The Perspicuity (Clarity) of Scripture

This is one of my favorite resources for studying the Westminster Confession of Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith by Robert Shaw (originally published in the 1850’s).  It is clear, brief, biblical, and edifying.  This morning I ran across Shaw’s discussion of Scripture – specifically the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture (WCF 1.6-7).  Here it is.

“The Scriptures are clear and perspicuous in all things necessary to salvation.  We allow that there are doctrines revealed in the Scriptures which surpass the comprehension of created beings, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the eternal generation and the incarnation of the Son of God.  These are mysteries which we cannot comprehend, but the doctrines themselves are plainly taught in the Scriptures, and we must receive them on the divine testimony.”

“We also admit that in the Scriptures there are some things obscure and ‘hard to be understood.’  But this obscurity is chiefly in history and prophecies, which do not so nearly concern our salvation.  As in nature everything necessary for the support of life occurs almost everywhere, and may be found on the most easy search, while other things less necessary, such as its gems and gold, lie concealed in certain places, and can only be discovered and obtained by great exertions and unwearied industry; so there are things in the Scriptures, ignorance of which will not endanger the salvation of the soul, that are abstruse and difficult to be understood, even by those who possess acute minds and great learning.”

“But we maintain, that all those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly revealed in some place of Scripture or other, that every serious inquirer, in the due use of ordinary means, may understand them.  This may be inferred from the fact that their author is God.  If he intended them to be a rule of faith and life to men, surely he has adapted them to the understandings of men.  There are numerous injunctions to read and search the Scriptures, but these necessarily imply that they are perspicuous and intelligible.  Christians are also commended for searching the Scriptures, and trying by the written Word the doctrines delivered to them (Acts 17:11).”

“If the Scriptures were unintelligible to common Christians, and the interpretation of the Church were necessary to discover their meaning, then such Christians would have no foundation upon which a divine faith could rest.  Their faith must be ultimately resolved into the testimony of men; but human testimony, being fallible, cannot be the ground of an infallible persuasion.” (p.53).

Well said!  Here’s the book to get if you want a great study guide of Reformed theology: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith by Robert Shaw.

shane lems

5 thoughts on “The Perspicuity (Clarity) of Scripture”

  1. Hey Reformed Reader!
    I was just wondering as I was reading through your section on evangelism, particularly the Preaching of Paul in acts and Romans, what do you think (if you have read or heard of it) of Scot Mcknight’s King Jesus Gospel or the idea of the Gospel Jesus is Lord (specially 1 Corinthians 15 outline Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection)? I was looking at a review of Wright’s How God Became King, and said McKnight was a better book (which I am sure would be better because of Wright’s faulty epistemology on many things).

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    1. Trent: Thanks dropping by. I have heard of Scot McKnight’s book, but have not read it (and I don’t think Andrew has read it either, but he can correct me if I’m wrong). Sorry can’t be of more help! shane

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  2. Unfortunately the idea of Scripture being only perspicuous to matters of salvation misses the actual perspicuity of Scripture everywhere. Yes some things are hard to understand, but the narrow view of perspicuity was not always the view of the Reformation. An excellent study of the evolution of the limitation of perspicuity can be found here:

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  3. Fine excerpt: if the Bible is not clear, its authority is without teeth. Therefore, confession of the clarity of Scripture is a summons to constant interaction with the text and debate with others. Tolerance of competing viewpoints (on essential doctrines) in the church is a way of providing space and time for discussion and debate, but as a permanent condition it is cynical and the counsel of despair, for such tolerance implies either that the truth is inaccessible or that truth does not matter.

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