In this series of posts dealing with the Christian’s ability to understand Scripture, it would greatly aid us to have a definition of how clear the Bible is written. I’ll, again, refer to Dr.Grudem’s Systematic Theology for a definition for the Clarity of Scripture:
The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.
I believe that Scripture is written in such a way that everything that we need to understand concerning our salvation and sanctification are clearly understandable. In other words, there is nothing God has written for our salvation that we cannot understand that would make it necessary to be saved. In the same way, there is nothing written in the Bible concerning our Christian life and growth that cannot be understood that is necessary for us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Why, then, do people misunderstand Scripture?
Even a simple reading of the Gospels finds that Jesus’ own disciples occasionally did not understand the Old Testament writings or even Jesus’ own teaching which we have recorded in the Gospels. In some of those instances, the disciples simply needed to wait for future events to take place to understand what was written and sometimes their misunderstanding was due to their own hard hearts or lack of faith. Even in the early church there was a “learning curve” on both Old Testament writings and the Apostle’s letters. And all throughout church history there has been a gradual (most often very, very slow) understanding of portions of Scripture.
The first major step to understand Scripture, however, is that one be a believer in Jesus Christ, a true child of God. Paul states in 1 Cor.2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” What he is saying is that the understanding of the things of God is not an intellectual capability, but a moral and spiritual ability. If I am unwilling to receive what God has offered to me, I will not understand it, no matter how clearly it is written.
Scripture is able to be understood by all unbelievers who will read it sincerely seeking salvation, and by all believers who will read it while seeking God’s help in understanding it.~Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.107
This understanding of Scripture is a work of the Holy Spirit who aids us by teaching us the things of God, overcoming our own sinfulness that otherwise would distort Truth.
Perhaps the other major reason why people misunderstand Scripture is because they interpret it incorrectly. There are whole books devoted to the “principles of interpretation” (hermeneutics), so I will not delve into detail here. One also needs, not only the principles of interpretation, but a correct process of interpretation (or exegesis). This process is the application of the principles. It’s the study and explanation of the text according to how it is to be interpreted.
The practical rub comes when two committed believers have some disagreement about something in the text of Scripture. How can two committed believers (theologians – because all believers are theologians), disagree about how a passage is understood? Don’t we all have the mind of Christ? Don’t we have the same Holy Spirit within us guiding and teaching us? All throughout church history there have been disagreements about how to understand what certain passages say. This very fact reminds us that just because Scripture is written clearly, (which fact we all should hold to heartily), it doesn’t then mean that all believers will agree about what is written in Scripture. But it does reinforce the fact that the problem never is with the Scripture itself, but always with ourselves. Our own limitations seem to keep us from understanding what Scripture is clearly stating at times.
We take heart that in the vast majority of Scripture, the necessities of salvation and sanctification, are clearly understandable by those in whom God is drawing to himself and conforming into the image of his dear Son, Jesus Christ.
Next post on understanding Scripture will provide some practical application and encouragement from this understanding of the clarity of Scripture.
Chance to Interact: When you disagree with someone about what a passage is stating, does that discourage you from reading the text or encourage you to further study? Any examples you care to share?