As we come together, I have a grave and sobering sense of responsibility for what has fallen to me as the duty to give focus to this conference. I felt months and months ago that since this was 2020, that was a perfect metaphor for clear vision, and we needed to make sure that we had that vision when it came to divine true and sound doctrine. So I want this to be a very clarifying few days together, not only what you will hear, but resources that you will be given and resources that you will acquire over in the big tent will help to clarify divine truth so that your ministry is, in fact, a ministry in focus with clarity.
I want to start by having you look with me at Psalm 19. Through the years and all over the globe as I have traveled preached, I have very often started ministry in a new country, a new city in a new language by going to Psalm 19, and particularly starting at verse 7: “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are comprehensively righteous. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold, sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”
That is a concise declaration of the character and quality of Scripture, and it’s a central power in our lives. From verses 7 to 9, there are six attributes of Scripture that are given. I just want to point you to the fourth glorious attribute of God’s Word, back half of verse 8: “The commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes.” I want to speak to you about the clarity of Scripture. If we’re going to suggest – and we will – that the Scripture is clear on many doctrines, in fact, on all doctrines, then we have to establish that the Scripture in itself is clear. Just looking at that statement, “The commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes,” the word “commandment” is a word not seen before in the Psalms. It is often used in the book of Deuteronomy, and it is used repeatedly in Psalm 119. It points to the whole revelation of God.
So the whole revelation of the Lord is clear. That is a word that means radiant, bright. Scripture is clear as to what we must believe. Scripture is clear as to whom we are to believe and in whom we are to believe. Scripture is clear as to what we must do. Scripture is clear as to what we must avoid. Scripture is clear as to what we must fear, what we must worship, what we must hope for. It is a clear revelation, and therefore it enlightens the eyes. It removes all doubts, misconceptions, prejudices, and lies. It takes away the darkness that obscures the soul from seeing the truth. It gives light, illumination, knowledge, wisdom. And we’re very familiar with Psalm 119 and the fact the psalmist says, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Peter writes that the word of God is a lamp shining in a dark place. The word of God is revelation. It is God revealing truth. It brings all divine truth revealed into clear focus.
Even for unbelievers, the gospel is clear enough. In fact, John says that the purpose of his gospel and therefore the other gospels as well, “These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and believing have life in His name.” That is to say it is directed at those who don’t believe, and it is clear enough for them to know what they are to believe.
In John 3, Jesus said, “You will be judged” – you will be condemned – “because you believe not.” This assumes that the message is clear even to an unbeliever. When the Bible says, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,” and subsequently explains the significance of His coming, death and resurrection, that is not obscure even to the darkest soul. When the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death,” that is not obscure even to the most pagan mind. In fact, the Scripture and the gospel are so clear as to be violently rejected. Unbelievers know exactly what they’re rejecting, just as the Jews knew exactly who they were rejecting and why they were rejecting Jesus.
Yes, the natural man doesn’t understand the things of God. That is to say he doesn’t understand the rich, deep, spiritual, internal truth; but he is culpable for the knowledge on the external level of the truth that is revealed in Scripture, and he has knowledge enough of that, and understanding enough of that, so that in rejecting it, he is damned forever. Rejectors have a sufficient understanding of what they are rejecting, right? Believers, to believe and be saved, however, can only come to believe the truth internally by the power of the Holy Spirit. So the Bible is light even in an external way; to unbelievers, it is light in an internal way to believers by the working of the Holy Spirit.
To compound the darkness, we hear Paul say, “The God of this world has blinded their minds,” 2 Corinthians 4. Satan uses every possible device to deceive and to distort and to deny the truth. So we’re not only fighting just the flat reality that dead people can only have an external apprehension of truth, enough to reject it and be condemned, but we’re also having to struggle with the reality that Satan compounds that situation by creating an environment in which everybody in the world has always lived in which deception dominates. So our calling is singular. Our calling is singular.
If you’ll go to the New Testament with me and to 1 Timothy, I want to bring back some familiar revelation to you. In 1 Timothy chapter 3 and verse 1, you have Paul’s comments regarding aspirations for the office of pastor or overseer: “It is a fine work he desires to do.” And then it speaks about the qualifications for one who is a pastor or elder. There’s only one skill there. There are many things with regard to character, there’s only one skill and it’s the end of verse 2, and it’s didaktikos, skilled in teaching, that’s it.
When Paul repeats to Titus in Titus chapter 1 and verse 7 and following, the same list – little variation – he says more fully that this skill in teaching, according to verse 9 of Titus 1, is, “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the doctrine, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.” So we are to be skilled teachers, skilled enough to teach the positive truth of the Word of God, skilled enough to argue against the error that will always be pursuing the truth. The assumption there is that there are true and false interpretations of Scripture, right? And that is what motivates Paul in his letters we call the pastoral epistles.
Let’s go back to 1 Timothy chapter 1, just kind of a run through some things as a bit of a foundation. Chapter 1, verse 3, “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia,” – so this is something he talks about a lot – “remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines.” Down in verse 18, “This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies already made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight,” – it’s a fight – “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith.” That’s the content of truth. You’re going to have a fight on your hands with regard to the truth.
In chapter 4, verse 1, “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times” – and we’re in them for sure; he was in them, and we are as well – “some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” False teachers are going to be dogging the steps of those who teach the truth. Chapter 5, verse 17 reminds us that, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” And if you haven’t learned yet in the ministry, it is hard work, isn’t it. It’s hard work to get it right.
In chapter 6, verse 3, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” Notice false teachers always connected with being in it for the money. And down in verse 20 of chapter 6, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you,” – that is the truth – “avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.”
Why am I reading all those? Just to remind you that Paul lays down the reality to this young pastor, that he is to teach the truth, and he is going to have a battle on his hands. He is going to be at war.
In 2 Timothy, just to follow the pattern, chapter 1, verse 13, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard,” – again he says guard – “through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” You have been entrusted with the treasure, the revealed faith; guard it. And then, of course, the very familiar words of chapter 4, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” And that’s just going to be constant, all the time.
So we have been given a very clear responsibility. There’s one skill that qualifies us for pastoral ministry, and that’s skill in teaching, preaching. We are going to do that but not without resistance. We’re going to be responsible not only to guard the truth, guard the treasure, but to proclaim the treasure and to expose those who lie and deceive. That’s part of being a protective shepherd and pastor. We are light-bearers. The Scripture is light: “Your word is light.” We are light-bearers.
So how do we discharge this responsibility? How do we take the clear revelation of God and let it shine in every area where the Lord has given us assignment? Let’s go back into 2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 14: “Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman” – a worker – “who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.”
Remind them of these things. Your responsibility is to remind them of those things that come from the Lord. Remind them of what he just has said earlier concerning Christ, His death, His resurrection. Remind them. Peter says in 2 Peter chapter 1 that he has put the people in remembrance, and he continues to do that.
But not only remind them, he says, “You must go beyond that. You must command them,” verse 14. “Command them not to get caught up in wrangling about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” You have to protect your people from the influence of counterproductive, ungodly, unbiblical, unsound words.
We don’t wage war with words. We avoid and oppose all false teachers and all false teaching. Why? Because in verse 14, “It ruins” – the actual Greek word is katastrophē. It is catastrophic. False teaching is catastrophic. Verse 16, “It leads to ungodliness.” Verse 17, “It spreads like corruption and gangrene.” Verse 18, “It perverts and it upsets.” So we have to fight this battle because of the damage that is done by false teaching.
Now all of this assumes that there is a true doctrine, a sound doctrine revealed in Scripture; but there are many other deceivers who twist and distort the Scripture. The fact that you can be a false teacher of Scripture and be exposed as such is proof positive that there is a true interpretation. So how do we oppose the darkness as light-bearers? Comes back to verse 15, doesn’t it? “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
I know you’ve lived and moved and had your being in that verse, if you’re in the ministry, but let me just refresh you a little bit. “Be diligent,” spoudazō, it’s zealous persistence. It’s kind of like 1 Timothy 5:17, “Work hard to present” – pro’istēmi – “like a soldier standing before the commanding officer for inspection.” That’s how that word is used. As one who comes before God, you come into His presence for inspection like Romans 14:10, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” As one who was called before God into His presence, to have your life and ministry inspected, be diligent to present yourself, to stand before God, approved, dokimos, passing divine inspection, getting divine approval as a workman who has nothing to be ashamed of.
That verb is very interesting because it’s a double Greek compound, two prepositions are added at the front of it. And every time you see a preposition added to the front of a verb it intensifies it, and this is double-double intensification. A worker who has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, ana and epi, very strong.
So how do you avoid coming before God for inspection and having nothing to be ashamed of? How do you get to the point where you stand before God and have nothing to be ashamed of – a better way to say that. The answer is very clear: accurately handling the word of truth, accurately handling the word of truth.
That’s what it comes down to, men. It doesn’t come down to cleverness, doesn’t come down to entrepreneurial skills, doesn’t come down to personality, it comes down to, “How do you handle the Word of God?” orthotomeō. Ortho means straight. Literally means to cut a straight line, to cut a straight line, and that would be to get it right. If you were a tent maker, you’re going to make a tent, you’d have to cut the pieces exactly right so that they would all come together to create the tent, like you have to cut the pieces of any garment. You’re not going to get a whole theology unless you cut the pieces right. Cut it straight, get it right.
I was thinking about that the other day while just reading through 1 Corinthians 14 and I was struck by what the apostle Paul says in verse 6. He’s talking about speaking in tongues – we don’t need to go into all of that here. But he does say in verse 6, “Now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?” – prophecy referring to preaching – “Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? You will just be speaking into the air.” Clarity.
The word is clear, and our responsibility is to proclaim it with that same clarity. The word used there for clear is used only here, as is the word “to cut it straight.” This is hapax legomena they would say in Greek class. The only time these words are used is if Paul finds words that aren’t anywhere else in his writings to define this amazing responsibility to handle accurately the word of truth. He literally takes words that are never used for anything else as if isolating this at some high level so that it has its own language. Obviously this kind of clear command assumes that Scripture is clear, or how could you be expected to preach it clearly and accurately. It must be handled accurately, whether from Ezra, to the noble Bereans, to Timothy, or to us, the responsibility is always the same, and this is how you avoid standing before the Lord ashamed. Now this is so foundational, and I know you know that. This is so foundational, that the father of lies will stop at nothing in his infernal efforts to counter the clear Word of God in a lot of ways that Satan attacks. But we’re talking about clarity or perspicuity, as it’s called.
Satan has many, many devices. Ten years before John was given the revelation, ten years before the New Testament final book was inspired and delivered, ten years before that a man was born to a pastor. That man’s name was Marcion, son of a pastor. He denied the inspiration of Scripture. He denied the authority of the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament. He was born even before the New Testament was finished, and he became an agent of Satan.
Faithful pastors even that early fought against that. Names like Tertullian, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Cyprian earnestly fought for the integrity, authority, inspiration of Scripture. And Marcion was declared in 144 a heretic and rightly so. You would have thought, “Well, maybe that was it. Maybe that was the final victory.” It wasn’t, because Satan is very subtle. And though the early pastors defended the inspiration and authority of Scripture valiantly, Satan took another angle. Satan decided to tamper with their hermeneutics, and there was introduced allegorical hermeneutics into Scripture interpretation. It was called Alexandrian school.
There were some very significant names associated with that school: Clement, Origen, and perhaps most prominently of all, Augustine. And just taking Augustine, for example, he believed that the Old Testament had four levels of interpretation. The superficial and somewhat insignificant interpretation was the literal one. The next one was the allegorical one, which was to say that the words did not mean what they appeared to mean, they meant something else. But that wasn’t the deepest. There was a deeper yet level of interpretation, and that he called the moral. And if that wasn’t enough, he went four deep to what he called the mystical.
The consequence of that was the obliteration of any hope of interpreting the Old Testament accurately. So while they had won the battle over inspiration and authority, they lost the battle over hermeneutics. And now whatever the Old Testament meant was in total chaos. And it seemed so spiritual, it seemed so profound, seemed so mystical. All Old Testament clarity is lost. Words don’t mean what they normally mean. There are hidden meanings, bizarre meanings, they’re all imported into the text by imagination. But faithful pastors also fought back, and there was another school of interpreters that rose called the Antioch school, and the most familiar name was John Chrysostom. And you can be thankful for him. He believed in the literal, historical, grammatical method of Bible interpretation. He distained all those four levels and said the Bible means exactly what it means literally, historically, grammatically. The good news is by the time you get to the Reformation, Luther has bought into that. And more importantly, John Calvin – this is an interesting thing – took the theology of Augustine, the New Testament soteriology of Augustine, and married it to the hermeneutics of Chrysostom and came up with the Reformed faith. Allegorical hermeneutics obliterate clarity. They totally obscure the clear Word of God.
So many pastors through the ages have been confused. They rejected the church, largely rejected the allegorical method, but they couldn’t quite get past the fact that they had been so influenced about some deeper meaning of the Old Testament that they decided this pretty universally, that the Old Testament was to be interpreted by the New Testament, that the Old Testament was subordinate to the New Testament, that the Old Testament could only be understood by the New Testament; and the idea was established through the centuries by the medieval church, and it developed, of course, into Roman Catholicism. It was Thomas Aquinas, born in 1225, who said, “The clarity of Scripture’s interpretation can only be delivered by a later revelation.” Okay?
So let’s set allegory aside. You say, “That’s a victory.” But the clarity of Scripture, the meaning of Scripture can only be delivered by a later generation, by a later revelation. So the Old Testament is subject to interpretation by the New Testament.
So then you ask, “What about the New Testament? How are we supposed to interpret the New Testament?” Roman Catholic answer: the New Testament is interpreted by the church, the New Testament is interpreted by the church. Listen to the Council of Trent which was in 1545 for twenty years: “In order to restrain petulant spirits, the Council” – Council of Trent – “decrees that no one presume to interpret the sacred Scriptures contrary to that sense which holy mother Church has established, has held, and does hold. Mother Church has the responsibility to judge the true sense and interpretation of Holy Scripture.” Council of Trent.
So you can’t understand the Old Testament on its surface, you’ve got to wait for the New Testament. You can’t really understand the New Testament on its surface, you’ve got to wait for the church to rule on what is the divine interpretation. Rome, in the counter Reformation and ever since, says that the Bible is completely obscure and inaccessible as if it had been written in a mystical code. Rome says any clear understanding of the Bible is only possible through the mediation of the Church which has all interpretation authority.
Now the Reformers rejected that lie, and they all held to the clarity of Scripture. I’ll give you an illustration. Luther against Erasmus, the Dutch humanist. Luther postulates this: “Nothing in Scripture is obscure. Anything seeming to be so is due to man’s sin and ignorance. Some texts seem obscure because readers lacked the tools of interpretation. Satan blinds the minds to true meaning. Scripture where seeming to be unclear in one place is clear in another. Externally, Scripture is clear to all in normal language; internally, it is clear to believers; and the Holy Spirit brings about full internal clarity.” That’s Luther. That’s good. I mean, you would affirm all of that.
So the clarity of Scripture has been attacked and it has been defended through history. Where are we today? I looked up a website of a self-confessed evangelical and I found this quote: “Certitude is idolatrous. I have often been forced to give up certitude. If there’s a foundation in Christian theology, it’s not found in Scripture. Theology must be the humble human attempt to hear God, never about rational approaches to texts.” End quote.
Certainty is arrogant. We all remember the Emergent Church, Brian McLaren: “Clarity is overrated. Shock and ambiguity often stimulate more thought than clarity. In fact, clarity with regard to Scripture can be deemed hate speech.” It was even Lesslie Newbigin who died in 1998 who said, “The gospel’s not a matter of certainties.” Kant and Barth basically said, “The reader is inspired, not the text.” And this is in the groundwater of our culture, by the way. This culture hates certainty. It hates biblical certainty, it is offensive.
I was talking to Dr. Chow about this the other day. We were talking about what kind of students come to The Master’s University. We get the best kids, we get them coming from Christian homes and Christian churches, and universally they have been influenced by post-modernism. I mean, just as a general reality, if you ask them, “Do you believe in the authority of the Bible?” “Yes.” “Do you believe that the Bible is absolutely true, God’s word?” “Yes.” But there’s a complete disconnect between that and what they believe, because they’ve been taught essentially to believe whatever feels like it suits their intuition.
So there’s this theoretical idea that the Bible is true and it is the Word of God, but that’s sort of isolated into some category they never deal with. They just go through life deciding what is right or wrong based upon intuition because they’ve essentially been victimized by the culture that says, “You’re the final authority.” We have to take them back to Ground Zero. That’s why The Master’s University exists, and that’s exactly what Dr. Chow and others do.
We want to wrangle about words. Just the thing we were told not to do, to avoid, is exactly what’s going on – wrangling about words. This even has a name now, I guess, “speech act theory,” which goes back in the last century, speech act theory. What is that about? Well, you can look it up and read about it. But it’s essentially the idea that words act, words create things, words do things, words makes things happen. That would be the idea, right?
But just to show you how this affects people, a well-known advocate of speech act theory who’s a Presbyterian pastor in New York said this: “You just can’t analyze words by what they say, you have to analyze words by what they do. In the end, what concerns me most is not so much what it’s saying, but what it’s trying to do. If someone says, ‘Would you agree with this?’ I would say, ‘You are operating on the level of what it says and not at the level of what it does.’ Even if I could agree with most of it, I don’t like it; it’s what it’s doing that I don’t like.” If that’s not nearly incomprehensible to you, you’re probably in your right mind. But what that is saying is, “Those words may be true, but that’s irrelevant; I don’t like what they do.”
This is an attack on the nature of truth. God’s words are intended to do something, but the evangelical movement today doesn’t like what some of God’s words do. John 7:7, Jesus said, “There’s a reason why people hate Me. There’s a reason why I’m going to end up on the cross.” He summed it up in John 7:7, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.”
So you will hear somebody like the man I just quoted if he’s asked a question, “What do you think of homosexuality? Do you think the Jews are going to hell?” Any challenging question like that, you will hear long, drawn out obfuscation of words that mean nothing, because he’s caught up in what the words do rather than what they say. This is an assault on truth. God said those words so that they would do something, and they must do exactly what it is obvious they do; and if you try to avoid that, you’re gagging God.
Biblical revelation is clear enough, again, so people know what they don’t like. “The word is alive and” – what? – “powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword. It cuts.” That’s what it’s supposed to do. Post-modern thinking goes silent when the words offend someone. Post-modern evangelicalism doesn’t want to offend homosexuals, feminists, people who advocate same-sex marriage, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Post-moderns hate clarity, because they bought into the fact that you can’t offend anybody. The Bible’s the most offensive book ever written, damns the entire human race, and no one escapes. If you’re tampering with that, get out of the ministry. If you can’t do what the Bible demands that you do, and that is preach the clear truth of the Word of God, get out, go do something else. Doesn’t mean you don’t do it with love and compassion and a broken heart like our Lord did, who wept over the city of Jerusalem that He was pronouncing judgment on, but we can’t wrangle about words; The message is clear.
That’s not really all we have to deal with in handling Scripture. There is a popular hermeneutic these days, I guess you could call it the Christocentric hermeneutic. That says, “Well, Christ is the hermeneutic for every passage.” Sounds noble, but it’s not legitimate. Looks for Jesus Christ in every text, Jesus Christ in every verse, every passage; so Christology becomes the hermeneutic. This is eisegesis, not exegesis. This leads to spiritualization of all kinds of things like – you know, somebody asks, “What’s the backboard in the rear of the tabernacle for?” and I said, “To hold up the roof.”
And we all are dealing – again, we’re dealing with this New Testament priority hermeneutic. I need to say a few things about it. This is to say the New Testament interprets the Old Testament. We haven’t been able to shake that because it’s in the groundwater of covenant theology honestly. In reality it says the New Testament priority hermeneutic says the Old Testament can’t be interpreted on its own. Think about that.
So in what sense was it revelation to all those generations of people? If they couldn’t understand it without the New Testament, then in what sense what it revelation? It rejects the dogma, it makes the Old Testament concealment. There’s like a bunch of riddles; leaves Old Testament writers and readers in the dark. So you have to ask the question, “What did they think they were saying when they said, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’? What were they saying?” If the New Testament is the interpreter of the Old Testament, a fatal blow is done to the clarity of the entire Old Testament.
George Eldon Ladd said this: “The fact is that the New Testament frequently interprets the Old Testament prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context. So the Old Testament expectation of a kingdom on earth could be reinterpreted by the New Testament to refer to spiritual blessings in the spiritual realm.” End quote. What’s he saying? He’s saying the promises that God made to Israel weren’t for Israel. That’s what he’s saying. That’s why he developed the eschatology he did.
The Old Testament is so unclear, – listen to this – the Old Testament is so unclear as to seem to promise the future salvation of national Israel. It is so unclear as to seem to promise new covenant salvation to the nation. It is so unclear as to seem to promise that the Messiah will set up an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem from which He will reign over the entire world. It is so unclear as to seem to say that all the promises to Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant and David in the Davidic covenant will actually come to pass literally. That’s how unclear it is if you don’t get the New Testament to work on it. So if that’s what you think, then the entire body of people who are reading the Old Testament through all those centuries were being deceived. This replacement theology, this amillennialism, this idea that the promises of God to Israel are fulfilled in the church just does havoc to the Old Testament and to the Old Testament people.
No New Testament author claims such interpretive power over the Old Testament. Did you get that? No New Testament author claims such interpretive power over the Old Testament. Nor does any New Testament writer ever say, “I know it seems like the Old Testament means this, but really it means this.”
And we’re also fighting another kind of hermeneutic that’s very popular called sensus plenior. That is to say that Scripture has a deeper meaning. Again, back to kind of allegorical, mystical. There’s only so many things wrong you can do, and they just keep coming up with different names. The idea of this one is men see one meaning, but God sees another meaning. That means that Scripture is not revelation, it’s just confusion. This leads to a kind of Gnosticism which leads to kind of charismatic notion that the Bible means whatever you think it means. Very convenient. All these things are very convenient because there are ways to handle the Scripture which people can use to take away the plain truth.
Six-day creation is a casualty to this assault; days don’t mean days. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zechariah – all the promises of national restoration and salvation for Israel, earthly kingdom of Messiah, had absolutely no meaning when they were written, they could only be misunderstood. The true meaning was not even available to those people. Worse than that, not only did God not reveal the truth to them, He deceived them, He deceived them. He knew the promises were never going to be for them; gave them false hope. So in Acts 1 when the disciples say to Jesus, “Will You at this time restore the kingdom?” Jesus should have said, “Oh, guys, I don’t know how to tell you this. We’ve been kidding you all the time.”
What time does this session end? Okay, I have a few more minutes. That was the introduction. So let’s talk about some principles regarding clarity of Scripture, okay? That was the introduction. You thought it was a joke, but it was the introduction.
Let’s talk about some principles. I’m just going to run this by you, okay? If the sinner is held responsible – these are principles regarding clarity, I just want to roll them out – if the sinner is held responsible for the revelation of God in creation, Romans 1, if the sinner is held responsible for the revelation of God in conscience, Romans 2, He is surely to be held responsible for the written and preached revelation of God in Scripture so that the sinner is without excuse on that account as well.
Furthermore, the New Testament is very clear that the sinner can understand the law of God enough so that the law of God is the only ally the gospel has in the sinner’s heart. You only have one ally, you only have one point of agreement in a fallen sinner’s heart, and that is sin, so that the sinner’s law and conscience are an ally to the basic gospel. The sinner know he’s a sinner, and when the revelation of God comes against him, it escalates that knowledge of sin, it clarifies that knowledge of sin; that’s why we preach the law, and the sinner is undone, and then understands even on a superficial level the offer of the gospel and grace. The only ally you have in the sinner is the assault that the Bible makes on the sinner at the point of his sin. And so if we mute that and remove that and dance around in some speech act theory so that we don’t say anything that people don’t like, you have cut yourself off from the only ally you have in an unredeemed heart, and that is the reality of sin and the work of the conscience accusing the unbeliever.
The ignorance and blindness of sinners dead in their trespasses is not, by the way, to be compounded by God, who knowing that sinners are blind and ignorant, delivers them an incomprehensible revelation like a bunch of allegories, like Jewish Kabbalah, like myths and Gnosticism. God is not as stupid as liberals. Their problem is not the ambiguity of Scripture, it is the sinfulness of their own minds. They reject the truth because their deeds are – what? – evil. Scripture is necessarily plain because God, its author, Creator, Redeemer and the judge of all men, speaks plainly to accomplish His purpose of salvation, and equally speaks plainly to justify His judgment. Scripture is plain in matters of salvation, so that without tradition, without church interpretation, it can be read and understood when one is aided by the Holy Spirit, it can lead even to salvation.
Scripture yields its meaning to ordinary reason, literal sense. There’s no secret hidden implicit meanings. It is light. It is light even to those who reject it; and our Lord said, “They hate the Light.” No man can savingly embrace and believe the Scriptures, yes, without the aid of the Holy Spirit. This does not prove their ambiguity, it merely says that internal clarity, the full understanding of Scripture is the work of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is clear to the believer by the grace of spiritual life, the illumination of the Holy Spirit who was given to him as anointing from God, 1 John 2.
How sad it is to convey to Christians, Christians who have the anointing from God, the Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture living in them as their own interpreter. To convey to them that the Bible is not clear, and then for God to hold them responsible for how they respond to it, what has God done; made us responsible for something that He’s not even clear about? Even the Old Testament Scripture is crystal clear; and that is why God was just in His judgment when they were found disobedient and guilty and accountable.
Think about Jesus, in His teachings, His conversations, His disputes, He never responds to any of discussions about the Old Testament – and there were many of them. He never says, “Oh, sorry, guys, I know it’s unclear. And by the way, you’ll never know what it means until we get this New Testament written anyway.” Our Lord never ever makes excuses. He’s speaking to first century people. They’re removed from David by a thousand years, they’re removed from Moses by fifteen hundred years, they’re removed from Abraham by about two thousand years, and Jesus still assumes that they are able to read and rightly understand the Old Testament Scripture. He never says, “Oh, yeah, I see how your problem arose, the Scriptures are really not clear.”
No. He says things like this, “Have you not read? Have you not read? Have you not understood? Have you never read in the Scripture Matthew 12:3, 12:5, Matthew 22:31, Matthew 21:42?” He even said this: “You’re wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. Your problem is you don’t know the Old Testament.” The Old Testament was not only clear for Jews in the ministry of Jesus, Paul said to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 10, “The whole Old Testament happened as examples for Gentiles.” It’s clear enough to set examples for how Gentiles ought to interact with God.
Sure, there are Old Testament prophetic passages that are made clear in the New Testament, such as in the Emmaus discourse, where our Lord was back to the Old Testament, shows how all the things were fulfilled concerning Messiah in Him. And Peter admits that, that it’s hard to know what person and what time all the final events are going to be until they happen. Prophetic things, yes. But just think about this: the New Testament Epistles were not written to church leaders, they were written to churches, Gentile churches: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to the churches of Galatia, to the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons,” and so on, and so on, and so on, and so on. They’re written to congregations of people who have been converted out of Gentile pagan religion; and yet so many of Paul’s arguments are based on Old Testament truth.
You want to know His great, His most powerful extended proof of salvation by faith alone is Romans chapter 4, the entire story of Abraham, which Gentiles in Rome would know nothing about. The Bible is so clear that even Gentiles can see its truths. They had no previous background in any kind of Christianity or any kind of Jewish history. The Bible is so clear that the Lord did something only once, and I think He did this very purposely.
I suppose most people would agree that the most difficult book to understand is the book of Revelation. So if that’s what you think, listen to this, Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” Really. “Blessed is he who reads and who hears” – or understands – “the words of the prophecy.” You say, “Revelation?” That’s the only time He ever said that. That’s the only time He ever promised a blessing on anybody for reading a book and understanding it.
You say, “But that’s such a hard book.” That’s probably one of the easiest books to understand. It’s chronological; take it at face value. Now if you don’t believe it means what it says, lots of luck. But it’s almost – you almost get the idea that God may just have a bit of humor in view, putting that in front of Revelation.
All Scripture is not so clear that it doesn’t need an interpreter, right? The Lord has raised up teachers for the perfecting of the saints. The Bible is not so clear that everybody understands the full depth of it. Paul talks about milk level and meat level. Those are not different truths or different doctrines, they’re different depths of the same doctrine. You can know enough about grace and faith to be saved and spend the rest of your life trying to plumb the depths of soteriology, right? Scripture has its heights and depths of truth, which like God Himself, motivate and increase diligent study, humble pride, and threaten attitudes of irreverence arising from – all of this arising from what is on its own face simple, straightforward truth. This is my life – how many years now? – probably sixty-five years in the Word of God, and I feel like I’m sitting on the beach in front of the Pacific Ocean and I’ve just got one little bucket full of it, and the vast realities of divine truth are far beyond. It is bread at a table for a child, isn’t it, but it is gold buried deep for the mature.
Scripture Demands all our mental powers, to grasp its transcendent truths. Sometimes it’s hard to understand, 2 Peter 3, right, 15 and 16, it’s hard to understand. And because it’s sometimes hard to understand, the untaught and the unstable distort it, as they do to their own destruction. This, of course, is the work of false teachers. People are victims.
Listen, I guess what I’m trying to say to you is we cannot let this post-modern culture attack the clarity of Scripture. And we are the light-bearers, are we not; and you don’t want to stand in the presence of the Lord and have to be ashamed because you wrangled about words and you did not let that light shine clearly. That’s your job.
So, preacher, you have one task: take the clear Word of God and preach it clearly. You have one skill: you’re skilled in doing that. And listen, faith and obedience – listen – faith and obedience on the part of the people must not rest on the preacher, even the most gifted expositor. Faith and obedience must rest on the Scripture. And there’s the real challenge in ministry: “How do you stand up and be the voice and make them connect with the Scripture and not you?”
We’ve all seen preaching histrionics, it’s all over the place. We’ve all seen people parading all over platforms, entertaining people with quasi-spiritual talk, and were there to be any response on a spiritual level of faith and obedience, it would appear to have had to be between the person and the preacher. That’s a prostitution of your purpose.
You want the people to interact with the Scripture. Show them what God is saying in His Word. Do not let them be captivated with you. Do not let them interact with you, that is a failure. They must be captivated and interact with the Word, and thus with God. And if you open the Word to them and they interact with the Word in the process of you showing them what the Word is saying, not telling them, but showing them, you are teaching them how to interpret the Scripture for themselves. And so then, you’re just initiating what becomes a lifelong passion for your people, searching the Scriptures for themselves. You’re showing them what Scripture means and you’re showing them how they can find what Scripture means. Don’t let them attach to you. Their faith and obedience must rest on the Scripture.
Father, we thank You again for Your precious Word, the entrance of which gives light. Thank You for the opportunity to be together with these precious men. What a blessed, blessed occasion this is. We don’t know all that You have for us in the days ahead, but this is enough to lift our souls. Thank You for calling us to this incredible responsibility. Thank You for giving us Your Word. May we be faithful to proclaim it and let it do what it is intended to do. And may Christ be seen and His truth be clear as we proclaim it, we pray in His name. Amen.
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