- Story of my encounter with an Iglesia ni Cristo minister who prohibited me from sharing the gospel and interpreting the Bible on my own. He said that only ministers of Iglesia ni Cristo should teach and interpret the Scripture because normal persons like me will definitely misinterpret what the Bible says.
- I received the same admonition from my grandmother who is a devoted Roman Catholic when she heard that I am conducting Bible Studies. He said that only priests of the Roman Catholic church are authorized the interpret the Bible.
- If the Bible is clear, why are there so many conflicting views and opinions about it?
- Armenian vs Calvinist
- Premillennialism vs Postmillennialism vs Amillennialism
- Cessationism vs Continuationism
- Trinitarian vs Unitarian vs Tritheism and etc.
- If there are unclear teachings in the Bible that even the learned scholars and theologians who spent their entire studying the Scripture cannot agree upon, is it then advisable for normal persons like you and me to read and interpret it on our own?
The Clarity of the Scripture
- Clarity of the Law
11 “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
- The book of Deuteronomy tells us about the second giving of the law to the Israelites before they entered the promise land.
- Just before the appointment of Joshua as the one who will succeed Moses in leading the Israelites through the promise land, and before the death of Moses, God renewed his Covenant with the people of Israel in Moab. After that, Moses gave an exhortation to the people to choose life instead of death by the keeping the commandments of God.
- In exhorting the Israelites to obey God’s law, Moses demonstrated to them that God did not give them rules or conditions that are impossible to fuifill. In verse 11 Moses said “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.”
- It is not in the heavens (v12) means that metaphorically the commandment is not inaccessible because of its height or loftiness, so that some especially qualified person would be needed to make it all clear. The commandments of God are given to men to be read, understood and obeyed by them. These are not mysteries retained in heaven which cannot be approached by normal man. That’s why the people do not have an excuse to say “Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it” because the law is made available to them.
- Neither is it beyond the sea (v13) indicates in another way that the commandment was practical and realistic. The practical nature of the commandment, which objective is to obtain life, is a striking contrast to its contemporary near Eastern literature at that time which is the Epic of Gilgamesh.
- In the course of his quest, Gilgamesh had to cross the sea, searching for Utnapishtim, the survivor of the flood, whom he hoped might provide him with an answer to his quest. In contrast to this heroic yet tragic quest, life was to be found by the Israelites in the law of the covenant which Moses set before them
- But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (v14) means that the law is accessible to them. In fact, it is already in their heart, meaning in their mind, and in their mouth, because they can recite it or talk about it.
- In short, the law of God is not unreasonable, impractical or unrealistic to obey. It is accessible to the people and can be read, understood and obeyed by all.
- But isn’t this contrary to the teaching of the New Testament that no one can obey the law and that “no one is righteous, no not one”. The answer is no. Although the law is easy to understand and practical and realistic enough to be obeyed, our sinful nature makes it impossible for us to obey it. So the fault is not with the law, but with our wicked nature.
- Clarity of the Gospel
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.- Romans 10:5-9
- In Romans 10:5-9, Apostle Paul used the language of Moses in Deuteronomy 30:11-14 to describe the righteousness based on faith.
- Paul is telling his readers not to doubt the gospel. Let us not say in our heart, who will ascend to heaven to bring Christ down? Or who will possibly bring the Son of God down to earth and make Him human to pay for our sins, like what the gospel says.
- Let us not say in our hearts, who will descend to the abyss to bring up Christ from the dead. Or who will possibly go to the grave to raise Christ from the dead like what the gospel says.
- In other words, do not say in your heart that what the gospel says is an impossibility for nothing is impossible with God.
- But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim). When this language was used by Moses he was pertaining to the law of God. Here, Paul used the same language but this time he is not pertaining to the law but to the word of faith that they proclaim or the gospel.
- The expression the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart is the opposite of to be hidden or to be far off which means being inaccessible or difficult. Therefore, to be near, to be in the mouth or in the heart mean to be accessible, easy and familiar.
- The Clarity of Both the Law and the Gospel
- If the Bible is clear, does that mean that we don’t need teachers, preachers and theologians anymore to explain it to us? The answer is no. Although the Bible is clear about the important things we have to know, believe, and obey in order to be saved and be able to live according to God’s will, there are still other part of the Scriptures that are hard to understand. The Westminster Confession of Faith gives us a more careful definition of the clarity of the Scripture.
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: 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. (WCF 1.7)
- Some portions of the Scripture are clearer than others. Not every passage has a simple and obvious meaning.
15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. – 2 Peter 3:15-16
- The main things that we need to know, believe and do can be clearly seen in the Bible.
- Though the most essential doctrines are not equally clear in every passage, they are all made clear somewhere in the Scripture.
- Scripture interprets Scripture.
- That which is necessary for our salvation can be understood even by the uneducated provided that they make use of the ordinary means of study and learning.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
- The most important points in the scripture may not be understood completely, but they can be understood sufficiently.
The Clarity Imperative
- The gift of human language is at stake – human language, however imperfect and imprecise at times is best seen as a divine gift. God is the first one in the universe to speak. He is the divine speaker who is antecedent to all human speaking. He gave us the gift of language in order to communicate and reveal himself to us. It is one thing to suggest that God cannot be known absolutely or contained in any verbal system, but to say that God cannot be known through human language at all is the waste the precious gift that He gave us.
- The gift oh human freedom is at stake – the protestant doctrine of Perspicuity (Clarity of the Scripture) is one of the foundations of religious liberty in the West. In the final analysis, the doctrine of perspicuity means that I should not be forced to go against my own conscience. Only Jesus Christ, speaking through the word, is the Lord of our conscience. Although this doctrine maybe abused, it is still worth the price of reading the Bible for ourselves according to our God-given, although imperfect, conscience. Freedom of religious inquiry and expression would not be possible without confidence in the clarity of the Scripture.
- What God is like is at stake– the question is not whether we are haughty enough to think we have peered in to the recesses of eternity and understand God omnisciently. The question is whether God is a sort of God who is willing to communicate with creatures and able to do so effectively. Can God speak? Or is he gagged?
- Whom God is for is at stake – without the doctrine of the Clarity of the Scripture we have to wonder if the Bible is only for the pastors, scholars and theologians. Is God the God of the smarty-pants only? As R.C. Sproul asked, “what kind of a God would reveal his love and redemption in terms so technical and concepts so profound than only an elite corps of professional scholars could understand them”.
- Because the Scripture is clear, we don’t have an excuse not to read it our selves and study it without absolutely relying on ministers for interpretation. This however, does not mean that we should not have teachers, preachers, scholars and theologians. There are parts of the Scripture that are hard to understand and we have to take advantage of the people gifted to us by God to help us understand these hard teachings.
- We should encourage everyone, whatever their age, education back ground, or social status to read the Bible.
- Because the Scripture is clear, we can countercheck with the Scripture the things that our ministers are saying in Bible studies and in the pulpit. Let us be like the Bereans who are diligent to check with the Scriptures whether the teachings of the preachers is still in accordance to God’s word. n
- Let us be grateful to God for giving us a sufficiently clear revelation to lead us to salvation and to guide us in walking in righteousness and holiness.
For Ministers, Elders, Teachers and Aspiring pastors
- Let us strive for more clarity in our preaching. Although we should always maintain biblical accuracy in our sermons, we should not sacrifice the aspect of clarity.
- One of the reasons why God gifted the church with preachers and teachers is for them to be able to explain with more clarity the teachings in the Scriptures that are not quite clear.
- No matter how biblically accurate our sermon is, if it is delivered to the congregation in very technical and complex way, to the point that the listeners can longer follow or understand the preaching, our preaching will defeat its purpose.
- There is nothing wrong in using technical or theological terms, but if there is another term to express them in way that even a lay person would understand then by all means let us use terms that listeners would understand. If there is really no way to express the theological term in a different way, then let’s make sure first that we were able to explain the meaning of the term before using them. Let us never assume that the congregation is familiar with the theological terms we are using (unless for very common theological terms).
- Let’s ask ourselves, if an elderly guest who is only an elementary or high school graduate attends the church and listens to our sermon, do you think they will understand what we are teaching? Will they come back next week because they were fed by the rich and clear preaching of the word or they will never return because they did not understand a thing. Will they think that this church is only for the smart, the nerds and the professionals? If we think that the answer is no, then we have to work more on the clarity of our preaching.
- The reason why mega churches which are usually false churches attracts a lot of people, even genuine believers, is because they have the ability to convey their false teachings with much clarity.
For those who have not put their Faith in Christ yet
- Don’t be intimidated of the Bible. This is not a book that only holy people can read and understand. Yes, there are things in that book that are too complex and are too hard to understand that even ministers cannot fully comprehend yet. But when it comes to the message of the Gospel, on how can you be saved, the Bible is very clear.
ZCRC Imus, we can be confident that the Scripture is clear when it comes to the things that we have to know, believe and obey in order to be saved and live according to the will of God. Let’s be grateful that God communicates with us with clarity and let us take advantage of the clarity of His word in order to learn from it and let our lives be shaped by it.