Let’s be honest. We’ve all finished reading a section of Scripture and wondered, “what did I just read?” Many of us then question whether or not Scripture is clear.
Yet the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that “God is not a God of confusion.” Since God is the author of the Bible, when we are confused about something in the Bible, the Word of God, the confusion is not because of the Bible. God’s Word gives light for us to see. It is clear so we can understand it but we need the help of the Holy Spirit to do so.
What Does Clarity Mean?
What does it mean that Scripture is clear? It might be helpful to look at this from the negative side first. To say that Scripture is clear does not mean there are not parts of the Bible that are hard to understand. After all scripture itself testifies to this. In 2 Peter 3:16 Peter says about Paul’s writings, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand.” Clarity also does not mean there is no mystery to some parts of Scripture. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.”
So what then does the clarity of Scripture mean? Put simply the clarity of scripture means that “the saving message of Jesus Christ is plainly taught in the Scriptures and can be understood by all who have ears to hear it” (Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word ). In other words, every believer can read and study the Bible on their own and benefit.
A fuller definition from one Confession of Faith carefully states:
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. (The 1689 Confession of Faith, 1.7, see also WCF 1.7)
Kevin DeYoung in his book, Taking God at His Word, notes five helpful nuances in this definition:
- Some portions of scripture are clearer than others. Not every passage has a simple or obvious meaning.
- The main things we need to know, believe, and do can be clearly seen in the Bible.
- Though the most essential doctrines are not equally clear in every passage, they are all made clear somewhere in Scripture.
- That which is necessary for our Salvation can be understood even by the uneducated, provided that they make use of the ordinary means of study and learning.
- The most important points in the scriptures may not be understood perfectly but they can be understood sufficiently (DeYoung, p.59).
What if Something Isn't Clear?
Every Christian has had the experience of reading the Bible and thinking “what did I just read?”
What do we do when this happens? We can remind ourselves of four truths.
- The Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture. We need the work of the Holy Spirit to help us understand Scripture. Ultimately He is the one who decides what truth we understand and which we don’t. He is sovereign over it (2 Cor. 3:18-4:6). Since the Holy Spirit dwells within Christians we can be assured that we will understand Scripture because the Spirit and the Word are near to us (Deut. 30:11-14). This may mean we don’t fully understand something at first because understanding will come under the Holy Spirit’s timetable and not ours. We need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to illumine Scripture to us (Psalm 119:18).
- Scripture helps us interpret Scripture. As the confession states not every passage has a clear and obvious meaning. But as our understanding of certain sections of Scripture grows it will help us understand other parts as well. We may need to look at other passages of Scripture to help us understand a passage that is unclear to us.
- God has a purpose for His Word (Isa. 55:10-11). “We know that God’s word always accomplishes its purpose. Therefore, his word is always clear” (Frame). If a passage of scripture is unclear to us the problem could be that we don’t know the purpose of that passage yet. This reminds us again that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand Scripture.
- As God matures us in Christ the clearness with which we view Scripture will change. We see this in the physical realm too. We do not expect a one-year-old to know with the same clarity as a ten-year-old the dangers of running into the street. Likewise, we all grow in how clearly we view parts of Scripture as our understanding grows.
Clarity and Expectancy
Because Scripture is clear we can come to our reading and studying of Scripture with “great anticipation.” (Beeke and Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology Vol. 1) We should always expect that we can and will learn from Scripture when we read and study because it is clear.
The clarity of scripture means that “the saving message of Jesus Christ is plainly taught in the Scriptures and can be understood by all who have ears to hear it.”
May you be encouraged and devoted to read and study the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit because scripture is clear.
In our next lesson, we’ll look at the authority of scripture and see how the Bible holds the final word; not science, human experience, or human reasoning. We are to believe and obey the Bible because it comes from God.
May God open our eyes to behold wondrous things in His Word.