Last week, in the context of discussing the doctrine of Scripture, I posted about the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, and the importance those two things are when embarking upon a study of the Scriptures. Today, I want to talk briefly about the clarity, necessity, and sufficiency of Scripture.
First, what do we mean by clarity? Another word for that is perspicuity. I like that word. But if you use that word, you may end up spitting on the person you are speaking to. Basically, it means understandable. The clarity of Scripture means it understandable. Kathleen Nielson in her book Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word comments:
Martin Luther in Bondage of the Will, wrote almost ferociously about the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, accusing those who claimed that the Bible lacks plain meaning of being used by Satan "to scare off men reading the sacred text, and to destroy all sense of its value." Just a sentence later Luther goes on to admit that "many passages in the Scriptures are obscure to elucidate," but he claims, "that is due, not to the exalted nature of their subject, but to our own linguistic and grammatical ignorance." And just a couple of sentences later he explains that a more obscure passage must be explained other more clear ones.
God intends for us to understand his Word. His command in Deuteronomy 6 to Moses and the nation of Israel was that they were to teach the Scriptures diligently to their children. How can teaching be done apart from understanding? God does not have secret meanings in His word for the select few. Psalm 119:130 tells us: "The unfolding of your word gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple." The bible is meant for our understanding, and if we have issues of understanding, the fault lies with us, not Scripture. We have the power of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us all things, to help us as well as many tools to help. The clarity of Scriptures makes irrelevant objections such as, "The Scriptures are too lofty for me to understand," or "I don't have to try to understand that particular teaching because the Scripture is not meant to be understood." So, next time someone tells you that we can't really understand what Paul was getting at with the whole women covering their head concept because Scriputre is not clear on that issue, tell them they're mistaken.
As well as being clear, Scripture is necessary. Scripture is necessary to understand the gospel message and for continued spiritual growth and discerning God's will. Romans 10:17 says: "So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ." We cannot know how to be saved apart from God's word. That is part of the power of the word, its saving power. Scripture reveals the redemptive history of man, it reveals our sin, and it presents the means by which we can be reconciled to him. You can't figure that out by seeing God in the sunset. We need to know his word. Furthermore, continued growth is impossible apart from God's word. Acts of service, prayer, singing worship songs and evangelizing are aspects of our life in Christ, but apart from his word, how can we be certain we are being led by the Spirit? Honestly, some of those things, like serving and attending worship can be done on our own efforts. Even prayer and evangelism to some extent can be done by people who have little spiritual life. They can be like notches on a belt. But put people in the word, and the convicting power of it will soon sift out those who are sincere and those who aren't. Find someone struggling spiritually and uncertain about his or her faith, and the chances are they are not in God's word. Any time I have struggled with my life in Christ it has been a lack of being in the word and submitting to it.
Finally, Scripture is sufficient. This takes us back, again, to the words of II Timothy 3:16. Let's look at that verse:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Look what we get from Scripture. First, we are taught by it. And what are we taught? We are taught everything we need to know for being reconciled God and for godly living. Secondly, we are reproved. You know what this is, don't you? To reprove someone is to point out that they err, to blame them. Then, we are taught how to correct our error. Finally, it trains us in righteousness. Jesus Christ is the standard of righteousness, both by his life and by his death. The bible shows us all we need to know about him in order to see what that standard is. And what is the result? That we will be complete and equipped for every good work.
The sufficiency of Scripture should be a comfort to us. We have all we need to know the will of God in our lives. We don't need anything else to know how to be saved, how to obey him, how to grow. There are some folks, I being one of them, who love to study things in detail, to pick things apart, to dissect them and examine them. Not everyone wants to do that, and it would be wrong of us to assume that everyone needs to be a bookworm. But every Christian who is sincere should want to live a life of righteousness. He or she does not need to go any further than the Word of God. Now, in order to understand, he may need the help of a good commentary (and we'll talk about commentaries in a subsequent post), but he isn't required to have seminary training (although, personally, I would love to do that!) to know God's word well enough to grow in his understanding.
Next week, I hope to talk about the ramifications of the reality that the bible is a book.
Kathleen Buswell Nielson, Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word, (P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2011)