Rightly Dividing and Perspicuity — Responsibility and Possibility

“That Book in Your Hand”

As we continued the study on Bibliology, the nature of the Bible, my sixth sermon was on the need to interpret Scripture correctly, which depends on what theologians like to call the “Perspicuity” of Scripture.  The meaning of Scripture is not hidden or obscure, but clear.  Lord willing, this will be the first of three posts on this topic of Scripture’s perspicuity.

Rewind

Sermons on the nature of the Bible:

  1. The inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16.
  2. The moving of the Spirit in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21.
  3. The inerrancy of God’s Word (its complete reliability).
  4. The preservation of God’s Word.
  5. The illumination of the Scriptures, the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us to understand spiritual truths.

The Responsibility of Interpretation

A. It Means what God Means by It.

II Peter 1:20-21

 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the precise meaning of the words “private interpretation” is a little difficult, but the next verse makes the general idea fairly clear.  The sense is that the Bible was God’s idea, not man’s, and so it means what God meant by it.  We don’t get to put our own interpretation on it — the responsibility of Scripture interpretation is to find out what God meant by it.

We should never say, “That’s YOUR interpretation of it,” or “This is MY interpretation of it.”  Those statements implicitly undermine the truth that there is only one real interpretation — God’s interpretation.  It would be better to say, “I don’t think you are interpreting that the way God intended,” or to say, “This is my best understanding of the meaning God intended us to receive.”  That anchors the discussion clearly to the question (the only one that matters), “What did GOD mean when He gave us these words?”

B. It is to be Rightly Divided.

 II Timothy 2:15

 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

This is the passage from which the title of our sermon, “Rightly Dividing”, comes.  It tells us that we are to determine the right meaning, or use, of the Scriptures.  We don’t use them for our purposes, but for the purposes for which they are intended.  Often, politicians will twist the Scriptures, using a Scripture passage to support some political point they are trying to make, but using it in a way contrary to the obvious meaning of the text.  False teachers do this as well.  Much worse, preachers, theologians, and other Christians will sometimes do the same.

This verse starts with the word, “Study.”  We think of someone sitting at a desk poring over his books.  Our translators used the word with a broader meaning, of working hard at something (not just academic endeavours, but anything that required diligence).  It could also be translated “Be studious” or “Be diligent.” The point is that it takes diligent study, hard work, to rightly divide the Scriptures.  We should take this very, very seriously because it is God’s Word.  We must be studious / diligent to understand it rightly and then be studious / careful to use it rightly.

It may do a little bit of damage if you don’t read carefully and misunderstand something you read on a blog post.  It can do a lot of damage if we misunderstand God’s Word.  We can’t be lazy or sloppy with it.

C. It is Our Spiritual Guide.

II Timothy 3:16-17

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

We see the importance of this responsibility of interpreting rightly when we see for what the Scriptures are used — to guide and equip us in all spiritual matters.  You’d better not get them wrong, or you’ll be going astray in the things described in these verses.  You’ll be living wrong, believing wrong, teaching others wrong, doing good works wrong; everything that really matters will be a mess.  Correct Scripture interpretation is a vital responsibility.

The Possibility of Interpretation

This responsibility of right interpretation is not an impossible one.

A. The Spirit Illumines.

I Corinthians 2:9-13

9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

We looked at these verses in the last sermon, on the illumination of the Scriptures, so I won’t dwell on them here.  These verses tell us that the Holy Spirit enables us to understand the spiritual truths in God’s Word that would be beyond us without His aid.  Thus, we know understanding is possible.

B. Children Can Understand the Scriptures.

Psalm 8:2

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

II Timothy 3:15

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

While some might see the passage from Psalms as referring to children speaking prophetically, the verse from II Timothy is indisputable.  Children are able to know, learn, and profit by the Scriptures.  Thus, while we know from I Corinthians 2 that understanding the Scriptures is a spiritual endeavour, we also know it is not an impossible one, nor does it require towering intellect or unusual insight.  The message of the Scriptures is not obscure — children can understand them.

This does not mean everything is easy to understand.  The Bible itself says that isn’t true.  But the central message of the Bible, how we can be made wise unto salvation, can be understood even by young children.  Most of the rest of the Bible can be as well, though they may need some things explained to them.  But children are able to read and learn the Bible.  I know this from my own personal experience and that of my children.

C. God’s Purpose was to Communicate.

Isaiah 55:11

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

God has given us His Word so that we would know Him.  It would be useless to have done so if it were impossible to understand it.  And, as we have seen previously in our study of the preservation of Scriptures, God did not give His Word uselessly.  This promise gives us confidence:

Right understanding of God’s meaning is possible

When I write on this blog, I write with the intention to communicate things to my readers.  Sometimes I succeed.  Sometimes, however, I use words that may obscure rather than make clear my meaning, and so I fail to communicate.  God never fails.  It may not be easy to understand His Word, but it assuredly is possible.

  • To say it is impossible to understand His Word would be to say that God’s Word will not accomplish that which He pleased.
  • To say God’s Word will not accomplish that which He pleased is to say Isaiah 55:11 is not true.
  • To say Isaiah 55:11 is not true is to say that God is either dumber than you or less honest than you.
  • To make either of those claims is to show just how rebellious and foolish you are.

Next in series: Rightly Dividing and Perspicuity — Plain, but not Always Easy
Main article on Perspicuity:  Rightly Dividing and Perspicuity — “Love for Dummies”?

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
This entry was posted in Bibliology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Rightly Dividing and Perspicuity — Responsibility and Possibility

  1. Jon,

    I think this is the most dangerous attack on bibliology today, that is, the one upon perspicuity. First came the one on inspiration, then preservation, and I see this as next. Satan will do whatever will work (which is often also how many churches operate). If people aren’t sure about the Bible, they won’t be as obliged to believe it or obey it—the first two attack that. Then if they aren’t sure what it means, the net result is the same. The idea is that we’ve been closed off by history from what the Bible means, so we can’t be dogmatic about our practice of it. I don’t want to take away from what you’re going to write, but I also believe the essential/non-essential teaching is all about this. Thanks. And well done.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Good comment, Kent. I agree. What you are describing is really the spirit of the age. There is no such thing as absolute truth, or if there is, we can’t really know it.

      This philosophy was no accident. Satan is still the god of this world. His purpose is always to make war against God and His Word. He wants to destroy people, because we are made in God’s image. God’s Word is the great threat to his evil intent. The prevailing philosophies of the day do much damage to mankind in many ways, but I believe the primary intent was to challenge the Word.

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