What Is Clarity of Scripture?

How to Interpret the Bible-1
Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 120 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture[1] (often called the perspicuity of Scripture) is a Protestant Christian position. It teaches that “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and, therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”[2] Clarity of Scripture is an important doctrinal and Biblical interpretive principle for many evangelical Christians. Perspicuity of scripture does not imply that people will receive it for what it is, as many adherents to the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture accept the Calvinist teaching that man is depraved and needs the illumination of the Holy Spirit in order to see the meaning for what it is. Martin Luther advocated the clearness of scripture in his work On the Bondage of the Will.[3] Arminius argued for the perspicuity of scripture by name in “The Perspicuity Of The Scriptures.”[4]

This doctrine is in contrast to other Christian positions like that of Augustine,[5] who wrote in Against the Epistle of Manichaeus that he “should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic [i.e., universal] Church.”[6] And in On Christian Doctrine, it says “Let the reader consult the rule of faith which he has gathered from the plainer passages of Scripture, and from the authority of the Church…”[7] Vincent of Lérins concurs, “Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.”[8] The doctrine can also be contrasted by positions, which assert that subjective experience should be preferred over knowing the originally intended meaning of scripture, since it is basically unclear. Finally, the doctrine is contrasted with the more literalist[citation needed] idea that “scientific exegesis” is unnecessary.[9] On this subject Dr. Wayne Grudem writes,

Anyone who has begun to read the Bible seriously will realize that some parts can be understood very easily while other parts seem puzzling. In fact, very early in the history of the church Peter reminded his readers that some parts of Paul’s epistles were difficult to understand: “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. Some things in them are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15–16). We must admit, therefore, that not all parts of Scripture are able to be understood easily.

But it would be a mistake to think that most of Scripture or Scripture, in general, is difficult to understand. In fact, the Old Testament and New Testament frequently affirm that Scripture is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by ordinary believers. Even in Peter’s statement just quoted, the context is an appeal to the teachings of Paul’s letter, which Peter’s readers had read and understood (2 Peter 3:15). In fact, Peter assigns some moral blame to those who twist these passages “to their own destruction.” And he does not say that there are things impossible to understand, but only difficult to understand.[10]

This author would disagree with Grudem in his suggestion that some parts of scripture are difficult to understand, saying that most of Scripture is not. This author believes it is the other way, most of the Scripture is difficult to understand, and some Scripture is not.

We are 2,000 years removed from the New Testament books written in Koine (“common”) Greek, and there were dozens of cultures, not to mention the idiomatic expressions, metaphors, and so on. We are about 2,400 – 3,500 years removed from the Old Testament books, which were written in Hebrew and Aramaic, makeup dozens of cultures, as well as idiomatic expressions, metaphors, and so on.

There are many rules and principles that need to be followed in a balanced way if we are to arrive at what the author meant by the words he used, as they should have been understood by his audience. It would be like going to another country, jumping in a car, and starting to drive without knowing the rules of their roads.

We have 41,000 different varieties of Christianity today who believe differently. We have tens of thousands of churches in any one given denomination, with each pastor of the same denomination believing differently. We have a couple billion Christians, who interpret the Bible with no knowledge of how to do so and carry out eisegesis (reading their meaning into the text), not exegesis (taking the meaning out of the text).

The Bible is very difficult to understand without a balanced understanding of the interpretive rules. Below are some insights from Dr. Leland Ryken and Dr. Robert H. Stein.

When a Ph.D., like Wayne Grudem, speaks of the Bible as being easy to understand,[11] it is like a person, who has been driving for 20-30 years, telling the new or recently new driver, just how easy it is, forgetting their early days. You have to learn the rules of the road, as well as how to apply those rules in a balanced way, to avoid a fatal crash. The same is true of biblical interpretation rules.[12]

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot

LELAND RYKEN (The Word of God in English)

FALLACY #I: THE BIBLE IS A UNIFORMLY SIMPLE BOOK The drift in modern translations is to produce a colloquial Bible with a simple vocabulary and syntax. What lies behind this drift? Some of the prefaces answer the question. The assumption is that the Bible itself is a simple book intended for people of limited education and intelligence. Here, for example, are statements from prefaces and other documents:

  • Since God “stooped to the level of human language to communicate with his people,” the translators’ task is to set forth the “truth of the biblical revelation in language that is as clear and simple as possible.”’
  • “Jesus talked plainly to … Jesus, the master Teacher, was very careful not to give people more than they could grasp…. We are trying to re-capture that level of communication…. Jesus was able to communicate clearly, even with children” (SEB).
  • “After ascertaining as accurately as possible the meaning of the original, the translators’ next task was to express that meaning in a manner and form easily understood by the readers” (GNB)

If we take the time to unpack the claims here, the lapses of logic begin to emerge. First, the fact that God stooped to human understanding when he revealed his truth in human words does not itself settle the question of how simple or sophisticated, how transparent or complex, the Bible is. Human language encompasses an immense range of simplicity and difficulty. Nor does the fact that God accommodated himself to human understanding in itself say anything about the level of intelligence and artistic sophistication possessed by the writers and assumed audience of the Bible.

The preface quoted above that cites the example of Jesus to support the claim that the Bible is simple shows how winsome the claims can be on the surface and yet how wrong they actually are when we stop to analyze them. Contrary to the implication of the statement that “Jesus was able to communicate clearly, even to children,” we have no recorded statements of Jesus to children. And what about the claim that Jesus “was very careful not to give people more than they could grasp”? This is directly contradicted by Jesus’ explanation of why he spoke in parables: “To you [the disciples] it has been given to know … but to them [the unbelieving masses] it has not been given…. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:11, 13, ESV). This is indeed a mysterious statement, already giving the lie to the claim that Jesus’ statements are simple and easy to understand. My interpretation of Jesus’ statement is that he did not intend his statements to carry all of their meaning on the surface. I would also speak of “delayed action insight” as summing up Jesus’ strategy, by which I mean that those who ponder Jesus’ sayings will come to an understanding of them, whereas people who are unwilling to penetrate beneath the surface will not.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS Young Christians

If we stop to consider what the implied opposites of “simple” are, it becomes obvious that multiple qualities can be set over against simplicity. Something can be simple as opposed to complex and intricate. It can be simple as distinct from sophisticated. Or it can be simple and easy to understand instead of difficult. As we turn now to look at specimens of biblical passages, all of these qualities-simple, complex, difficult, sophisticated-will be present, for the Bible is all of these in different passages.

 To test how simple or complex and difficult the Bible is, we need only to look at the text itself. To begin, a cursory glance at any scholarly Bible commentary will reveal at once how difficult a book the Bible often is. Scholars pore over it, write whole books on it, write articles on the minutest details, and disagree with each other (or admit perplexity themselves) over what the text says and means. Even when the vocabulary is translated into simple terms, the very arrangement and content of the material show that the Bible is not a simple book. Consider the following (randomly selected) passage (Isaiah 38:12-13, ESV):

Isaiah 38:12-13 English Standard Version

12 My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;
13     I calmed myself until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
from day to night you bring me to an end.

 This is not a simple passage. It requires one’s best powers of concentration to follow the flow of thought and images. In what sense is the speaker’s dwelling plucked up? How can a person roll up his or her own life like a weaver? How can God cut a person off from a loom? Exactly how does God bring the speaker to an end? Why does the speaker claim to have calmed himself “until morning,” specifically? What does it mean that God brings the speaker to an end “from day to night”? What are we to make of the way in which the speaker shuttles back and forth between referring to God as “he” and “you”? I repeat-this passage is not simple. On the contrary, it is a difficult passage. Let me note in passing that the relative difficulty of the passage is not a matter of vocabulary, and thus merely scaling down the language in translation will not make the passage easy to assimilate.

Related to the claim that the Bible is a simple book is the assumption that the Bible carries all of its meaning on the surface. The passage from Isaiah that I have quoted belies this claim too. One cannot read quickly through the passage. It requires stopping and pondering. This is the normal situation with the Bible, which is a meditative book, often elusive on a first reading.

The relative difficulty of the passage from Isaiah is a literary difficulty in the sense that it consists of the flow of thought and the presence of figures of speech. Another type of difficulty that we encounter in many passages of the Bible is the presence of weighty and intricate theological content. Here is a random specimen: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18, ESV). There are some big words and big ideas here: wrath, revealed, ungodliness, unrighteousness, suppress the truth. A lot of the theological teaching of the Bible is like this. It inclines toward technical theological logical terminology. It is impossible to retain the full theological meaning if one removes all vestiges of technical vocabulary.

Much of the Bible is intricately and artistically organized. There is a lot of chiasm in the Bible, for example. Chiasm, from the Greek word for “crossing,” consists of a passage that repeats the main elements of the first half in reverse order in the second half. Here is an example (with key terms highlighted to show the balance and symmetry):

Amos 5:4-6 English Standard Version

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:

“Seek me and live;
but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
or cross over to Beersheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
and Bethel shall come to nothing.”

Seek the Lord and live,
lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph,
and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel,

Modern biblical scholarship has repeatedly shown how rhetorically sophisticated a book the Bible is. This is not to say that the Bible is not sometimes simple. It is. Here is a type of passage that we find throughout the Bible:

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 English Standard Version

The Thessalonians’ Faith and Example

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

But writing that is this simple and direct comprises relatively little of the Bible. In fact, I had to look for a relatively long time to find a passage that was totally devoid of figurative language or statements that required interpretation. Totally transparent passages are the exception rather than the rule in the Bible.

APPLYING GODS WORD-1 For As I Think In My Heart_2nd Edition Put Off the Old Person

The Bible encompasses an immense range of style and content. Someone has said that in the waters of Scripture a lamb can walk and an elephant can swim. Victorian poet Francis Thompson called the Bible “the most elastic of all books,” adding that “whoever opens it, learned or simple, equally finds something … appropriate to his understanding. “

What is the result when translation committees begin with the assumption of a simple Bible that carries its meaning on the surface and is devoid of sophisticated technique? When translators begin with the premise that the Bible is uniformly simple, they use the process of translation to produce the Bible that they envision. They simplify the vocabulary and syntax. They modify or eliminate figurative language. They add explanatory commentary in their translation. They eliminate theological logical language. Rhetorical patterning often evaporates. The end product is a Bible that deviates significantly from the original.

REASONING WITH OTHER RELIGIONS

Contrariwise, if translators begin with no presuppositions about the level of difficulty represented by the Bible, they are free to follow the actual contours of the writing and to be faithful to whatever they find in the biblical text. Sometimes the text before them will, indeed, be simple. At other times it will be difficult, complex, or elusive. The task of translators is simply to reproduce in English whatever they find in the original. When they do, they will have created a translation that is transparent parent to the original text-not necessarily transparent to a modern reader, but to the original text.[13]

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

BELOW IS A SHORT HYPOTHETICAL STORY FROM DR. ROBERT H. STEIN (PP. 11-13)

Tuesday night arrived. Dan and Charlene had invited several of their neighbors to a Bible study, and now they were wondering if anyone would come. Several people had agreed to come, but others had not committed themselves. At 8:00 p.m., beyond all their wildest hopes, everyone who had been invited arrived. After some introductions and neighborhood chit-chat, they all sat down in the living room. Dan explained that he and his wife would like to read through a book of the Bible and discuss the material with the group. He suggested that the book be a Gospel, and, since Mark was the shortest, he recommended it. Everyone agreed, although several said a bit nervously that they really did not know much about the Bible. Dan reassured them that this was all right, for no one present was a “theologian,” and they would work together in trying to understand the Bible.

They then went around the room reading Mark 1:1–15 verse by verse. Because of some of the different translations used (the New International Version, the Revised Standard Version, the King James Version, and the Living Bible), Dan sought to reassure all present that although the wording of the various translations might be different, they all meant the same thing. After they finished reading the passage, each person was to think of a brief summary to describe what the passage meant. After thinking for a few minutes, they began to share their thoughts.

Sally was the first to speak. “What this passage means to me is that everyone needs to be baptized, and I believe that it should be by immersion.” John responded, “That’s not what I think it means. I think it means that everyone needs to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.” Ralph said somewhat timidly, “I am not exactly sure what I should be doing. Should I try to understand what Jesus and John the Baptist meant, or what the passage means to me?” Dan told him that what was important was what the passage meant to him. Encouraged by this, Ralph replied, “Well, what it means to me is that when you really want to meet God you need to go out in the wilderness just as John the Baptist and Jesus did. Life is too busy and hectic. You have to get away and commune with nature. I have a friend who says that to experience God you have to go out in the woods and get in tune with the rocks.”

is-the-quran-the-word-of-god UNDERSTANDING ISLAM AND TERRORISM THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM.png

It was Cory who brought the discussion to an abrupt halt. “The Holy Spirit has shown me,” he said, “that this passage means that when a person is baptized in the name of Jesus the Holy Spirit will descend upon him like a dove. This is what is called the baptism of the Spirit.” Jan replied meekly, “I don’t think that’s what the meaning is.” Cory, however, reassured her that since the Holy Spirit had given him that meaning it must be correct. Jan did not respond to Cory, but it was obvious she did not agree with what he had said. Dan was uncomfortable about the way things were going and sought to resolve the situation. So he said, “Maybe what we are experiencing is an indication of the richness of the Bible. It can mean so many things!”

But does a text of the Bible mean many things? Can a text mean different, even contradictory things? Is there any control over the meaning of biblical texts? Is interpretation controlled by means of individual revelation given by the Holy Spirit? Do the words and grammar control the meaning of the text? If so, what text are we talking about? Is it a particular English translation such as the King James Version or the New International Version? Why not the New Revised Standard Version or the Living Bible? Or why not a German translation such as the Luther Bible? Or should it be the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts that best reflect what the original authors, such as Isaiah, Paul, and Luke, wrote? And what about the original authors? How are they related to the meaning of the text?

It is obvious that we cannot read the Bible for long before the question arises as to what the Bible “means” and who or what determines that meaning. Neither can we read the Bible without possessing some purpose in reading. In other words, using more technical terminology, everyone who reads the Bible does so with a “hermeneutical” theory in mind. The issue is not whether one has such a theory but whether one’s “hermeneutics” is clear or unclear, adequate or inadequate, correct or incorrect.

GRUDEM WRITES: He says that Jesus and the Jews of his day were 1,000, year removed from David, 1,500 years from Moses, and 2,000 years from Abraham, and they did not complain about being centuries removed. (Grudem, Making Sense of the Bible: One of Seven Parts from Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Making Sense of Series) 2011, 89)

RESPONSE: This is not completely true and is misleading. The Jews of that day still lived in a similar kind of custom and culture as in the days of Abraham, Moses, and David. In fact, it took hundreds of years for styles of clothing to change, unlike today. In addition, they spoke Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek. Moreover, they lived by oral evangelism, and it was just 400 years earlier (c. 443 B.C.E.) that they were being taught by Ezra and Nehemiah, inspired authors of the Bible. We could go on and on, as to how they were more in touch with the biblical interpretive rules, not to mention familiarity with the languages, the custom and culture, the idiomatic expressions, the figurative languages, and so on. It is a legalistic mindset and greed for wealth and power that got the Jewish teachers off into the weeds of misinterpretation and the twisting of the Scriptures. Let us take a moment below to see how having some understanding of original language words (doing a word study), and Bible backgrounds can enlighten us to what the text means, and how we may apply it in our lives today.

 Ephesians 6:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

12 For our wrestling[14] is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.

The Greek word for wrestling is pale. Do the Greek wrestling matches of Paul’s day throw any light on this verse?

Paul shifts the image from warfare to wrestling. Wrestling (pale) was a popular event in the games held in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and all over Asia Minor. This image communicates more of the directness of the struggle. – Zondervan Bible Background, p. 338.

The wrestling match was all about struggling to get the opponent off balance, to throw him to the ground, which would result in a point, and the first to three points, wins.

While the struggles of such wrestling among men, who have herculean strength may seem enough, it should be remembered, these wrestlers had to fight by the rules, which the judges made sure of, “if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” – 2 Timothy 2:5, HCSB.

For example, if one wrestler threw another, and the falling man’s knee touched the ground, no point was awarded and the judge would punish, by striking him with a stick across the back.

However, unlike the rules strictly implemented above, the unseen enemy that Paul speaks of, he does not live by any rules, as he is a liar, a slanderer, a deceiver, and a murderer. (John 8:44) Therefore, how much more must we struggle against an enemy that has no rules. Therefore, we can understand why Paul would say, ‘I weary myself in wrestling …’ – Colossians 1:29, Sadler.

Moreover, when Paul was thrown to the ground, he found strength in his traveling companions, who shared in his obstacles. ‘You did well in making yourselves sharers in the fall I got,’ (Phil. 4:14 Sadler) thlipsis meaning, ‘a fall.’

In each Christian life, one’s struggles are beyond our human powers. It could be termed that we suffer from an ‘agony of mind.’ The Greek agnōnia, meaning a contest, wrestling, or struggle, which usually results in much pain. (1 Cor. 9:25) Paul used the term at 1 Tim 6:12, exhorting Christians to “Fight the good fight [struggle your hardest (Weymouth), enter the greatest contest (AT)] of faith.”

THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

Jude tells his audience,

Jude 1:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly [struggling] for the faith that was once for all delivered to the holy ones.

Jesus said,

Luke 13:24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

24Strive [strain every nerve, AT) to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

What have we learned thus far? There are times, when a Christian may come into difficult times in the extreme, which may require the struggle of their life. However, it is not hopeless, for God has promised to carry us through what is beyond human strength. The seeking first the kingdom in these moments is what will give us the needed strength, and assure us of a victory, through Jesus Christ,

Romans 8:35-39 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“On account of you we are being put to death the whole day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 But in all these things we are more than conquerors through the one having loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Walter C. Kaiser Jr. writes,

If all believers are encouraged to use the Bible devotionally, there must be a presumption that the words of Scripture are “perspicuous,” that is, clear enough that all can understand what they say without needing the counsel of a scholar at their elbow to instruct them. Is this a reasonable presumption? Can we ensure readers that they will not fall into error when they wander off into the full canon of Scripture, reading the text for themselves, according to their own insights and understandings?

No one was more forceful in taking a stand that the Bible is plain in its meaning and that it should therefore be accessible to all than Martin Luther. His most vigorous affirmation of this principle can be found in his book On the Bondage of the Will, written in response to a work entitled On the Freedom of the Will by the highly respected scholar Erasmus. According to Erasmus,

There are some things which God has willed that we should contemplate, as we venerate himself, in mystic silence; and, moreover, there are many passages in the sacred volumes about which many commentators have made guesses, but no one has finally cleared up their obscurity: as the distinction between the divine persons, the conjunction of the divine and human nature in Christ, the unforgivable sin; yet there are other things which God has willed to be most plainly evident, and such are the precepts for the good life. This is the Word of God, which is not to be bought in the highest heaven, not in distant lands overseas, but it is close at hand, in our mouth and in our heart. These truths must be learned by all, but the rest are more properly committed to God, and it is more religious to worship them, being unknown, than to discuss them, being insoluble.[15]

REASONING WITH OTHER RELIGIONS

Although Luther at first seemed to disagree violently with Erasmus, implying that everything in Scripture was plain and equally available, he eventually settled down and allowed that there were certain kinds of obscurities in Scripture. “I admit, of course, that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter [as Erasmus had argued], but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of the subject matter of Scripture.”[16]

In the end, the argument between Luther and Erasmus was not over the application of learning and scholarship, or even over whether the texts of Scripture were sufficiently clear so that the main message of the Bible could be understood by the average reader. At the bottom of all this debate was this question: To what degree was the average reader, indeed the whole church, obliged to submit to tradition and the official pronouncements of the pope for the proper exposition of Scripture? To this question, the Reformers shouted a loud, “None, for the essential meaning of the message of the Bible!” There was no need of anyone’s history of tradition to interpret the Scriptures; the Bible was sufficiently perspicuous without it.

What, then, was meant when the Scriptures were declared to be clear and perspicuous for all? Simply this: the Bible was understood to be clear and perspicuous on all things that were necessary for our salvation and growth in Christ. It was not a claim either that everything in the Bible was equally plain or that there were no mysteries or areas that would not defy one generation of Bible readers or another. If readers would exert the effort one generally put into understanding a literary work, it was asserted that they would gain an understanding that would be adequate and sufficient to guide them into a saving relationship and a life of obedience with their Lord.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

The story is told of a woman who approached Mr. D. L. Moody after one of his messages with a complaint. The woman moaned, “Mr. Moody, I can’t read the Bible for myself because there are too many things in it I do not understand.” Mr. Moody responded, “My good lady, have you ever eaten chicken?” Somewhat annoyed, she replied, “Answer my question first.” Moody said, “I am; have you ever eaten chicken?” “Of course, I have,” she fired back. “Well, then,” Moody continued to press, “What did you do with the bones of the chicken?” “I put them on the side of my plate,” she answered with exasperation. “Good,” Moody commented; “Then do the same thing when you are reading the Bible for yourself. Put any hard things on the side of your plate, because there is still plenty of good eating on the majority of what the Bible has to say.”[17] This is not your basic apologetic method, but it does make a strong point.

This definition on the clarity of Scripture was represented in many Protestant works shortly after the Reformation. The best known is paragraph 7 on the doctrine of Scripture in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647).

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 the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them [emphasis added].

More is indeed at stake here than the mere understanding of the words in and of themselves. Even when ordinary laypersons are able to gain an adequate and sufficient understanding of what is being said in the Bible, there is the other dimension of the reception and application of these matters to one’s own life and heart. Does this not have an effect on the issue of the clarity of Scripture?[18]

In conclusion, the reason we have so much confusion among the churchgoers and even Christians with an associate, bachelor or Master’s degree[19] is that Scripture is difficult to understand for the modern day person. If it were not, we would not have Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias. We would not have a need for Bible handbooks or Study Bibles. We would not need commentaries. We would not need books on Bible backgrounds, or custom and culture books. We would not need word study books. Moreover, most certainly, we would not need the hundreds of books on hermeneutics, exegesis, and biblical interpretation. Some biblical interpretation books are a thousand pages or more.

Let us merely look at just the book of Luke and Acts, two Bible books out of sixty-six.

Darrel Bock’s Baker Exegetical Commentary on Luke comes in two volumes!

  • VOLUME 1 Luke 1:1-9:50 is 987 pages
  • VOLUME 2 Luke 1:1-9:50 is 1,191 pages
  • Totaling 2,178 pages

Craig S. Keener’s Baker Exegetical Commentary of Acts in four volumes

  • VOLUME 1 Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1-2:47, 1,104 pages
  • VOLUME 2 Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 3:1-14:28, 1,200 pages
  • VOLUME 3 Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 15:1-23:35, 1,200 pages
  • VOLUME 4 Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 24:1-28:31, 1,152 pages
  • Totaling 4,640 pages

The Truth Will Set You Free

John 8:31-32 Updated American Standard Version (ASV)

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.””

Delving into the basics of biblical interpretation, Edward D. Andrews has provided a complete hands-on guide to understanding what the author meant by the words that he used from the conservative grammatical-historical perspective. He teaches how to study the Bible on a deep, scholarly level while making it understandable to all. He has sought to provide the very best tool for interpreting the Word of God. This includes clarification of technical terms, answers to every facet of biblical interpretation, and defense of Scripture’s inerrancy and divine inspiration.

Andrews realizes the importance of digging deeper in our understanding of the Bible to defend our faith from modern-day misguided scholarship. Andrews gives the reader easy and memorable principles and methods to follow for producing an accurate explanation that comes out of not what many read into the biblical text. The principal procedure within is to define, explain, offer many examples, and give illustrations to help the reader fully grasp the grammatical-historical approach. Finally, Andrews provides the next generation of Christians with a fresh new Bible reading/study program. This program will not only help the reader know the Bible but also be able to interpret it, explain it, defend it, and use it when sharing their faith.

So, some biblical truths lie on the surface and can be easily understood: “milk for babes.” This will give one minimum spiritual strength but can also evidence the need for further digging beneath the surface.

Requirements That Must Exist

Proverbs 2:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to discernment;[1]

After reading verses 1-5 of chapter 2, one can clearly see that it is their responsibility to acquire wisdom. You or your is found eleven times in these first five verses. Each of us is obligated to incline our ear, apply our heart, cry out for, lift our voice, seek, search for wisdom, and then we will understand the fear of Jehovah, the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of God we will find. All of this is found in God’s Word. What exactly is wisdom, though? It is the ability to make sensible decisions and judgments based on knowledge and experience; wisdom is sensibly applied knowledge. The genre of wisdom literature is found all throughout the Bible, but especially in the book of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. However, Wisdom is found in all of the genres of Scripture, even the life lessons within the narrative accounts.

In Chapter 1, Solomon gave his listeners a visual word picture of the consequences for those who do not listen to the corrective words of wisdom, warnings. In Chapter 2, he praises the incredible blessings and happiness that wisdom brings. In 2:1-4, Solomon lists three conditional clauses (requirements) that must exist or be brought about before it is possible that one can understand the fear of Jehovah and find the knowledge of God, each beginning with the word “if you (singular)” (vss 1, 3, 4). That is a big “if” because most of mankind pays no attention to God’s Word. Clearly, it is up to you to seek wisdom and its handmaidens: discernment and understanding. First, “if you” are going to find joy in studying God’s Word, you must be willing to receive Jehovah’s words (the Bible) and treat it like it is a treasure that you would never wish to lose valuing it above all else. My words refer to the Law (thoughts and ideas) that Solomon has embraced in active faith and obedience, which he is teaching as well.

Are you really “attentive” and listening carefully when the Word of God is being explained at your Christian meetings? (Eph. 4:20-21) Do you ‘incline your heart [seat or center of the intellect] to discernment’ (commit yourself to), which is the insight, good sense, or wisdom to apply God’s Word correctly. Of course, in order to incline your heart to discernment, you must be present at Christian meetings. (Proverbs 18:1) Thus, every Christian meeting can be a blessing for you if you are attentive and follow along in your Bibles. (Ac 2:1-4; Heb. 10:24-25. Being attentive means paying attention, taking notice of (maybe taking notes on a tablet), accepting the information as true, and responding to it.

We must pay close attention to the Word of God, for it is the wisdom of God, which can make us wise to the path to salvation and how not to stumble off of that path. We need to appreciate that the inspired words that the authors penned while being moved along by the Holy Spirit are, in fact, are the words of God and are the source and standard of wisdom and understanding. We must listen to them, obey them, get them down into our minds that are mentally bent toward evil and down into our treacherous hearts. This will give us the mind of Christ, making us biblical-minded, with a biblical worldview. We need to receive the Word of God, the readiness of mind and move to welcome it. This needs to be the case with the commandments as well as the promises, without grumbling or questioning. As an aside, questioning a doctrinal view is not questioning the Word of God; it is challenging the word of man that developed the doctrinal view. We must receive and retain the Word of God and lodge it in our hearts, that it may always be there to guide us.

AN ENCOURAGING THOUGHT_01

Having Insight, Good Sense, or Wisdom to Apply God’s Word Correctly

Proverbs 2:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For if you cry out for discernment[2]
and raise your voice for understanding,

The second requirement or condition that must exist if we are to understand the fear of Jehovah and find the knowledge of God is to “cry for discernment,” which, again, is the insight, good sense, or wisdom to apply God’s Word correctly. The Hebrew verb here rendered cry out (קָרָא qara) has the sense of loud, insistent crying or shouting that one needs help, begging that he be delivered from distress. Wisdom will be ours when our desire gets to the point where we are willing to cry aloud for it. The desperate one ‘cries for discernment’ to the truth of God’s Word and applies it in his life. If we cannot recognize the importance and significance, the fullness of wisdom will elude us. Discernment (Insight): A Hebrew word frequently rendered “discernment” (תְּבוּנָה tebunah) is related to the word (בִּינָה binah), translated “understanding” or “insight.” Just as is the case with understanding, discernment includes seeing or identifying things, but the sense of the word that recognizes and separates the parts, considering, or assessing one in the light of the others. It is having the capacity for rational thought or inference, or discrimination. It can be defined as understanding, insight, and discernment, a good sense or wisdom to respond appropriately and correctly to Jehovah and the Word of God. (Deut. 4:6) Understanding (בִּין bin; בּוּנָה Bunah) is the ability to see how the parts or aspects of something are connected to one another. One who understands can see the big picture (the entire matter) and not just the isolated facts. (Prov. 2:5; 9:10; 18:15) Discernment and understanding involve comprehending, perceiving, grasping what the authors meant, identifying individual verses in light of the whole, weighing, or evaluating one verse in the light of the others.

Seeking and Searching

Proverbs 2:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

if you keep seeking her like silver
and searching for her as for hidden treasures,

The third requirement or condition that must exist if we are to understand the fear of Jehovah and find the knowledge of God is seeking and searching for hidden treasure, i.e., be committed and determined in one’s quest. History has shown the lengths humans will go to in their quest to discover gold or silver. This makes us think of the mining exploits of men, such as those of the gold rushes in the early United States of American history. Men have spent a lifetime trying to discover gold and silver. What actual value, though, does gold really have? Indeed, we can all agree that the knowledge of God demands far greater dedication, and the treasure of eternal life is a far greater find. The knowledge of God is undoubtedly a spiritual treasure. Therefore, we should have far more zeal as we seek wisdom, discernment, and understanding of God and his will. Solomon likens this knowledge to “hid treasures.” The knowledge of God (hidden treasure) will not jump out of its place of hiding and deposit itself into the minds of those who are idle in their quest or search. It requires effort and perseverance on the part of those seeking and searching.

The “her” of seeking her and searching for her is a reference back to wisdom from verse 2. The imperfect Hebrew verb behind the English seeking (בָּקַשׁ baqash) has the sense of diligently acquiring information, trying to get to or reach something that someone greatly desires. This verb is used when one is seeking information from God. (Ex. 33:7) in a similar but figurative sense, one may “seek” the face of God. (2 Sam. 21:1) Here (baqash) is used in reference to our searching for information, that is, a mental pursuit. The imperfect Hebrew verb behind the English searching (חָפַשׂ chaphas) has the sense of searching for, examining, trying to locate or discover information, in this case about the wisdom of God. The Hebrew noun behind the English treasures (מַטְמוֹן matmon or מַטְמֹן matmon or מַטְמֻן matmun) has the sense of something of value that is hidden.

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Searching for treasures requires discipline and determination. It calls for much digging, be it actual treasure or seeking and searching for the knowledge of God, for “discernment,” and for “understanding.” This also demands much digging or getting below the surface knowledge. It is not sufficient to skim over the surface of God’s Word. The invaluable treasures of the knowledge of God are for all who, like a determined, tenacious, resolute treasure hunter, are willing to seek them. Are we persistent in finding the knowledge of God? How can we improve our ability to do so? Indeed, accurate knowledge of God and his Word is like a hidden treasure. What could be more valuable than the knowledge of God and Christ, which leads to eternal life? (John 17:3) Again, this treasure must also be sought for and discovered. Then, it must also be retained. It can also be expanded or grown. All of this means much effort on our part.

is-the-quran-the-word-of-god UNDERSTANDING ISLAM AND TERRORISM THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM.png

Carrying Out the “If You” Conditions

Proverbs 2:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

then you will understand the fear of Jehovah
and find the knowledge of God.

If you fulfill these three “if you” requirements or conditions of verses 1, 3, 4 and keep searching for, examining, trying to locate, or discover information for wisdom, God says that you will finally understand the fear of Jehovah but will also find the knowledge of God. You are promised that you will gain God (2:5-8), and you will attain the wisdom of God. (2:9-11) The person searching for wisdom will find far more than mere human wisdom, as God is the source of all wisdom. When you enter the path that takes you deeper and deeper into the wisdom of God, you will find the very knowledge of God at the end of the path. When we recognize and accept the sovereignty of God, the fear of Jehovah, we will be ready to truly listen and accept him. Solomon identifies this treasure for you as “the knowledge of God,” specifically, the truth about God and his will and purposes as revealed in the Bible. (2:5) There are numerous aspects to this treasure: true teachings, wise counsel, insight into the nature of God and his personality, as well as what lies ahead, and much more.

Jesus Paul THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK

God Gives Wisdom to His Holy Ones

Proverbs 2:6-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For Jehovah gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his holy ones.

Jehovah represents himself symbolically as having a mouth (פֶּה peh) to convey to the reader about his communication, speech that gives you information, exhortation, counsel, or commands, which are contained in Scripture, wherein God speaks to you. (cf. Heb. 1:1-2; 2 Pet. 1:20-21) The upright (יָשָׁר yashar) are God’s true believers, his holy ones, who are diligently seeking and searching to know, love, and obey God and to live righteously as one can within their human imperfection. (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 5:12) You, the holy one is keeping the new covenant (Jer. 31.31; Heb. 8:8-12); thus, you know wisdom, which has served as a shield (מְגִנָּה meginnah) of defense from the offensive weapons of Satan, the world, and your own human imperfection, as you walk (הָלַךְ halak) in integrity (תֹּם tom) a state of blamelessness being free of guilt, guarding (נָצַר natsar) you, making you safe from danger within your relationship with Jehovah (Ps 40:12) on the paths of justice, watching (שׁוֹמֵר Shomer or שֹׁמֵר Shomer) over them. Hebrew terms relating to integrity have the root meaning of that which is “whole” or “complete.” They often suggest moral soundness and uprightness. Those walking in integrity are unbending in devotion to Jehovah. He is a protective shield for such blameless ones because they display true wisdom and conform to His righteous standards. This does not mean, though, that Jehovah will not allow you to be tested. He did so even with Job. “God is faithful,” the apostle Paul noted to the Corinthians. In full, he said, “No temptation has overtaken you, but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Jehovah God will give wisdom to those seeking and searching as though it were a hidden treasure. Imagine a gold mine on the side of a hill. If someone wanted enough money to have a meal or two without working too hard, he could just pick up some specs of gold on the hillside. However, if he wanted a lifetime of meals, a life of financial security, he would be working in the mine daylight to dark. Sadly, when those searching for treasure crossed America to California in 1849 in search of gold, they soon discovered that the odds of striking it rich were ten thousand to one. It is quite different from Jehovah God, as he gives wisdom to all, “from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Yes, God gives out wisdom free; he is the mine for those that want to be wise.

PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

We need to make this a part of our prayer life. The psalmist prayed, “Teach me your way, O Jehovah, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11) This is one prayer that we know will be answered. However, the answer will be based on the level that we act in harmony with our prayers. Are we willing to buy out the time to acquire wisdom, understanding, and discernment? A mere 30-60 minutes a day of Bible study will bring results that one might not have ever imagined. Are we willing to work 30 years to pay off a house, 40-45 years to receive a social security check (USA), but not 30-60 minutes a day to acquire the wisdom of God that leads to eternal life?

The Bible is set up to offer spiritual food for the babe, the young man, and the older man, as it certainly has different stages of difficulty. There is no guarantee that deeper study will equal spiritual maturity, but the lack thereof will lead to spiritual immaturity. While there is no assurance, if we are progressed in the deeper truth of God’s Word, we should also be progressed in holiness and obedience to God’s will.

[1] The Hebrew word rendered here as “discernment” (tevunah) is related to the word binah, translated “understanding.” Both appear in Proverbs 2:3.

[2] See 2.2 ftn.

Review Questions

  • What is the doctrine of Clarity of Scripture?
  •  What is Dr. Wayne Grudem’s position on the level of difficulty within Scripture?
  •  What is the real truth about the level of difficulty within Scripture, and what factors contribute to this?
  •  What did Grudem say about Jesus and the New Testament persons being 1000 years removed from David, 1500 years removed from Moses, and 2000 years removed from Abraham, and why is that not a reasonable comparison with our being so far removed from Bible times?

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