doctrine

Scripture is clear with regard to its primary message: salvation.

In this post, we are still under the doctrine of Scripture. We’ve explored canon, inspiration, manuscripts, inerrancy, and sufficiency. In today’s post, we will explain the clarity of Scripture.

We need to recognize some caveats about the clarity of Scripture. First, not all texts in the Bible are equally clear. The original autographs were in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Translating from the original autographs is challenging at times because some words from one language do not have specific equivalent words in another language. Some texts of Scripture require more diligent study than others based on context and meaning. Some passages are plainly more difficult to grasp than others (see 2 Peter 3:16).

Second, the relative clarity of Scripture is also affected by the reader of Scripture. I’m indebted to Robert Letham’s Systematic Theology for this post, and he wrote on this issue:

“Some readers are less able to understand than others, whether by lack of knowledge or education, lack of Christian experience, or a deficit of intelligence… Hard work is needed to explain it. The role of the human interpreter, the knower in the process of knowing, is significant.”

Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, 207.

But just because some Scriptures might not be as clear as we’d like them to be or we may not be as certain of our interpretation of some passages as we’d like, does not mean that Scripture lacks clarity. Amazingly, the 66 books of the Bible, 40 different authors, and a variety of themes throughout these books, the primary message of the Bible is clear.

Even with the above caveats, we can nevertheless affirm the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture. Perspicuity is the theological term for lucidity or clarity. (The following affirmations are just a sampling, and they are far from exhaustive in the Scripture references that address them).

  • With regard to who God is and what God wants us to know about himself, Scripture is clear (Genesis 1:1).
  • With regard to who mankind is and what God expects of us, Scripture is clear (Genesis 1:28, OT Law).
  • With regard to who Jesus Christ is and what he did to secure salvation, Scripture is clear (Gospels, John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1).
  • With regard to what it means to experience salvation, Scripture is clear (John 3:16, Romans 3:23, 5:8; 6:23, 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9).

See previous posts on the doctrine of salvation: soteriology, atonement, redemption, regeneration, election, justification, adoption, union with Christ, sanctification, and glorification.

Scripture itself is the primary means for communicating the gospel. It is clear unto salvation. Two examples will suffice.

First, Scripture is clear enough for both children and adults to experience salvation. As a pastor, I preach Scripture regularly and share it personally when witnessing. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of leading both of my children to Christ as well as other children and adults. The primary communication tool that I use to explain salvation is the Scripture. Scriptures on salvation are gloriously clear. It is because of the clarity of Scripture that God has brought billions to faith in himself.

Second, Scripture is the primary communication mechanism from God to people for their conversion. I just finished a fascinating audiobook, Defying Jihad, by Esther Ahmad. Esther grew up a devout Muslim and was on the path toward becoming a suicide bomber. But a dream where she saw Jesus disturbed her devotion to Islam. Providentially, God placed a man in her life who was a Christian. Esther’s conversion to Christ was initiated by a dream, helped along by a couple of Christians, but her conversion only occurred as began reading the Bible. God brought salvation to Esther from the Bible. Esther’s only prior biblical understanding came through the false perspectives of Islam. She did not have a church, a teacher, or Bible study helps. She had the Bible. And God made it clear enough for her to reject Islam and follow Jesus.

In subsequent weeks we will discuss topics like the authority of Scripture and the need for clear and beneficial interpretive strategies regarding Scripture. But one does not have to be a Bible scholar or a trained academic to understand what the Bible has to say about salvation.

God put that information on the bottom shelf for all of us to grasp. God cares about his creatures enough that when he wrote his book to us, men and women, boys and girls, of all ages, geographical and cultural differences, anywhere and anytime, could understand the message of salvation from the pages of Scripture.

As an aside, our prayer partners at Wilkesboro Baptist Church this week are Wycliffe Bible Translators, Adam and Ruth Huntley and family. The reason we care about and prioritize the translation of the Bible in the languages of the peoples of he world is because the Bible is clear, especially about salvation and eternal life. Would you take a moment and pray for Adam and Ruth and other Wycliffe translators?

Photo by Randy ORourke on Unsplash

For this week’s word, sufficiency, we remain under the doctrine of Scripture. Scripture is inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and clear. As such it is authoritative for Christian life and practice. (Clarity and authority are topics in forthcoming posts).

The sufficiency of Scripture means that in whatever God intends to communicate to us regarding himself, mankind, life, faith, and salvation, it is sufficient for those things.

The Bible is complete for the purpose for which it is given.

Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, 200.

At the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, convention messengers passed resolution 2 “ON THE SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE FOR RACE AND RACIAL RECONCILIATION.” You can read more about it in the Tuesday bulletin page 7, from last week’s annual meeting. SBC Annual Meeting resolutions represent the beliefs and affirmations of a specific convention meeting. While they are not binding or necessarily actionable by the messengers of the annual meeting or the entities, they are important as theological affirmations. If you would like a little more detail on the meeting, listen to the special episode of the Thursday Show podcast that aired last week or read my reflection post.

What does it mean that the Bible is sufficient for race and racial reconciliation? In short, it means that the Bible addresses a sufficient anthropology (who we are as humans), promotes an adequate view of ethnicity (how we interact with various ethnicities inside the one human race), and applies the appropriate solution to racial tensions and the need for gospel-centered reconciliation (how the gospel answers racism). You can read one of my posts from last year on this subject. While our nation is at odds politically and in conflict racially with regard to Critical Race Theory, it is important to note that the solutions to these tensions are not in the future waiting to be found. The solutions to these tensions are not in cultural marxism, hatred, anger, politics, division, or punitive actions. The solutions to these tensions have been revealed to us in the pages of Scripture with regard to the reconciliation paid for by the blood of Christ and declared by followers of Jesus.

Below, you will find four statements regarding the sufficiency of Scripture. The first is in the positive and the next three are in the negative. They are aimed at explaining this important doctrine.

The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible is complete in everything that God intends to communicate to us. The Bible is enough. God’s revealed Word is sufficient to guide us into truth about God, humankind, sin, and salvation. We do not need another incarnation from Jesus, nor do we need extra revelations. Because we have the Bible, we are able to know truthfully what God intends for us to know.

The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Bible contains all truth. While the Bible is truthful and inerrant in what it intends to teach, it does not provide us exhaustive information about everything. It is helpful here to remember that the biblical affirmations regarding history and science are not in actual conflict with scientific or historical truth. I will admit that the Bible is in conflict with many historical and scientific theories, but not with affirmed historical and scientific truths. It has been said that all truth is God’s truth. And while we hold to the sufficiency of Scripture, this does not mean that the Bible contains all truth about everything. The sufficiency of Scripture asserts that the truth the Bible intends to teach is sufficient for its purpose: the revelation of God, mankind, and salvation.

The sufficiency of Scripture means that we do not need more than the Bible to truly know God. Two errors have arisen in church history connected to the sufficiency of Scripture: mysticism and traditionalism. Mysticism is the idea that we need extra revelations from God in order to fully or rightly follow him. Ancient Gnosticism fell into this trap. In contemporary Christianity, some versions of the charismatic movement lean into this error with the claims of revelations added to Scripture by apostolic teachers. Traditionalism is the error of equating church authority or creeds with the authority of Scripture. Roman Catholicism is guilty of this error by equating tradition with Scripture. Practically, contemporary fundamentalism follows a similar path to the Pharisees in the New Testament. Whenever one adds to the Law (the extra laws the Pharisees added in the first century) or whenever one adds legalistic demands to Christian practice, one is in danger of falling into the error of traditionalism.

The sufficiency of Scripture does not negate the need for the the Holy Spirit in biblical interpretation. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as our guide into truth (John 16:13). Within biblical theology and scriptural interpretation, many issues are discussed and debated. This reality does not undercut the sufficiency of Scripture. Rather, it reminds us of the need to humbly interpret Scripture and seek the help of the Holy Spirit in our interpretations.

One of the greatest benefits of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is that it points to the powerful nature of the Word of God.

The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:7-8

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 

Hebrews 4:12

The Word of God stands forever, accomplishes God’s purposes and is powerful to look into our hearts and introduce us to God.

We’ll close with a quote from Princeton theologian, B. B. Warfield, of the late nineteenth century who emphasized the sufficiency and power of Scripture in our lives.

The Bible is more than rule of faith and practice; it is more than the rule of faith and practice; it is more than a sufficient rule of faith and practice; it is the only rule of faith and practice.

B. B. Warfield, quoted by Robert Letham in Systematic Theology, 203.