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What is the Bible? The Perspicuity of Scripture



Have you ever sent a text to someone half asleep, and when you wake up the next day, you read the text and think, “I have absolutely no clue what I wrote?” It’s probably worse for the person receiving it. Unclear messages are frustrating because there’s no way to act accordingly. If an unclear question is asked, it’s impossible to answer it. If an unclear order is given, it’s impossible to follow it. The reality of humanity is that unclear messages are always a possibility. As we continue our series answering the question “What is the Bible?” we’ll address the perspicuity of Scripture. What makes Scripture different is that it is clear.

 

Defining Perspicuity

Perspicuity may be a word that you’ve not heard before. Ironically, given the nature of how confusing the word can be, it simply means “clarity.” The perspicuity of Scripture means the clarity of Scripture. Defining this further, observe Deuteronomy 31:12. Deuteronomy 31:12 says, “Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law.” Toward the end of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gives his parting commands to the people of Israel. One of these commands is that every seven years, the people were supposed to be gathered together and have the law read to them. The purpose of this was so that the people would observe every word of the law. Notice who Moses includes, the men, the women, the children, and the foreigner. Moses communicates that everyone, from grown adults to little children, and even those who are not natives, can understand the law. This is what perspicuity means. The Bible is clear. It is understandable. The Bible can be studied by anyone. All people, or more specifically every individual, can understand the Bible. There aren’t hidden messages in the Bible only a certain class can discern. The Bible isn’t a book that only the clergy can understand. The Bible isn’t a book that only a diverse community can understand. Rather, the Bible is something that everyone can understand.

 

The biblically astute might read that and think, “Well, doesn’t Romans 3:10 say that there is none who understands?” That is true, but that’s a statement on the problem of man, not a problem with the Bible. The perspicuity of Scripture means that everyone can understand, but it doesn’t mean that everyone does understand. This means that we must overcome our problem as sinful people to be able to attain the meaning of the clear Scripture. So how do we understand the understandable and clear Scriptures?

 

The Holy Spirit

To understand the Bible, you must have the Holy Spirit illuminate it. Ephesians 1:17 tells us that the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom and revelation. The unbeliever, with a heart darkened by sin, is blinded to the truth of Scripture, but the believer, with a heart filled with the Holy Spirit, has eyes that are opened to understand the truth of Scripture. Every believer can study Scripture and have the truth revealed to them. The believer, having been illumined by the Holy Spirit, can then communicate that truth to the unbeliever so that they can believe and be saved.

 

A Sound Hermeneutic

To understand the Bible, you must also have a sound hermeneutic. A sound hermeneutic involves three things: grammar, history, and a dedication to let Scripture say what it says. This post would be too long to explain the intricacies of the Historical-Grammatical Interpretation of Scripture, so we’ll summarize each portion briefly. However, if you are interested in a more complete explanation of this methodology see Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible by Scott Duvall and Daniel Hays.

 

Grammatical

To study Scripture through a sound hermeneutic, understanding grammar is necessary. You must know the main verb, the subject, the predicate, prepositional phrases, adjectives, adverbs, and figures of speech to know the meaning of a passage of Scripture. The good news is that grammar is how all language is communicated, which means that if you are literate then you intuitively understand the grammar of Scripture. The grammatical context is important as well. Every phrase is found in a context that will determine its meaning. A helpful hint here is that the meaning of a passage will be found at the paragraph level, not at the sentence level. Thus, make sure to read the surrounding verses to understand what the passage means. Grammar informs us of what Scripture says. Scripture will start to seem unclear if you don’t know the grammar of a passage, but if you understand the grammar of Scripture, you’re on your way to being able to understand Scripture.

 

Historical

To study Scripture, understanding the historical context is necessary. Every book of the Bible was written at a particular time to a particular people (audience). You must know when that time is, and who those people are to know the historical context. The good news here is that most books of the Bible explicitly tell you one or both of these and for the books that aren’t explicit, a Bible handbook such as Willmington’s Bible Handbook will give you that necessary information. History often informs us of why Scripture says what it does. A bad understanding of the historical context of a passage will make Scripture appear unclear, but if you know the historical context behind the passage, then your hermeneutic is almost complete.


Dedication to Let Scripture Say What it Says

Lastly, to study Scripture and understand it, you must be dedicated to letting Scripture say what it says. Vance Havner used to say, “You can’t tell it like it is unless you believe it how it was.” You can make Scripture say whatever you want if that’s what you want to do. Therefore, to attain what Scripture clearly says, you have to decide before even reading anything that you will believe what it says. You have to decide to set aside your theology, your biases, and anything else that will color your understanding of Scripture. If you do that, then you can understand Scripture because the Bible is there for you to understand.

 

Application

The perspicuity of Scripture gives great comfort. You can understand Scripture if you submit to the Holy Spirit and dedicate yourself to a sound hermeneutic. You can know God’s will for your life and how to please Him. The perspicuity of Scripture also gives a great responsibility. The Bible’s understandability for anyone to study it means that all people are responsible to study it. You must be a Berean and search the Scriptures to know what it says (Acts 17:11). 





Article written by Klayton Carson



The "What is the Bible" series will also be on the Text-Driven Podcast. You can listen to the Text-Driven Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at www.textdriven.org/podcasts.



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