The Vault

The Sufficiency of Holy Scripture

Welcome to the 2nd part and follow up to T.C. Hammond’s unpacking of the 6th Article from the Thirty-Nine Articles.

In our last article dealing with The Thirty-nine Articles we pointed out that Article VI introduced us to the problems that confronted the Church in the sixteenth century in contrast to the main principles of Christian theology that were then accepted by all professing Christians with the exception of a very small minority

The VIth Article, as we pointed out, deals with: (a) The sufficiency of Holy Scripture. (b) The Canon of Holy Scripture. The two are, of course, quite distinct. In relation to the first which now occupies our attention it is well to notice the limitation set by the Article. Only what can be proved from Holy Scripture is to be required as an article of the Faith. It is not denied that there are many useful and important truths which are not contained in Holy Scripture. But it is insisted upon that such truths are not part of the essential faith delivered by God to man. Articles of the Faith are thus, by implication, separated from other beliefs which may be held lawfully.

A Famous Controversy

We are introduced by this distinction to a famous controversy that raged in the late sixteenth century between Richard Hooker the distinguished Master of the Temple and his colleague preacher and lecturer, Walter Travers. Incidentally, as a solemn warning to popular preachers we note that according to Fuller, the congregation ebbed in the forenoon when Hooker preached and flowed in the afternoon when Travers occupied the pulpit. Yet Hooker has long outlasted Travers in fame and influence.

The precise point of the controversy to which we direct attention centred round the question: Has the Church of Rome denied the foundation of the Christian faith? Travers, with the fervent zeal of a convinced Prescisianist maintained that the Roman Church had no claim to be called a church at all. Hooker with more characteristic British solidity contended that while the Roman Church was in grievous error it could not be said of her that she had rejected the very essentials of our Christian profession.

Scripture Unites.

The limitation of Articles of the Faith to the most express declarations of Holy Writ assists in the task of uniting in essential agreement those who conscientiously differ on questions such as order and discipline. On the other hand the wide range of authority supposed to be conceded by the new theory of development exposing Christians to the evil of excommunication on the very slenderest pretext. In departing from the fixed rule that all that is essential is contained within the covers of God’s written Word the Church of Rome has opened wide the doors of human conjecture and has exposed her people to arbitrary determinations fixed by prevalent sentiment rather than by careful induction from Scripture. It is easy to show that no such freedom was claimed or exercised by the Primitive Church. As Dr. Salmon puts it, if there is one doctrine that might be held to command the unanimous consent of the Fathers that doctrine is the authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture. Thus Ignatius can write, “I speak not unto you as Peter and Paul.” Athanasius in his long and successful controversy with the Arians finds no other effective stand-by for his powerful arguments than the authority of Holy Scripture.

Complete Revelation.

We need to emphasise today that the fact that God speaks with authority through the written Word because there has grown up a body of theologians who arrogate to themselves the title “Liberal.” They argue that there is great value in the Old and New Testaments because they reflect the, as yet, highest aspirations of man in seeking to develop the true idea of God. But they contend that the period of revelation has not closed. In a very superior manner they ask: Why should the Canon of revealed truth close at the death of St. John? They might ask with equal relevance: Why should our Lord be born when Tiberius Caesar took a census? Our article does not deal with solemn trifling of this sort. It tells us that God has given a revelation and that this revelation culminated in the human activities of Jesus Christ our Lord and those who were appointed by Him to be the expounders of His message. It tells us that we have a complete revelation of the things that accompany salvation and no addition can rightly be made to it. It enables us to apply an immediate and obvious test to any claims made by individuals or even official teachers. It binds us to the Word of God and in so binding enables us to reach the fullest extent of freedom.


  1. OF the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any men, 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,

This article from the ACR Vault (18 August 1955) is the next in our Articulate series, listening to T.C. Hammond unpack the 39 Articles, one by one.

And for the keen amongst us – here is T.C.’s follow up (issued 15 September 1955) concerning the status of the Apocrypha…

The Aprocrypha and the Bible

By Archdeacon T.C. Hammond

In addition to the question of the supremacy of Scripture which was discussed in our last article, the Sixth Article of the Church of England raises another important issue. Dr. Milner once said: “The question between Catholics and Protestants is not as to the authority of the Word of God but as to what is the Word of God.”

No doubt Bishop Milner would include in the pints of debate the authority of tradition but there is also a serious question as to the number of books which are included in what the Council of Trent calls “the written books…both of the Old and New Testament.” To avoid any misapprehension the Council of Trent appended a list of the sacred books “that are received” by the Synod. This list agrees with the list in the Sixth Article so far as the books of the New Testament are concerned. It differs from the list in the Old Testament by including out of what our article called the “other books.” Tobias, Judith, the rest of the book of Esther, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, The Song of the Three Children, The Story of Susanna, of Bel and the Dragon, The First Book of Maccabees, The Second Book of Macabees. It is important to notice that the Council of Trent compels all Roman Catholics to assert definitely that “One God is the Author” of all these books. In company with all the Reformed Churches, the Church of England definitely rejects that claim.

While the books enumerated are read “for example of life and instruction of manners,” they are not and cannot be employed “to establish any doctrine.” The remarkable fact, to which the Sixth Article directs specific attention, is that Jerome, the author of the recognized Roman Catholic translation known generally as the Vulgate, supports the contention of the Sixth Article. It is strange that the Latin Vulgate edition published by the authority of the Archbishop of Paris in 1868 to mention only one edition, contains in the front various prefaces of Jerome including his “Prologue Galeatus” which contains the following words: – “Therefore Wisdom which by the multitude is assigned to Solomon and the book Jesus the Son of Sirach, and Judith and Tobit and the Pastor (i.e., The Shepherd of Hermas) are not in the canon.” Jerome is very strong on this point. He writes just before the words we have quoted, “With all the books which we have turned from Hebrew into Latin, we have been able to assemble, so that we may be able to know that whatever is outside of these ought to be placed among the Apocrypha.” With such a testimony preserved in a preface to the one authorized translation of the Roman Catholic Church it seems passing strange that the Council of Trent deliberately runs counter to the expressed judgment of the one man who preserved in Latin form the sacred volume. It is sufficient evidence that in the fifth century the received opinion of the Church was in agreement with the judgment of the Article. It may be worthwhile indicating that there were two uses of the term canon of scripture. Jerome draws attention in the passages quoted to the distinction between “the Canon” and “the Aprocrypha”. Only those books which were of authority for the establishment of the doctrine were placed in the Canon. Other books were included as worthy of public reading. An interesting example of this wise use of the term Canon including non-authoritative but profitable literature is found in the writings of Athanasius. He permits the inclusion of the Didache or teaching of the twelve Apostles in the list of canonical scriptures in the wider sense. No church has ever received this book the “The Shepherd of Hermas” to which Jerome alludes in the strict Canon established for the approving of doctrinal statements. Augustine for example is often quoted as supporting the larger list of books found in the determinations of the Council of Carthage. Yet, in his published writings, he makes the very distinction which is recognized in the Sixth Article. Jerome is very clear on this distinction. He tells us that the book of Judith is included in the Hebrew writings. But he adds immediately: “For the strengthening of those things, which have come into contention, it is judged to be too little suitable.” The authority of the Apocrypha as a portion of the Old Testament Scriptures was not only unknown to the Palestinian Jews of our Lord’s time but was not imposed on the members of the Church of Rome prior to the Council of Trent. Cardinal Cajetan, the opponent of Luther, had no hesitation in according a subordinate place in the esteem of Christians to the books which we call Apocryphal.

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