Roy Zuck begins chapter one “The What and Why of Bible Interpretation” (in his book Basic Bible Interpretation) with the Ethiopian eunuch responding to Philip’s hermeneutic question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch’s response, “How can I…unless some man explain it to me” (Acts 8:31)? Zuck ends the chapter with the doctrine of clarity or perspicuity, which teaches that the Bible can be understood by any layperson. Zuck does not quote 1 John 2:27 but this verse applies: “The anointing which you have received of him abides in you, and you need not that any man teach you.” Which is the case in hermeneutics? Do we need human teachers to interpret the Bible or not? The answer is “Yes!”
The doctrine of clarity or perspicuity means the Bible is understandable, it is not too mysterious to learn, and it is not just for the elite or the seminary graduate. Lay people can interpret and understand God’s Word on their own. Zuck alludes to Reformation leader, Martin Luther, who affirmed that “the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5) means the Bible is accessible and undestandable by all Christians. This opposed the alleged obscurity of the Bible, according to the Roman Catholic Church, which said that only the church could disclose its meaning.”
Zuck is referring to Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994): “The task of interpretation (of the Word of God, whether in its written form of Tradition) has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome.” In the context of false teachers, this is exactly what 1 John 2: 27 is refuting. No believer is totally dependent on a human teacher to comprehend God’s Word. Contrast this view with Wayne Grudem’s statement: “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.”
The next important question is, “How does the lay person interpret the Bible?
1. Through proper hermeneutic principles
This is the reason we should teach our church members how to interpret the Bible. We should teach them that every verse is has only one interpretation. That every verse must be interpreted in it’s context.
2. Through gifted Bible teachers in the local church
God would not have given the spiritual gift of teaching to lay persons (Romans 12:7) if He did not intend for those men and women to teach others in their church. One of the reasons some of our members are going to better understand the Bible on their own is because I will have taught them the principles of interpretation. Romans 12:7 does not contradict 1 John 2:27. Romans 12:7 compliments 1 John 2:27. Through our Sunday school classes, our AWANA and our youth group our people are learning to study God’s Word on their own.
3. Through Bible preaching pastors in a local church
One of the descriptions of a pastor in Ephesians 4:11 is “pastor/teacher.” This is one not two offices because one of the requirements for pastor according to 1 Timothy 3:2 is “able to teach.” Church members who are faithful to the services will learn God’s Word because their pastor diligently obeys the command to all preachers in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the Word…with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
If you like the Ethiopian ask sincerely and desire seriously to understand God’s Word, God will teach you His Word by the means just mentioned. Are you sincere and serious about learning and applying the Bible? Do you avail yourself of the opportunities to learn from others and good study resources like commentaries? Do you spend time daily in God’s Word?