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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Obfuscating Perspicuity

Okay, class ... are you ready for your new word? The new word is "perspicuity". The term is used almost exclusively by theologians, and references the doctrine referred to as "the perspecuity of Scripture." The word is an oxymoron of sorts because it refers to clearness, lucidity, intelligibility. In other words, we're using a vague, obscure word to describe those things that are intended to be clear and intelligible. Yeah, that works.

Obfuscation aside (oh, go look it up), the concept is important ... and I suspect somewhat forgotten or doubted. Here is the doctrine of "The Perspecuity of Scripture": The Bible can be read and understood. Yeah, that's tough. Well, let's say it another way so we can be clear and intelligible. The idea is not that the Bible is easy to understand. The idea is that the Scriptures are "plain to the understanding", that they are "free of unnecessary complications", that the Bible is not unclear about what it is trying to teach.

Now, to be sure, many would dispute this doctrine. But theologians are wise and have placed enough limitations on it so as to avoid being too far mistaken. We know, for instance, that to properly understand the Bible, there are certain requirements. Paul says that natural Man cannot understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), so we must be talking first about the spiritual Man -- someone who has been regenerated, who has the mind of Christ, who has the Spirit residing in him. Paul speaks in Rom. 12 of the "renewing of the mind" (Rom. 12:2), a process by which we change our character. To properly understand Scripture, then, one must be born again and walking in the Light. One must have moved from the original position of "dead in sin" (Eph. 2:1) and "blinded by the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). According to Scripture, there appears to be another factor. On more than one occasion there is a mention of timing, where believers didn't understand at the time but would understand later. I think everyone who has spent any time in the Word has discovered this to be a simple, irrefutable fact. There are things you read today that you don't get at all but, coming back some time later, are blatantly clear.

Still, given these limitations, there are still those who disagree. "If it's so clear, then why are there so many differences? What makes you think this doctrine is true?" Well, the reason for the doctrine is first a biblical one. Moses told Israel, "This commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" (Deut. 30:11-14). David referred to God's Word as "lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psa. 119:105). Scripture is understandable to children (Deut. 6:6-7; 2 Tim. 3:14-15). And the idea comes from the nature of God Himself. The idea is that God has given us Scripture to clearly communicate His nature and His will.

This doesn't mean that Scripture is easy to understand. Scripture itself indicates that some of it is difficult. Paul tells Timothy to "study to show yourself approved" (2 Tim. 2:15). The Bereans were commended because they checked everything Paul said against the Bible (Acts 17:11). Peter says that some of Paul's writings are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16) and the author of Hebrews says that "solid food" takes time and effort (Heb. 5:11-14). Perspecuity doesn't mean "easy to understand". It simply means that what God wants us to learn is clear, and if we are diligent, we will get it. Do you want to understand the deeper things of God? Try doing what the Word of God suggests: "Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" (Heb. 5:14).


Samantha said...

Great post. I also like what Psalm 1 has to say about faithfully studying the Word:

Psalm 1:2-3
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Exactly the way I would have put it.

Hanley Family said...

Perspicuity...that is one of my favorite words, but unfortunately I think it is lost on this world. I actually have only heard it in terms of "perspicuity of writing" and not in theological terms. But anymore, theological discourses, political discourses and just about every other discourse I can think of is bent on obfuscating the obvious or giving so little information to render the whole thing meaningless, anyway.

Thank you for the post...I appreciated it.