The Perspicuity of Scripture -- By: Larry D. Pettegrew
TMSJ 15:2 (Fall 2004) p. 209
The Perspicuity of Scripture
Professor of Theology
The perspicuity or clarity of Scripture in its relation to almost all areas of systematic theology is affected by postmodern hermeneutics that fail to respect the authority of Scripture. The doctrine raises a number of questions difficult to answer in a brief span, but two very basic issues are the meaning of the doctrine of perspicuity and the long-range historical context in which the doctrine has arisen. The basic doctrine means that the Bible can be understood by people through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and that people need to search the Scripture and judge for themselves what it means. Scripture itself attests its own perspicuity, but not to the point that it cannot be misunderstood or is in every point equally simple and clear. The doctrine does not rule out the need for interpretation, explanation, and exposition of the Bible by qualified leaders. The doctrine does mean that Scripture is clear enough for the simplest person, deep enough for highly qualified readers, clear in its essential matters, obscure in some places to people because of their sinfulness, understandable through ordinary means, understandable by an unsaved person on an external level, understandable in its significance by a saved person through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and available to every believer whose faith must rest on the Scriptures. Historically, debates about perspicuity have related to Marcion’s attack on the OT, the fathers’ denial of OT perspicuity, covenant theology’s subordination of the OT to the NT, and the medieval church’s attack on biblical perspicuity. The Reformers, the Protestant scholastics, and the German pietists supported the doctrine which is of primary importance for the practice of contemporary Christians.
It is not difficult to define perspicuity even though, as some wag remarked, the term is not very perspicuous anymore. The perspicuity of Scripture means simply “the Bible is a plain book.”1 But the study of the perspicuity, or clarity, of Scripture is complicated by at least three matters.
In the first place, almost all of the doctrines of the theological encyclopedia are intertwined with the doctrine of perspicuity. In the doctrine of God, for example,
TMSJ 15:2 (Fall 2004) p. 210
is God incomprehensible, as most evangelical theologies teach? And if so, how does He accommodate Himself to mankind in order to make Himself and His revelation clear? Concerning the doctrine of man, how does man’s creation in the likeness of God relate to the clarity of Scripture? In the doctrine of sin, how did man’s fall into sin and his subseq...
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