I just read this article on The Gospel Coalition website, by Andrew Wilson, on the clarity of Scripture. He makes some good points – that Christians are agreed that the Bible teaches the essentials in the Nicene creed, and that according to Jesus, much misunderstanding of the Bible is due to the hardness of heart of the readers, rather than a lack of clarity in the Scriptures.
But I think more could (and perhaps should) be said on this touchy topic. Three things strike me as useful considerations…
1) Jesus also says that sometimes the Word is intentionally resistant. That is, he speaks in parables so that some people will not understand. Certainly, he wants them to be understood by those ‘insiders’ who are given the keys to the kingdom – but this shows that there is more at stake than a simple face-value plainness in the words.
Other parts of the Bible also admit to a lack of clarity – most famously, where 2 Peter says this of things in Paul’s writings. We should be up front that this is part of the data we’re dealing with.
2) Classic formulations of the clarity of scripture ascribe this clarity to the canon as a whole, rather than every individual part. So Augustine says:
Some of the expressions are so obscure as to shroud the meaning in the thickest darkness. And I do not doubt that all this was divinely arranged for the purpose of subduing pride by toil, and of preventing a feeling of satiety in the intellect, which generally holds in small esteem what is discovered without difficulty….
Accordingly the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more obscure to stimulate our appetite. (On Christian Doctrine, 2.6)
Thomas Aquinas says:
those things that are taught metaphorically in one part of Scripture, in other parts are taught more openly. (Summa, I.q.1.a.9)
The Westminster Confession says:
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2 Pet. 3:16); 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 the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Ps. 119:105, 130). (1.7)
Note that for the Westminster Confession, Scripture as a whole is plain enough for ordinary people to understand salvation. Thus a doctrine of clarity is related not only to the overall stretch of the canon, but also to the subject matter of salvation. Indeed, most of the time when Jesus is indignant at people’s lack of understanding of the Scriptures, it relates to their failure to perceive that at the centre of this subject matter is himself.
3) Multiple interpretations are not necessarily a problem. I’m not saying that multiple interpretations are never a problem, just that they are not always a problem. The article by Wilson says: ‘But whatever the reason [for our disagreements on interpreting Scripture], we can all agree on this: the problem is probably at our end, not God’s.’ But the two most prominent genres of the Bible are narrative and poetry, both of which give some allowance for a plurality of senses, for readers from a plurality of reading contexts. Is It such a problem if we have different senses of Micah 6? Augustine thought that God might very well have put obscure bits in with the happy intention of provoking multiple perspectives, so long as they were kept in check by the rest of the canon!
Anyway, take this as sympathetic conversation with the article, rather than fierce criticism.