We turn today, before a day’s break tomorrow for traveling, to the next attribute of Scripture in the series. Yesterday, the book of Hebrews showed us how the revelation of God and the redemption of God are inextricably linked. Hebrews 1:1-4 clearly states the in these days, unlike in “former days,” God has spoken with finality in His Son. This means that the Bible concerning His Son is the final revelation from God. We should not look for visions or an audible voice from the Heavens. We don’t need Jesus to call us (:)).
Today’s post in on the clarity of Scripture. There is another, fancy word that theologians have long used to describe the clarity of Scripture. The word is perpiscuity. The practical question this doctrine answers is that which asks, “Can we know for sure what the Bible says?” Is our interpretation of the gospel just “our opinion?” Or has God spoken truth that the genuine believe indwelt by the Holy Spirit can understand and apply to their lives? The Bible itself shows that there is one meaning found in the Bible. And we can know it, by God’s grace, and that alone.
Before looking at what authoritative Word says about its own clarity, we need to spend some time identifying some fronts on which its clarity is attacked. The three examples Kevin DeYoung are:
1. The Mystical Objection- God is too transcendent to be put in our “box.”
Charismatic, mystical people are those with that certain “New Age” feel. Their feelings, their gut, are their moral and theological compass. After all, who needs a book when they have the Spirit? The mystical objection to the clarity of Scripture is that God is so transcendent that He simply cannot be known. We are accused of trying to put God in a box. This objection is often held under the guise of humility. But this humility is just that; a guise. It is not sign of humility to say that we just can’t know or understand. God has given us His Word and yet we act as if He has not spoken. We also see a false notion of just what inspiration is. The Bible is not just man’s feeble attempt to write about their experience of God. I saw a quote today that basically said that the term “God breathed” does not mean God breathed on it but breathed it out. The Bible is not inspired like your favorite historical fiction movie. You know, where an actual story is the basis of an artistic portrayal of that story which may or may not be accurate? But the Bible is much more than that! It is God revealing Himself to us by propositional truth statements found within the grand narrative of redemption, God’s pursuit of His own glory through the salvation of sinners by the gospel of Christ.
2. The Catholic Objection- the church has the authority of interpretation
Basically, the Catholic church believes that the Church itself must help believers understand the Bible. Maybe “help” is a poor word choice. What I mean to say is that the Catholic Church dictates what the truth is and is not, even claiming to fill in some holes that the Bible, you know, left out. This is why the Catholic Church historical opposed Scripture translation into plain language. Christian, men have died to get the Bible to you in your language. The reason the popes and bishops feared this is because the common man could read the Scriptures and know God independent of their traditions, seeing them for what they are: false. The whole thing further crumples when we remember who really gets to decide what is correct. The pope! The pope is considered infallible and is at the very least equally authoritative as the Bible. Yikes! Think about this though. Popes have disagreed with each other. These “infallible” men don’t agree. Go figure! We should rest in the Scripture that never contradicts itself.
3. The Pluralistic Objection- it is impossible to “know” because no one’s understanding is better than another one.
This is the classic elephant parable. A group of men are feeling around on an elephant. One feels the side of the elephant and claims, “It’s a wall!” Yet another man feels the tail and thinks it is a rope. You see the point the story is getting at. We are all blind men, just feeling around on an elephant. In other words, we are all in this together. This whole riddle breaks down, however, if the Elephant speaks. Kevin DeYoung points out that it is not humility to feel an elephant, hear its call and then write it off as a wall. God has spoken and has spoken truthfully.
The Clear Bible on Its Clarity
Flip to Deuteronomy 30. Moses is giving the law for the second time. He says the Israel:
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14 ESV)
Notice what Moses says to the people. He is giving them God’s commandments and says that they are “not too hard for you.” Now we must step back lest we fall into a great danger. What does Moses mean when he says that God’s commandments are “not too hard?” They are too hard! Paul later tells us that justification can only be possible by faith in Christ because the Law is too hard. The Law was given to show us it is impossible to meet God’s righteous standard. What does he mean they aren’t too hard? As Matt Chandler has said, a great rule in Bible interpretation is that the human authors are not stupid. Certainly the Holy Spirit is not. Moses is not saying something contrary to Paul. He is simply saying something different. The commandments are not easy in that the Israelites can do them and be saved. That would be blasphemy. They are “doable” in the sense that they are clear and bound by them because they can understand them. Basically, this makes Israel accountable to them. We must remember that this Word was given after the Exodus, God’s saving act in the Old Testament. God has not spoken in riddles. His Word is clear and that makes us responsible to heed it.
Look now at Nehemiah 8. This is one of the earlier examples of expositional preaching found in the Bible. To exhort and encourage the crowd in the midst of the terrible suffering to come, what did Ezra do? Did he shrug his shoulders and leave them to wonder what God’s Word said? No! He told them. Nehemiah 8:8 reads: They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (Nehemiah 8:8 ESV)
Simple as that. Ezra read the the text. He gave a clear meaning of the text and worked to apply it. He taught them the teaching of Scripture. And they understood it! The people of God were nourished by the reading and teaching of God’s Word.
Did You Not Read?
A final example comes from Christ in the gospels. Jesus spoke of Himself more than anyone else in the history of the world. If I do that then I am a megalomanic. But Christ is worthy to do so. Christ is so kind to do so. When engaging with the Pharisees, Jesus pointed to an authoritative meaning of the Old Testament. The Pharisees knew the OT front and back. Many had the Pentateuch (the first five books of our Bibles) memorized. Completely. How is your memorization going (haha)? But they had it all wrong. Jesus was not content with them reading the Scriptures. He was concerned they know them rightly. To know them rightly was to know Him from them. Jesus explains: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (John 5:39 ESV). Jesus, time and time again, asks things like, “have you not read?” He is implying that this reading of the OT is not only one option, but the only option. If they had eyes to see, if they were born of God, they would have seen that.
In Summary: This is really, really, really good news!
Calvin explained the doctrine like so: “God does not propound to us obscure enigmas to keep our minds in suspense, and to torment us with difficulties, but teaches familiarity whatever is necessary, according to the capacity, and consequently the ignorance of the people.”
Any interpretation problem is on our end, not on God’s. Biblical clarity does not mean there will not be hard things. This doesn’t mean that we will understand anything. We will not! But it does mean that the most necessary things; Who God is, who we are and what has God done to save us are all clear. By the illumination of the Holy Spirit, even the least of these can know God savingly. God has gifted the church with elders and teachers to help in their knowledge of God. However, every believer can see these things for themselves.There is truth! We can know God! This is the beauty of the gospel- that all the good things in it bring us to God. God as He is, as He has revealed. There is no better news.
Let me end with the story of William Tyndale, recorded in DeYoung’s book, Taking God at His Word.”
“On one occasion when in dispute with a “learned man,” he replied, “If God spare my life many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of scripture than thou dost.” That’s confidence in the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. And it cost Tyndale his life.”
Men died to give you the clear Word of God. Will we take advantage. May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear Him as He is!