Although the Bible affirms its clarity, people often misunderstand it. In my family’s and my after breakfast Bible reading time yesterday, we read Wayne Grudem’s explanation of why they do so in Chapter 6, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity,” of his Systematic Theology (Sections B-D).
Understanding the Bible rightly requires spiritual ability, which is provided by the Holy Spirit.
– “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
– “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:5-6).
The clarity of the Bible means that its teachings can be understood by all who read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it. Some theologians take it as applying just to the Bible’s teaching about salvation, but the verses quoted above and others referred to by Grudem suggest that it applies to all of the Bible’s teaching.
However sometimes the twelve didn’t understand Jesus’ teachings and Christians in the early church didn’t agree on the teachings of the Old Testament. An example of the former is the twelve’s asking Jesus to explain the parables to them in Mark 4:10. An example of the latter is the dispute between Judaizers (Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentile Christians should be circumcised and obey the law of Moses as well as to accept the Gospel) and Paul that led to the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15.
To help people interpret the Bible, Bible scholars have developed principles and methods of interpretation. The study of the principles of interpretation of the Bible is called “hermeneutics” and the process of interpretating the Bible is called “exegesis.” I have or had three of the books on the interpretation of the Bible recommended by Grudem in the chapter’s bibliography:
– Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Grand Rapids: Zondervam, 1982. (I no longer have this book.)
– Mickelsen, A. Berkeley. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963.
– Ramm, Bernard. Protestant Biblical Interpretation. Third Revised Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970.
I also have this book on New Testament exegesis written by one of the authors of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth:
– Fee, Gordon D. New Testament Exegesis. Revised Edition. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1993.
The disagreements about the meaning of Bible passages throughout history show that the doctrine of the clarity of the Bible does not mean that all believers will agree on all the teachings of the Bible. However the doctrine does suggest that such disagreements may not lie in the Bible but with us.