Denny Burk writes:

Timothy George gave an outstanding address today in Southern Seminary’s chapel on the perspicuity of scripture. His text was the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. It is here that Philip asks the quintessential hermeneutical question: “Do you understand what you are reading” (Acts 8:30). George runs the gamut of church history focusing particularly on the reformers and their contribution to this doctrine. This is worth your time to listen to.

Here’s the video:

And here’s a link to the audio.

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13 thoughts on “Timothy George on the Perspicuity of Scripture”

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Timothy George upholds the Perspicuity of Scripture and the Manhattan Declaration.

    1. Jeff says:

      You are the first person I have heard mention the Manhattan Declaration in several months (and I spend a lot of time on political and theological blogs and websites). I think that it has been almost totally forgotten.

      1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

        Glad to have reminded someone of it.

  2. Philip Wilson says:

    Just curious: if the Scriptures are perspicuous, then why is there disagreement in the interpretation of them? Are those who differ in opinion on the interpretation of Scripture somehow corrupt or stupid?

    1. Philip,

      Yes, that’s precisely the problem.

      1. Philip Wilson says:

        So if someone disagrees with you, say, about your interpretation of Scripture, he is either a fool, a corrupt apostate, or both? If that is in fact the case, then what good is the perspicuity of Scripture, since one already needs to be a wise saint in order to rightly interpret it? Is not Scripture for the fools and the corrupt as well as for the wise and saintly? I suspect the theory of the perspicuity of Scripture is an underhanded way of saying that the Scriptures are clear to US. “US” being whoever agrees with us in the first place.

        Dr. George does a great job at the beginning of his talk showing empirical evidence against the perspicuity of Scripture. Further evidence is the large amount of division in Christianity, even among those who hold the Scriptures in the highest regard. Yet Dr. George seems to answer that evidence only with platitudes, and the theory that Scripture is self-interpreting (to the exclusion of an official interpreter or magisterium). Where is his empirical evidence in favor of the perspicuity of Scripture? In other words, where is this catholic body that is united in doctrine and Scriptural interpretation? Is it not logical that if the Scriptures are indeed perspicuous, that some such body would indeed exist?

        I must say that it is possible that Dr. George did in fact put forth such a community in his talk. Unfortunately, the video on my computer died right in the middle of his talk. If he does in fact posit such a case, then I welcome being set right.

        1. You mean you didn’t see the bit where he reveals that he is actually Superman and flies out of the building? I hope I’ve not spoiled the ending now…

        2. Brad says:

          From listening to the whole sermon, it seems that Dr. George is saying that what is essential for salvation may be plainly understood by anyone who reads the Bible for themselves, not that there are no obscure passages or possibilities of various interpretations of certain passages. But I could be wrong.

          And what’s this bit about Superman? The meaning wasn’t perspicuous.

          1. Philip Wilson says:

            Thanks, Brad. But don’t Christians also differ concerning what is necessary for Salvation? I have heard very compelling Scriptural arguments from several different soteriological schools, even though I do not agree with most of them. Doesn’t this empirically disprove the Perspicuity of Scripture?

            Also, I think I want to retract the following statement I made earlier: “…what good is the perspicuity of Scripture, since one already needs to be a wise saint in order to rightly interpret it?”

            I don’t think that statement, upon further review, actually makes a logical case against the theory of the Perspicuity of Scripture, since the obvious answer to my argument would be that the Scriptures are indeed clear to the wicked man, but that it is his wickedness which causes him to reject what is clear.

            1. Brad says:

              That’s a good question, and one I’d like to hear Dr. George answer. One one level, it seems that common access to the Bible has caused much division. But would we really want it any other way? What if we still only had a select few who spoon fed their own interpretations to us? I know that’s a different issue from the inherent clarity of Scripture, but that was the issue that caused the Reformer’s to give language to this belief. If you want access to the Bible for common people, how else would you justify it?

              1. Philip Wilson says:

                The gift of easy access to Scripture is a gift indeed, and one we should all be thankful for every day.

                But I think it is possible to have the good (access to Scripture) without the bad (division), and this is where tradition comes in. For the common man, the Bible should be a source of devotion and adoration to our Lord. It should be read so that the common man may be drawn into intimacy with our Blessed Lord, since in the Bible our Blessed Lord speaks to us and communes with us directly.

                What the Bible should not be, however, is the tool for any upstart whatsoever to create his own system of doctrine opposed to tradition. That is a recipe for disaster. Every single heresy in history was caused by some proud fool who wrested the Scriptures from their context in tradition and created novel doctrines. That is poison and tears the Body of Christ apart.

                This is what my problem is with the theory of perspicuity; it justifies whatever outlandish or screwball fancy that seems “clear” to those who seek to create doctrine (whether their intentions are pure or not) and what we end up with are snake charmers, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and even some respectable schools of thought where their error is more subtle, yet error it remains. Surely this splintered and warring mess is not what our Lord intended.

                Peace to you, Brother.

  3. Lynn Rutledge says:

    FYI: perspicuity misspelled in title

  4. Ken says:

    How ironic is it that the word used to defend the clarity of Scripture is almost completely unknown, nearly unpronounceable, and foggy in terms of its definition?

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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