For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:4-6, ESV)
Biblical Counseling recognizes and affirms the claim of Scripture in its promises, precepts, principles and wisdom to be an all-sufficient resource for matters of life and godliness. The heart, from which our responses and choices and sins stem, is addressed in such a way by the Scriptures that a believer may know how to obey and glorify God regardless of the life situation. Rather than simplistic and ever-changing descriptions of man’s problems in relation to himself and others, the Bible provides richly elaborate and abiding explanations and solutions to man’s problems. These problems are first seen as related to and defined by God, then as having self and other dynamics.
Is the Scripture sufficient? What do we mean by this question? In and of itself, even the question is insufficient for a fruitful discussion. Is the Bible truthful and reliable? Is it inspired? Is it inerrant? For what is the Scripture sufficient? Even if it is inspired and inerrant, is it sufficient and complete enough to answer some of life’s most difficult questions such as, who should I marry, should I take that job, what church should I attend?
Views vary on all these questions, and more. It is the intent of this paper to discuss the sufficiency of Scripture in general and then reveal its implications to Biblical Counseling.
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8, ESV). The culture around us presents us with pervasive and persuasive models by which we are to understand life and living. They are pervasive in that they are in the intellectual, academic, entertainment, social and religious air we breathe. Myths like self-esteem have reached the point of unconscious social assumption and agreement. They are persuasive in that they are generally argued from life stories that seem to ring true. We fall prey to the truism that the person with the facts is always at the mercy of the person with the experience. The Scriptures are emphatic about the dangers of human devised wisdom of worldviews and techniques, placing them over against the stunning wisdom of God in their surpassing and all-encompassing gaze of God. But because the wisdom of the world is pervasive and persuasive, Christians need the lens of Scripture to bring things into focus.
The Written Word of God
The bedrock upon which our lives as Christians sit is the Word of God, specifically the written Word of God. While God spoke the universe into existence with his declarative Word and the ultimate Word is the son of God, the cornerstone of our faith, God has given us the Bible to know him and to understand us. Therefore, the supreme source of Christian theology are the Scriptures.
How do we know that the Bible is God’s Word? First, the Bible claims this for itself. The phrase, “thus says the Lord,” appears hundreds of times. In the world of the Old Testament, this phrase would have been recognized as identical in form to the phrase, “thus says King…,” which was used to preface the edict of a king to his subjects, an edict that could not be challenged or questioned but that simply had to be obeyed. Secondly, biblical authors make the claim. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This breathing out directly implies God speaking the words of Scripture. The apostle Peter indicates in a similar way that the Scriptures are the very words of God in 2 Peter 1:21, “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.” Peter indicates clearly here that none of these prophecies ever came by the will of man but only as the Holy Spirit carried them along. The phrase “carried them along” pictures a sailing vessel with full sails being carried along by the wind. If then, the Bible contains the very words of God, then it has great authority over our lives. Why? Since God cannot lie then his words are the ultimate standard of truth. In John 17 Jesus prays to the father, “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17, ESV). He does not say God’s Word is true, rather that God’s word is truth itself. “The difference is significant, for this statement encourages us to think of the Bible not simply as being “true” in the sense that it conforms to some higher standard of truth, but rather to think of the Bible as being itself the final standard of truth. The Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word is the ultimate definition of what is true and what is not true: God’s Word is itself truth.”
But, are there any errors in the Bible? In one sense, inspiration guarantees inerrancy. Inerrancy means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. Our English translations that are essentially literal, claim fidelity to the original languages achieving a consistently credible degree of faithfulness. Such a translation is as transparent to the original text as the process of translation allows. It also retains the verbal effects, the consonants, and the stylistic variety of the original.
In addition to inspiration and inerrancy, there are other arguments for the divine revelation of the Scriptures.
The A Priori argument, that is, strictly speaking, an argument from something prior to something posterior. In the case of the sufficiency of Scripture, it may be stated: man being what he is and God being what he is, we may possibly expect a revelation from God and also an embodiment of such parts of that revelation as are needed to supply a reliable and infallible source of theological truth. “Granted this argument does not take us beyond the point of possibility, or, at the most, of probability. Even so, the argument has some value in inspiring hope that God will provide for the profoundest needs of man.”
There is the argument from the indestructibility of the Bible. Only a very small percentage of books survive more than a quarter of a century, and a much smaller percentage last for a century, thus the Bible is a very unique book. It is even more amazing when we think about the hostility through which the Bible has survived. Further, “not only has the Bible received more veneration and adoration than any other book, but it has also been the object of more persecution and opposition.”
There is the argument from fulfilled prophecy. Only God can reveal the future, and prophecy as it relates to prediction is a miracle of knowledge. Fulfilled prophecy indicates that the writers of prophecy possessed in some manner supernatural intelligence (2 Peter 1:21, ESV). If we can demonstrate that Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled in particular ways, then we can prove divine revelation. The prophecies concerning Israel’s dispersion have been fulfilled (Deuteronomy 28:15-68, ESV). Judah and Jerusalem, though rescued from the Assyrians, were to fall into the hands of the Babylonians (Isaiah 39:6; Jeremiah 25:9-12, ESV). Sometime before 500 BC, the prophet Daniel proclaimed that Israel’s long-awaited Messiah would begin his public ministry 483 years after the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25-26, ESV). In approximately 700 BC, the prophet Micah named the tiny village of Bethlehem as the birthplace of Israel’s Messiah (Micah 5:2, ESV). Joshua prophesied that Jericho would be rebuilt by one man. He also said that the man’s eldest son would die when the reconstruction began and that his youngest son would die when the work reached completion (Joshua 6:26, ESV). About five centuries later this prophecy found its fulfillment in the life and family of a man named Hiel (1 Kings 16:33-34, ESV).
For what is the Scripture sufficient?
If, indeed, we have just established the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, what does that have to do with our lives, and specifically biblical counseling. In second Peter chapter 1, where Peter has explained that the Holy Spirit has inspired the very words of Scripture, Peter also expresses the breadth of its reach, ”His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4, emphasis mine, ESV). It is through the Word of God that we’ve been granted wisdom and knowledge of all things that pertain to life and godliness. God has promised this and that through his Word we may escape the corruption of our sinful desires, because we have already become partakers with him of the divine nature. And this is possible because we, “have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:2, ESV). And so, the Scriptures are sufficient for the things that pertain to life and godliness. But what does that mean? We will explore that later in this paper, but first we need to understand the connection between the Bible and counseling.
Heath Lambert defines counseling as, “Counseling is a conversation where one party with questions, problems, and trouble seeks assistance from someone they believe has answers, solutions, and help.” Based on this definition, the counselor must have answers, solutions, and help. Thus, counseling is more than listening, commiserating, and simply spending time with another. Biblical counseling does not require a professional psychology degree. It does require a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the Scripture, thus the label Biblical Counseling.
Understanding that counseling requires some vision of life is crucial to understanding the theological nature of counseling. The reason is that such a vision of reality is always theological. God defines what it is to be a human being, and he describes that in his word. God knows what is wrong with us and diagnoses the problem in the Bible. God prescribes a solution to our problems, faith in Christ, and reveals him to us in the Scriptures. God authorizes a process of transformation and shows us what it looks like in the pages of the Old and New Testaments.
God’s Word indeed shows us all things that pertain to life and godliness in our anthropology.
We have established the reliability of the Scriptures. We have begun to define biblical counseling and the necessity of understanding the Scriptures and theology to properly counsel. Is there any area, however, where the Scripture may be insufficient to counsel? Certainly throughout our lifetime there will be instances where the Scripture does not provide answers to everyday life. I am 59 years old and have been a bi-vocational pastor for the last 33 years. In my vocation I deal with computer equipment and software on a daily basis. These activities require much of my time, energy, concentration, and knowledge. Was the Scripture sufficient in the completion of my Microsoft certification examination? No it was not. There are times in our lives where extra biblical knowledge is necessary to function in life. As a young child I learned to speak English before I had even heard of the Bible. I know about nutrition, and mathematics, and chemistry, outside what is revealed in Scripture. So when we argue that Scripture is sufficient for understanding human life what exactly are we saying it’s sufficient for? In the confessional statement of the Biblical Counseling Coalition we read,
When we say that Scripture is comprehensive in wisdom, we mean that the Bible makes sense of all things, not that it contains all the information people could ever know about all topics. God’s common grace brings many good things to human life. However, common grace cannot save us from our struggles with sin or from the troubles that beset us. Common grace cannot sanctify or cure the soul of all that ails the human condition. We affirm that numerous sources (such as scientific research, organized observations about human behavior, those we counsel, reflection on our own life experience, literature, film, and history) can contribute to our knowledge of people, and many sources can contribute some relief for the troubles of life. However, none can constitute a comprehensive system of counseling principles and practices. When systems of thought and practice claim to prescribe a cure for the human condition, they compete with Christ (Colossians 2:1-15). Scripture alone teaches a perspective and way of looking at life by which we can think biblically about and critically evaluate information and actions from any source (Colossians 2:2-10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The knowledge that I gain from the world, its educational systems, and living life, is not sufficient for me to know who I am and why I do what I do. God has designed us to need him to tell us about the world he created and how we should observe it. Scripture gives us a framework, a set of perimeters, in which to accurately view the world.
The Scripture is sufficient to teach me everything I need to know about salvation and everything that pertains to the Christian faith. Not only is it sufficient for these things, because it is the only book that is the inspired Word of God, it stands alone. Scripture needs nothing else to teach everything necessary for proper belief about God and salvation.
Though not exhaustive, every word of Scripture accurately reflects God’s infinite knowledge of both material nature and the ultimate purpose of creation, and God selected each word to communicate what he wants our attention drawn toward. God’s word has more than just encyclopedic authority, meaning that on every topic the Bible addresses, it does so with the ultimate authority of God himself. It also has emphatic authority, meaning that whatever God draws our attention to as primary ought to capture our primary attention. In short, sufficiency is not just a matter of the specific information contained in the Bible, but of how those divine words demand a priority of perspective on information not contained in the Bible.
We must acknowledge that the Scripture sets the agenda for what we focus on. God’s interpretation of reality is the true interpretation. Since God’s interpretation of life is true then we must reject our human experience as authoritative. And if we must reject the authority of our own human experience, we must also reject the authority of those psychological sciences who base their “theology” on the study of human experience.
David Powlison describes this very danger:
Christians allow conceptual categories from personality theory or self-help or medicine, the authority of the latest research study, the well socialized and tacit assumptions of the mental health professional, and the necessities of licensure and accreditation to permeate thought and practice. All of this works in concert to unnerve faith. The Bible becomes an ancillary and supportive text, a source of proof texts in the worst sense. Christian faith and biblical citation are pressed to rationalize ideas intrinsically alien to the mind of God. Only when our first priority is first will we truly think and act in ways that transform our culture, those we counsel, and ourselves.
With God’s Word as the framework for our counseling, how do we apply this sufficiency to the lives of those we desire to help? When we are introduced to couples whose marriages are in shambles, people with addictive behaviors that have ruined their lives, men and women involved in pornography, adulterers, those who deal with chronic anger, and many who are suffering at the hands of others, how does God’s Word prove sufficient for the sin and suffering of their lives?
” All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV). What a great and wonderful promise for the counselor and the counselee!
- The Scripture is breathed out by God (inspired, ESV), and so it is true.
- The Scripture teaches us not just doctrine but about life itself. It teaches believers God’s truth and doctrine.
- The Scripture rebukes us necessary. The reproof shows us where we have become out of step with God. As we bring the Scripture to bear on the sin in the life of the counselee, the Holy Spirit uses those Scriptures to prompt toward repentance.
- The Scripture corrects us, setting us straight. Not only is reproof necessary, but correction puts us back on the right path.
- The Scripture trains us in righteousness. Literally “child-training,” guiding believers in God’s ways. The purpose of this training ministry is that we would be complete, and equipped.
The Psalms help us not only remember that God is no stranger to brokenness, but that his Word ministers to those who are downcast. Because God’s word is sufficient for these things, the counselor approaches the suffering one with gratefulness to God for his grace and settled hope that the answers and instruction that will transform the life are at his disposal. Psalm 119 itself focuses us on the affection and attention due God’s Word. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9, ESV). This Psalm is a testimony to the enduring love and great value with which this Old Testament author regarded the little bit of the Word he had.
The Scriptures are sufficient for explaining to us guiding principles for life. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-14 Paul is addressing questions on “questionable practices” such as eating of food sacrificed to idols, etc. The warning from Israel’s history is to aid the Corinthians in seeing the importance of the heart and what it is set upon among those who have great spiritual privilege. The Scriptures record for us the heart pursuits, drives and wants that drives our disobedience as common themes for idolatry, lusts, doubts and discontents so that we will have examples and sufficient instruction so as to not sin by knowing how to escape the testing and temptations we face. Paul, in essence, uses Scripture here to biblically counsel the Corinthians, we can follow his pattern:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:1-14, ESV emphasis mine).
Paul “counsels” the church at Corinth in three ways.
First, in verses 1-5 he identifies spiritual truths. The Israelites had many great spiritual privileges, they were led by God through Moses and were sustained by spiritual food and had drink from the Living Rock himself. Instead of God and Moses, they wanted “gods who would go before them”. Instead of spiritual food they wanted earthly meats, instead of Christ they wanted the world.
Second, in verses 6-10, Paul illustrates their spiritual failures. He identifies the heart as the root of the problems in verse 6, and then goes on to enumerate their sin in 7-10 (idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God, and grumbling).
Finally, Paul gives them instruction for their spiritual benefit in verses 11-14. Examine your hearts, be careful you have not set them upon evil things (idols). There is grace in every temptation, it is always possible to please God. Therefore, flee from idols (of the heart).
In counseling we must establish the authority of the Scriptures. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12ff). The fact of inerrancy and God’s claims in his revelation establishes the authority of biblical counseling. We speak not the Counsel of man, but rather the Counsel of God. This eliminates subjective thought. This eliminates any perception of our arrogance.
In counseling we must establish the adequacy of God’s Word. We have already determined that the Bible is comprehensive, not exhaustive. We affirm that numerous disciplines and professions can contribute, yet Scripture teaches our standpoint and gaze. We deny that any of these disciplines and professions can align and constitute a system of faith and practice for wise counseling. We must be careful to guard ourselves against any variation of our orthodoxy and our orthopraxy. If we are not careful in this area it is easy for us to become functional atheists and we will begin to counsel from the world and experience and not from the Word.
The strategies we implement in the care and cure of souls are shaped and selected by where we place our trust and reliance, whether in the techniques of human wisdom, or in the Word and power of God. This will be an on-going battle within our own thinking and especially those of our counselees who often come to us following counseling from a psychologist. “Just as there are many philosophies and many religions, it is no surprise that there will always be conflicting psychologies until the kingdom of God is established and everyone faces up to the final truth about our souls.”
We minister to real people in a fallen world. We must be true to God and his word while being truly engaged with people, their lives, their troubles and sufferings.
Our ministry may be misunderstood. As we become skillful at understanding the Word, people, and their life situations, our ability to help people in wisdom will increase. But so will our vulnerability to being misunderstood as merely operating in the realm of human wisdom and techniques in the flesh. Our commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture in counseling stands out in contrast to both the world way and the way of many Christians. We should expect opposition from some who may misrepresent biblical counseling.
Our ministry will require both tenderness and toughness. Because we speak for God and his truth, we must have courage and compassion. We must never sound as though the truth does not matter. And we must never minister as though the people we minister to do not matter. We are involved in a war for the souls of men and women. This is not a psychological experiment. It is the work of God to reconcile and restore redeemed people to their Redeemer and Ruler.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they then gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7-11, ESV).
In light of what we have learned from Psalm 19:7-11, 2 Timothy 3:15 -17, and 2 Peter 1:3-7, I ask this question: could God have stated more clearly the sufficiency of our resources in Christ and in his word? What more could he have said to get the message through to us that we do not need any extra biblical resources to understand people and their problems and to help them develop the qualities, attitudes, desires, values, feelings, and behavior that are proper for relating to and living before God in a way that pleases and honors him?
 Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology, (Zondervan, 1994), 74
 Ibid. 83
 Ryken, Leland, The Word of God in English, (Crossway, 2002), 228
 Thiessen, Henry, Lectures in Systematic Theology, (William B. Eerdmans, 1949), 44
 Bancroft, Emery, Christian Theology, (Zondervan, 1987), 360
 Lambert, Heath, A Theology of Biblical Counseling, (Zondervan, 2016), 13
 Ibid. 17
 Pierre, Jeremy “Scripture is Sufficient to do What”, in Scripture and Counseling,”,ed. Kellerman, Bob and Forrey Jeff (Zondervan, 2014), 98,
 Powlison, David, Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context, (New Growth Press, 2010), 284
 Powlison, David, “A Biblical Counseling View”, in Psychology and Christianity, ed. By Johnson, Eric, (IVP Academic, 2010), 205
 Mack, Wayne, “The Sufficiency of Scripture in Counseling”, in The Master’s Perspective on Pastoral Ministry, ed. by Mayhue, Richard & Thomas, Robert (Kregel Publications, 2002), 205