The Clarity of Scripture

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way” (v. 7).

- Deuteronomy 6:4–8

During the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers worked hard to put God’s Word into the hands of the people. Prior to the Reformation, the Bible was accessible mostly to the clergy alone, shut up in the monasteries and churches and written in Latin, a foreign tongue to the uneducated masses. Many worked before this time to translate the Scriptures into the vernacular, but it was the Reformers’ stress on the importance of studying the Word of God (as well as the printing press) that led eventually to the widespread availability of the Bible in all different languages today.

Prior to the Reformation, the church was uncomfortable with the laity interpreting the Bible for themselves, mainly because they were afraid that lay study would open the floodgates of iniquity and lead to all manner of sects and heresies. This fear was not ill-founded, and even Luther realized that allowing for private interpretation of the Scriptures would cause many headaches for the church. Nevertheless, he believed (rightly) that the gospel was so simple that a child could understand it; therefore, he and other reformers were willing to put the Word of God into the common languages and watch the Spirit do His work.

The idea that the message of salvation in the Bible is so clear that even a child can understand it is encapsulated in the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. God’s Word is not some esoteric code book full of mysteries that only a select few can comprehend; rather, it is that which any person can read for himself to find reproof, correction, and encouragement (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Such clarity is taught in today’s passage, where we see that all the Israelite parents were expected to be able to teach their children the Law. From the families who labored in the fields to those who had the privilege of advanced studies, God revealed His law so plainly that even the simplest Israelite could understand it.

The clarity of Scripture applies only to the message of the gospel — not everything taught in Scripture. There are, indeed, some things that are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:15–16). Yet nothing essential to salvation is so obscure that it cannot be found simply by reading the text on one’s own.

Coram Deo

Best-sellers like The Bible Code and other books have tried to present the Scriptures as a code book that can be decoded only if you have the right tools or formula. Such works deny the clarity of Scripture and should be rejected. We should never be afraid that we will be unable to understand the basic things the Lord wants from us when we read the Bible. Let us therefore read it and meditate on it regularly that we might be conformed to the image of Christ.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 119:129–136
Colossians 4:16
2 Peter 1:19
James 1:22–25

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.