Perspicuity

Review – Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture

A Clear and Present Word is the 21st volume in the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series which now extends to 45 volumes. This volume is dedicated to the doctrine of perspicuity (or the Bible’s clarity). From Eve’s wicked interlocutor in the garden to the present day, there has been a reechoing “Has God really said?”

In recent theological debates, it is clear that inerrancy is often the bibliological battleground. However, as this book endeavors to show, even if the accuracy of the words is granted, their power can just as easily be neutralized though obfuscation as through denial. Mr. Thompson (Principle of Moore Theological Seminary, Australia. Evangelical Anglican) labors to unfold the importance of Scripture’s clarity as well as to defend it.

Perspicuity has not seen the scholarly concentration of other doctrines of Bibliology and the book is a welcome resource for anyone who desires to better understand it. The series aims to relate important biblical/theological themes in a way that is both scholarly and accessible to the layperson. The author succeeds in presenting a book that can be beneficial both to the studious lay person as well as the pastor.

Chapter one takes up the question of whether Christians can even claim to have a clear word of God. After all, we live in the postmodern era when truth is considered at least obscure, and often unknowable. The chapter outlines the arguments against the clarity of the Bible, first from church history and then more recently the post-modern view of truth.

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The Perspicuity of Scripture as Applied to Bible Translation, Part 3

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All things being accounted for, the Scriptures are understandable! It is in those terms that we attempted previously (Briefings, August 2009 and December 2009) to state the doctrine of perspicuity or clarity of the Scriptures as applied to Bible translation.

In examining the Scriptures, one soon discovers many aspects that may render them difficult to be understood: linguistic complexities in the process of translating; particular twists of styles; antiquated literary genres; abbreviated language; unexplained historical and geographical inferences; differing cultural practices; unrevealed meaning of names, things, places, events, and concepts; and more. These difficulties can be compounded by the limitations of the reader who may be unsaved, or limited in knowledge of Biblical facts, or lacking in his investment of time and effort to the study of the Scriptures.

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The Perspicuity of Scripture as Applied to Bible Translation, Part 2

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The doctrine of perspicuity or clarity of Scripture can be stated this way: All things being accounted for, the Scriptures are understandable. The question is, however, what should be accounted for?

Luther grappled with the idea and admitted in The Bondage of the Will that the Scriptures were both clear and unclear. He, like many other reformers, attempted to balance the statements in the Scriptures themselves that tended to support the understandability of the Scriptures on the one hand and their difficulty on the other. Most significant among the passages that state the difficulty of the Scriptures is Peter’s declaration that in Paul’s epistles there “are some things hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:16). The experience of reading and studying the Scriptures also proves that not all things in the Scriptures are readily understandable.

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The Perspicuity of Scripture as Applied to Bible Translation, Part 1

The essential characteristics of the Scriptures may be summed up in these tenets: revelation because God has communicated His mind to men; inspiration because God has superintended the recording of what He communicated; canonicity because what is inspired is recognized; infallibility because what God intended to be written was recorded without error; authority because what is recorded is binding upon all men; necessity because man cannot do without what God says; sufficiency because what God has communicated needs no supplement; preservation because God has pledged for His Word to exist to all generations; and understandability because God communicated in order to be understood.

While all these characteristics of the Scriptures are essential and significant, two of them relate directly to the routine task of the Bible translator: preservation and understandability. The other characteristics may impress the translator with the sacredness and value of the biblical texts and shape his philosophy of Bible translation, but they do not directly affect the routine, technical work of translating. They are inherent qualities that are set and permanent but are not active, so to speak.

By contrast, whenever the Scriptures are translated into a new language, preservation is newly active. And whenever the Scriptures are studied, preached, or translated, understandability is also in operation. Both preservation and understandability of the Bible are acts of “fairness” from God. It would not be equitable that God would reveal His Word, render it binding upon all men, and then not make it available; or that He would make it available and not make it understandable.

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