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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Why Is the Bible So Special?

Don Stewart :: What Is the Clarity of Scripture? (Perspicuity)

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Question 23

What Is the Clarity of Scripture? (Perspicuity)

The clarity of Scripture is also known as “perspicuity.” Basically, this means that the message of the Scriptures can be understood by the great masses of people who wish to understand it. God’s Word has been revealed in such a way that everyone who wants to know what it means can make sense of what it says. In addition, they are able to live in accordance with these truths.

This Is the Teaching of Scripture—the Message Is Clear

The idea of the clarity of Scripture is something that the Bible often teaches about itself. We find this taught in the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament letters. We can make the following observations:

  1. The Old Testament Assumes God’s Word Is Clear

    Moses told the people of the nation of Israel that the commands of the Lord were to be studied by all. He wrote:

    These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 NIV)

    Notice that Moses not only expected the adults to understand what he had written, he also expected their children to understand it. This emphasizes the fact that the truths can be easily understood.

    The Contemporary English Version puts it this way:

    Memorize his laws and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you’re at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 CEV)

    The Bible also says that the simple become wise through reading and applying God’s Word. The psalmist wrote:

    The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7 NIV)

    The psalmist also wrote:

    The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130 ESV)

    Therefore, the Old Testament teaches that the commandments of God can be understood by everyone—not just an elite few.

  2. Jesus Testified to the Clarity of Scripture

    We find the same emphasis in the New Testament. We find Jesus often answering a question with the question, “Have you not read?” The idea is that the Scriptures have the answer to their question, if they would only read what it said. In a dialogue with the religious leaders, He said:

    But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God? (Matthew 22:31 NASB)

    On the other hand, we never find Jesus saying the Scriptures were unclear about any subject. To the contrary, He always assumed the problem was failure to accept what the Scripture clearly said. On the same occasion, Jesus said to the religious leaders:

    You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:29 NKJV)

    Whether speaking to the multitudes, His own disciples or the religious authorities, Jesus assumed all of them could understand the Scripture.

  3. The New Testament Writings Were Expected to Be Read Out Loud to Churches

    The New Testament letters that have become part of Scripture were, for the most part, written to congregations. Many of the people were Gentiles (non-Jews), with little or no background in the Old Testament Scripture. Yet there was the assumption that they could understand the things that were written to them.

    The letters Paul wrote were to be read out loud to the various churches to which they were addressed. To the Colossians he wrote:

    Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:15-16 NASB)

    The New Revised Standard Version translates the verses in the following manner:

    Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:15-16 NRSV)

    This assumes everyone, including the children, would be able to understand what he had written to them.

    Paul also wrote the following to the Corinthians:

    My letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand. I hope someday you will fully understand us, even if you don’t fully understand us now. Then on the day when our Lord Jesus comes back again, you will be proud of us in the same way we are proud of you. (2 Corinthians 1:13-14 NLT)

    Paul assumes that his readers can understand what he wrote. However, he also said that the people must listen carefully to make certain their understanding is not merely partial. Paul expressed confidence that they are able to do this.

    Thus, from the totality of Scripture, we find that the Bible is assumed to be understandable. Indeed, to assert that God would offer humanity a revelation of Himself that could not be understood does not make any sense. Why would He take the time to have the books composed, copied and preserved if they could not be understood in a straightforward manner?

  4. We Still Need the Help of the Holy Spirit in Understanding These Truths

    There is also a spiritual dimension in the understanding of Scripture. We need God’s help in understanding the truths of Scripture. Paul wrote about this. He said:

    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. (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

    While the Bible is written in such a way that it can be clearly understood, those who are not willing to accept its truth will not appreciate the full import of what it says. Jesus said that people can know whether or not His teaching came from God. We read the following in the Gospel of John:

    If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (John 7:17 ESV)

    Jesus said that He spoke in stories, or parables, so that those who wanted to know the truth could know it. He said:

    That is why I tell these stories, because people see what I do, but they don’t really see. They hear what I say, but they don’t really hear, and they don’t understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, which says: ‘You will hear my words, but you will not understand; you will see what I do, but you will not perceive its meaning. For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes-- so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. I assure you, many prophets and godly people have longed to see and hear what you have seen and heard, but they could not. (Matthew 13:13-17 NLT)

    Jesus taught in such a way that those who want to hear His truth can clearly understand it. On the other hand, those who have closed their eyes and ears to God’s truth will not understand it. Scripture will seem like nonsense to them.

Therefore, to correctly understand God’s message in Scripture, we must be willing to be taught; we must ask the Lord to open our spiritual eyes to His truth.

Summary - Question 23
What Is the Clarity of Scripture? (Perspicuity)

God has made His message understandable to humanity. The clarity of Scripture is also known as perspicuity. This means that the basic message of Scripture has been clearly revealed so that everyone can understand it. The Bible is a book to be understood by the masses—it does not contain secret or hidden messages from God.

We find the clarity of Scripture taught in the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament letters. Therefore, no one has any excuse.

However, there is a spiritual dimension to God’s truth that only believers will understand. This can only be done through the help of the Holy Spirit.

What Power Does the Bible Have to Change Lives? (Animation) ← Prior Section
Because the Scripture Is Clear, Does This Mean Everything Can Be Easily Understood? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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