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§ 10. (3.) Perspicuity.

If the Holy Scriptures contain everything necessary to salvation, and if they alone contain it, they must necessarily exhibit 69it so clearly and plainly that it is accessible to the comprehension of every one; hence the attribute of Perspicuity is ascribed to the Holy Scriptures. CAL. (I, 467): “Because in those things which are necessary to be known in order to salvation, the Scriptures are abundantly and admirably explicit, both by the intention of God their Author, and by the natural signification of the words, so that they need no external and adventitious light.” [1] But while such perspicuity is ascribed to the Holy Scriptures, it is not meant that every particular that is contained in them is equally clear and plain to all, but only that all that is necessary to be known in order to salvation is clearly and plainly taught in them, [2] and that, if this be not expressed in all cases with equal clearness, it can nevertheless be gathered from a collocation of the passages bearing upon it. [3] It is also not maintained that the Holy Scriptures can be understood without the possession of certain prerequisites. On the other hand, such as the following are required, viz., proper maturity of judgment, the necessary philological attainments, an unprejudiced frame of mind in the investigation of the sacred truth, and a will inclined to embrace this truth in its purity. [4] Where these prerequisites are wanting, there can, as a matter of course, be no thorough understanding of the Holy Scriptures; but in such a case the fault does not lie in the Holy Scriptures. [5] Where these prerequisites exist, a clear and accurate comprehension of the saving truths contained in Scripture may be gained, which nevertheless, even in this case, is merely external and natural until, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, an internal apprehension of them is effected, [6] as well as the power of heartily appropriating, to one’s self the saving truths contained in Scripture. [7] Finally, the perspicuity of the Holy Scriptures is not to be so understood as if the mysteries of the Christian faith were unveiled by it; on the other hand, these remain as they are, mysteries; perspicuity consists only in this, that the Scriptures make known to us the mysteries just as God wishes them to be made known. [8]

From what has here been said, it naturally follows, further, that in all cases in which the interpretation of a passage is doubtful, the decision dare never be found anywhere else than 70in the Scriptures themselves, whereby the faculty of self-interpretation is ascribed to the Holy Scriptures. [9] And, in this interpretation, it is a fundamental principle, that the doubtful passages are to be explained by those that are clear. [10] Inasmuch now as all doctrines necessary to be known in order to salvation, are clearly taught in Scripture, so that we gain from them the general substance of the Christian plan of salvation; and inasmuch, further, as we can safely presuppose that the Holy Scriptures will not contradict themselves, we need only take care that we do not derive from these doubtful passages a sense that would conflict with the clearly revealed truths; we must therefore interpret according to the analogy of faith. (CAL.: “The analogy of faith is the consistency of the doctrine clearly revealed in the Holy Scriptures.”) [11] To the interpretation of all Scripture, whether doubtful or plain, the general rule applies, that each passage contains but one original and proper sense, that, namely, which is derived immediately from the words employed (the literal sense), which is to be ascertained in every case by the use of the means above described. [12]

[1] The fullest description of perspicuity we find in BR. (138): “Perspicuity, or that those things which are necessary to be believed and done by man in seeking to be saved, are taught in Scripture in words and phrases so clear and conformed to the usage of speech, that any man acquainted with the language, possessed of a common judgment, and paying due attention to the words, may learn the true sense of the words, so far as those things are concerned which must be known, and may embrace these fundamental doctrines by the simple grasp of his mind; according as the mind of man is led, by the Scriptures themselves and their supernatural light, or the divine energy conjoined with them, to yield the assent of faith to the word understood and the things signified.”

The proof, according to QUEN. (I, 121, 122): “(1) From Deut. 30:11, 12; Rom. 10:8; 2 Pet. 1:19; Ps. 19:8; 119:105; Prov. 6:23. (2) From the character of Scripture: (a) Because it has God for its Author, who can speak perspicuously, and does not wish to speak obscurely. He can speak perspicuously, for He formed speech and the voice. To say that He wished to speak obscurely, would be nothing short of blasphemy. (b) It gives wisdom to babes or the unskilled, Ps. 19:7; 2 Tim. 3:15. (c) It reveals 71hidden mysteries, Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:9, 10; Col. 1:26, 27. (d) It was given for the purpose that the will of God might here be learned, and men informed in regard to eternal life, John 20:31; Rom. 15:4. (e) Because its precepts are to be read by all, Deut. 17:19; John 5:39.”

[2] GRH. (I, 26): “It is to be observed that when we call the Scriptures perspicuous, we do not mean that every particular expression, anywhere contained in Scripture, is so constituted that at the first glance it must be plainly and fully understood by every one. On the other hand, we confess that certain things are obscurely expressed in Scripture and difficult to be understood . . . But this we do assert, and endeavor in every way to prove, that the perspicuity of the Scriptures is of such a nature that a certain and consistent opinion can be drawn from them concerning the doctrines whose knowledge is necessary to salvation.” Whence it follows (II, 329) that “the knowledge of those things, which are nowhere plainly and perspicuously revealed in Scripture, is not absolutely necessary to salvation.”

QUEN. (I, 118): “We do not maintain that all Scripture, in every particular, is clear and perspicuous. For we grant that certain things are met with in the sacred books that are obscure and difficult to be understood, 2 Pet. 3:16, not only in respect to the sublimity of their subject-matter, but also as to the utterance of the Holy Spirit, that afford materials for calling into exercise the learning of the doctors during the course of a long life, and the full understanding of which is to be expected only in heaven; but that the doctrines of faith and moral precepts are taught so obscurely everywhere, that they can nowhere be found clearly and explicitly, it is this that we deny. But the articles of faith and the moral precepts are taught in Scripture in their proper places, not in obscure and ambiguous words, but in such as are fitted to them, and free from all ambiguity, so that every diligent reader of Scripture, who reads it devoutly and piously, can understand them.” (BR. (140): “At least in those places where the writer professedly, as they say, treats of a particular precept of faith or morals, or where its seat is; so that there is no article of faith, or no moral precept, which is not taught in Scripture somewhere in literal, clear, and conspicuous language.”)

QUEN. (I, 18) distinguishes between “onomastic, chronological, topographical, allegorical, typical, prophetical (i.e., predictions, but unfulfilled) matters, and those which are historical, dogmatical, or moral. If in the former class, especially in points relating to style and order, there should occur some difficulty or obscurity, 72this would still not derogate from the perspicuity of Scripture in matters of the latter class. The Scriptures give us elementary truths, containing the supreme and necessary articles of our religion. They give us sublime, mystical, onomastic truths. God chose to teach most clearly in the sacred books the elementary truths, because what is taught by them is necessary to be known by all in order to salvation. Other matters are involved in some difficulty.”

[3] GRH. (II, 329): “Observe that some things in Scripture are clearer than others, and what is obscurely expressed in one passage is more clearly explained in another.”

QUEN. (I, 118): “It is one things that there should at times be some difficulty and obscurity in the statement of the mysteries of the faith and of those things that must be believed in order to salvation; and another, that this obscurity should be nowhere cleared up in the Scriptures themselves, if a comparison be instituted with parallel passages and the analogy of faith as contained in Scripture be called into requisition. Doubtless what is expressed in one place obscurely, appears perfectly clear in another; and what in one passage is hidden under tropes and figures, is elsewhere disclosed in plain and simple language; and thus upon many difficult passages of Scripture, light is thrown by others that are more clear.”

[4] GRH. (II, 329): “Observe that, is asserting perspicuity, we do not exclude the godly study of the Scriptures by reading and meditation, nor the use of the aids necessary to the interpretation of the Scriptures.”

QUEN. (I, 119): “We are to distinguish between men who, on account of their immature age and their want of familiarity with the language in which they read the Scriptures, meet with difficulty through unskillfulness or ignorance, or who are prejudiced by preconceived erroneous opinions, and those with whom this is not the case. . . . For we presuppose a sufficient knowledge of the language, maturity of age, a mind not filled with prejudice and erroneous opinions, and also a legitimate and good translation of the original text.”

BR. (146): “For he who does not attend to the words themselves, but follows his own prejudices and makes the words of Scripture conform to them, can err even in perspicuous passages and in investigating the true sense.” Whence HOLL. (149): “The perspicuity of Scriptures is not absolute, but dependent upon the use of means, inasmuch as, in endeavoring to understand it, the divinely instituted method must be accurately observed. For there is required: (1) Prayer to God the Father of Lights. (2) A 73knowledge of the idiom in which the Holy Scriptures are expressed, whether it be the original or in a version. (3) The attentive consideration of the expressions, of the scope, of the previous and subsequent context. (4) The laying aside of preconceived opinions and of evil feelings, of ambition, hatred, envy, boldness, etc., etc.”

[5] Wherefore QUEN. (I, 118) distinguishes between “obscurity in the object contemplated and that which lies in the subject contemplating it. The Scriptures, especially in things necessary to salvation, are not obscure in and of themselves, or through a want of native clearness and plainness, but they are lucid and perspicuous. They may be obscure, however, accidentally, on account of the incapacity and blindness of the human mind, and through the malice of heretics and the heterodox who superadd to their natural blindness a voluntary one, and maliciously close the eyes of their mind against the clearest light of Scripture. (2 Cor. 4:3.)” As an instance of this, the controversy in regard to the Lord’s Supper is cited (I, 124): “The words of the Testament are in themselves very perspicuous, but are variously interpreted; because many, neglecting the literal and proper sense, studiously seek a foreign one, and do not follow so much the teaching of Christ as the counsel and dictation of blind reason. A mistake as to the cause is therefore made when the discrepancy in the expositions is ascribed to the obscurity of Scriptures, since its cause is either the perverseness or imbecility of men. The obscurity which lies in the subject must not be transferred to the object . . . If nothing be perspicuously spoken except that which cannot be understood perversely and expounded in a bad sense, then nothing in the wide universe can be perspicuously and plainly uttered.”

[6] GRH. (I, 26): “The clearness of Scripture is twofold; as Luther says, ‘One kind is external, lying in the ministry of the Word, the other in the knowledge of the heart. If you speak of the internal clearness, no man understands a single iota in the Scriptures by the natural powers of his own mind, unless he have the Spirit of God; all have obscure hearts. The Holy Spirit is required for the understanding of the whole of Scripture and of all its parts. If you allude to the external clearness, there is nothing left obscure and ambiguous, but all things brought to light by the Word are perfectly clear.’”

GRH. (I, 52): “Some, who have not yet been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, may have a knowledge of the Scripture doctrines, and acquire an historic faith by the outward ministration of the Word; but an absolutely certain, firm, and saving knowledge they 74cannot have without the internal illumination of the mind by the Holy Spirit.” There is, therefore, a distinction made between the “grammatical (literal) and external” and the “spiritual, divine and internal sense.” Perspicuity in the first sense consists, BR. (140), “in the proper selection of words, their correspondence with the things signified, and their mutual connection and arrangement, according to the common usage of language” (141): “For not only the regenerated and believers, but also the unregenerate and godless, through this clearness of the words in their natural signification, in which respect they are the same for all readers, can acquire a knowledge of the sense designed by the words. i.e., a merely literal or historical, not a saving or believing knowledge.” Also (144), (from the Jena and Wittenberg Opinion, in answer to Rathmann’s Reply, 1629): . . . “If the Reply means to infer that no unconverted person can understand the proper sense which is contained in the words of Scripture, and expressed by them, i.e., the grammatical and literal sense, unless the Holy Spirit assist with His gracious illumination, then we cannot agree with the Reply, but abide by our own opinion. . . . For the words, and whatever serves to interpret them, viz., the lexicons, dictionaries, and grammars of the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, are human inventions, and belong to the gifts of nature and not to the gracious gifts of the Holy Spirit; for He was not appointed, nor was He poured out, that He might treat of grammatical rules and teach us to hunt up Hebrew roots, . . . but that He should teach us the articles of faith through the Scriptures and instruct us in the truth that maketh wise unto salvation. Many a one properly understands the words without possessing that saving knowledge of the mysteries which belongs to faith.”

CAL. (I, 657): “Although the external sense of Scripture may be understood by the unregenerate, yet the saving and internal sense, joined with hearty assent, cannot be attained without the illumination of the Holy Spirit.”

[7] GRH. (II, 338): “A literal acquaintance with the articles of the faith is not sufficient to salvation, but there must also be a spiritual knowledge, for the acquisition of which the internal illumination of the Holy Spirit is necessary; and this is to be obtained by humble prayer.”

BR. (150): “In order that man may properly understand the plan of salvation, two things are necessary: first, that by the natural powers of his mind he comprehend those things that necessarily must be known by him in order to his salvation; and secondly, that he embrace these, thus apprehended as true and 75divinely revealed, and yield to them the full assent of faith. The Scriptures, therefore, which in this matter should be as a bright and shining light, ought to accomplish these two ends: first, to represent to the mind the things that are to be known in language adapted to this end and clear, so that they may be simply and naturally apprehended; and secondly, that when the thing signified is of a more exalted nature and the mind too weak or corrupt to be able to judge correctly by the exercise of its own powers concerning that which is signified by the words, or to elicit or yield the assent that is due, the Scriptures themselves, by their own illuminative power, should enable the mind to accomplish this and bestow the faculty of apprehending and embracing the truth.” The latter alone is referred to when HOLL. remarks (155): “An unregenerate man, opposing the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit, cannot understand the true sense of the sacred writings. But when an unregenerate man, in a teachable spirit, attentively reads the Holy Scriptures, or hears them expounded by the living teacher, the Holy Spirit illuminates him by the Scriptures, so that he may understand the true sense of the Divine Word and rightly apply it, thus understood, with saving effect.” And although HOLL. claims “for the unregenerate but teachable and prevenient and preparative grace of the Holy Spirit, that they may acquire an external and literal knowledge of the Holy Scriptures,” he does not thereby mean anything more than that such grace is needed in order that they may attain to a self-appropriation of the truth of salvation; for he elsewhere remarks (158): “The words of the Prophets and Apostles may be considered either out of their proper scriptural connection, or in it. In the former case, they are analogous to human words, and can be understood by the unregenerate without the grace of the Holy Spirit; but if they be considered in their proper connection, as they are accommodated to the mysteries of the faith, and are, as receptacles or vehicles of these, really Divine words, no correct conception, conformed to the mind of the Spirit, can be formed concerning them without the preceding prevenient and preparative grace of the Holy Spirit.”

[8] HOLL. (149): “The Scriptures are called clear, not in respect to the subject-matter, but to the words, for even subjects that are not clear may be expressed with clear and perspicuous words.”

QUEN. (I, 117): “We must make a distinction between the clearness of the subjects which are revealed in Scripture and the plainness of the words by which the revealed subjects are expressed. We refer not to the former but to the latter; for we acknowledge that many mysteries are contained in the Scriptures, abstruse and 76impenetrable by the human intellect, especially in this life; but we deny that they are taught in Scripture in an obscure style and with ambiguous words.” Luther expresses it differently: “The things of God are obscure; . . . the things of Scripture are perspicuous. . . . The doctrines in themselves are obscure; but in so far as they are presented in Scripture they are manifest, if we are willing to be content with that knowledge which God communicates in the Scriptures to the Church.”

[9] QUEN. (I, 137): “From no other source than the Holy Scriptures themselves can a certain and infallible interpretation of Scripture be drawn. For Scripture itself, or rather the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture or through it, is the legitimate and independent (ανυπευθυνος) interpreter of itself.”

And further, QUEN. (I, 144): “We cannot, therefore, acknowledge the harmonious opinions of the ancient teachers of the Church or the decisions of councils as a certain and unquestionable rule and measure of scriptural interpretation, nor the Roman pontiff as the supreme, infallible interpreter of the Holy Scriptures.”

[10] QUEN. (I, 137): “The most obscure passages, which need explanation, can and should be explained by other passages that are more clear, and thus the Scripture itself furnishes an interpretation of the more obscure expressions when a comparison of these is made with those that are more clear; so that Scripture is explained by Scripture.”

[11] GRH. (I, 53): “From those perspicuous passages of Scripture a rule of faith is gathered, which is, so to speak, a summary of the heavenly doctrine extracted from the clearest passages of Scripture. Whatever, therefore, is necessary, is clearly expressed in the Holy Scriptures, says Chrysostom. If certain things in them are very obscure, the knowledge of these is not necessary to all for their salvation; and hence, although we may not always ascertain their true and genuine interpretation, it is sufficient if, in interpreting them, we propose nothing that conflicts with the rule of faith.”

(II, 424): “All interpretation of Scripture should be according to the analogy of faith. This canon is taught in Rom. 12:6, and signifies that the interpretation of Scripture should be instituted and carried on in such a manner as to accord with the usual line of thought which is conveyed in Scripture concerning each article of the heavenly doctrine. For, since all Scripture was given by the immediate suggestion of the Holy Spirit, and is inspired, all things in it are harmonious and perfectly consistent with each other, so that no discrepancy or self-contradiction can occur. 77The article of faith, which the apostle here means by πιστις, the knowledge of which is necessary for all in order to salvation, are taught in the Scriptures in clear and perspicuous language, of which a brief summary is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, which the fathers often call “the rule of faith.” Nothing is ever to be broached in the interpretation of Scripture that conflicts with this rule of faith; and hence, if we be not exactly able at times to ascertain the precise sense of any passage, as designed by the Holy Spirit, we should nevertheless beware of proposing anything that is contrary to the analogy of faith.”

GRH. (I, 54) thus states all the rules that apply to the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures: “(1) Without the light of the Holy Spirit, our mind is blind so far as the understanding and interpreting of Scripture are concerned. (2) In addition to this blindness, natural to us all, some are blinded by peculiar wickedness and an unyielding obstinacy, whose eyes the Holy Spirit either has opened or has wished to open, but they have contumaciously resisted Him; neither of these kinds of blindness, however, makes or proves the Scriptures obscure. (3) Because our mind is blind, we are prayerfully to implore the light of the Holy Spirit. (4) But this illumination of the mind the Holy Spirit does not confer immediately, but by the light of the Word heard and meditated upon. (5) Inasmuch as the doctrines necessary to be known by every one in order to salvation are taught in Scripture in clear and perspicuous language, (6) the remaining passages of Scripture receive light from these. (7) For from the perspicuous passages of Scripture, a rule of faith is deduced to which the exposition of the remainder must be conformed. (8) And if we cannot ascertain the precisely literal sense of all passages, it is sufficient that in their interpretation we do not propose anything contrary to the analogy of faith. (9) Nevertheless, it is also of importance that we rightly and accurately interpret the more obscure passages of Scripture, which can be done if we apply the means adapted to remove the difficulties. (10) That we may discover these means, we must seek the causes of the obscurity. (11) Some Scripture passages are obscure in themselves, when singly considered, others when compared with other passages; if they merely seem to conflict with other passages, this obscurity may be removed by reconciling the passages. (12) Those that are obscure in themselves and singly are so either as to their subject-matter or as to their words. The obscurity in regard to the subjects discussed is removed by those settled axioms, in individual articles of belief, which are to be regarded as the unfailing guide. (13) The obscurity in regard 78to the words is dispelled by the grammatical analysis of sentences, by the rhetorical exposition of the tropes and figures, by the logical consideration of the order and circumstances, and finally by an acquaintance with physical science; but the greatest assistance in all these cases is afforded by a prudent and diligent collation of Scripture passages, whenever either the same or different words and phrases are employed to express the same or different things.” He illustrates the manner of making deductions from the rule of faith by the example of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

[12] GRH. (I, 67): “There is but one proper and true sense of each passage, which the Holy Spirit thereby intends, and which is drawn from the proper signification of the words, and only from this literal sense available arguments may be derived.” But this literal sense may be either strictly literal, which the Holy Spirit intends when the words are taken in their usual signification, e.g., God is a spirit (John 4:24), or figurative or tropical, which is the intention of the Holy Spirit when words are used figuratively, e.g., God is our shield (Gen. 15:1), (HOLL., 91). But in this case also the remark applies, GRH. (II, 425): “All interpretation of Scripture should be literal, and there should be no departure from the letter in matters of faith, unless the Scriptures themselves indicate the figurativeness and explain it.” (I, 67): “Allegories, tropes, anagogies, are not different senses but different adaptations of the same sense and subject designated by the letter. The same historical narrative may be presented in a variety of ways, and treated either allegorically, or tropically, or analogically, while the true and literal sense of the words in which the history is described remains the same.” The Dogmaticians therefore assume, it is true, such a spiritual sense in certain cases, but strictly speaking this is not understood as a second sense, co-ordinate with the first, but only that the natural signification of the words, which must always be the basis of the interpretation, admits also a special spiritual application, or contains at the same time a symbolical allusion. HOLL. (91): “That is called the mystical sense which is not immediately signified by the inspired words, but which proceeds and is deduced from the subject signified by the inspired words. It is, however, improperly and unauthorizedly called the sense of the biblical expression, since it is not the immediate sense of the inspired words, but inasmuch as God desire, by means of the subject or fact described by those words, to present some other subject or fact to the consideration of men. More properly, therefore, it is called the accommodation of the literal sense, or its mystical application, than the mystical sense of Scripture, e.g., Jonah 2:1. 79Here the prophet Jonah is said to have been three days and nights in the belly of the whale, and the literal sense it the one plainly designed by God, expressed and immediately implied by the words. When now this whole history or transaction is employed to signify the abode of Christ for three days and nights in the grave, no new sense here arises, but there is merely an accommodation and application of that historical narrative so as by it to express the fact that Christ was to be three days and nights in the grave.” Hence the Dogmaticians declare against the assumption of a double sense in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Such a mystical sense may either be designed by God, or it may be engrafted upon the literal sense. Only in the former case dare it be employed in the interpretation of Scriptures. CAL. (I, 664): “The mystical accommodation may either be ενγγραφος (contained in the written Word) and divine, or αγραφος (superadded to the written Word) and of human invention.” (HOLL.: Either innate or introduced.)

QUEN. (I, 131): “When our theological writers approve of the following scholastic axioms, viz.: ‘Mystical theology can prove nothing, parabolic theology cannot be advanced in argument, solid and effective arguments for proving the doctrines of the faith and refuting errors can be drawn only from the literal sense of Scripture,’ they do not exclude, but at the same time include, mystical applications of the literal sense of this or that biblical passage, made by the Holy Spirit Himself in the Holy Scriptures; yet they exclude allegorical and parabolical interpretations that men have devised and forced upon the Scriptures. For applications of the literal sense of this or that passage or sacred narrative, that are shown to exist and are explained in the Scriptures themselves, can be used in proof, just as other things that are literally expressed in the Scriptures. When, therefore, in any plain Scripture passage there is an accommodation of the literal sense to a spiritual subject, then its validity for proving or disapproving is just as great.” “The mystical sense, as it may be loosely styled, is divided by the Lutheran theologians into the allegorical, typical, and parabolical. It is called the allegorical sense, when a Scriptural historical narrative of things that really occurred is applied to a certain mystery or spiritual doctrine by the intention of the Holy Spirit in an allegorical manner; it is called typical when, under external facts or prophetic visions, things hidden, either present or future, are prefigured, or especially matters relating to the New Testament are shadowed forth; and parabolical, when something is described as having really occurred, and yet applied to designate something else that is spiritual.” (CAL. I, 665.)


The Romanists distinguish between the allegorical sense, the tropological (when the words or facts under consideration refer to something that relates to morals), and the anagogical (when the words or facts are used with a reference to eternal life).

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