The Bible's clarity and the responsibility of believers generally to read it and understand it are often emphasized. In a very familiar passage, Moses tells the people of Israel:
And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deut. 6:6-7) All the people of Israel were expected to be able to understand the words of Scripture well enough to be able to "teach them diligently" to their children. This teaching would not have consisted merely of rote memorization devoid of understanding, for the people of Israel were to discuss the words of Scripture during their activities of sitting in the house or walking or going to bed or getting up in the morning. God expected that all of his people would know and be able to talk about his Word, with proper application to ordinary situations in life. Similarly, Psalm 1 tells us that the "blessed man," whom all the righteous in Israel were to emulate, was one who meditated on God's law "day and night" (Ps. 1:2). This daily meditation assumes an ability to understand Scripture rightly on the part of those who meditate.
The character of Scripture is said to be such that even the "simple" can understand it rightly and be made wise by it. "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (Ps. 19:7). Again we read, "The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple" (Ps. 119:130). Here the "simple" person (Heb.
'Hip, H7343) is not merely one who lacks intellectual ability, but one who lacks sound judgment, who is prone to making mistakes, and who is easily led astray.1 God's Word is so understandable, so clear, that even this kind of person is made wise by it.
1 1. Compare the use of this same word in Prov. 1:4; 7:7; 8:5; 9:6; 14:15, 18; 22:3; 27:12.
This should be a great encouragement to all believers: no believer should think himself or herself too foolish to read Scripture and understand it sufficiently to be made wise by it.
There is a similar emphasis in the New Testament. Jesus himself, in his teachings, his conversations, and his disputes, never responds to any questions with a hint of blaming the Old Testament Scriptures for being unclear. Even while speaking to firstcentury people who were removed from David by 1,000 years, from Moses by about 1,500 years, and from Abraham by about 2,000 years, Jesus still assumes that such people are able to read and rightly to understand the Old Testament Scriptures.
In a day when it is common for people to tell us how hard it is to interpret Scripture rightly, we would do well to remember that not once in the Gospels do we ever hear Jesus saying anything like this: "I see how your problem arose—the Scriptures are not very clear on that subject." Instead, whether he is speaking to scholars or untrained common people, his responses always assume that the blame for misunderstanding any teaching of Scripture is not to be placed on the Scriptures themselves, but on those who misunderstand or fail to accept what is written. Again and again he answers questions with statements like, "Have you not read..." (Matt. 12:3, 5; 19:14; 22:31), "Have you never read in the scriptures . . " (Matt. 21:42), or even, "You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matt. 22:29; cf. Matt. 9:13; 12:7; 15:3; 21:13; John 3:10; et al.).
Similarly, most of the New Testament epistles are written not to church leaders but to entire congregations. Paul writes, "To the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2), "To the churches of Galatia" (Gal. 1:2), "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (Phil. 1: 1), and so forth. Paul assumes that his hearers will understand what he writes, and he encourages the sharing of his letters with other churches: "And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea" (Col. 4:16; cf. John 20:30-31; 2 Cor. 1:13; Eph. 3:4; 1 Tim. 4:13; James 1:1, 22-25; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:2; 2 Peter 1:19; 1 John 5:13).2
2 Peter 1:20 may be urged against the view of the clarity of Scripture explained in this chapter. The verse says, "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation," and someone may claim that this means that ordinary believers are unable to interpret Scripture rightly for themselves. It is unlikely, however, that this implication should be drawn from 2 Peter 1:20, for the verse is probably discussing the origin and not the interpretation of Scripture. Thus the NIV translates it, "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation."3 Furthermore, even if the verse were understood as speaking of interpreting Scripture, it would be
2 2. Paul tells the Corinthians, "We write you nothing but what you can read and understand," and then he adds, "I hope you will understand fully, as you have understood in part" (2 Cor. 1:13-14). The addition to his first statement does not negate his affirmation of the clarity of what he has written to them, but does encourage the Corinthians to be diligent in listening carefully to Paul's words, in order that their partial understanding may be deepened and enriched. Indeed, the very expression of such a hope shows that Paul assumes his writings are able to be understood (¿Am^to, G1827, "I hope," in the New Testament expresses a much more confident expectation of a future event than does the English word hope).
NIV niv—New International Version
3 3. This interpretation is well defended by Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), pp. 100-102.
saying that the interpretation of Scripture must be done within the fellowship of believers and not merely as a personal activity. It still would not be implying that authoritative interpreters are needed to ascertain the true meaning of Scripture, but simply that reading and understanding Scripture should not be carried out entirely in isolation from other Christians.
Lest we think that understanding the Bible was somehow easier for first-century Christians than for us, it is important to realize that in many instances the New Testament epistles were written to churches that had large proportions of Gentile Christians. They were relatively new Christians who had no previous background in any kind of Christian society, and who had little or no prior understanding of the history and culture of Israel. Nevertheless, the New Testament authors show no hesitancy in expecting even these Gentile Christians to be able to read a translation of the Old Testament in their own language and to understand it rightly (cf. Rom. 4:125; 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1-11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; et al.).
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