The Clarity of Scripture?
Pop Protestantism believes in the clarity of Scripture. That is to say, that Scripture is clear enough that a Christian does not need a Pope or professor to tell them what to believe about the Bible. The plain sense of Scripture, combined with the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, is sufficient itself to lead believers into truth. Which means I don’t take Bible study tips from an Italian guy in a pointy white hat wreaking of garlic let alone from a liberal “religion” professor at Penn State wearing a Che Guevera T-Shirt. Plus, if you combine the clarity of Scripture with a thing called soul competency where each soul is competent enough to interpret the Bible for himself and herself, then, you really can say that Bible interpretation requires only two things: Me and my ESV.
Except that such a view is neither truly Protestant nor a healthy approach to biblical interpretation.
If you look at the Protestant confessions, whether the Westminster Confession or the London Baptist Confession, the clarity of Scripture only applies to the things necessary for salvation. So yeah, reading the Gospel of Mark and Epistle to the Romans, you can figure out “What must I do to be saved?” without doing a Master of Divinity. But after that, all bets are off, not everything is clear, some stuff is disputed and debatable, and some things are downright baffling!
We need teachers to teach us things like: Tricky verses in the Bible, like women “will be saved from childbirth”; Who were the Nephilim or Pharisees? What is the kingdom of God? To help us wrestle with tensions like divine sovereignty and human responsibility or justification by faith and judgment according to works. This stuff is not self-evident and cannot be figured out after a 15-minute search on Wikipedia.
Think about it, if Scripture is so clear, then why does the Holy Spirit send us pastors and teachers? If Scripture is so clear, we wouldn’t need them. But we do, precisely because Scripture is not always clear, it can be disputed, and we need to do some hard work in reading the Bible responsibly, faithfully, christologically, and to do the hard work of application. Thank God then for pastors and teachers (or why I will always have some degree of job security).
Yes, the Holy Spirit can teach you, but if you do some study on things like Greek, Hebrew, Bible backgrounds, biblical theology, church history, and theology, then you give the Holy Spirit more to work with in teaching you.
Even the most die-hard “ESVand Me” type person still clings to their ESV Study Bible which is full of great notes, charts, tables, and short essays to help you better understand the Bible. Take up and read a good study Bible, you’ll be all the better for it!
On soul competency, well, I’ve been grading seminary papers now for almost 20 years and let me tell you something, some souls are more competent than others. Plus, soul competency is more about religious liberty than religious ability. Sure, it is a free country, so each soul is free to understand and interpret the Bible however they like. However, let me tell you that not every soul’s interpretation is equally valid. Whether that is Rev. Sarah St. James Whimsington at St Marcion’s (MA) who believes that Jesus was a vegan Marxist who preached CRT or Rev. Chuck C. Chuckington Jr of Independent True Bible Church (MN) who thinks Michael Jackson is the angel of the abyss in Revelations.
Let me end with a story.
Once upon a time, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister was out of town and decided to visit a local church one Sunday.
The minister of this church began his sermon by saying, “When I prepared this sermon, I didn’t consult the words of man, no commentary, no clergy, no listening to the wisdom of mere men. Instead, I read my Bible hard, real hard, I prayed myself hot, and I asked the good Lord for unction, for blessing, and for power to preach his holy Word.”
After the service the minister asked the young lady what she thought about the sermon,
“To be honest, I stopped listening after 30 seconds,” she replied.
Quite taken the minister asked her, “Why child, why would you ignore the preaching of the Word?”
The young girl lowered her head and raised an eyebrow and replied, “Why should I listen to you? You sure as heck don’t listen to anybody else!”
And there is the lesson: Beware of Bible teachers who do not think that they need themselves to be taught!