Augustine: Scripture Can Thoroughly Equip the Man of God – Response to Taylor Marshall

Psalm 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

Augustine believed that Scripture itself is able to thoroughly equip a man to the point where Scripture itself would no longer be necessary for that man, except to teach less mature Christians. Taylor Marshall (a Roman Catholic contributor to the Called to Communion blog) has posted and commented upon the following passage from Augustine (link to Taylor’s post):

And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces. So that in their case, I think, the saying is already fulfilled: “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” [1 Cor. xiii. 8.] Yet by means of these instruments (as they may be called), so great an edifice of faith and love has been built up in them, that, holding to what is perfect, they do not seek for what is only in part perfect—of course, I mean, so far as is possible in this life; for, in comparison with the future life, the life of no just and holy man is perfect here. Therefore the apostle says: “Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity:” [1 Cor. xiii. 13.] because, when a man shall have reached the eternal world, while the other two graces will fail, love will remain greater and more assured.

– Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Chapter 39 (section 43)

Taylor comments: “In the very least, it shows that Augustine was not a “religion of the book” sort of a Christian.”

Taylor is dead wrong: the passage shows just the opposite – it shows that Augustine is very much a “religion of the book” sort of a Christian. For the purposes of instructing others, Augustine views Scripture as absolutely essential. Even the highly spiritual man cannot instruct others without Scripture in Augustine’s view.

Psalm 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

Taylor continues: “Scripture instructs in the faith, but it is not the object of our faith.”

Augustine doesn’t address this topic in the passage above. But Augustine did teach that men are to believe the Bible:

There was, however, undoubtedly marriage, even when sin had no prior existence; and for no other reason was it that woman, and not a second man, was created as a help for the man. Moreover, those words of God, “Be fruitful and multiply,” [Gen. i. 28.] are not prophetic of sins to be condemned, but a benediction upon the fertility of marriage. For by these ineffable words of His, I mean by the divine methods which are inherent in the truth of His wisdom by which all things were made, God endowed the primeval pair with their seminal power. Suppose, however, that nature had not been dishonoured by sin, God forbid that we should think that marriages in Paradise must have been such, that in them the procreative members would be excited by the mere ardour of lust, and not by the command of the will for producing offspring,—as the foot is for walking, the hand for labour, and the tongue for speech. Nor, as now happens, would the chastity of virginity be corrupted to the conception of offspring by the force of a turbid heat, but it would rather be submissive to the power of the gentlest love; and thus there 251would be no pain, no blood-effusion of the concumbent virgin, as there would also be no groan of the parturient mother. This, however, men refuse to believe, because it has not been verified in the actual condition of our mortal state. Nature, having been vitiated by sin, has never experienced an instance of that primeval purity. But we speak to faithful men, who have learnt to believe the inspired Scriptures, even though no examples are adduced of actual reality. For how could I now possibly prove that a man was made of the dust, without any parents, and a wife formed for him out of his own side? [Gen. ii. 7, 22.] And yet faith takes on trust what the eye no longer discovers.

– Augustine, Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin, Chapter 40 (Section 35)

I provided the whole chapter for context, though of course I was not primarily interested in Augustine’s special Creationism (as opposed to the heresy of evolutionism) or Augustine’s attitude towards sexual intercourse, but specifically his comment: “But we speak to faithful men, who have learnt to believe the inspired Scriptures” which shows that he did view the inspired Scriptures as an object of faith.

Psalm 119:42 So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.

And lest that one passage be thought anomalous:

If, however, I am asked the second question which I have suggested,—whether there be a sinless man,—I believe there is not. For I rather believe the Scripture, which says: “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.” [Ps. cxliii. 2.] There is therefore need of the mercy of God, which “exceedingly rejoiceth against judgment,” [Jas. ii. 13.] and which that man shall not obtain who does not show mercy. [Jas. ii. 13.] And whereas the prophet says, “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my heart,” [Ps. xxxii. 5.] he yet immediately adds, “For this shall every saint pray unto Thee in an acceptable time.” [Ps. xxxii. 6.] Not indeed every sinner, but “every saint;” for it is the voice of saints which says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” [1 John i. 8.] Accordingly we read, in the Apocalypse of the same Apostle, of “the hundred and forty and four thousand” saints, “which were not defiled with women; for they continued virgins: and in their mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault.” [Rev. xiv. 3–5.] “Without fault,” indeed, they no doubt are for this reason,—because they truly found fault with themselves; and for this reason, “in their mouth was discovered no guile,”—“because if they said they had no sin, they deceived themselves, and the truth was not in them.” [1 John i. 8.] Of course, where the truth was not, there would be guile; and when a righteous man begins a statement by accusing himself, he verily utters no falsehood.

– Augustine, On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, Book II, Chapter 8 (Section 7)

Again, I’ve included the entire chapter for context, not simply to make the tangential point that Augustine denied the sinlessness of the saints including (though he does not specify here) that of Mary, the blessed mother of my Lord. Rather the point is to note that Augustine refers specifically to his belief in the Scriptures.

Psalm 119:148 Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.

Of course, we believe in them because they are the very word of God, not somehow independently of that fact.

Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.

Taylor further commented:

Now when I was at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, we were taught that 1 Cor 13 taught “cessationism” – the doctrine that prophecy and tongues ceased with the arrival of “the perfect” which was assumed to be the canonized text of Scripture.

Not the canonized text of Scripture, but the complete canon of Scripture (the difference being, of course, the difference between the objective reality that the canon was complete and the recognition of that objective reality). When public revelation was finished there was no longer the same need for prophets.

Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Taylor continued:

Saint Augustine turns this on its head. Augustine lumps “Scripture” under “prophecies” and thus concludes that when the perfect comes (that is, faith, hope and charity), then Scripture is no longer needed.

That’s not “on its head” of the Reformed explanation – rather it is another application of the same principle. When an edifice is built, the tools for building the edifice are normally laid aside. We see a very similar description of the church:

Ephesians 4:11-13
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ …

Taylor remarks further: “Wow. The assumption is that you believe and act perfectly, you don’t need a Bible…”

It’s more of a conclusion than an assumption – and even then you still need a Bible to teach others. But what is interesting is this: Scripture (for Augustine) is especially for those who are not spiritually mature! What more inverted view of perspicuity than the modern Roman view could Augustine have!

Psalm 19:11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

Before requesting comments (which this post provides) Taylor concludes:

Just for the record, I’m far from giving away my Bible, since I’m a rather poor exemplar of faith, hope, and charity. But still, I’m rather blown away by these words of Augustine.

If that blew Taylor away, this may similarly shock him:

If believers are to throw away all the books which have led them to believe, I see no reason why they should continue reading the Gospel itself. The Gospel, too, must be worthless to this inquirer, who, according to Faustus’ pitiful supposition, rejects with ridicule the authority of Christ. And to the believer it must be superfluous, if true notices of Christ are superfluous to believers. And if the Gospel should be read by the believer, that he may not forget what he has believed, so should the prophets, that he may not forget why he believed. For if he forgets this his faith cannot be firm.

– Augustine, Against Faustus, Book 13, Section 18

Notice how Augustine views the books of Scripture as though books “which have led [Christians] to believe” and how the Gospels remind the believer what he believes, while the prophets remind him why he believes. Of course, for Taylor, reading the Scripture will only remind him of some of what believes, for he will not find papal infallibility, or the Marian dogmas, or Indulgences, in the text of Holy Scripture. Those articles of his faith are not among the articles of Augustine’s faith, for the faith that Augustine held was one that Augustine believed was derived from Scripture.

Which is why Augustine’s words above (which Taylor had quoted) are followed immediately by these in Augustine’s work:

And, therefore, if a man fully understands that “the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned,” and is bent upon making all his understanding of Scripture to bear upon these three graces, he may come to the interpretation of these books with an easy mind. For while the apostle says “love,” he adds “out of a pure heart,” to provide against anything being loved but that which is worthy of love. And he joins with this “a good conscience,” in reference to hope; for, if a man has the burden of a bad conscience, he despairs of ever reaching that which he believes in and loves. And in the third place he says: “and of faith unfeigned.” For if our faith is free from all hypocrisy, then we both abstain from loving what is unworthy of our love, and by living uprightly we are able to indulge the hope that our hope shall not be in vain. For these reasons I have been anxious to speak about the objects of faith, as far as I thought it necessary for my present purpose; for much has already been said on this subject in other volumes, either by others or by myself. And so let this be the end of the present book. In the next I shall discuss, as far as God shall give me light, the subject of signs.

– Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Chapter 40 (section 44)

Note especially Augustine’s comment: “if a man fully understands that “the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned,” and is bent upon making all his understanding of Scripture to bear upon these three graces, he may come to the interpretation of these books with an easy mind.”

But if the words above blew away Taylor (and his apparent hope to one discard his Bible), consider what reaction the following will produce:

As for the books of the apostles and prophets, we read them as a record of our faith, to encourage our hope and animate our love. These books are in perfect harmony with one another; and their harmony, like the music of a heavenly trumpet, wakens us from the torpor of worldliness, and urges us on to the prize of our high calling. The apostle, after quoting from the prophets the words, “The reproaches of them that reproached You fell on me,” goes on to speak of the benefit of reading the prophets: “For whatsoever things were written beforetime were written for our learning; that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.” [Romans 15:4 If Faustus denies this, we can only say with Paul, “If any one shall preach to you another doctrine than that you have received, let him be accursed.” [Galatians 1:9]

– Augustine, Against Faustus, Book 13, Section 18

Notice that Augustine places the importance of Scripture in such a central place that he is ready to place Faustus under an anathema (that’s what “accursed” there means) for suggesting that the Scriptures are not written for our learning. And with the same stroke of his pen he also deflates the Roman denial of the perspicuity of the Scriptures: they are written for our learning! They are, therefore, written for the unlearned so that he might become learned – for the simple, that he may become wise, as it is written:

Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

For more on the Reformers and the Necessity of Reading the Scriptures click here.


This is part two a two-part series in response to Mr. Marshall. The first part can be found here (link).

5 Responses to “Augustine: Scripture Can Thoroughly Equip the Man of God – Response to Taylor Marshall”

  1. Alcaff Says:

    Hi TurretinFanProf. Jasper Hopkins has written a helpful article dealing with this particular text:

  2. John Stebbe Says:

    TF, I think you forgot the word 'equip' in your title. I am enjoying your "35 Questions" series.

  3. natamllc Says:

    "….does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others….".One would have had to have read the Scriptures to know the premise and presupposition of Augustine.It also makes sense what he means there, "for the purpose of instructing others".I have to conclude Taylor has another agenda than Augustine, this blog and me!Undoubtedly countless many, as the stars of Heaven already agree!Psa 143:9 Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge!Psa 143:10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!Psa 143:11 For your name's sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!Psa 143:12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.

  4. Lucian Says:

    Prepare thoroughly? (There's something wrong with the title).

  5. Turretinfan Says:

    Alcaff: Thanks very much!John Stebbe: Quite right.Lucian: Yes, as John Stebbe noted, it ought to have included the word "eqip." I've fixed it now, thanks to my alert readers.

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