It’s been a few days, but I want to finally bring my five part review of A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture to a close. (Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four).
In Chapter 5, “A Sharp Double-Edged Sword,” Mark Thompson summarizes his exploration of the doctrine of perspicuity. “The clarity of Scripture,” he writes, “is that quality of the biblical text that, as God’s communicative act, ensures its meaning is accessible to all who come to it in faith.” William Whitaker, from an earlier day, described perspicuity thus:
Our fundamental principles are these: First, that the Scriptures are sufficiently clear to admit of their being read by the people and the unlearned with some fruit and utility. Secondly, that all thing necessary to salvation are propounded in plain words in the Scriptures. Meanwhile, we concede that there are many obscure places, and that the Scriptures need explication; and that, on this account, God’s ministers are to be listened to when they expound the word of God, and the men best skilled in Scripture are to be consulted.
The clarity of Scripture, then, does not mean that everything is equally clear or that everyone is equally capable of understanding every part. But the doctrine does teach that everyone can learn the way of salvation from the Bible and that even the hard parts can be understood correctly with skill and the Holy Spirit.
Perspicuity is such a crucial doctrine, not just because our understanding of the Bible is at stake (and whether we can understand the Bible in the first place), but because the doctrine is intimately connected with our understanding of God. “In short,” concludes Thompson, “a confession of the clarity of Scripture is an aspect of faith in a generous God who is willing and able to make himself and his purposes known.”
So before we resort to “all we have are interpretations”, let’s remember that we also have God, who want to be interpreted correctly. Before we let postmodernism tell us what we can and cannot know about texts, let’s look at Jesus and the Apostles and see how they handled the Old Testament. And before we let the chastened epistemology of contemporary voices wow us with their French philosophers and the rhetoric of hermeneutical humility, let’s not forget that God “has something to say and he is very good and saying it.” As Luther put it 450 years before pomo lit classes, “If Scripture is obscure or ambiguous, what point is there in God giving it to us? Are we not obscure and ambiguous enough without having our [own] obscurity, ambiguity, and darkness augmented to us from heaven?” Hear hear.
Thank God for Martin Luther. Thank God he wants to be known. Thank God for human language. And thank God that despite recent protestations, the word of God illumines our darkness instead of augmenting it.