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The Clarity of Scripture- Course- via LAD Rosary

The Clarity of Scripture

John M. Frame

The Clarity of Scripture

devotion and passion

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Logos Mobile Education
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Contributing Editor: Ronald van der Bergh
Instructional Media Specialist: Brandon VanBeek
Proofreader: Kaeli Joyce
Activities Resource: Graham Criddle


Course Description

The clarity of Scripture is a key part of the Reformation doctrine of Scripture. In this short course, Dr. Frame provides an in-depth explanation of what the clarity of Scripture means. He describes its origin and discusses it in relation to God’s sovereignty, authority, and presence. Dr. Frame also explains how to understand the clarity of Scripture when reading passages in the Bible that do not seem to be clear.

Course Outcomes

Upon successful completion you should be able to:

• Explain how the Westminster Confession of Faith describes Scripture
• Understand the necessity of clarity for communication
• Describe how God is able to communicate with us
• Understand the connection between the clarity of Scripture and ethics
• Explain why the Bible sometimes seems unclear

Recommended Base Package

Logos Bible Software, Platinum Edition.
To download a Notes document that highlights the readings for this course, join the TH207 Faithlife group:

Course Outline

Introducing the Speaker and the Course

Unit 1: The Clarity (Perspicuity) of Scripture
1. Westminster Confession of Faith on the Clarity of Scripture
2. Clarity and God’s Sovereignty
3. Clarity and God’s Authority
4. Clarity and the Spirit’s Presence
5. Dealing with Apparent Unclarity

6. God Has Spoken His Mind


Course Exams

The final exam will cover everything in the course. It will consist of multiple-choice and true or false questions. Use of a Bible or any other tool is not permitted.


Introducing the Speaker and the Course

The Speaker

I’m John Frame, and I’m going to present some studies of the clarity of Scripture.

The Course

This is part of the Reformation doctrine of Scripture as the very Word of God. One of the things the Reformers said was that Scripture is not only authoritative, but it’s clear. And yet we look at the Bible and we say very often, “I don’t understand this. I don’t understand that.” Well, how can the Bible be clear when there are so many things we don’t understand? Well, I want to get into some of those issues with you. I’ve been teaching theology for a long time, I have written a book on the doctrine of the Word of God. So, I hope to be able to bring some ideas to you from the Scriptures themselves that will help you to understand what it means to say that the Scripture is clear.

The Clarity (Perspicuity) of Scripture

      1.      Westminster Confession of Faith on the Clarity of Scripture
      2.      Clarity and God’s Sovereignty
      3.      Clarity and God’s Authority
      4.      Clarity and the Spirit’s Presence
      5.      Dealing with Apparent Unclarity

Westminster Confession of Faith on the Clarity of Scripture

Learning Objectives

After this section, you should be able to:

• Explain the Westminster Confession of Faith’s statement on the clarity of Scripture


We’ll be talking about the clarity of Scripture today. Now, during the Reformation period, the Reformers always derived their doctrine from Scripture, because they believed that Scripture was the Word of God and they wanted to distinguish their doctrine from the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, which they believed were too dependent upon human teachers, particularly the pope, but also what the Roman church called the “magisterium.” So, they wanted to focus very sharply on Scripture.
That meant that Scripture was the Word of God, Scripture is the perfect Word of God, it is inerrant, it is infallible—all those words came in. But the Reformers also had a set of adjectives that indicated the qualities of Scripture, and some of them were the necessity of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture, and the sufficiency of Scripture.
Now, today we’re going to be looking at the clarity of Scripture. Remember that “perspicuity” is only a ten-dollar word for “clarity,” and I want to talk about how it is that the Scripture is clear, because so often when we read the Bible we find there are things that we don’t understand. There are so many reasons for saying that the Bible is unclear. But the Reformers talked about the clarity of Scripture in a very careful way, a very nuanced way. They sought to make careful qualifications to it.

Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7

Let me read for us a statement from the Westminster Confession of Faith, which talks about the Scriptures and particularly the clarity of Scripture. This is section 7 of chapter 1:

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 to 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.

Now, that’s a very carefully qualified, very carefully nuanced statement. It doesn’t say that anybody who just opens the Bible into Leviticus, let’s say, is going to instantly understand everything. You’ll find something in Leviticus about the Jewish priesthood, you’ll find things in Leviticus about the offerings that should be brought to the temple and so on. And you may ask yourself, What does that mean? What is that all about? And then a Reformer comes along and says, “The Bible is clear,” and you think, “How can the Bible be clear?”

Differences in Clarity

Well, let’s look at some of these nuances here. For one thing it begins by admitting that there are ways in which Scripture is not clear. Not everything is equally plain, not everything is clear to all. So, there are differences among us as to how clear a passage may be to us.

Necessary for Salvation

But, it says, “those things that are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation”—now, that’s the crucial thing. We can’t understand, necessarily, everything about the Jewish priesthood, but we can understand how to be saved, the gospel, the preaching of the Word of God unto salvation. That is clear. We can understand that. You don’t have to be a scholar, you don’t have to be a certain age, you just have to come to the Scriptures and find out.
Now, maybe you come to the Scriptures and you find out that there is a passage that deals with salvation, maybe the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and you say to yourself, “I don’t understand that.” But then the Westminster Confession says, “Yeah, but those things that you don’t understand in one passage, you’ll probably find them to be clearly understood in another passage.”

Ordinary Methods to Understand

And furthermore, you may say that “I am not learned enough to understand.” Well, the confession says not only the learned but also the unlearned can find them out. And does that mean that the unlearned can understand Scripture just by opening it? No, there are means. You may need to get some help, and what the Confession says here [is], “the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means.” What are these “ordinary” means? These “ordinary” means include prayer; we may have to ask God to help us understand the passage. They include the church, because God has raised up teachers for us; you may have to go and ask your pastor what something means. Some people in the church have studied the Bible a long time, and they may be able to help you with that.
But you must not say—and this is what the Reformers accused the Roman Catholic Church of teaching—the Roman Catholic Church said, “Don’t read your Bible. Go to the priest and ask him what the Bible says. Don’t read for yourself, ask the church.” And that’s not the teaching of the Bible. The Bible says that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”


So all of us need the Word of God, all of us need the Bible, and we should be reading it for ourselves. Some of us understand it very well, some of us don’t understand it so well, but we can all learn from it, we can all grow from it. And when we read it, when we grow, it’s like bread which nourishes the body, it nourishes our heart, it nourishes our soul, so that with the help of ordinary means—you don’t have to have a seminary education, you don’t need to be a very smart person—you can understand through the use of ordinary means what God is saying to you and the salvation that God offers you through the Lord Jesus Christ.


Suggested Reading

    The Bible’s Clarity LST
    The Bible’s Sufficiency LST
    The Nature of Scripture (Part 1) ST:ICB
    The Perspicuity of Scripture T:V34N3N2009

See Also

    Westminster Confession ODCC
    God’s Speech and God’s Truth ST:ICB
    Scripture Is Needed as Guide and Teacher for Anyone Who Would Come to God the Creator ICR
    Understanding Scripture DBT
    Salvation, Deliverance DOT:P
    The Proof of the Scriptures FCF:CRT

Activities, Guides, and Tools

    Segment 1 Activities TH207

Clarity and God’s Sovereignty

Learning Objectives

After this section, you should be able to:

• Understand the necessity of clarity for communication
• Name at least four biblical figures who understood God’s direct speech


Now, I want to talk to you about the clarity of Scripture in terms of three of God’s attributes which I often write about: God’s sovereignty, God’s authority, and God’s presence. If you know some of my other writings, I talk about “power, authority, and presence,” or “control, authority, and presence.” When I talk about God’s sovereignty in this context, what I mean is God’s control over the whole situation. The Word of God is clear because God speaks clearly; He has the power to enunciate His thoughts and communicate them to us.

Communication Requires Clarity

When you think about it, you don’t really communicate with somebody unless you communicate clearly. If I say something to you and it’s not clear, I haven’t really communicated to you what I want to say. And so, of course, if God wants to speak to human beings—and we believe that the Word of God, the Scripture, is His very speech—if God wants to speak to human beings, it has to be clear, it has to say what is in His own mind. And if He hasn’t said exactly what’s in His own mind, He hasn’t spoken at all, because He hasn’t spoken clearly.

God Overcomes the Gap

How can God do this? I mean, people sometimes say, “We’re human beings and we speak only human language. Human language is finite so that if God tries to communicate, He really can’t do it clearly because human language is unable to contain God’s thoughts.” Well, certainly God is incomprehensible, certainly God is … His thoughts are beyond our thoughts, so that His ways are beyond our ways. But Scripture never takes this to imply that the Bible itself is full of errors or full of inadequacies. God is able to overcome this great gap that exists between His language and human language. He is able to say what He really thinks and to communicate it to the human mind.

Biblical Figures Understood God’s Speech

We see this over and over again. In Gen 2 and Gen 3 God communicates with Adam and Adam understands. At one point Adam disobeys, but not because he doesn’t understand. God has spoken clearly to him, and Adam knows that in the day that he disobeys God he will surely die. And then God speaks again to Eve, He speaks to Cain and Abel, He speaks to Noah, He speaks to Abraham, and so on.
And this is really the warp and woof of the biblical story: It’s God speaking and human beings responding. Sometimes human beings respond in a good way, sometimes human beings disobey and turn away from God. But it’s never an issue of the clarity of God’s Word. God always says what He’s thinking, and He communicates that in human language. And if a human being disobeys God, it’s not because God has been unclear, it’s because the human being is rebellious and sinful and turns away from what God has said.


So the Bible has to be clear, because it comes from God, because it comes from a sovereign God, a powerful God, a God who is in control. If there are difficulties in understanding the language, God overcomes them so that the message comes through clearly.
Now, we’ll talk later about why it is that some parts of Scripture are not clear to some people. I am not saying that everything that God says is equally clear to everybody; the Confession of Faith denies that that is the case. But God comes in a sovereign way, He speaks a word which has power to clear away all the obstacles and gets His Word into the lives of all of His people.


Suggested Reading

    God’s Controlling Power ST:ICB
    Clarity and God’s Control ST:ICB
    Our Sovereign God FCF:CRT

See Also

    Alleged Errors in the Bible BECA
    The Bible FCF:CRT
    Divine Sovereignty LTW
    Scripture Must Be Confirmed by the Witness of the Spirit ICR
    God as Revealer DOT:P
    God as Sovereign King DOT:P

Activities, Guides, and Tools

    Segment 2 Activities TH207

Clarity and God’s Authority

Learning Objectives

After this section, you should be able to:

• Explain how the clarity of Scripture relates to ethics
• Describe the proper response to God’s authority


I’m talking about the clarity of Scripture in terms of three of God’s attributes. That keeps reminding us that the Bible is the Word of God, and when we’re thinking about the clarity of the Bible, we shouldn’t just think of our own limitations and understanding, we should think of the power of God. God is able to get His Word across to us. Well, I made that point with regard to God’s sovereignty, His sovereign control over all of the events of the world that He has made. Let me now talk about the clarity of the Word in terms of God’s authority.

Clarity an Ethical Concept

When He speaks the Word of God to us, and when He speaks it to us in the Bible particularly, He intends to speak as the authority, as the one who governs our thinking, the one who governs our lives. Here we have to understand clarity as an ethical concept. What do I mean by that? The Bible is clear in the sense that it leaves us no excuses for our disobedience. If God’s Word were unclear and we did something wrong, we could go back to God and say, “God, you didn’t speak clearly to us, you didn’t speak the Word so that we could understand it. So naturally we went our own way. There was no other way to go.” Well, that would be foolish. That would be itself a very disobedient response to God’s Word. But God speaks His Word to us and speaks it as the one who is authoritative, as the one who judges our behavior, and as the one who leaves us without any excuses.

God’s Authority in the Garden of Eden

God spoke to Adam and Eve of the garden, and He said, “Adam, you should not take this forbidden fruit and eat it in disobedience to my command,” and Satan came around and Satan said—first of all he questioned whether God had spoken at all, and then he said that “God will not give you the death penalty if you eat this food. You will not surely die.” Well, that raised the question, I suppose, of whether Adam and Eve had rightly interpreted the Word of God. Was the Word of God clear? Or was the Word of God something obscure that Adam and Eve could have that excuse and say, “Well, Lord, we don’t understand what you said. So of course we went our own way. We thought this fruit was good fruit, and so we took the fruit, and we weren’t aware that you were forbidding us under all circumstances to take this”?
Well, that kind of excuse won’t work with God. That kind of excuse is ruled out because God gives us His Word as our supreme authority. There’s no authority higher than Him. When Satan came to Adam and Eve, they attributed to Satan a kind of authority that he didn’t have.


And so, when we hear God speaking, we cannot talk back to Him. When we hear God speaking, it’s important for us to say, “Yes, Lord. We understand what you’re saying, and we’re going to obey it.” So, that is the relationship between clarity and divine authority. That’s why I say that the clarity of Scripture is an ethical concept. To say that Scripture is clear is to say that it doesn’t leave us with any excuses at all when we hear the Word of God.


Suggested Reading

    God’s Meaningful Authority ST:ICB
    Clarity and God’s Authority ST:ICB

See Also

    The What and Why of Bible Interpretation BBI:PGDBT
    The Authority of the Scriptures FCF:CRT
    The Authority of Holy Scripture GA:PWHL

Activities, Guides, and Tools

    Segment 3 Activities TH207

Clarity and the Spirit’s Presence

Learning Objectives

After this section, you should be able to:

• Cogently argue that God’s Word is near with reference to at least two passages in Scripture


We’re talking about the clarity of Scripture, and I’ve been talking about it in terms of three of God’s attributes: first, His sovereignty; second, His authority; and now His presence. That’s an interesting way of looking at the clarity of Scripture, the fact that God is present with His Word to make it clear to us.

Word Is Near: Deuteronomy 30:11–14

It’s interesting, in Deut 30 there is a section there that talks about God’s nearness to Israel. And His nearness to Israel is a nearness in His commandments, it’s nearness in His Word. And so, the Lord says to Israel, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Where is the Word of God? Is it up in the heavens, so that we can go up there and understand it, or is it down below in the depths so that we can go and understand it?’ No, the Word is very near you.”
And, you know, we have height and depth as metaphors that people use to talk about difficult places to go. Understanding the Bible might seem to some people to be such a difficult thing. It’s like climbing a big ladder, it’s like ascending a mountain trying to get up to heaven so that we can ask God what it means. And the Lord says, “No, it’s not like that.” It’s not like descending to some lower depth, going down in a deep mine in order to find out what God is saying. No, it’s not like that either. The Word is near you, the Word is with you.

God Is Near

And this is an indication of something that God often says about Himself through Scripture. God is the one who is transcendent, He’s up in heaven, He rules over everything, but He also comes down. He comes into time, He comes into space, He comes into close relationships with people. He makes covenants with Israel, He comes near to individual people and establishes a personal relationship with them.

Ten Commandments

And one instance of this was when God gave the law to Israel. He gave it on two tables of stone, and He wrote on those tables what the Ten Commandments were. God was not only the speaker of those Ten Commandments, He was the publisher. He wrote those words on the clay tablets—on the stone tablets actually, much harder to do it on stone—and they put it in God’s holy sanctuary, they put it in a place where they would be near God and be able to worship Him and to hear those commandments read to them. So, there’s a closeness, there’s a nearness between God and His people.
And that’s what God promises to them in Deut 30. “You don’t need to go up into heaven to find out what the Word of God means. You don’t need to ascend to a low depth in order to find out what I’m saying to you. The Word is near you, the Word is in your heart, the Word is in your community, the Word is in the temple, the Word is right where you are.”

Jesus Comes Near: Romans 10:6–10

Now, it’s interesting, when Paul quotes Deut 30 in the book of Romans, he says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Let’s ascend to heaven,’ ” and so on, he applies that to Christ. Christ, he says, has come down to our level, Christ has become man, Christ has come to dwell wherever there are two or three gathered together, as Jesus Himself said. Jesus has come down to establish an intimate relationship with His people, and that includes the Word. So, today, we still remember not only the commandments that God gave to Israel, but also the words that Jesus gave to His disciples, the words that come to us through the letters of the Apostle Paul.


We hear all of that, and we are able to live with them. We have a community that’s based on the Word of God. And using our ordinary means, if we don’t understand the Word ourselves, we can ask a teacher, we can ask someone else that God has appointed to give us help, so that as a community we understand what God is saying. We understand the Word of God, and that’s part of what we mean by saying that God speaks His Word to us clearly in the Bible.


Suggested Reading

    God’s Personal Presence ST:ICB
    Clarity and God’s Presence ST:ICB
    From the Text to Our Hearts ST:ICB

See Also

    Word and Spirit Belong Inseparably Together ICR
    Holy Spirit DJGSE
    Spirit LBD

Activities, Guides, and Tools

    Segment 4 Activities TH207

Dealing with Apparent Unclarity

Learning Objectives

After this section, you should be able to:

• Explain at least four reasons why Scripture is unclear at times


We’ve been talking about the clarity of Scripture, and we come to the last lesson here wanting to think about some apparent unclarities, because who of us has not opened the Bible and said, “I don’t understand this. I don’t understand the book of Leviticus. I don’t understand the book of Revelation. There are so many things in there that just transcend my understanding. How can I understand these things, and how can I believe that the Bible is clear when there are so many of these things in it?”
Well, I just want to talk about some of the ramifications of that problem, but keep in mind that the Bible, in an important sense, must be clear, because God is sovereign in speaking His Word, because God speaks as the authoritative Lord, and we have no excuse for violating His commandments, and that God is the one who is present with us, who is Immanuel, who in His Holy Spirit seeks to help us understand Him. But even given those three important doctrines, there are still going to be times when we throw up our hands and say, “We don’t understand what this means.”

We Are Not God

First of all, we have to keep in mind that the Bible is the Word of God and we are not God. Isaiah tells us that God’s thoughts are above our thoughts and His ways are above our ways, and so there is a mysterious relationship between ourselves and God. God is far beyond us, and so there are going to be things about God, attributes about God, things that He has in His mind that we will never be able to understand or figure out. God is infinite; we are finite. God has a perfect mind; we have a very limited mind, and we have to have that kind of humility to understand where some of these problems arise.

God Is a Mystery

Now, of course, God intends to speak to us, and He intends to speak to us clearly, but let’s not forget when we give thanks for that clear revelation that God is coming to us with words about Himself, and He Himself is a profound mystery.

Differences in Clarity

But there are many reasons why God might not intend to speak to one person as clearly as He speaks to another person. We said that the clarity of Scripture is an ethical concept. And part of what that means is that it’s related to the responsibilities that we have as human beings, as disciples of God. God gives us His Word not just to satisfy our curiosity, but to equip us for service in His kingdom, to equip us to be disciples with particular gifts and particular responsibilities.

Human Knowledge Progressive

And so God does not expect a four-year-old person to understand the Word of God as well as somebody who is ten or eleven or twenty-seven or fifty. There are divisions. See, the human beings are not only finite, but our knowledge is progressive, our knowledge is something that grows from one age to another—not only physical age but also spiritual maturity. Some Christians are more spiritually mature than others—that is, they have a better understanding of the truth of God’s Word, and so they are better able to apply God’s Word to the questions that they have.

Differences in Vocation

Notice also that human beings differ according to their vocation. Paul says that members of the body of Christ have different gifts. Some are apostles, some are prophets, some are teachers, some speak to one another, some are evangelists, some are people who help out other people in ways that Paul doesn’t specify, but there are many gifts of the Spirit. And God’s Word is given so that we may carry out, each one of us may carry out, his own gift. So, some people are called to be professional teachers and preachers. Naturally they are called to have an understanding of the Bible that is very deep, an understanding that they can communicate to others who don’t have the same level of maturity. But people who have the gift of providing food for church gatherings don’t necessarily need to have that same profound understanding of all the doctrines of Scripture that the professional teachers have.
Not all, in other words, are called with the same level of understanding. It’s a pretty good rule, and it’s a pretty good way of characterizing the clarity of Scripture to say that the Scripture, the Word of God, is clear enough so that we can carry out our responsibilities before God. It’s clear enough so that when we fail to carry out our responsibility we may not claim that God’s Word was too unclear. You see how the earlier points we made come to play here. Our differences in vocation to some extent account for the differences in the clarity with which we perceive the biblical text.

Form of God’s Word

And notice also that God doesn’t always give us His Word the way we would like Him to give it to us. If we’re theologians, we might like God to give us a set of dogmatic propositions so that we can list them in our notebooks and give them to people in our doctrine classes. As a matter of fact, God has not done that. He has not given us a list of theological propositions, He’s given us a story. He has given us a history of redemption. And the doctrines that we believe are, to some extent, doctrines which we learn from the story. As we read the story, we say, “Well, God did this, and therefore God has this attribute. God acted in power to deliver Israel, so God is a powerful God.” And we have to take account of the form of the Word of God that He has given us, and that sometimes makes it difficult for people to understand.


If you’re expecting God to speak to you in one way and He speaks in a different way, that can be a hindrance to your understanding, but it shouldn’t be. You ought to be accepting the form that God has given His Word in. And if you need help, there are other people who have different gifts from you in the church, and you can go to those other people and ask them for help. As the confession says, make use of the ordinary means that God has given to us. And when you do that, you’ll have a word that you can be confident in, you have no excuses for not obeying it, you receive it as the sovereign, authoritative, clear Word of God as He comes near to us and speaks to us the Word that He’s placed on the page.


Suggested Reading

    Hermeneutical Guidelines of the Reformers: Pages 192–195 HS:RII
    How True Is the Bible? Pages 67–78 FCF:CRT
    Perspicuity of the Scriptures: Volume 1, Pages 183–187 ST
    Theology and the Church: Pages 19–31 T:V28N3S2003
    Scripture, Diversity of EDBT
    Institutes of the Christian Religion I, x ICR

See Also

    The Nature of Scripture (Part 2): Pages 612–629 ST:ICB
    God’s Written Words: Pages 562–590 ST:ICB
    From God’s Lips to Our Ears: Pages 632–662 ST:ICB

Activities, Guides, and Tools

    Segment 5 Activities TH207


      6.      God Has Spoken His Mind

God Has Spoken His Mind


The clarity of Scripture is a wonderful thing—to know that God has spoken to us His very word that comes out of His own mind. Even though His mind is an infinite mind, He has spoken to us, He has put words in our language that we can understand, that are clear to us.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t mysteries, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that are above us. There are traces of God’s great transcendence to be found in this language, but God has given us enough words, enough clarity so that we can carry out our responsibilities before Him. And that’s something wonderful to know.
And if we don’t understand something in the Scriptures, God has provided teachers. He’s provided people who can help us with our problems, help us with our difficulties. So, it’s a wonderful thing to live in a community that has a holy book, that has a book that’s nothing less than the Word of God.


Activities, Guides, and Tools

    Segment 6 Activities TH207

Final Exam

To take the Final Exam for this course please click here.

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