The Attributes of Scripture: #4 The Bible is Clear

This series is all about the attributes of Scripture, and the Bible is clear.

Hang on.

That’s not true, is it? What about 1st Corinthians 11:10:

“It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.”

Touché. Let’s unpack what I mean by “clear”. The Church of England does this really well in the following:

“Not everything in Scripture is plain or clear to everyone. However, everything that is necessary to be known, believed and kept for salvation are so clearly put forward that not only educated people, but also uneducated people, by using normal means of studying the Bible, can grasp a sufficient understanding of them.” (Westminster Catechism of Faith 1.7, simplified).

This is life-changing news.

Because when it comes to reading these “attributes of Scripture” posts, some of us will love this stuff. We’ll be in our element. And that’s brilliant. But some of us will find it hard. It’s just not how we’re wired. If that’s us, the clarity of the Bible is news of great joy. The theologian R.C. Sproul puts it like this:

“What kind of God would reveal his love and redemption in terms so technical and concepts so profound that only an elite corps of professional scholars could understand them?”

Amen! God isn’t elitist. Praise God that he makes himself known to all people!

But there’s a catch.

2 Timothy 2:7 is encouraging, but surprising:

“Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.”

Encouraging, because God gives us insight into what the Bible means.

Surprising, because of what the verse doesn’t say:

Pray about what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.”

You don’t need me to tell you that praying is an essential part of the process of reading the Bible and understanding it. But 2 Timothy 2:7 is saying that there’s still no substitute for thinking hard about Scripture.

Do we “spiritualise” Bible reading? God doesn’t immediately show us what a passage means and so we move on.

There’s something really important that we need to grasp. The Bible being clear doesn’t mean that the Bible is easy.

The beautiful storyline of God revealing himself to humanity through the Bible involved God using the intelligence, skillset, personality and creativity of fallible people to write down what’s divine and infallible.

He used everyday people to write down what’s extraordinary.

This means that in a very “human” way, each author has carefully crafted each book for a specific purpose. This purpose, or “big idea”, will heavily influence what’s said in the book, and all the passages in the book will feed into the big idea. One of the most obvious examples of this is in John 20:30-31:

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

The golden question, then, to ask as we work to understand a passage of the Bible is: what is the main idea of the passage that the author wanted to get the original readers to understand?

And in order to figure that out fully, we have to figure out how the passage contributes to the big idea of the book as a whole.

And in order to figure that out fully, we have to look at why the book was written to the original audience.

This is hard work. There aren’t any shortcuts. It means reading the passage. Reading the book. Reading the passage again. Reading the book again. Printing out the passage. Looking at the way it fits together. The argument being made. Why the story has been told as it has. It’s so crucial to do this because, shock horror, we can get it wrong. And if we’re wrong about what the Bible is saying, we’ll quickly think things, say things and do things that don’t honour God.

But this is worth it. My goodness is it worth it. Prayerfully work hard at what a passage is saying until you understand what it means. And when you understand what it means, let God’s voice mould you into the man or woman that he wants you to be, and receive the riches of recognizing how majestic, truthful, wise, merciful, loving, powerful, angry, jealous, good, Jesus-focused and within us our God is.

Let’s put the time in.

Suggested reading

Taking God at His Word, Kevin DeYoung; for those wanting to know more about how to handle the Bible.

Dig Deeper, Andrew Sach and Nigel Beynon; for those wanting to know more about how to handle the Bible.

Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem. “Part 1: The Doctrine of the Word of God”; for those wanting something meaty.

Words of Life, Timothy Ward; for those wanting something meaty. ; for those wanting a general idea of what might be useful to read. ; for those wanting a broad understanding of what each Bible book and Biblical theme is saying.