A Common Sense, Non-Technical Defense of the Perspicuity of Scripture

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Perspicuity is one of those words rarely used outside of theology, and even then primarily with regard to Scripture.  It has to do with clarity, plainness, intelligibility.  The Scriptures are able to be understood by every generation in every age (with qualification, see below).  Christianity is a revelatory religion.  If, as some contend, the Bible cannot be properly understood since we are thousands of years removed from the events it records, or that it is so colored by the cultural constraints of the inspired writers that we cannot truly know the meaning of the text, then the Bible becomes a puzzle book.  Is this what God intended?

The Westminster Confession of Faith makes some helpful qualifications with regard to the perspicuity of Scripture in chapter 1, sec. 7, “All things in scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

By defending the clarity of Scripture I am not asserting there is no spade work involved, it does take effort.  Some portions require more labor than others, some are not as plain as others.  However, the Scriptures are intelligible in the main.  If it were not so, why would the apostle Paul command that they be read publicly to the people of God (1 Tim. 4:13)?  And why would Philip ask the Ethiopian eunuch, while he was reading Isaiah, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30) if they cannot be properly understood?

In this post I wish to focus on the public reading of Scripture in particular.  The command to do this when God’s people are gathered indicates at least three things:

1) The meaning of the text is not locked up to academics and theologians.  Literally, anyone can grasp that which is revealed.  Otherwise, this would be an act of religious futility.

2) Since the command is for the church in every age until the Lord come, it cannot be that a meaning which was available to the original recipients of the text has been cut off from the modern believer.

3) The God revealed in the Bible is the God who speaks, who communicates.  That communication cannot be confounded by circumstance.  If God’s Word is a lamp unto the feet of His people, and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105) then it must provide divine guidance for our lives.

Why would Christians want to assert otherwise?  What do you think?

C.M. Granger

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5 thoughts on “A Common Sense, Non-Technical Defense of the Perspicuity of Scripture

    • Hi Brian,

      Some would be offended at your assertion because they would say it is preposterous to malign the motives of other believers, as if they don’t want to obey the Lord. They would contend that they want to obey Him, just not obey what you or I think constitutes His will.

      This is the very heart of the dispute. They would say we are approaching the text with mistaken assumptions and imposing those assumptions on others.

      Certainly, we want to be self-aware with regard to our own presuppositions when we come to the text. However, we must ask why it is they find the God we assert is declared in the Scriptures objectionable.

      If God has not spoken with clarity, what are we left with but a multitude of assumptions and doctrinal ambiguity? To those who deny the perspicuity of Scripture, clarity is (ironically) limited to personal opinion about the text. Which, as I’ve seen in some cases, basically reduces clarity to the Sermon on the Mount and John 3:16.

      • Well, in light of some simple words in John, “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” I would hope that we can all agree that the test of love for God is obedience to what He said. If what He said was unclear, then we have no way of assessing if we love Him or not. BUT I guess this too is a presuppositional statement.

  1. Denying the perspicuity of Scripture amounts to exchanging some textual and exegetical problems for a real dilemma—an uncertain word from God.

    I would rather embrace presuppositions which make sense of the text. In light of our presuppositions (yours and mine), John’s words are indeed simple.

  2. Pingback: Is Scripture Perspicuous? « Crosscurrents

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