Clarifying Scripture’s Perspicuity: A Look at the Old Testament

As John Frame expresses, “When God speaks, he at the same time assures us that he is speaking.”

In Deuteronomy 6:6–7, God spoke to Israel and said: “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”[2] This text is significant for our doctrine of Scripture’s clarity because it establishes that God’s word is understandable to the degree that it can be passed on—even to children.

 

Perspicuity is an older term for clarity. Explicit and implicit references to the perspicuity or clarity of Scripture abound in number. From the beginning, God’s speech has been understood, by creation (Gn 1:3, 6, 9) and the pinnacle of creation, humans (Gn 3:2, 9–10). When God speaks to the serpent (3:14–15), the woman (3:16), Adam (3:17–19), Cain (4:6), Noah (6:13), and Abraham (12:1), his communication is understood. As John Frame expresses, “When God speaks, he at the same time assures us that he is speaking.”[1]

In the biblical storyline, God’s word is eventually written down (Ex 31:18) and God means for it to be spread to others. In Deuteronomy 6:6–7, God spoke to Israel and said: “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”[2] This text is significant for our doctrine of Scripture’s clarity because it establishes that God’s word is understandable to the degree that it can be passed on—even to children. Grudem comments, “All the people of Israel were expected to understand the words of Scripture well enough to be able to ‘teach them diligently’ to their children.”[3] Proverbs 6 outlines a father fulfilling Deuteronomy 6. He pleads with his son to trust God’s word and promises to him that “when you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you” (v. 22). “Simple” people—those that are inexperienced and naïve in life—are also said to be capable of understanding Scripture and benefitting from its content (Ps 19:7; 119:130; cf. Prv 1:4; 7:7; 8:5; 9:6; 14:15, 18; 22:3; 27:12). Scripture is far from being applicable to only the religious elites; its message has implications for simple people and small children.

Scripture’s intelligibility to young persons is repeated in Deuteronomy 31. Moses instructs the priests (31:9) that “at the end of every seven years…at the Feast of Booths” (v. 10), they are to

assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess (12–13).

God’s assembled people are to “hear and learnand be careful to do all the words (v. 12). The declared words of Yahweh are given for the purpose of obedience—lifelong obedience (v 13) for all the people in Israel, including “men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner” (v. 12). When Ezra read the “Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel” (Neh 8:1), those in the assembly were “men and women and all who could understand what they heard” (v. 2). The word of God was to be read to all who had basic skills in comprehension because it was clear enough to be understood. “The Book of the Law” was not to depart from the mouth of Israel, but they were to “meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Jo 1:8). The blessed man of Proverbs is the one who delights “in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:2). Meditation presupposes understanding, so verses that call for meditation are implicit arguments for the clarity of Scripture.

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