a straight line shows its own direction and that of a line that crosses it, errors are easily
refuted from the position of
truth. Our question is above all of affirmative articles, which are the very food of the soul.
XXX. “Tradition” is used both formally, for the act of passing on, and materially, for the content passed
on; here we are not concerned with tradition in the first sense; we admit it in that sense for we have
Scripture for that, but we are concerned with the second, in that we reject it.
XXXI. The Old Testament Scripture was perfect essentially and absolutely, because it contained the
substance of doctrine necessary for salvation in the conditions of that time; but it can be called imperfect
accidentally and comparatively with respect to the New Testament in regard to form of manifestation,
although it is the age of manhood with regard to the Jewish church (Gal. 4).
XXXII. That Jesus the son of Mary is the true Messiah, or the Son of God in the flesh, is not a new article
of faith, but an explanation and application of old ones, [an explanation] which teaches in hypothesis
what in the Old Testament was taught in thesis concerning the Messiah. So when Christ adds a
countersignature to the bond, fulfillment to the prediction, body to the shadow, he does not offer a new
teaching, but explains and illustrates an old one.
XXXIII. A tradition concerning Scripture does not indicate that traditions besides Scripture were given,
because the question properly is not one of beginnings (principii), but of preeminences (principiatus);
whether given the Scripture we have, there is need for any unwritten traditions to make good its lacks in
matters necessary for salvation. Further, tradition is formal and active, which we grant, because the
oracles of God have been entrusted to the church as herald and guardian of them; but it is not material
and passive, teaching some doctrine passed on apart from Scripture; this we deny. So we have Scripture
through tradition, not that tradition is the beginning of belief, but that it is the means and instrument by
which it comes to our hands.
XXXIV. Scripture is called perfect, not always sufficiently with regard to the object, as if it explained
perfectly all the mysteries which it passes on; there are many which in themselves cannot be expressed,
like God or the Trinity, but sufficiently for its purpose, because it sets forth [the mysteries] in such a way
that they can be understood by us sufficiently for salvation.
XXXV. When we say that Scripture is perfect in the essence (esse) of the rule, we understand the whole of
Scripture collectively, not the whole of Scripture in a distributive sense, that is, its individual parts, and so
not in the sense that whatever is of the rule, the same is the rule.
XXXVI. Although the Fathers often spoke of traditions, these are not the unwritten ones, because they
speak in different ways concerning these traditions. Sometimes they mean by tradition that act of passing
on, by which the sacred books were preserved in an unbroken succession by the church and passed on to
future generations; which is the formal tradition, in which sense Origen says that he was taught by
tradition that the four Gospels are unquestioned in the universal church. Secondly, [“tradition”] is often
used for the written teaching, which first was presented by the spoken word, then written; thus Cyprian
says, “If it is proclaimed in the gospel, or found in the letters or acts of the apostles, the sacred tradition
is to be kept” (epistle 74, to Pompeius). Thirdly, [“tradition”] means teaching which is not found in
Scripture in specific words, but is deduced by legitimate and necessary consequences, against those who
demanded express words of Scripture, and were unwilling to accept the homoousion, because it was not a
scriptural word. Thus Basil denies that the exact profession of faith by which we believe in the Father, the
Son, and Holy Spirit can be obtained from Scripture, [but only] by understanding the creed, whose articles are, however, in Scripture so far as meaning is concerned (On the Holy Spirit 27). Fourthly,[“tradition”] means the teaching on rites and ceremonies known as the ritual tradition. Fifthly, the
judgment of the teachers of the old church in the interpretation of some passage of Scripture, which they
held to, not without humble veneration of antiquity, as received from the elders, because it agreed with
Scripture. This can be called “tradition of meaning” or “exegetical tradition.” Irenaeus often speaks of it
(Against Heresies 3.3), and Tertullian does so often in Concerning the Prescription of Heretics (book 1).
Sixthly, they used the word “tradition” ad hominem, in disputing against heretics who employed[traditions], not because they proved that which was not to be found in Scripture, but because the
heretics with whom they were disputing did not recognize the Scripture, since, as Irenaeus said, “\’\’hen
they knew themselves defeated by the Scriptures, they turned into enemies of the Scriptures.” [The
Fathers] therefore disputed from the consensus of tradition and Scripture, as today we also debate with
our adversaries on the basis of the Fathers, but they did not do this from the conviction that they received
dogmatic traditions outside of Scripture, on the witness of Jerome: “The sword of the Lord strikes down
those who, on their own accord, make charges and fabrications without the authority and witness of
Scripture, as if by apostolic tradition” (On Haggai 1).
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