The Doctrine of Perspicuity, Part 2

Continued from last time...

In order to make a distinction between the doctrine of perspicuity as expressed by my opponent, as it is referred to by such documents as the Westminster Confession, I will hereafter refer to the former as radical perspicuity

Radical Perspicuity: A Biblical Basis?

In seeking Biblical justifications for radical perspicuity, I found very little that commended itself for the doctrine the way my critic understood it. 

  • Deuteronomy 30:11 For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.At best, this could argue for the perspicuity of the Deuteronomic contract, and I daresay based on experience that the qualification of clarity for the people of the 14th century BC is implied. Questions about obscurity in the laws of the Old Testament are some of the most common in apologetics, because these laws address social conditions taken for granted in Scripture. However, it should be added that "too hard" most likely refers to the difficulty of performing the law as opposed to understanding its contents.
  • Our KJV Onlyist proponent of radical perspicuity, in addition to making an incorrect assessment of the meaning of faith, offered this reasoning:
    The Bible itself claims perspicuity. Perhaps the clearest passage in this connection is one such as Psalm 119:105: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." A lamp or a light is that which shows the way, illumines the path of life which the Christian is called to walk. Such words of the Bible are a far cry from the assertion that the Bible is not understandable and leaves the people of God in the dark spiritually.
    However, Ps. 119:105 certainly cannot be appealing to a canonical collection of Scriptures which, at the time of the Psalms, would be as yet mostly unwritten! Contextually, reference to the commandments in v. 104 indicate that the "word" in question is the Deuteronomic law. Beyond this, we cannot make any assumptions (since this Psalm has no authorial credit) about the level of discipleship and knowledge of Psalm 119's author. Light comes with understanding, and we do not know where this author's level of understanding rested.

    I also found appeal to a text from Paul:
    Phil. 3:15-16 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
    This passage is not being applied correctly by radical perspicuists. Paul says that God will make things "clear" and this is not directly applied to Biblical exegesis, but rather to views held by Paul's readers.

    Finally, there are a cluster of texts appealed to by radical perspicuists that are much less specific, such as appeals from Hebrews to the Word of God as "living and active" or 2 Peter's "no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation." Texts like these neither affirm nor deny perspicuity in any sense. They affirm certain points about the characteristics of Scripture, but clarity is not one of the characteristics referred to.

    In contrast, other texts are quite clear that growth in knowledge and understanding is expected of the disciples of Christ. The very word "disciple" implies a follower who will grow in knowledge and performance. Other texts clearly indicate stratification in understanding and knowledge:
    Ephesians 4:11-12 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ .
    Hebrews 5:11-12 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
    And of course, 2 Peter 3:15-16 makes it clear that some Christians did not understand Paul's writings. The response to this by the KJV Onlyist radical perspicuist is instructive:
    Peter himself says in II Peter 3:15-16 that some writings, especially those of Paul, are hard to understand. But notice that they are understandable nevertheless, and that Peter does not deny, but rather sets forth the truth of the perspicuity of Scripture.
    This is obviously not an answer, but a mere denial of that to which 2 Peter 3:15-16 witnesses (clearly, Peter knew of some people to whom the letters' contents were not understandable), and it is only imagination that sees Peter "setting forth" a doctrine of "radical perspicuity" in a sentence that clearly denies it. 

    Summary: Clearly A Misuse It is apparent that my TheologyWeb opponent was incorrect. He did not understand the origins and use of the doctrine of perspicuity, and that it was never meant to be applied to situations in which scholarship and study enable a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Biblical text. The Bible itself indicates that disciples of Christ will have varying levels of maturity and understanding. Radical perspicuity, the position formulated by my TheologyWeb opponent and by the KJV Onlyist website, is false.

  • Comments

    Anonymous said…
    Hey, JP, will you publish a review of our friend DS' favourite book, The Jesus Delusion, in the future?
    J. P Holding said…
    I'd do it if someone bought me a copy. :)
    Anonymous said…
    I've always wondered, is he the same guy who owns the 'turch is rong' website?

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