Sola Scriptura (6) by Rev M Retief


The Clarity of Scripture

The clarity of Holy Scripture was one of the pillars of the great Reformation in the 16th century.   Over against Rome – who viewed the Bible as a difficult and dark book, accessible only to the clergy and the scholarly – the church of the Reformation confessed a clear Bible.

Rome counted it dangerous to allow the “laity” access to the Bible. Because the Bible is so “dark” and “difficult” the common church member would only misinterpret and misuse the Bible.   While Rome tried to prevent as much as possible the Bible from being translated into the common tongue of the people—persecuting the translators and burning their translations of the Bible—and recommended that only the clergy should read the Bible, the Reformers on the other hand did their best to place a Bible in the hand of each believer.

But there is also more at stake in upholding or denying the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture.   Without a clear Bible God’s will becomes a mystic concept.   Then the confession of “religious man” seeking to do God’s will becomes hollow and empty.   For how can we obey God’s will if it is hidden and unknown?   Then the “search” for God’s will becomes nothing but a self-willed religion where each one follows his own heart.   In practice the authority, necessity and sufficiency of Scripture can only be upheld where the clarity of Scripture is confessed.

The iron chain of a new hermeneutics

In our day the confession of the clarity of Scripture has once more come under great pressure.   The Bible has once again become a dark and difficult book through the rise of a hermeneutics that places a growing distance between God’s Word in the Bible and our understanding of it.   The Bible may be true, but who is able to say with certainty what it really means?!   Hermeneutics has become the main battlefield.   Even if someone could be found who might be able to say what the Bible meant 2000 years ago, who will be able to say with certainty what it means in our very different time and circumstance?   The presupposition of this hermeneutics is that the truth of God’s Word is relative, and thus subject and bound to time and circumstance.

The hermeneutical process by which academics and “scientific theologians” incorporate much extra-Biblical information and theories to try and suggest what a passage of Scripture might possibly have meant 2000 or 3000 years ago, and how that possible meaning could possibly be translated into our own time and culture, is so complicated and uncertain that theology can no longer offer anything more than plausible suggestions of what Scripture might be saying for us today.   In the end all these plausible suggestions are only regarded plausible when they allow man to do whatever he sees most fit for his own time and context.

While Gnostics had exclusive access to the hidden and deeper meaning of Scripture, and while Rome kept the Bible in Latin for clergy only, the knowledge of Scripture has now become even more exclusive and almost inaccessible for the normal church member.   Only academia has the scientific tools to investigate this ancient and dark book.

Today the Bible is not so much chained in Latin to the walls of monasteries as it is chained by modern and postmodern science and theory making at theological universities.   Even ministers and elders are now counted among the laity.   The Bible, it seems, has become more unclear than ever before.

What does Scripture say about its own clarity?

The Bible is revelation.   It is light and gives light.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes…” (Ps. 19: 7, 8).

The prophets spoke God’s Word to the people of Israel.   Their words were not directed only to the priests and the learned among God’s people.   God’s words had to be heard and understood by all the people, including the women and children.   For example:

“There was not