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