A recurring theme in the pages of Scripture is the connection between light and truth (Ps 43:3 (“O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me”); John 3:21 (“But he who practices the truth comes to the Light”)). Scripture, having originated with God, is truth. And Scripture is truth which has been clearly delivered by a God who is perfect in all of His ways—including the clarity with which He communicates. Especially in the confused culture climate in which we live and minister, may we who have been entrusted with proclaiming the riches of Christ remain committed to doing so unashamedly, unapologetically, and prayerfully—knowing that He has given us a clear Word to proclaim.
One often-overlooked characteristic of Scripture is its perspicuity (or, to use a more modern theological term, its clarity). According to the doctrine of perspicuity, not only is the Bible divinely-inspired (or “God-breathed,” 2 Tim 3:16), inerrant, infallible, sufficient, and authoritative, it is a clear Word from God. The Bible is “not a dark and cloudy book.” It is neither opaque nor outside of our reach. Instead, as the early Princeton theologian Charles Hodge once put it, the Bible is “a plain book.” It is accessible. It is understandable. It is clear.
Sadly, this generation suffers from “[a] strange combination of theological amnesia and an uncritical acquiescence in the least disciplined forms of postmodernism have made many Christians highly suspicious of hearing any sure or clear word from Scripture.” What a sad indictment this is, considering that Scripture testifies internally to its clarity. In no uncertain terms, the Bible itself declares: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105); “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Ps 119:130); “in your light do we see light” (Ps 36:9); and “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet 1:19). What each of these passages communicates to us is that God’s Word is clear. Scripture shines light on God’s person, plans, and purposes in the way a lamp—or the moon—shines light on the nighttime traveler’s path.
The central contention of this article is that the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture ought to be a treasured truth for pastors in particular. For those who have been called to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Pet 5:2), there is a special charge to devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). And the Word that Christ’s undershepherds are called to minister—whether through their own devotional study, their counseling, their discipleship, or in their public preaching and teaching ministries—is a clear Word, a Word that serves as “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Pet 1:19). This article traces out how the doctrine of the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture ought to shape, influence, and profit the pastor as he commits himself to prayer and the ministry of God’s perspicuous Word.
Perspicuity Promotes Prayer
The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture benefits the pastor first in his own communion with God – specifically, as he prays over God’s Word and engages in his personal study of Scripture.
First, the pastor who truly appreciates the great gift God has given us in the Word overflows with praises to God for who He is and what He has revealed in the pages of Scripture. He praises God not only for revealing Himself to mankind both through creation and conscience, but also for revealing key aspects of His limitless wisdom, His perfect purposes, and His unfathomable ways in the pages of Scripture. He praises God for the fact that Scripture itself is God-breathed, inerrant, infallible, sufficient, and authoritative. He praises God that His Word convicts, corrects, sharpens, and edifies the follower of Jesus Christ. He praises God that Scripture is a divinely-given instrument (a spiritual “sword,” Eph 6:17), and as such, it is a powerfully-effective instrument. And he praises God for the fact that, as John Owen put it, “all necessary truth is plainly and clearly revealed in Scripture.” He praises God, in other words, for a clear and perspicuous Word—a Word that does not need to be interpreted by a Pope, corralled by a man-centered hermeneutic, or corrected by modernized, anti-biblical notions of “justice.” Instead, what he reads and studies is a clear and a timeless Word which can rightly be understood through the illumination of the Spirit who indwells him.
In addition to promoting praise, the perspicuity of Scripture promotes petition. It does so because what the perspicuity of Scripture does not mean is that every passage of Scripture is equally clear or immediately understandable. Indeed, we know from Scripture that this is not the case. Peter, writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit, recognized that there were “some things” in the writings of his Paul, his apostolic contemporary, which were “hard to understand” (2 Pet 3:16). In the fourth century, John Chrysostom, likened Scripture to a river: “In one part there are whirlpools; and not in another.” According to Section 1.7 of the Westminster Confession of Faith: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all.” The aforementioned Charles Hodge noted: “It is not denied that the Scriptures contain many things hard to be understood.” There truly are “hard sayings” in the Bible. “The clarity of Scripture means that understanding is possible, not that it is easy.”