The doctrine of the “perspicuity of Scripture” is a well-known and important teaching within the Christian faith. This doctrine refers to the fact that the Bible is clear, that it communicates perfectly. All scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible can be understood by anyone, barring mental handicaps (2 Timothy 3:15). This doesn’t mean it is easy to correctly understand; rather, the Bible requires careful, thoughtful study (2 Peter 3:16).
Equally vital as the doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity, however, is the balancing consideration of the “perspicacity” of the reader. And the first point to make is simply this: we don’t have it. We as readers of Scripture do not possess perspicacity.
We are, by nature, wrong in the way we look at God, self, and the world around us.
We also obviously need a definition for this rather archaic word. Perspicacity refers to one’s “keenness of mental perception” and “understanding, discernment, or penetration.” The biblical doctrine regarding the perspicacity of the reader contends that, although the Bible is a clear window, our own vision is blurred by our sinful nature (1 Corinthians 1:23-24; 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:3).
Martin Luther helpfully articulated this truth when rebutting Erasmus’ contention that Scripture is unclear and mysterious, that average people could not understand it, and that they therefore should not read it but have a priest read and interpret for them. Luther replied:
“If many things still remain [unclear] to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from [our] own blindness or want of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth … If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God … If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous.”
God’s Word is perfect — not in need of any change, revision, or alteration at all. But we are, by nature, wrong in the way we look at God, self, and the world around us.
Our lack of perspicacity may, at first, sound harsh or accusatory, but it is actually merciful and freeing. The solution to the problem is not hidden from us or unreachable to us, but can be found through genuine repentance, faith, humility, and hard work (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).
Do you trust God in precisely those places where your natural inclination is strongest against his leadership or direction or commandments?
Of course, we must have the Holy Spirit’s assistance, as in every aspect of spiritual life, but Jesus has already promised the Spirit to those who ask! (Luke 11:13). Therefore, as you read the Bible the question to constantly keep in mind — in light of our lack of perspicacity as readers — is this: do you trust God in precisely those places where your natural inclination is strongest against his leadership or direction or commandments? When the Bible clearly spells out God’s counsel, will you receive it regardless of your personal preferences or preconceptions?
No question could be more important. And the fact that we lack perspicacity as readers also implies what our answer should be.