Living Theology #5 – The Clarity of Scripture

by Garrett Glende

For the past several weeks we have looked at different characteristics of the Bible: its cannon, authority, and inerrancy. In chapter 6 of Grudem’s Systematic Theology the question of the clarity of Scripture is addressed. You should have noticed by now that there is a purposeful ordering of these chapters, as the book begins with a foundation built on the Word of God. Grudem deliberately introduces these topics first so that we would be prepared to study the rest of the issues with a proper bibliology. This is necessary because we must think rightly about the source of our doctrinal convictions. Our beliefs about God will hold no weight if they are not firmly tied to a high view of His word. That being said, the topic addressed this week bears even more importance, for if Scripture is not clear about what it says, how can we be sure about any belief we have at all?

Thankfully, we can be sure of God’s character as revealed in Scripture because the Bible itself attests to its clarity. Grudem says, “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.” This doctrine is also known as the perspicuity of Scripture. This conclusion can be made by looking to Jesus’ understanding of the Old Testament. He often rebuked the Jewish people for not understanding or misinterpreting what was written for them (Matthew 12:3, 5; 21:42). Christ expected that the people would be able to comprehend the Old Testament for themselves and He blamed them, not the Scriptures, for their misunderstanding. There was no leeway given to the Jews because a certain aspect of Scripture was unclear on any point. Moreover, God commands His people to have His word on their hearts and to teach it to their children (Deut. 6:6-7), implying that God’s word is clear enough to be understood and taught to others. Discussion of the Scriptures was to be a daily part of life for the Jew, but this would not be possible if it were limited in its clarity. Even when we get into the New Testament writings, although Peter admits that some of Paul’s writings are difficult to understand, there is never any sense that one cannot ever come to a conclusion. Paul even wrote predominantly to a Gentile audience who knew little about Jewish culture, but he still expected that the churches would understand him. As the church age has progressed and we now live in a culture much unlike the one of the Bible, God’s truth remains the same in its clarity and usefulness to our lives.

Those who argue against the clarity of the Bible often bring up 1 Corinthians 2:14, where Paul writes that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” However, this verse describes the inability of the unregenerate to discern spiritual truths, not the overall ambiguity of Scripture. It is obvious that a non-believer is able to understand what the Bible says in an academic sense, but they are not spiritually affected by what they learn. Only those who have been born again through the Spirit are able to be transformed at the heart.

In a world where there is much religious confusion, the Bible sheds light on the truth (Psalm 119:105, 2 Peter 1:19). Thus, instead of adding to the conundrum of philosophical and religious thought peddled by many, Scripture enlightens us, revealing clearly what is true about God and the way of salvation. We can turn there knowing that we will not leave without gaining further insight into the knowledge of our Creator. So what do we do when we come to something in the Bible that we just can’t make sense of? It’s not as if the Bible reads like a children’s novel, so what do we do with the hard parts? Grudem points out two reasons for our misunderstanding of the text. First, he writes, we could be “seeking to make affirmations where Scripture itself is silent.” Some common places where this may occur could be in making many practical decisions, such as music style or church size. In this case, it would be wise to stay away from any dogmatic stances, seeing that Scripture does not explicitly mention such issues. Secondly, our misunderstanding could be due to our own inadequacies in study, not the ambiguity of the Bible. We could have simply not read carefully enough or put aside the time necessary for comprehension.

The perspicuity of Scripture particularly applies to us especially in dealing with difficult subjects. When we wish to study controversial issues that there is much debate over such as miraculous sign gifts, the extent of the atonement, or end times prophecy, we can know that Scripture speaks clearly on such topics. Our approach in dealing with this should be one that sees comprehension as possible. We should not see the difficult road ahead, throw up our hands, and leave it to the seminary professors to decide the issue for us. There is no special society that alone can interpret Scripture correctly. We are all members of a royal priesthood, given the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures for us (1 Peter 2:9). With the proper prayer, dedication on the Spirit, and diligence in study, we are able to understand God’s word for ourselves.

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The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

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