Scripture’s Clarity: An Old Testament Defense

by Brandon Freeman October 8, 2020

The clarity of Christian Scripture has long been affirmed in church history. Yet, as substantial a theme perspicuity has been in Protestant evangelicalism, it is a “sorely overlooked doctrine in the Christian world today.”[1] This two-part series of articles is dedicated to giving a brief biblical defense of Scripture’s perspicuity.[2]

Explicit and implicit references to the clarity of Scripture abound in number. From the beginning, God’s speech has been understood, by creation (Gn 1:3, 6, 9) and the pinnacle of creation, humans (Gn 3:2, 9–10). When God speaks to the serpent (3:14–15), the woman (3:16), Adam (3:17–19), Cain (4:6), Noah (6:13), and Abraham (12:1), his communication is understood. As John Frame expresses, “When God speaks, he at the same time assures us that he is speaking.”[3]

In the biblical storyline, God’s word is eventually written down (Ex 31:18) and God means for it to be spoken to others. In Deuteronomy 6:6–7, God spoke to Israel and said: “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” This text is significant for our doctrine of Scripture’s clarity because it establishes the truth that God’s word is understandable to the degree that it can be passed on—even to children. Proverbs 6 outlines a father fulfilling Deuteronomy 6. He pleads with his son to trust God’s word and promises to him that “when you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you” (v. 22). “Simple” people—those that are inexperienced and naïve in life—are also said to be capable of understanding Scripture and benefitting from its content (Ps 19:7; 119:130; cf. Prv 1:4; 7:7; 8:5; 9:6; 14:15, 18; 22:3; 27:12). Scripture is far from being applicable to only the elites of religious society; its message has implications for simple people and small children. 

Scripture’s intelligibility to young persons is echoed again in Deuteronomy 31. Moses instructs the priests (31:9) that “at the end of every seven years…at the Feast of Booths” (v. 10), they are to assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess (12–13).

God’s assembled people are to “hear and learnand be careful to do all the words (v. 12). The declared words of Yahweh are given for the purpose of obedience—lifelong obedience (v 13) for all the people in Israel, including “men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner” (v. 12). When Ezra read the “Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel” (Neh 8:1), those in assembly were “men and women and all who could understand what they heard” (v. 2). The word of God was to be read to all who had basic skills in comprehension because it was clear enough to be understood. “The Book of the Law” was not to depart from the mouth of Israel, but they were to “meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Jo 1:8). The blessed man of Proverbs is the one who delights “in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:2). Meditation presupposes understanding so verses that call for meditation are implicit arguments for the clarity of Scripture.

God assures Israel in Deuteronomy 30 of the clearness of his commands. Its message is attainable upon delivery. God’s word is near the reader.

For this commandment that I command you today is not too had for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it? But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it (vv. 11–14).

Scripture is understandable, near, and obeyable. The author emphasizes throughout Deuteronomy that God’s law is for all who are able to understand and given so that all would obey and live.

The effects of Scripture recorded in the Old Testament are numerous. In Psalm 19 alone, the perfect law of the LORD is said to “revive the soul” (v. 7), “make wise the simple” (v. 7), “rejoice the heart” (v. 8), and “enlighten the eyes” (v. 8). God’s word is a light and lamp that provides guidance for the present (Ps 119:105) and the future (Ps 119:81). God’s word provides strength for the sorrowful soul (v. 28) and encouragement of heart for those who “run in the way of your commandments” (v. 32). The psalmist expresses his delight in the Scripture (v. 16), dependence on the Scripture (v. 34), trust in the Scripture (v. 42), and love for the Scripture (v. 47). Altogether, the depictions of Scripture given by the psalmist illustrate Scripture’s clarity—it can be understood, it grants direction, it enthralls the saint. Various lines of support in the Old Testament provide strong support for Scripture’s perspicuity. No sense could be made out of the psalmist’s declaration of Scripture as “more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:10) if Scripture could not be understood. 

[1] Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 141.

[2] Perspicuity is an older word for clarity.

[3] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2010), 136.

How does God's Word impact our prayers?

God invites His children to talk with Him, yet our prayers often become repetitive and stale. How do we have a real conversation with God? How do we come to know Him so that we may pray for His will as our own?

In the Bible, God speaks to us as His children and gives us words for prayer—to praise Him, confess our sins, and request His help in our lives.

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