This was a question that was brought into focus at the time of the reformation. The Roman Catholic Church contended that “the interpretation of the Scripture was a function of the teaching office of the church.” The common man, in their view, did not have the ability nor the right to understand Scripture apart from the instruction of the church, which had been given a unique teaching authority.
This position was made official at the Council of Trent, which met from 1545-63. This council determined that it was the prerogative of the “Holy Mother Church” to judge the true sense and interpretation of Scripture. The Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962-65, taught nothing different. It concluded that “All that pertains to the form by which Scripture is explained is subject ultimately to the judgment of the Church.”
The Reformers, however, who affirmed the need for educated teachers in the Church, also affirmed what is known as the “perspicuity” (or clarity) of the Scriptures. By this, they did not mean that there are not things hard to understand, for even Peter admitted to that (2 Peter 3:16). Rather, the doctrine of perspicuity teaches that the basic message of the Bible is clear and simple enough for any literate person to understand.
In other words, the Bible is not some mysterious book reserved exclusively for the religious elite and well-learned scholars. John Stott puts it this way…
“Now God has revealed himself chiefly by speaking. We may be quite sure, therefore, that he has spoken in order to be understood, and that he has intended Scripture (the record of the divine speech) to be plain to its readers. For the whole purpose of revelation is clarity, not confusion” (John R. W. Stott, Understanding the Bible, p. 218)
It is implied throughout Scripture that God expected his words to be understood. Is this not the reason for communication in the first place? Why talk if your purpose is not to be understood? The Scriptures identify the common man as it’s the audience. Listen to the words of Psalm 19.
Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
Daniel Webster remarks “I cannot persuade myself that a book that is intended for the instruction and conversion of the whole world should cover it’s meaning in such mystery and doubt that none but critics and philosophers discover it.”
Even the language that the NT Scriptures appeared in, “Koine” or common Greek, points to the intent of our Lord. It’s meant for the common man.
Because of convictions like these Men and Women throughout church History have literally given their lives for the translation of God’s word into the common tongue.
William Tyndale, to whom all English speaking Christians are indebted to for our English Bible, once shamed the clergy of his day by saying “If God spares my life before many years pass I will make it possible for a boy behind the plough to know more Scripture than you do.”
He paid for that commitment with his life.
At Baltimore Bible Church, we are committed to helping our congregation understand, appreciate and apply the Scriptures. This past Wednesday we met for our first “Let the Scriptures Speak” Bible Study and began our journey through Philippians. The study notes have been attached here. This coming Sunday for Sunday School Class we will also begin two separate classes. The first class will be on Understanding and Applying the Doctrines of Scripture and the second will be on What does Healthy Church Membership look like.
We look forward to seeing you there!
In Christ Alone,