The Clarity of Scripture

Date: October 13, 2013
Study: Scripture: Unchanging Truth in a Changing World
Teacher: Lawson Hembree

Scripture is written in such a way that its teaching are able to be understood by ordinary people. Like any well-written piece of literature, anyone can read the Bible and grasp what the main point of the story is and the message it is trying to communicate. This is what we referred to a few weeks ago as “The Big Story” of Scripture. This Big Story has five acts: God, Creation, Rebellion, Rescue, and Home. All the essential truths relating to God and the gospel are clearly presented in the Bible’s pages. This idea of the clarity of Scripture is often referred to as the doctrine of perspicuity. Perspicuity is essential for authority. 

Clarity vs. Simplicity
Clarity
The Bible’s clarity and our responsibility to read and understand it are often emphasized. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). This passage emphasizes that we are to not just know Scripture, but to understand it well enough to teach and discuss them with each other as well as apply them to daily life.

No one is too foolish to read and sufficiently understand the Bible (Psalms 19:7; 119:130; Matthew 11:25-27). Even those who lack intellectual ability, sound judgment, or self-control can be made wise unto salvation by reading the Bible. The way in which Jesus taught the Old Testament confirms this: He never said “Oh sorry you misunderstood, I should have written that more clearly for you.” He always assumes that the blame for misunderstanding any teaching of Scripture is to be placed on the reader and not the Scripture itself (Matthew 22:29). Paul and the other New Testament writers also assume the clarity of Scripture by writing to entire congregations and groups of people instead of just church leaders.

Unlike other literary works, the Bible is a “living and active” text. We are not left on our own to discern the meaning of Scripture. Jesus left us a Helper (John 14:16-18; 15:26-27; 16:7-15). Just as the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors, He illuminates the minds of believers to help them understand the Word. In other words, the Holy Spirit leads the readers of Scripture to the truth of the gospel.

Though the overall message of the Bible can be understood by anyone, true clarity can only occur when the Holy Spirit enables a person to embrace the message of salvation. The Spirit doesn’t add anything to Scripture but just enables true sight of what already exists.  For example, the Pharisees and other Jews understood the Old Testament enough to know to look for a coming Messiah. However, their vision remained clouded even when that promised Messiah was present among them, even telling them who he was.

Paul is a classic example of true clarity (Philippians 3:4-11). Before his salvation Paul was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and had strictly kept to the OT Law. He knew them inside and out, so much so that he sought to put to death the Christians he thought were blaspheming God. He had knowledge, but no clarity. Then on the road to Damascus, Jesus literally removed the scales from his eyes so that Paul might clearly understand the message of Scripture. Paul was then able to use his knowledge to explain the true meaning of the Old Testament to Jews and Gentiles alike.

To summarize, we can affirm that the Bible is written in such a way that all things necessary for our salvation and for our Christian life and growth are very clearly set forth in Scripture. Its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and are willing to follow the truth found in them.

Simplicity
Although Scripture’s message is clear, this does not mean that it is simple (2 Peter 3:15-16). By reading the Bible we understand that in order to be saved, we must repent of our sins and believe in Jesus, the incarnated Son of God. Other aspects of God’s Word are not so easy to wrap our minds around such as the dual nature of Christ, the mystery of the Trinity, baptism, predestination, etc.

It is no secret that throughout the history of the church, there have many doctrinal disagreements flowing from the interpretation of Scripture. Often progress in resolving these differences has been slow and led to splits within the church. Even some of the giants of Christian history, including Jesus own disciples, have wrestled with understanding certain parts of Scripture. On the flipside, there has been an amazing amount of agreement over what the core truths of Scripture are and what true Christian faith is.

If you’ve ever taken a philosophy or masterpieces of literature class, you can relate to the difference between clarity and simplicity of a text. The main point of the work is clear, but some of the intimate details regarding background, tone, and application can be very complex subjects. This shouldn’t deter us from the study of the Bible, but rather motivate us to dive even deeper into it: looking for context, connections, and other keys for faithful interpretation. In the weeks after Fall Break, we will look at several ways to go about interpreting Scripture.

The doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity doesn’t imply that there won’t be disagreement on the Bible’s teachings, but it does tell us something very important: the problem doesn’t lie within Scripture but with us and our sin-tainted, finite minds.

Application

  • Are there any areas of Scripture that you have a difficult time understanding? What steps can you take to get a firmer grasp on them?
  • What would happen to the church if most believers gave up reading the Bible for themselves and only listened to Bible teachers and pastors or read books about the Bible? Why is it important for every Christian to read the Bible for themselves before turning to outside resources?
  • The next time you read your Bible, take several minutes before and after to pray to the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to guide you to the truth of Christ as you read.

Resources:Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem; Why We Trust the Bible by Stephen Nichols

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