Perspicuity of Scripture

I firmly believe in the notion of the perspicuity of Scripture. That notion has been traditionally defined as the clarity of Scripture in terms of the basic principles of personal salvation. Norm Geisler’s explanation is a very good one:

The oft-misunderstood principle of biblical perspicuity does not claim that everything in Scripture is clear; it affirms that Scripture’s central teachings are clear. As stated popularly: In the Bible, the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. Indeed, the gospel itself is stated in one-syllable words, none of which is over four letters: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Also, Jesus said plainly, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Doubters and distorters only need be asked, “Which of these words do you not understand?” (Norman L. Geisler, Church, Last Things, vol. 4, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2005), 92).

An objection to the notion of the perspicuity of Scripture is that the need to learn the biblical languages, to be familiar with the historical contexts in which the various portions of Scripture were composed, and the need of a myriad of other technical skills demonstrates that the Scripture is in fact not available to be understood by just anyone. I admit that there are many technical skills that must be developed in order to do serious Bible study. I myself have spent years attempting to develop abilities in languages; Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Greek (both Classical and Koine), German, and Latin; expand my grasp of philosophy in the areas of philosophy of language, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of history; expand my understanding of theology and the principles of exegesis; understand the history of the church and the history of theology, and many other efforts. I do not claim to have achieved any degree of success in any of these endeavors, but I am always studying, and researching, and reading in order to be able to develop what skills I do have. It may seem that this is a capitulation to those who argue that Bible study is not available to the average person, but the exact opposite is the case. In fact, the skills that  are developed over years of studious labor are available to anyone who wants to go down that path. Anyone can go to school and work on developing the skills necessary to do advanced study. I am myself only an average person who has and still does work very hard to develop these skills. Someone who does not want to dedicate his or her life to this kind of pursuit cannot thereby claim that Bible study is not available to him or her. All of these skills are available to anyone who wishes to pursue them and work at developing them. In order to get more than a cursory knowledge of the Bible, someone does not wish to pursue such a life will need to rely on those who have done so. Whether one not you have spent your life in pursuit of the skills necessary to do advanced study, you can still understand the message of salvation by grace through faith. The basic message of the Scriptures is perspicuous to anyone who has developed a rudimentary understanding. Advanced Bible study is difficult, but it is not out of your reach because the Scriptures are too difficult to understand. If advanced study is out of your reach, it is because you have chosen not to put in the labor necessary to acquire the skills one needs to do that kind of study.

About Tom Howe

Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages at Southern Evangelical Seminary
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1 Response to Perspicuity of Scripture

  1. humblesmith says:

    Hey Doc: Good to see you posting again. I thought you might have slipped off the edge of the earth. Keep them coming.

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