WHAT IS THE CLARITY OF SCRIPTURE?

by | Mar 23, 2021 | 300SOT

If Scripture is clear, why is there so much in here I still don’t understand?

If you’ve spent much time in the Bible, you are no doubt well aware that not everything in Scripture is clear. And when theologians talk about the clarity of Scripture, they’re not saying every reader will understand everything. And to develop this, let’s jump right to our featured theologian: John Chrysostom. 

This theologian went from being a hermit to a preacher known as “golden mouthed” for his ability to preach the Word of God (83). And he believed in the clarity of Scripture. He said, “All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain.” (Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Thessalonians, Homily III). 

I almost went with that famous quotes from Gregory I where he compares Scripture “to a smooth and deep river in which a lamb could walk and an elephant could swim” (Quoted in 1:478). But what Chrysostom got was the people can understand what the Bible says. No reader will understand everything. There are mysteries in Scripture beyond our understanding (203). But Scripture is for everyone. 

Even for the simple according to Psalm 19:7—

…the testimony of the LORD [referring to God’s Word] is sure, making wise the simple

The Reformation made much of Scripture’s clarity in their opposition against the teaching of the Roman Catholic church that claims the church is the infallible divine interpreter of Scripture (1:476). The Reformers understood this isn’t what the Bible teaches. Take 1 John 2:27 for an example of the Bible’s teaching: 

But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. 

John isn’t saying we don’t need teachers in the church. I mean, he’s teaching by writing this. But Scripture makes no indication that laypeople can’t understand Scripture for themselves without the “Holy Mother Church” or some authority to interpret it for them (1:477–478). This doesn’t mean everyone will have the same degree of understanding. How much can the average three-year-old understand? Or someone who might not be the sharpest tool in the shed? You might not have the tools and training others have to understand Greek and Hebrew and historical and cultural backgrounds. But Scripture is sufficiently clear to make you “wise unto salvation” as Paul puts it in 2 Tim. 3:15. John Frame agrees by saying that anyone can understand the “fundamentals that constitute a credible profession of Christ” (204). He explains that Scripture isn’t exhaustively clear, but it’s “morally sufficient, practically sufficient, [and] sufficient for each person to know what God desires of [them] (207). And he bases his argument, in part, on God’s control. 

God is totally in control of His communication to us. Remember, Scripture is God breathed. It’s His Word. And He’s going to be successful in communicating His message to us. He is always able to succeed in this. And if Scripture isn’t clear, then God hasn’t succeeded. But God always accomplishes His purpose. And God’s Word always accomplishes its purpose. Listen to these two verses from Isaiah 55: 

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

And yet, the fact remains that not everyone understands everything in Scripture. And this is because God, in His sovereign control, does not intend them to understand what they don’t understand. Clarity is selective. It’s specific to every person. It’s never completely clear to everyone. But it’s always clear enough for everyone. Clear enough for you to understand what God expects from you. Because not only is God in control, but He’s our authority. And His Word is authoritative. We must believe what he says and do what He commands. Therefore, what God has made clear to us, we are responsible to believe and obey. You’re responsible for what you know. As Jesus put it: 

…Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more (Luke 12:48).

God’s sovereignty extends to what you can understand of Scripture. And, to help guide you in your understanding, He’s given you teachers—pastors and teachers in the church. You can also pray and ask God, the author of Scripture, to help you in your understanding. He has given us His Word to make us wise unto salvation and just wise in life by teaching us how to live according to His will.

When it comes down to it, sure the understanding Scripture part presents its challenges. But it’s the obeying part we struggle with the most. So we can be thankful that God graciously makes His demands upon us clear in His Word. 

 

 

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Associate Pastor at Victory Baptist Church in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.

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Brent Niedergall