Can we understand what God says? The Bible (Part 2)

“Is useful for teaching…”

Here’s a question: do you “teach/explain the Bible” or does it “teach us”? Scripture is clear that God has appointed people to teach.  In fact, this ability to teach and “rightly divide Scripture” is a necessary qualification for church leadership.  However, sometimes we can talk about this teaching role as those it is primarily about taking an obscure, seemingly irrelevant book and explaining its difficult to understand content in a way that makes it relevant.  If that were true, would Scripture really be useful for teaching?

So, under this heading, I want to highlight something known as “the clarity of Scripture” or if for the sake of irony you would prefer a more obscure word “the perspicuity of Scripture.” Scripture is useful because it is clear.  God has communicated in a way that all can hear and understand so that we are without excuse.  Psalm 119:105 talks about Scripture and says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  It is the world around us, our circumstances, the future and the decisions of others that are unclear, in the dark, needing the clarity and illumination that comes when God’s Word lights things up.

Frame identifies a few important qualifications to our understanding of Scripture’s clarity. First of all, he notes that

“This level of clarity does not apply to everything in Scripture. It pertains ‘those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for Salvation.[1]

In other words, some parts of Scripture will be easier to understand than others. Generally speaking, we can say that the more vital the truth, the greater the level of clarity.  This is true to our experience.  John 3:16 is much easier to grasp than some chapters in Daniel.

Furthermore, clarity is not for everyone. Clarity comes as God’s Spirit illuminates God’s Word to our minds (c.f. Romans 8:4-5).  In other words, hearing and understanding is dependent on faith.  Jesus talks about how his parables exclude some even as others are drawn in closer to seek out the truth of the Kingdom (Matthew 13).  This is not about how simply things are put though because often these things are hidden from the wise (Matthew 11:25).

The clarity of the Word, therefore is selective. It is for some, not all.  It is for those with whom God intends to fully communicate.[2]

Frame also notes that clarity is relative. We grow in our understanding of Scripture and we need help to do this.[3]  “The clarity of Scripture is relative to the responsibilities that God places on each person” For example, a small child’s understanding will be different to an adult believer’s.[4]  “Scripture is always clear enough for us to carry out our present responsibilities before God.”[5]

In fact, what I think we are seeing here is that the issue of clarity is not so much to do with Scripture itself as it is to do with our own weaknesses as a result of being human and fallen.

[1] WCF 1:7, cited in Frame, DWoG, 203.

[2] Frame, DWoG, 205.

[3] Frame, DWoG, 203.

[4] Frame, DWoG, 207

[5] Frame, DWoG, 207.