This thesis aims to reconstruct the bases of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture,
bringing its orthodox Protestant formulation into discussion with some related topics in
contemporary theology, hermeneutics, literary theory and the philosophy of language.
Material for the reconstruction is found especially in speech-act theory, as developed by J.L.
Austin, John Searle and Nicholas Wolterstorff, and as it has been applied to the Bible
initially by Wolterstorff, Anthony Thiselton and Kevin Vanhoozer. The content of the
thesis addresses both those who confess the doctrine too unreflectively and those who
dismiss it too hastily.
An introductory chapter outlines the academic contexts in which the content of the thesis is
located: the interpretation of the historical doctrine of Scripture; the influence of linguistic
and literary theory on contemporary theology and biblical studies; Jacques Derrida's
concept of the inevitable 'supplementation' of written texts; the question of authority in
theology and how God is to be 'named'; the broad question of how Christian theology may
think of God's action in light of modernity and post-modernity.
The body of the thesis begins with an analytical overview of the history of the doctrine's
development and decline, focusing on its full articulation in the Protestant Reformation and
in post-Reformation Protestant scholasticism, (chapter 2). Theologians of the latter type,
particularly Francis Turretin, are defended against the charge that they departed
significantly from the Reformation understanding of Scripture. This analysis describes
three elements of the sufficiency of Scripture, each of which is reconstructed in turn in the
three subsequent chapters.
Chapter 3 deals with the theological claim that God speaks, and that Scripture is a medium
of his speech. A notion of what it is to speak based on speech-act theory and especially on
Wolterstorff s application of it to divine speech is adopted, and used to inform a reading of
Karl Barth's conception of God as speaker, in order to assess his rejection of fundamental
aspects of the classical Protestant doctrine of Scripture. The identification of Scripture with
the Word of God, acknowledging Barth's concerns, is defended.
Chapter 4 takes up the material aspect of the sufficiency of Scripture: that Scripture
contains everything necessary to be known for salvation. Various construals of textual
ontology are discussed: the hermeneutical models of 'textual self-sufficiency' offered in
literary theory by New Criticism and in theology by Hans Frei; the opposing construals of
authorship developed by E.D. Hirsch and deconstruction, especially as the latter is
exemplified in the work of the NT scholar Stephen Moore; the reader-oriented
hermeneutics of Stanley Fish and Stanley Hauerwas. A conception of Scripture as
'sufficient', in relation to an ethical construal of authorship and a description of the action of
the Holy Spirit, is developed.
Chapter 5 takes up the formal aspect of sufficiency: that Scripture is sufficient for its own
interpretation. The theories of intertextuality of Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes are
examined, and philosophical resources are found in the work of Mikhail Bakhtin on
language and Paul Ricoeur on Scripture, exemplified in the NT exegesis of Richard Hays, to
outline a conception of 'biblical polyphony'. The canonical hermeneutics of B.S. Childs is
examined, and supplemented hermeneutically via a recent suggestion of E.D. Hirsch on
authorial intentionality, and theologically with a defence of the orthodox Protestant doctrine
of biblical inspiration, as articulated by B.B. Warfield. A conception of the canon of
Scripture as 'sufficient' is offered.
A concluding chapter suggests how this reconstruction of the sufficiency of Scripture may
inform questions of hermeneutics, biblical authority and Christian talk about God.