The Perspicuity of Scripture -- By: Paul Brewster

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 22:2 (Spring 2005)
Article: The Perspicuity of Scripture
Author: Paul Brewster

The Perspicuity of Scripture

Paul Brewster

Ph.D. Student in Theological Studies (Systematic Theology)
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587


Theological dust is still settling from the prolonged struggle to insure that inerrancy finds a permanent home in the Southern Baptist Convention. Ostensibly, a high view of the authority of the Scripture has been successfully upheld. With that goal accomplished, many leaders longed to put aside theological debate and return to a missiological focus. However, lurking just around the corner was an issue that most Southern Baptist theologians and pastors—not to mention lay-people—were even less equipped to handle than the inerrancy debate. Namely, what about issues pertaining to the interpretation of Scripture?1 A high view of the authority of Scripture is of limited value if various interpreters can not agree on the actual meaning of the authoritative text.

Interpretive uncertainty is presently being used to question positions that the Southern Baptist Convention has taken, especially on certain hot-button issues. For example, the editor of one Baptist state paper placed these words in the mouths of moderate and disenchanted Southern Baptists: “Whether women should serve as deacons is a matter of biblical interpretation and should be left to the local church, they would say.”2 Behind that statement is an underlying assumption about the lack of clarity of the Scriptures.3 The center of the debate is no longer on the question of the authority of Scripture but instead has shifted to whether it is possible to discern clearly the teaching of Scripture. It seems that while Southern Baptists have been gaining ground on the front of biblical authority, they have been losing ground on the front of interpretative certainty. That condition is not limited to Southern Baptists, for James Callahan remarks that “there is a sincere distrust of perspicuity, and a praise of obscurity, afoot in modern hermeneutics.. .. Perspicuity is quickly and easily dismissed as nothing more than an illusion, a fideistic commitment to a religious fallacy that ancient texts are coherently understood with a realism uncommon even in our own day.”4 It seems that what one leading scholar feared in 1979 is in danger of becoming true: “It would be the ultimate irony if our generation were to be noted as the generation that contested earnestly for the sole authority and inerrancy of Scripture as its confessional stand, but which generation also effectively denied ...

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