Scriptural Sufficiency and… Penumbras?

Why are some principles of interpretation different for God’s inspired Word and the U.S. Constitution? Why is it that strict construction of the Constitution and inerrantist, orthodox interpretation of the Bible lead to the state’s authority being perceived as limited to what is explicit and to God’s authority as something as expansive as possible?

What a silly question I have. But is it? Whether it is or not, I’ll attempt to address it in part.

There are areas that are not in the realm of earthly civil governance. In contrast, there are no such areas outside the domain of the all-encompassing faith in Jesus Christ. The former is for a perishable life, the latter an eternal one, and the head of the former is subordinate to head of the latter, who is the One and Only living God.

But there is a reason that does not lean on the a priori presuppositions of a philosophical worldview: the Holy Bible and the Constitution of the United States.

Peter Kirsanow says of constitutional strict constructionism,

If strict constructionism — colloquially defined as a close adherence to the text of the Constitution — is hostile to civil rights, then the very text of the Constitution must be hostile to civil rights. Consequently, only an expansive judicial philosophy that goes beyond the plain text of the Constitution and incorporates penumbras, emanations and foreign law into one’s interpretive doctrine can fairly and justly address civil rights; and thus, a fair and just society requires both a living, breathing Constitution and justices who interpret it as such. (National Review, “Strictly Judicious”)

The Constitution makes no explicit claim to any authority of government beyond what is enumerated. However, it is not so with the Bible. Says Scott Croft (Boundless Webzine, “Biblical Dating: An Introduction”), an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, “The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture assumes inerrancy but then goes a step further. This doctrine simply holds that the Bible is sufficient to guide and instruct us authoritatively in all areas of our faith and life, and that there is no area of life about which the Bible has no guidance for us.” In support of this doctrine he cites the following:

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 [that is, a messenger of God] may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Ti. 3.16–17)

For someone to be equipped for every good work by competency from Scripture, the Scripture must be able in the first place to be used to equip him in all of this. If, then, we accept the infallibility of Scripture as a doctrine, which is also partially on the basis of Scripture’s claims for itself in these verses, that same Scripture vouches for its own ability to speak into all areas of life.

But how can this be? The Bible says nothing explicitly about, quite frankly, many things, but the application of the principles behind what is written leads to a knowledge of truth beyond the letter of the word and into the the divine Logos, beyond the law and into God’s standard of righteousness, for the Lord says through the apostle Peter,

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pt. 1.14–16)

And in another place He says to let the steadfastness that comes from the testing of faith have its full effect, “that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Ja. 1.2–4). So under the new covenant of Christ’s blood there is a higher standard than that of the Law and the Prophets, that is, the Old Testament, to which we can strive (1 Ti. 4.7–10) – impossible though it is under the corruption of original sin to keep the whole of it – since God gives the Holy Spirit to instruct and indwell us as one who testifies of Christ as Emmanuel, God with us.

It is thus that we can say from Scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whether racism is wrong, whether pornography is wrong, whether gambling is questionable (see also Roberto Rivera y Carlo’s article on “Mainstreaming Porn”), among a plethora of other things. After all, it is undeniable that propositional truth exists outside of what the Bible explicitly states, and moral truth exists outside of what the Bible explicitly commands and forbids.

Therefore (“Biblical Dating: An Introduction”), “The Bible speaks to every area of our faith and life at some level. Some things it talks about explicitly, like salvation, or sanctification, or marriage, or elders. The Bible guides us in some areas by broader, more general principles and ideas we can build on as we strive to live the Christian life in practical ways. In either case, no area of life falls totally outside of the guidance and authority of God’s Word.” The idea is to imitate Christ, not to be blameless by the Law in the way that we couldn’t without God’s redemption of us to imputed righteousness and to sanctification to works of righteousness.

It is fruitless to attempt to live in Christ without aiming to live like Him at all times, even though we fail all too often in this life to measure up to even the standard of the Law and the Prophets. How so? Well, consider that this is the kind of life to which He has elected His disciples, the kind for which we are instructed in Scripture to count the cost (Lk. 9.18–27; 14.25–33). And this life takes doing more than just what is explicitly commanded if we are to be salt and light in all aspects of life because we recognize God as Lord over every part of life, with a call to be transformed by the renewing of our minds as we imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11.1).

The image of God was corrupted with Adam, but thanks be to God for working to reform and heal this marred creation even before He consummates all and destroys it to create a new heaven and a new earth.

I’m pressing on the upward way
New heights I’m gaining every day
Still praying as I’m onward bound
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground

Lord, lift me up and let me stand
by faith on Heaven’s table land
A higher plain than I have found
Lord, plant me feet on higher ground

My heart has no desire to stay
where doubts arise and fears dismay
Though some may dwell where these abound
my prayer, my aim, is higher ground

Lord, lift me up and let me stand
by faith on Heaven’s table land
A higher plain than I have found
Lord, plant me feet on higher ground

I want to scale the utmost heights
and catch a gleam of glory bright
but still I’ll pray ’til heaven I’ve found
Lord, lead me on to higher ground

Lord, lift me up and let me stand
by faith on Heaven’s table land
A higher plain than I have found
Lord, plant me feet on higher ground

Lord, lift me up and let me stand
by faith on Heaven’s table land
A higher plain than I have found
Lord, plant me feet on higher ground

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