The word ‘Perspicuity’ is derived from an old Latin term that means “to see through” (i.e. transparency”). It refers to the ability to see something with clarity and sound understanding and judgement. According to dictionary.com, it means “clarity, plainness, intelligibility”. As applied to the Holy Scriptures, it means the ability of the reader to understand and apply the plain meaning of the Scriptures without specialized scholarship or mystical gifts.
What the Argument Is
In this article, I hope to show what the Scriptures say of themselves – that is, they are meant to be read, heard, and understood by ordinary believers.
What the Argument is Not
The argument for the perspicuity of the Scriptures is NOT to say:
- That God has not gifted men in the church with special abilities to understand and teach the Bible (1 Cor 12:28, 1 Tim 3:2, 2 Tim 2:24)
- That the Scriptures can be understood apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:10-14, Mark 4:11)
- That there are no mysteries in the Scriptures (Eph 3:3-6)
- That everything in the Scriptures are equally clear (2 Pet 3:15-16)
The argument is simply that the Bible was written in such a way that the common reader and hearer can understand it and apply it to his life without being an academic or cleric. Education and ministerial training are great aids to understanding, but they have also been abused to the point that men have been enslaved and greatly deceived by both. In fact, the pulpit and seminary are most often the source of heresy – not the pew.
The Bible Affirms It’s Own Clarity
- The people of Israel were to read the Scriptures (Law and Prophets) during their gatherings (Acts 13:1)
- The people of Israel (and strangers) were to hear the Scriptures read at every 7th Feast of Tabernacles so that they might learn to fear God (Dt 31:10-13)
- The people of Israel were commanded to meditate on the things they were taught and to teach them to their children (Dt 6:6-7).
- Many Psalms praise or bless those who meditate on God’s teaching (Ps 1:2)
- The Scriptures are said to “make wise the simple” (Ps 19:7, Ps 119:130)
- The Scriptures are said to be a lamp to make our path known (Ps 119:105)
- The Kings of Israel were commanded to read the Scriptures so that they might learn to fear God and follow His ways (Dt 17:19-20)
- Jesus criticized the scribes and elders for not knowing the Scriptures (Mt 12:5, Mt 22:29, Mk 12:24)
- Paul said that Timothy understood the Scriptures from the time he was a child (2 Tim 3:15)
- The Gospel of Luke and book of Acts were written by a Gentile to a Roman citizen so that he might understand the things about Jesus and the early church
- The New Testament epistles were not written to clerics, but to whole churches, and were designed to be read to the entire congregation (1 Cor 1:2, Gal 1:2, Phil 1:1).
Why Do We Not All Understand the Scriptures the Same?
If the Scriptures were inspired by God, and if they were intended to be understood, and we cannot understand them, then the fault must necessarily lie in us and not in the writings themselves. In fact, Jesus criticizes those who should have known the Scriptures the best (scribes, Pharisees) for not knowing them. Many times Jesus upbraids them with “have ye not read?”. Aside from this, Paul teaches us that the Bible is a Spiritual book, that it is foolishness to the unbeliever, and that it must be spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2). In fact, Jesus teaches that the eyes and ears of the unbelievers are hardened so that they cannot see and they cannot hear (Jn 12:20). So, we must conclude that, though the Scriptures were written to ordinary people with the intention of being read and understood, people who are unbelievers cannot understand because of their lack of faith. Those that do believe still have difficulty understanding because of remaining in-dwelling sin. The day is coming when believers will know perfectly (1 Cor 13:12). For now, it is left to us to study, pray for guidance and wisdom, be humble and charitable with our brothers, and to continue in patience with the understanding that God’s Word was given to us to be understood and so that we might be nourished by it.
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Rom 15:4).
For more, see The Clarity of Scripture.
Baptist Confession, Chapt 1, Section 7
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.
( 2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)