The Perspicuity of Scripture

The perspicuity of the Bible means, “that Scripture is clear enough for the simplest person, deep enough for highly qualified readers, clear in its essential matters, obscure in some places to people because of their sinfulness, understandable through ordinary means, understandable by an unsaved person on an external level, understandable in its significance by a saved person through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and available to every believer whose faith must rest on the Scriptures.” 1  The Scripture must be clear or understandable if it is the source of saving faith (2 Timothy 3:15b), a light to one’s path (Psalm 119:105; 2 Peter. 1:19a), and profitable for equipping the saints (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  The Scripture must be clear enough that common people (Mark 12:37b) and children can understand it (Deuteronomy 6:6-7a; 2 Timothy 3:14-15a).

This does not means that all of the Bible is equally clear or understandable.  Some passages are more clear then others.  Even Peter acknowledge that some of Paul’s writings were difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16).  Any difficulties one may have in understanding the Bible is due to their own finiteness and/or sinfulness.  The Bible cannot be blamed for one’s lack of understanding.  Never once did Jesus say that the Scriptures were not clear or understandable.  In fact, when the religious leaders tried to make the Scriptures less than clear or understandable, Jesus’ accused them of either not reading the Scriptures or simply not knowing the Scripture (Matthew 21:42; 22:29).

As well, just because something is clear, does not mean that it is simple.  Sometimes, due to the gaps of time, language and culture, an explanation is warranted. 2  Philip helped the Ethiopian eunuch understand Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:30-31).  Even the disciples needed the Scriptures explained (Luke 24:44-45).  These gaps that exist between the original readers and today’s reader necessitates the ministry of teaching.  This is why Jesus gifted the church with apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers and why one of the qualifications of the bishop of the church is the ability to teach (Ephesians 4:11; Timothy 3:2).

It should also be noted that since the Holy Spirit employed common people to write the Scriptures using the words and grammar of the people, then even the modern student of Scripture, following the ‘laws of language’ and relying on the work of the Holy Spirit, can determine the clear meaning of Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).

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  1. Larray D. Pettegrew, “The Perspicuity of Scripture,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, Volume 15, Number 2 (Fall 2004): 209
  2. Bernard Ramm states, “Words and sentences occur in the context of a culture. Their meaning depends in a large part to these contexts in which they occur and without that context it is either difficult or impossible to know the meaning of the words or sentences. It is therefore no great thing nor something out of the ordinary that we should have words, concepts, and sentences that puzzle us in Holy Scripture.” Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 99.

© Rev. Gregory G. Capel, Jr. – 2016

Inerrancy and Infalliblity of the Bible

The superintending, of the Holy Spirit, prevented the human authors from recording any distortions or falsehoods. To put it another way, since God cannot lie (cf. Romans 3:4) and the Scriptures are breathed out by God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16) then the Word of God is free from error or inerrant (Psalm 33:4a; 119:160a; Proverbs 8:8; 30:5a; John 17:17b).  Inerrancy means that, “the Scriptures possess the quality of freedom from error. They are exempt from the liability to mistake, incapable of error. In all their teachings they are in perfect accord with truth.1 Truth includes “approximations, free quotations, language of appearances, and different accounts of the same event as long as those do not contradict.”2

In other words, different writers might use different words to describe the same incident. For example, Luke 4:1 states “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,” while Mark 1:12 states “the Spirit driveth Him (Jesus) into the wilderness.” Luke and Mark depict the same event (the temptation of Jesus) but use two different terms (led and driveth) to describe how the Spirit was involved in Jesus going into the wilderness. Also, inherency allows the writers to record the same event from different points of view. For example, the Feeding of the Five Thousand is recorded in Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-15. Each of the authors wrote about the same event but each includes information not revealed by the other three.

Inerrancy includes not only theological issues, but extends to all issues upon which Scripture speak. “Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives. […] Inerrancy means that when all the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything they teach, whether that teaching has to do with doctrine, history, science, geography, geology, or other disciplines or knowledge.3

When the Bible speaks on these matters, it must be inerrant; otherwise it is not trustworthy. If the Bible is not trustworthy on earthly matters, how can it be trustworthy on heavenly matters? Often times what the Scriptures teach about heavenly matters are uniquely tied to earthly matters. For example, Paul links the reality of a literal, historical Jesus to a literal, historical Adam (Romans 5:12, 17).  As well, the birth of Jesus is tied to the geographical location of Bethlehem. The same verse which prophesies of the location also teaches the eternality of Jesus (Micah 5:2).

Like inspiration, inerrancy applies only to the autographs. While the autographs were free from error, this does not mean that all the apographs were errorless. God, has preserved a line of apographs which are exact copies of the inerrant originals. Jesus did not have the Old Testament autographs, so He used apographs. By using the apographs, Jesus affirmed that a line of errorless apographs were existent (John 10:35b).

Infallibility means that the Scriptures are true and reliable in all that they teach. Since the Scripture does not contain error, than it is incapable of teaching error (Psalm 12:6a; Proverbs 30:5-6; 2 Peter 1:19a).  The term pure (ṭāhôr) means that God’s Word is free from fraud, falsehood, or deceit. The term more sure (bébaios) means reliable or trustworthy. Since Scripture is free from error (inerrant), it is incapable of teaching error (infallible). It is impossible for the Scriptures to mislead, though man’s twisting of Scripture could mislead.

Inerrancy and infallibility are the guarantors of the Scriptures profitability concerning doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. Because the Bible contains no errors and is incapable of teaching error we can trust it to: 1) lay a solid foundation for all of life and faith; 2) equip us with the ability to discern and confront false teachings; 3) discern and correct bad behaviors; and 4) develop right behavior.

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  1. E. J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), p. 113.
  2. Charles C. Ryrie, What You Should Know About Inerrancy. (Chicago: Moody, 1981), p. 30.
  3. James Montgomery Boice, Does Inerrancy Matter? (Oakland: International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, 1979), p. 13.

© Rev. Gregory G. Capel, Jr. – 2016