What is the Doctrine of Perspicuity?
Also known as the Doctrine of Scriptural Clarity, “Perspicuity” is the belief that Scripture is comprehensible enough so that, with the aid of the Holy Spirit and by using a sound hermeneutic that allows Scripture to interpret itself, anyone who desires to do so can understand God’s message.
Martin Luther defined three categories of perspicuity: 1) the Bible is grammatically clear to all men of sound mind; 2) it is spiritually clear to all who believe in Christ; 3) it is essentially clear to the saints in heaven, who see God face to face.”
Does Scripture Support It?
‘The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130).”
“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple (Psalm 19:7).”
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 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 (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).”
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 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?’ 13 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?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).”
Why does it matter?
It matters a whole lot: If Scripture can’t be understood with certainty, then a saving comprehension of the gospel is impossible.
What Do the Important People Have to Say About it?
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2 Pet. 3:16); yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Ps. 119:105, 130). —Westminster Confession of Faith (1.7)
To begin with, it is important to note what the clarity of Scripture does not mean. It does not mean, first of all, that interpretation is unnecessary – the biblical meaning will be delivered up by some mystical process of hermeneutical osmosis. Nor does it mean that an autonomous individual can, by employing critical techniques alone, wrest the meaning from the text. Rather, clarity means that the Bible is sufficiently unambiguous in the main for any well-intentioned person with Christian faith to interpret each part with relative adequacy. In the context of the Reformation, the perspicuity of Scripture was the chief weapon for combating the authority of the dominant interpretive community: Rome (pg. 315). —Kevin J. Vanhoozer Is There a Meaning in This Text?