The perspicuity of Scripture, and how some put a grille on the view

Perspicuity: The quality of being perspicuous [clearly expressed and easily understood]; clearness and lucidity

Origin: late 15th century (in the sense ‘transparent’): from Latin perspicuus ‘transparent, clear’ (from the verb perspicere ‘look at closely’) + -ous.

The Perspicuity of Scripture is an important doctrine in Protestantism.

1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 1.7
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 ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. (2 Pet. 3:16; Ps. 19:7; Psalm 119:130)
[The same text is in the Westminster Confession except that it adds Ps. 119:105 and omits Ps 19:7 from the references.]

Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will
But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from [our] own blindness or want [i.e. lack] of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth… Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God… 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; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world.

When the Bible is taught in an unbalanced way, with some precepts over-emphasized and others downplayed, it’s like a grille is put over the the perspicuity of scripture. The grille stops us seeing some of the things that would have been part of the view if the grille had not been there. We don’t see some precepts of scripture when the way it has been traditionally taught puts bars on our view — bars in our minds which we are not even aware of.

view through barred window



Isaiah denounces those who obscure the perspicuity of scripture in Isaiah 28:8-29

“To whom will he teach knowledge,
and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
those taken from the breast?
For it is precept upon precept,
precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little.”

For by people of strange lips
and with a foreign tongue
the LORD will speak to this people,
to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
yet they would not hear.
And the word of the LORD will be to them
precept upon precept,
precept upon precept,
line upon line,
line upon line,
here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
and be broken, and snared, and taken.

Pastors who preach exegetically — working their way though one book of the bible at a time — may believe that they cannot fall into this trap. But even with exegetical preaching, the grille can still be imposed on those in the pews if it is in the mind of the preacher. The preaching will be biased and unbalanced to the degree that the preacher is illuminating some things from the text but obscuring, ignoring, or downplaying other things.

A common example of this is the way that pastors talk about ‘the wicked’ as if they are only the folk who don’t attend church, those arrant unbelievers who are off hedonizing on a Sunday rather than sitting in pews. Yet the Bible does not use the term ‘the wicked’ to just refer to pagans and unbelievers. It uses it for those who are presenting themselves as believers and devout worshippers of the God of the Bible while they are actually wicked deceivers who crave power. But how many preachers illuminate this today?  That is why Jeff Crippen’s sermons on abuse have been such a lightbulb for many who have found them.

Another example is emphasizing the Biblical principles of forgiveness and constant evangelism, but neglecting the Biblical principles of fleeing persecution and shaking the dust off your feet.

A third example is teaching complementarianism (male headship and female submission) by dwelling on the woman’s duty to submit but skimping on the man’s duty to love and protect, and instead emphasizing the man’s duty to lead which all to easily morphs into the man’s right to rule.

And a fourth example is using Matthew 18:15-17 as the biblical discipline text, but ignoring what 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 says about biblical discipline.

Isaiah pulls no punches in his indictment of the shoddy leaders in ancient Israel. Do you hear a tone of mockery in his repetition of “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little there a little”?  I do. Isaiah seems to be showing how these guys are stuck in a rut: they just keep repeating the same old things they’ve taught before. And that tone of mockery is something that is rarely used today in the right — Biblical — way as demonstrated by many Old Testament prophets and the apostle Paul when they mocked the prideful religious leaders who thrived on power and control.

Isaiah continues:

Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers,
who rule this people in Jerusalem!
Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
and with Sheol we have an agreement,
when the overwhelming whip passes through
it will not come to us,
for we have made lies our refuge,
and in falsehood we have taken shelter”;
therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’
And I will make justice the line,
and righteousness the plumb line;
and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
Then your covenant with death will be annulled,
and your agreement with Sheol will not stand;
when the overwhelming scourge passes through,
you will be beaten down by it.
As often as it passes through it will take you;
for morning by morning it will pass through,
by day and by night;
and it will be sheer terror to understand the message.
For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in.
For the LORD will rise up as on Mount Perazim;
as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused;
to do his deed—strange is his deed!
and to work his work—alien is his work!
Now therefore do not scoff,
lest your bonds be made strong;
for I have heard a decree of destruction
from the Lord GOD of hosts against the whole land.

The canons of niceness in the Church today are such that if a teacher or preacher uses that kind of directness to denounce wolves in sheep’s clothing, he is going to be impugned or shunned. If a leader these days spoke like this, he would generally be considered beyond the pale.

man being put out of the nice houseman beyond the pale

14 thoughts on “The perspicuity of Scripture, and how some put a grille on the view”

  1. Thank you for this post, Barb. It shines the light on sound Biblical preaching and is so relevant considering the recent ‘abusive volleys’ that Pastor Crippen references. I am grateful for the protection by ministries such as ACFJ. Thank you Pastor Crippen for your preaching … there is much comfort and safety found in them. Christ Reformation Church

  2. Barbara – as we have seen lately in speaking out against the abusive power and control in many churches, leadership in such places has established itself and has enjoyed an unchallenged reign. When they are challenged, their real nature comes out. I am not speaking here, nor are you, of pastors and church leaders who are simply naive and who think they are helping but aren’t. No, we are speaking of men (and sometimes women) who have no empathy, no love, no heart of Christ. When they are challenged, the fangs come out and the abusive volleys starting launching against anyone who dares question their teachings and practices. We are not bound to be “nice and respectful” to such people. “My, Mr. Wolf, what wonderful fangs you have.” “O Smaug, the great and powerful one, whose magnificence cannot be told….”. Not!!

    1. Perfect post – perfect timing, Barb. Amen to your comment Ps. Crippen. I am still learning regarding “respect” after what has been along journey dealing with men who deserved no respect, but abused their own (not God given) authority and demanded that all “respect” them, though not deserving of anybody’s whatsoever. Left us very confused. They defined disrespect as any response that did not elevate them to the position of God and pat their pride, self-worship and arrogance.

      1. They defined disrespect as any response that did not elevate them to the position of God and pat their pride, self-worship and arrogance.

        And that, in a nutshell, is what abusers do. Their belief in their own superiority & entitlement is such that when we try to point out how wrong that belief of theirs is, they say “You’re abusing me!”

        But as Gary W remarked so pithily in the thread at the Wife’s Catechism Addenda Part 1 [Internet Archive link] [The comments on this post are no longer available. Editors.]

        I suggest that the wolf doesn’t get to complain that he is being abused when driven away from the lambs with a big stick, or even a shotgun.

  3. Barb, There is so much deception that come from those teaching the Bible. Preachers that have the rut dug so deep in their heart and mind of seeing one way they can’t see anything further nor do they want to. The wicked can be in the pews or behind the pulpit on Sunday morning, but what they are doing the rest of the week does not resemble worship. Being on the golf course or staying in bed until noon would give as much resemblance to the hypocrisy of praise and worship on Sunday morning. The only thing is at least if they do attend service, maybe, just maybe sooner or later it will come to them like a bolt of lightning.

    The idea that Christians need to be smiling all of the time is just absurd. How many wolves are in the pews that can have a huge smile on their faces and disguise themselves as Christians.

    Barb, your work is so valuable. I saw how Ps Jeff stood up and said you really need to think about this catechism, it is harmful to others and unbiblical. The 2 of you along with others were able to remain composed throughout. Not unlike Isaiah there was no holding back. I pray the Lord blesses you all for your efforts and that hearts and minds will be changed because of it.

  4. For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
    the LORD will speak to this people,
    to whom he has said,
    “This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
    and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear.
    And the word of the LORD will be to them
    precept upon precept,
    precept upon precept,
    line upon line,
    line upon line,
    here a little, there a little,

    This part reminds me of what Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 5:39-40: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you might have life.”

    There seems to be a similar principle at work among those who do/will not see divorce for abuse as biblical. They have studied arguments, which they propagate prolifically, with verse upon verse, chapter upon chapter, and manage with great success to miss the heart of the Shepherd for His sheep. There is no rest for the weary in their line upon line, precept upon precept interpretation of the matter. Line upon line, precept upon precept they build their case against the victim’s freedom. They fold over and fold in this doctrine and that from the sovereignty of God to the man’s superiority (there are those who say the woman’s position is inferior, as she is the rib while the man is the head, and they use the word “inferior”) to the intent of God that marriage should be permanent to build a striking case against the victim’s rest. Some even add in soteriology, making it a matter of salvation.

    Line upon line, precept upon precept they build their case against the victim’s rest.

    1. BIT you put that so well!

      they fold over and fold in reminds me of making flakey pastry. Haha, Wendell will like that pun!

      Not sure whether these images will load

      Flakey Pastry – Beginning

      Flakey Pastry – Result

    2. I have been thinking a lot about this very thing. We people are so prone to be out of balance. And so many times things are preached out of balance. I have heard my pastor state that he is going to error on the side of grace and I have come to realize that erroring on any side is not good for it is a ditch. Both sides are equally important and one needs to find a just weight.

      Just today in church the message was on forgiveness. I have had to stand up againist some wrong that has been done to my family. I went to the pastor, reported the problem, and watched as things were handled very leniently. Relationships have been broken. I am currently seeking the Lord for guidance on how to proceed but my point here is how my pastor just focused on Joseph forgiving his brethren but did not state one thing about how he tried them to see where their hearts really were before he revealed himself. There must be repentence before restoration. A lot of times forgiveness is made to imply that one must restore fellowship with someone which ends up not being Biblical at all. That brings a hindrance to the one at fault as you justify their deeds when they are not in a repentant state whatsoever.

      At the least it is frustrating but I know there are more serious consequences for the confused minds that Satan has bound by his lies who sit under this lopsided preaching.

      Earnestly praying for the men behind the pulpit!!

  5. Barbara, a great article, thank you.

    Apart from the four categories you alluded to, the big one that affects victims is the Biblical understanding of divorce. It seems to me that those who don’t allow divorce for abuse rely heavily on Malachi 2:16. It seems like they are happy to take the position of no-abuse, or separation if you are in danger, etc. but in the end, since “God hates divorce”, you can’t allow for divorce.

    It doesn’t seem to occur to those people that God also hates violence. So the bottom line should be that we just don’t tolerate any violence since God positively hates it. And if violence occurs regularly in a home, then ministers who want to uphold the Word of God should be up in arms over the violation of scriptures every week, like they do over the rate of divorce. Yet I have never heard a message lamenting the prevalence of violence in church.

    It should occur to ministers that if God hates violence, and God hates divorce, women in violent marriages are in a fix. They just don’t allow themselves to think, maybe God doesn’t hate divorce. After all, all the other things that God hates are sins, like pride, gossip, violence, false witnessing, idolatory, lying, etc. Divorce doesn’t fit into any of those categories. In fact, God divorced Israel, and commanded divorce when Israelites had married pagan wives. So it is clearly not divorce that God hates.

    And when they are presented with books such as yours, Barbara, they have an opportunity to research and look deeply into what the Scriptures say. Yet the change in thinking among church leaders is slow. This cannot be because they are trying to hold on to the Word of God, as their position of being softer on violence than divorce is not consistent with the Word, and further, some have had the opportunity to look at more accurate translations of Malachi 2:16.

    Malachi 2:16 seems to be the bottom line for many people. Without the faulty understanding of Malachi 2:16, victims would not face as many barriers in the church. Maybe I am simplifying matters. All the unbalanced perspectives probably interact and influence each other and even if Malachi 2:16 was ever to be acknowledged to mean something apart from “God hates divorce”, there are other grilles that prevent people from recognizing and helping the oppressed in church.

    1. I don’t think you’re simplifying matters, Anonymous. I think you put it all very well in this comment of yours.

      Oh Yes! The misunderstanding / mistranslation of Malachi 2:16 is a biggie. I fully agree with you that it is an enormous spanner in the works, blocking people from understanding and applying the freedom that Scripture gives to victims of abuse.

      That’s why I ended my book with this closing plea:

      It is not uncommon to read a magazine article or hear a talk where a Christian leader states “God hates divorce”. The expression is true if we are talking about treacherous divorce, and its use may be understandable in the age of the ten-second sound byte. However, these three words are potentially damaging to those who must employ disciplinary divorce. Many Christians have felt so intimidated by the slogan “God hates divorce” that they put up with abuse, adultery or horrendous neglect rather than employ disciplinary divorce.

      If I could make one plea it would be that teachers and speakers evaluate what they plan to say by imagining how a victim of marital abuse would be likely to hear their message. Teachers need to ask themselves: “How would a victim interpret my teaching? Is there anything in what I plan to say that would further entrap a person who is subordinated in an abusive marriage? Would they feel I have condemned and cut off their hope for freedom?” It takes only eleven words to say “God hates treacherous divorce, but he does not hate disciplinary divorce.”

  6. I wonder how God feels about my ex telling his new fiance that he has to work from home on weekends (I know people who work with him and this is not true) and that’s why he sends the kids home at 2 pm in the afternoon instead of keeping them all day on Saturday, and that’s why he never takes them at all on Sundays. Instead he spends many hours on the weekends engaging in his addictions, alcohol and porn. Will God hate this poor unsuspecting woman when she wakes up and files for divorce one day? Thankfully not.

    After finding out that this is what he’s telling her (my kids told me) I saw that he was in church with her on Sunday morning. Please pray for this woman. I fasted and prayed for her yesterday and will again some time this week. She’s in danger but she has no idea.

    1. Fiftyandfree – Joining you in prayer. It’s very disheartening when others can’t see what you do. The Lord is the Almight Witness to it all.

      1. Thank you HIH. I am so tempted to just contact her myself and tell her the truth, but deep down I know that would not be wise and she probably would not believe me. Praying for her seems like the best option right now, and I won’t stop praying until she finds out the truth.

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