The Clarity of the Sword
“These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”- Deuteronomy 6:6–7
Like a two-edged sword, the Word of God cuts through the fog of confusion, separating truth from error and holding us accountable to our Creator (Heb. 4:12). It can do this, we have seen, because the Lord Himself inspired it. The words of Scripture are breathed out by God, making the words of the Bible the very words of God, invested with all His power and authority (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
The spiritual sword that is the Word of God is powerful, and as we learn from many texts, it is also perspicuous, meaning that it is clear. It does not take special education to understand the basic message of salvation revealed in Scripture. Training in the right interpretation of the Word of the God, the original languages of Scripture, and the historical context of the Bible can help us understand the Bible more accurately. However, God is clear enough in His Word that even the unlearned can read it and know what they need to do to be saved and to please the Lord in everyday life.
We derive the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture from several passages, including Deuteronomy 6:6–7. In this text, the Lord is speaking through Moses to the Israelites as they were about to enter the promised land. Very few, if any, of this group would have had a formal education. Yet, God expects these very ordinary men and women to be able to understand and teach His commandments to their children. Scripture teaches profound truth, but its message is not for only those who hold a high social status, have spent years in school, or have access to the best scholarship. It is for everyone.
The commitment to the clarity of the Word of God drove the Reformers to insist on making sure that the Scriptures were translated into the languages actually spoken and read by the people of their day. The medieval church had restricted access to the Bible by discouraging translation and making the Latin Vulgate version of the Scriptures the official Bible of the church. Medieval clergy feared that allowing the common people to read the Bible in their own language would lead them to misuse it. Indeed, the Reformers recognized this possibility, for people are sinners, but they believed the risk was worth it because they knew the elect would be able to discern the gospel as they read the Bible on their own.
Scripture’s clarity does not mean that everything in the Bible is easy to understand. Rather, it emphasizes that God has not hidden the essential message of salvation from His people.
Some portions of Scripture are more difficult to understand than others, but that does not mean God has hidden His message of salvation from us. The Lord has spoken the basic gospel so clearly that we need not fear that His people will miss it. We should not be afraid to hand people a Bible and tell them to read it, for God will convey His message to readers no matter how much education they have had.
Passages for Further Study
2 Peter 1:19