“Do we need more than the Bible for biblical counseling?” This question lies at the heart of one of the debates surrounding the sufficiency of Scripture in the Biblical Counseling movement.

Every Biblical Counselor I know of accepts that non-biblical sources of knowledge can be helpful in counseling. Even Jay Adams admitted this at points. The debate is not about whether sources of knowledge such as science, sociology, etc., can be helpful. The debate is usually about whether they are necessary. The pressing question then is: “Do we need more than the Bible for biblical counseling?”

This is a tricky question because it’s so easy to caricature any answer other than a straightforward “No” as sinful Bible-undermining compromise. “See, he says the Bible is not enough. He says the Bible is not sufficient, etc.”

So let me try to take some of the heat out of the debate by asking another similar question about a related and (hopefully) less controversial domain: “Do we need more than the Bible for biblical preaching?”

Is the Bible enough?
The simple and instinctive answer most of us would offer is “No.” But let me ask you to pause and think a bit deeper and longer about it and see if the simple answer is perhaps a simplistic answer.

Yes, some have preached excellent sermons and all they have used is the Bible. Church historians could probably provide some examples of men whose library constituted one book: the Bible. They preached the Word, God blessed it, people were saved, and saints were edified. “Do we need more than the Bible for preaching?” Examples such as this would suggest no.

So, why is it that when we go into pastors’ studies today, their shelves are packed with books from every area of knowledge: theology books, Greek and Hebrew grammars and lexicons, biographies (sacred and secular), Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, church history, maps, fiction, social studies, modern ethics, critiques of the cults and false religion, analysis of modern trends and issues, politics, business, leadership, psychology, pedagogy, and so on. We also find their computers packed with software of various kinds that are central to their sermon preparation.

Let’s enter a study and ask one of them: “Do you need more than the Bible for preaching?”

He pauses, thinks, then answers, “No and yes.”

Confused, I press for clarification: “What do you mean?”

No and Yes
He replies: “No, I don’t need more than the Bible for preaching, in the sense that I could preach a sermon using only my Bible from start to finish and look to the Holy Spirit for help and blessing. However, I would probably have to stick to really simple texts and my sermon would probably be quite basic.”

“But yes, I do need more than the Bible for preaching, in that I could miss some crucial insights if I don’t know the background and culture of both the biblical text and of the people I’m preaching to. I could misinterpret Scripture if I don’t know how to do Greek and Hebrew word studies or if I don’t know the fundamentals of Greek and Hebrew syntax. I could confuse people if I didn’t follow the rules of logic and rhetoric in my presentation of my sermon. If I didn’t read outside of the Bible, I wouldn’t know the philosophies, errors, and heresies of the day that I should be counteracting and I wouldn’t know the problem areas of modern living that I should be applying the Word to. I wouldn’t have access to the sermon illustrations that I’m always picking up from reading books on the social sciences, popular biographies, cultural problems, etc. But I still need to look to the Holy Spirit for help and blessing, just as much (if not more) as if I only had a Bible.

“In summary, no, I don’t need more than the Bible for basic preaching of basic texts at a basic level. But yes, I do need more than the Bible if I really want my sermons to have maximal effectiveness, especially in long-term ministry, especially when preaching difficult passages and books, especially when addressing modern problems, and especially when it concerns issues that impact not only the soul but the body and the way the mind works.”

A compromiser who needs to repent?
This pastor insists that non-biblical sources of knowledge are more than just helpful for preaching; they are necessary. They are necessary if he wants to do maximum good to broken people in a broken world.

Is he undermining the sufficiency of Scripture? Has he abandoned the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura? Is he unfaithful? Is he a compromising integrationist? Has he contradicted what the Bible claims for itself? Does he need to repent? If the Bible alone was good enough for pastors in the past, why is it not good enough for us today?

This pastor needs to be confronted. Join me in his study tomorrow.

  • Sean Perron


    I am always grateful to see conversations about the importance and relevance of the Bible in preaching and counseling. I have personally enjoyed your book “Jesus on Every Page” and I’m grateful for the help it offers to preachers and counselors.

    I was at a regional ACBC conference talking about the sufficiency of Scripture and was asked by a man “If the Bible is sufficient for counseling, why do you have extra-biblical counseling resources in your bookstore?”

    The answer is that although the Bible is sufficient, it does not mean that we are sufficient to understand everything about it. The Bible has everything we need for life and godliness, but it often takes work to see the gold it contains. A miner may use a pick axe to uncover gold, but that doesn’t mean the gold was never in the mine.

    I actually think your blog post here is an argument that the Bible is the only sufficient source of wisdom for counseling and preaching. Your analogy underscores the importance of knowing the Bible and studying it carefully. Every biblical counselor committed to the sufficiency of Scripture (who believes that the wisdom of psychology is not necessary) would beg people and counselees to study the Bible as much as possible and use every available resource.

    I say bring me every book I can read and find about the Bible. I have been helped by reading about how I can find Jesus on every page. This is why the Bible endorses teachers and gives the spiritual gift of teaching and preaching – to help us understand the Scripture.

    If your blog post is implying that because a person uses a commentary to help with sermon prep, the wisdom of psychology is therefore necessary for biblical counseling, this is a category mistake.

    Preachers and counselors use commentaries to study the Bible because they know the Bible contains the wisdom they need. Your blog post underscores that the Bible is the book that matters. We should understand everything we can about it. We should not assume that we, with our limited understanding, can grasp all that’s here.

    In conclusion, I don’t think people need to repent for using a commentary to study the Bible. But if someone asserts that we need to study Freud, or Maslow, or Carl Rogers because they have necessary counseling wisdom that the Bible doesn’t contain, then I think repentance honors Christ.

    Thanks for writing and I look forward to discussing more.

    Sean Perron

    • David Murray

      Hi Sean, thanks for your contribution to this discussion. I’m keen to learn from others on this and hopefully we can all make some progress in our understanding of one another and of how to understand the sufficiency of Scripture. So, let me ask you a question for the sake of clarification: Are you saying that as long as another source of truth outside the Bible helps us understand the Bible more, it’s OK to use. Or are you saying that it’s only commentaries on the Bible that are OK? I’m hoping to write a few more articles, so stay tuned.

      • Sean Perron

        Thanks David. To help clarify, I’m for any resource that helps us understand the Bible more. Including, but not limited to, lexicons, grammars, etc. In the words of 2 Timothy 4:13, bring me the scrolls, especially the parchments.

        But the issue at stake with the sufficiency of Scripture in counseling is what to do with wisdom from psychology. Biblical counselors say that we don’t need wisdom from psychologists.

        I realize it isn’t popular right now to favorably quote Jay Adams, but in his book “What About Nouthetic Counseling?”Adams is fine with psychology as long as it remains in its proper area. Here is a lengthy quote, but one that I have found helpful (and for some reason most people haven’t read).

        He answers the question: “Don’t you think that we can learn something from psychologists?” And he responds:

        Yes, we can learn a lot; I certainly have. That answer surprised you, didn’t it? If it did, you have been led to believe, no doubt, that nouthetic counselors are obscurantists who see no good in psychology. Or perhaps you have been told that they are sadly self-deceived persons who, while decrying all psychology, take man of their ideas from psychologists without knowing it. Both charges are preposterous.

        While I can understand how the idea that I am opposed to psychology and psychologists could have gotten abroad because of my strong statements about the failures of psychologists as counselors, a careful reading of my materials will make it clear that I do not object to psychology or to psychologists as such. My objections are directed solely to so-called clinical and counseling psychology in which most of what is done I consider not to be the work or province of psychology at all. That I deplore psychology’s venture into the realms of value, behavior and attitudinal change because it is an intrusion upon the work of the minister, in no way lessens my interest, support and encouragement of the legitimate work of psychology.

        I have profited greatly, for instance, from the results of the work done at the Harvard sleep labs (and elsewhere). This sleep study I consider to be a valid and worthwhile enterprise for psychology. Indeed, I wish all psychologists would go back to such work.

        But when psychologists attempt to change men, although they have no warrant from God to do so, no standard by which to determine what are proper or deviant attitudes or behavior, no concept of what man should look like, and no power by which to achieve the inner changes of the heart and though that are so necessary, I cannot help but be concerned.

        I would not oppose psychiatrists either if they were doing the important medical work that it is necessary to do to help people whose behavior is adversely affected by organic causes.” (Page 31.)

        While helpful information can be identified through experiments and observations, solutions for troubled souls are not possible through science. The Bible is the only resource for people to experience change that is true and eternal, and the only source of wisdom necessary to provide counseling solutions.

        I’m afraid that many critiques of the use of Sola Scriptura in biblical counseling right now are not actually fair critiques. Instead, the arguments are built around straw men or an improper understanding of biblical counseling. I’m grateful for this conversation and opportunity to provide any small amount clarity.

        I hope this helps. Thanks for taking the time to read such a long comment!!

        • David Murray

          Thanks for sharing this, Sean. Yes, that’s very helpful, although difficult to square with what he says elsewhere and with statements from more recent spokesmen.

          I noticed that you narrowed down the question about what sources we can use outside the Bible to this: “But the issue at stake with the sufficiency of Scripture in counseling is what to do with wisdom from psychology. Biblical counselors say that we don’t need wisdom from psychologists.”

          That’s especially helpful to know as it helps to focus the discussion on psychology and limits the discussion about what is admissible in counseling to the area of psychology (all other fields of knowledge being admissible?)

          Most of the current research in the areas of autism, pedagogy, sleep science, and the impact of digital theology on our lives is being done by psychologists. Is it really the position of biblical counselors that such wisdom is not admissible? Adams would seem to reject that position, at least to some extent, according to your quote.

          Appreciate the spirit of your interaction.

          • Sean Perron

            David, likewise about the interaction!

            Research done by psychologists on sleep science, impact of digital technology, autism, etc. can certainly be incorporated into counseling. No objections at all.

            All biblical counselors are happy to receive truth outside Scripture, but we need Scripture to help us know how to make sense of that information.

            Most of the counseling I do personally is related to children, pre-marriage relationships, and marriage counseling.

            I was talking with an engaged man yesterday about contraception and birth control. He was looking for counsel on if/when/what he and his wife should do in marriage. I am so grateful for all the science and research done on birth control and was able to discuss that with him. I needed that info in order to have the conversation, or else there wouldn’t even be a conversation to have. If he didn’t know that birth control existed, then he wouldn’t be looking for advice on the matter. That was data that needed to be gathered about life. I need to be slow to speak and quick to hear about the issues at hand.

            But that scientific data wasn’t the source of wisdom or the guide for how I gave counsel on whether he and his wife should use the birth control Pill. The only source of wisdom we needed for “life and godliness” in this scenario was the Scripture. I used a lot of science, but the Scriptures were my guide and source of wisdom. He and his wife can glorify God fully and completely in this scenario because of the wisdom from the Bible on these matters.

            Really thankful to be able to discuss these things. I am praying for you and your ministry and perhaps we can meet in person sometime.

          • David Murray

            Sean, that’s another good example of the “integration” we’ve been discussing. I hadn’t thought of that one before even though it’s certainly one that my wife and I have wrestled through with the help of Scripture and science.

            I agree with you that in this case the Scriptures are a necessary source of wisdom. But, in our case, we found that scientific data was also a necessary source of wisdom in helping us decide whether to use birth control and, if so, what one. For example, my wife is a medical doctor and without her medical knowledge I would never have known that certain contraceptive pills and devices prevent implantation of fertilized cells. That scientific knowledge helped us decide that whatever we did, we could never use these means if we wanted to be consistent with Scripture. In this case science was also a source of wisdom that we needed for life and godliness. Sadly, I know many faithful Christians do use these means, only because they don’t know the science. They are not glorifying God because they lack the wisdom that science gives.

            If you’re ever up in Grand Rapids, give me a shout, and we can hopefully continue to discuss these matters face to face.

          • Sean Perron

            I think we are closer now than we we started!

            It seems the difference is I wouldn’t call “hard” science a source of wisdom. Rather, it presents observations and data that need to be interpreted and science cannot provide wisdom on interventions for solutions.

            And likewise if you are ever in the Sunshine state. Sounds good! Now that I live in Florida, I try to stay away from the cold, but I look forward to connecting. Thanks David

          • David Murray

            Sean, would you mind if I posted our dialogue as a blog post. I think people would benefit from seeing our interaction – both its contents and spirit. The Jay Adams quote would also be a valuable contribution.

          • Sean Perron

            David, I think that would be great. Thanks brother. I’ll be glad to point people to it as well. I was praying for you and your ministry last night and I’m thankful to discuss this. Just let me know if you need anything else from me.

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  • Dana Kerns

    Roy Kerns comments: John Frame’s “Doctrine of the Knowledge of God” provides absolutely outstanding thinking thru how one committed to the finality of biblical authority may and *must* involve data from sources other than the Bible. Those working in counseling (especially those unhappy with Jay Adams’ work) would do very well to read both John and Jay (including John’s critique of Jay) before rejecting Jay.

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  • Bob Kellemen

    While I wrote the following post (Biblical Preaching and Biblical Counseling: What Makes Them “Biblical”?: http://bit.ly/BibleCn2017 ) in response to TGC’s re-post of your 2012 post, David, I think it still provides a fair interaction with your current post. I thought that you and your readers might benefit from my attempts to clarify the central concern that biblical counselors have: the worldview of secular psychology and philosophy. Again, here’s the link and title: Biblical Preaching and Biblical Counseling: What Makes Them “Biblical”?: http://bit.ly/BibleCn2017

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  • Robert Zeurunkl

    People who say they need to know Greek and Hebrew, and cultural aspects, and prevalent heresies, and such, are ignoring the fact that our (legitimate) English bible translations are translated by entire TEAMS of men (and women) who have done exactly that. They are men and women who already ARE established scholars in all those fields, and are generally more qualified to speak to these issues than the lone pastor and his two semesters of Greek while in Seminary. To such men (as this pastor in this article), we are to take the biblical knowledge of DOZENS of highly skilled and trained linguists who have devoted decades of time to the study of their language specialty, and discard it in favour of the personal revelation of this one lone pastor.

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