Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sola Scriptura: The perspicuity of Scripture (part 2)

[continued from the previous post on the perspicuity of Scripture]

The first difficulty posed to the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration of the Scripture. Some people have pitted the two against each other[1], since if the Scriptures are verbally, plenary inspired, then there is a need to study the Bible in the original languages in which they were written. Such requires scholars who can read, understand and translate the biblical languages, and thus it seems that this doctrine is contrary to the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture.

However, this is not the case. Although on the surface such a contradiction seems plausible, the fact of the matter is that the doctrine of preservation of the Scriptures have been proven, thus we can be certain that we have God's Word with us. One aspect of this preservation is in the work of the Holy Spirit is safeguarding the translation process of the Scripture so that the Gospel message would not be significantly distorted in the translations in general so that the Gospel message and the essentials of the Christian faith would be preserved[2]. Note that this does not say that any particular translation attempt or pseudo-translation of the Scriptures would be kept free from error, which the Bible nowhere promises. Also, there is evidential proof for such errors as can be seen in the New Age "Bible version" called The Message, which substantially distort the Christian message.

Since that is so, this seeming contradiction ceases to exist, as although looking at the original languages is important, our English translations, especially the more literal word-for-word translations like the ESV and NASB and KJV, are faithfully translated to such a degree that we virtually have almost the exact Word of God in our own language such that our Bibles in our languages would be able to function as the Word of God to teach and edify us. Even in the more liberal dynamic equivalence versions like the NLT or the LB, some elements of the Gospel message and the original meanings of the Scripture remain which allow it to function as the Scriptures to a certain extent. Thus, the Scriptures could be said to be perspicuous. Also, with the plethora of resources like lexicons, concordances and interlinear Bibles available especially for the English-speaking world, it is possible to find out to a certain degree what the original text says.

Now, all of this seem to apply only to the English-speaking world. However, how about peoples and cultures that do not have the Bible in their own languages, or only have them in dynamic equivalence translations? Well, such situations do not have any bearing on the validity of the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, since the doctrine is not talking about whether people in fact do have a good translation of Scripture in their own language, but only prescribe what would happen — that Scripture would be plain to them, IF they have good translations of the Scriptures in their own language. Since this is the case, it is imperative that proper faithful translations of the Scriptures be done by people who revere God's Word and seek to give an accuate translation of the Scriptures, in order that each language group would have, as much as possible, the Word of God with them which would thus be plain to them, so as that these translations could function properly to teach them God's truth.

Another objection which could be made is the fact that Scripture cannot be perspicuous since there are instances whereby two groups of Christians claim that their interpretation is the correct one, and sometimes their interpretations can be diametrically opposite of each other and thus contradict each other. An example of such a case would be the Calvinist/ Arminian controversy, whereby both Calvinism and Arminianism are antithecal to each other yet both sides claim to be biblical.

Such an objection, however, forgets that one aspect of perspicuity is the fact that Scripture is plain to those who approach Scripture without bias and willing to submit their traditions, known and unknown, to the authority of Scripture. Therefore, Scripture is not plain to people on the matters in which they read their traditions into Scripture. For example, in the example stated above, I believe that the Arminian position is the result of reading Humanist presuppositions into the text of Scripture. Therefore, this objection refering to multiple interpretations existing within the visible Church fails to disprove the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture.

Some people may think that this doctrine would lead us to read the Bible literally. However, this is not always the case. By saying Scripture is plain does not mean that Scripture is to be read literally in all its passages, but that people could understand the Scripture just like any normal piece of literature without the need to resort to esoteric measures. Scripture is thus to be read in context and interpreted accordingly. Therefore, historical narrative passages are to be read as such, and parable and poetry are to be understood allegorically. In short, the Scriptures are to be interpreted in context and the way it is read and interpreted also is determined by the genre in which the Scriptural passages or verses belong to.

After looking through the various objections raised and supposed problems which the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture caused to other doctrines, it can be seen that the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture still stands. Therefore, the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture has been proved and has proven to be true and biblical.

(to be concluded)


[1] Another look at Plenary Verbal Inspiration (

[2] This is a logical deduction from the doctrines of the preservation of Scripture and the perspicuity of Scripture. Since for a person to be saved, he must believe the Gospel, which is found in the Scriptures, the person must be able to understand the Gospel. The Scriptures are however, written in languages which most people do not understand, so therefore in order for the Gospel to be understood by a person who does not know the original languages, the person must be able to hear the Scriptures in his/her language. We have seen that the Scriptures are plain to its readers, thus the person reading it must be able to understand the Gospel without external help. Therefore, the Gospel message and the Scriptures also must be preserved in the translations in order for them to convey the Gospel and Scriptural truths in the language the person can understand.

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