Were the Days of Creation 24 Hours Long? The Clarity of Scripture

Seventh Day of Creation Part 10

Some have questioned: Isn’t the Bible is a simple book written for the average person to understand? Should considerations such as Hebrew syntax, literary forms, and the cultural context be necessary for one to properly understand Genesis 1-2? What about the clarity of Scripture? Doesn’t a technical analysis undermine this doctrine and imply the Bible is inaccessible to the masses?

Since these questions arise quite frequently, I want to pause and spend this article addressing them.

Does the Need to Study Undermine “The Clarity of Scripture”?

One of the key doctrines to this discussion is “the clarity of Scripture” (sometimes referred to as “the perspicuity of Scripture”). Its most prominent articulation can be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Let me present their definition and then comment on it in six sections.

“[1] All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, [2] nor alike clear unto all: [3] yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, [4] are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, [5] that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, [6] may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them” (Chapter 1, Paragraph 7).[1]

  1. “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves”

We need to admit that some passages in the Bible are harder to understand than others. I imagine all of us have read passages that have left us wondering what the author is trying to convey: who were the “Nephilim” and “sons of God” in Genesis 6:4? Why does Paul say, “a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10)? Or what does Peter have in mind when he says “[Jesus] also went [in the Spirit] and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who once were disobedient . . . in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:19-20)? Some passages are just not as plain as we would like them to be.

Along with our own experience, the Bible itself tells us that it is sometimes hard to understand. Consider Peter’s words,

“Our beloved brother Paul . . . wrote to you, as also in all his letters … in which there are some things that are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16, NASB).

As one can see, the clarity of Scripture does not mean that every passage is easy to understand.

2) “nor alike clear unto all”

Furthermore, the doctrine mentions that the Bible is not equally clear to all. While God intends for even the simplest of minds to have a general understanding of it, this does not mean He expects them to pick up a Bible and completely understand it on their own.

As Peter mentions above, difficult passages can be distorted by the “untaught” and those who are “unstable” or “unestablished.”

Scripture is full of examples where people need help in understanding God’s Word. Without this, we often miss the significance of what is being said. Here are two examples:

“Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:7-8 ESV).

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them the things written about Himself in all the Scriptures. . . . They said to one another, ‘Were our hearts not burning within us when He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:27,32 NASB).

Along with learning what certain passages of Scripture mean, we all need help in learning how to read and study the Bible. This is a never-ending process and one that we grow in over time. I know I do not read the Bible with the same level of understanding that I did in high school, and hopefully twenty years from now I will look back to these years and say the same. This is due to sitting under the teaching of those who understand it more than I do, whether that be through lectures, sermons, books, or Bible studies.

This is why God calls some to be like Ezra, who “had firmly resolved to study the Law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances” (Ezra 7:10). Or some to be like the Apostles who said, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4, NASB). It is why He gives the church “pastors and teachers,for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12, NASB). God doesn’t intend for the Bible to be read in isolation. This opportunity (which is an incredible privilege!) has not even been possible until the last couple hundred years. Before this, Bibles were too expensive (you had to pay someone a couple years’ wages to copy it) and many were illiterate. The church has needed and still needs people who devote themselves to studying Scripture in order to help the rest of us understand what it says and learn how to read it on our own.

3) “yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation”

It is important to see that the clarity of Scripture only pertains to a certain set of details: that which is necessary for salvation. This doctrine does not attempt to say that everything in the Bible is so clearly stated that someone should understand every passage they read.

4) “are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other”

Even concerning these details necessary for salvation, the clarity of Scripture does not claim that they are clear in every passage they are mentioned. Rather, it claims that they become evident as one engages with large portions of Scripture.

5) “that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means”

While formal education is not needed to understand the Bible’s core message of salvation through faith in Christ, one does need to make due use of ordinary means. Understanding does not always happen instantaneously or without effort. Today, we are incredibly fortunate to have more “ordinary means” available to us for understanding the Bible than ever before.

6) “may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them”

Lastly, the clarity of Scripture only pertains to a level of understanding that is sufficient for salvation. It does not signify that one will fully understand the intricacies of these things. Regarding Genesis 1-2, a sufficient understanding would be that God created us and everything around us.

As one can see, the clarity of Scripture is a nuanced doctrine. It does not teach that the meaning of a passage is immediately clear to anyone who reads it or that one’s “straightforward” reading is correct.

There are many reasons for this. Most notably is the fact that we are not the original audience. As 21st century English speakers, we need to remember that we come to the text with a different set of assumptions and literary expectations. We engage with a translation. This means that our words do not always carry the same range of meaning as the words originally written. Our syntax follows different patterns and sometimes elements emphasized in one language cannot be perfectly depicted in another. Our mental frameworks and cultural setting are also very different than what was held by Moses and the Israelites thousands of years ago. We face different competing creation myths or theories of how life began. The list could go on.

Now, by no means does this mean that we cannot understand what the author is communicating. It just means we need to be patient and all the more careful as we follow the text and consider what it meant within its original context.

Thus, we need to approach our reading of the Bible as a cross-cultural experience. Just as we don’t hop off a plane in a foreign country and expect everything to operate exactly like it does back home, the same is true with Scripture. This is why we study all of these things.

Luther on Misinterpretation and the Need for Studying the Original Languages

A simple look at history shows us we have a common tendency to misinterpret Scripture. Even when God Himself came into this world as the promised Messiah, the most educated in the Old Testament completely missed it. They adamantly opposed Him and called for His execution based upon their mishandling of Scripture (see, for example, John 5:39-47; 19:6-7). Even Jesus’ closest disciples who spent years with Him struggled to grasp what He was up to and how this was foretold in the Old Testament (see, for example, Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 8:31-33; Luke 24:44-45; John 12:16).

For reasons beyond our knowledge in this life, God sovereignly allows misinterpretations to develop and harm the church for centuries. However, He also uses key events, discoveries, clarifying arguments, etc., to draw us back to the truth.

The Reformation was a time in church history when many misinterpretations were addressed. Martin Luther was one of the key figures in this movement and his study of Scripture in its original languages was what convinced and embolden him to stand against false doctrines and practices in the church.

Some of the things he addressed emerged from misleading translations in the Latin Vulgate. Take, for example, Jesus’ call to repentance in Matthew 4:17. Although it was originally a call for people to “repent” or to “have a complete change of mind and being” (metanoeite in Greek), the Latin Vulgate translated this as “do penance” (paenitentiam agite). From this mistranslation, the sacrament of penance developed. People were told to seek a pronouncement of forgiveness from clergy by doing something to make up for their sin. In Luther’s day, people were told they could do this by purchasing indulgences. This was a radical departure from Jesus’ original message and the Bible as a whole.

Correcting this mistreatment of repentance in Matthew 4:17 is how Luther opened his 95 Theses.

Because of instances like these, Luther strongly urged for students to study the original languages. Listen to some of his statements in his article, “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools” (AD 1524).[2]

“And let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held . . . If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall . . . lose the gospel.”

“Here belongs also what St. Paul calls for in I Corinthians 14, namely, that in the Christian church all teachings must be judged. For this a knowledge of the language is needful above all else. The preacher or teacher can expound the Bible from beginning to end as he pleases, accurately or inaccurately, if there is no one there to judge whether he is doing it right or wrong. But in order to judge, one must have a knowledge of the languages; it cannot be done in any other way.”

“Hence, it is inevitable that unless the languages remain, the gospel must finally perish.”

“Yes, you say, but many of the fathers were saved and even became teachers without the languages. That is true. But how do you account for the fact that they so often erred in the Scriptures? . . . They grope their way like a blind man along the wall, frequently missing the sense of the text and twisting it to suit their fancy, as in the case of the verse mentioned above, “Tecum principium,” etc. Even St. Augustine himself is obliged to confess, as he does in his Christian Instruction, that a Christian teacher who is to expound the Scriptures must know Greek and Hebrew in addition to Latin. Otherwise, it is impossible to avoid constant stumbling; indeed, there are plenty of problems to work out even when one is well versed in the languages.”

While Luther was a strong advocate for the clarity of Scripture and translating the Bible into the vernacular (which he spent years doing), he spoke just as fervently about the need for studying the Bible in the original languages. Without this, he warned, misinterpretations would flourish, and the gospel would perish among the masses.

But Isn’t God “Not the Author of Confusion?”

When discussing Genesis 1-2, some also bring up 1 Corinthians 14:33, “God is not the author of confusion” (KJV ) or as the NASB similarly puts it, “for God is not a God of confusion” (the NASB placed “a God” in italics to signify that they added these words due to the requirements of English; the KJV added the word “author” – these are not a part of the original text. Here is a little example of the complexities involved in translation where one language needs words another doesn’t).

Quite ironically, I think the translations above are themselves confusing. As a result, this verse is often misapplied to other contexts. Let me explain. The original word Paul uses for “confusion” is not primarily related to mental confusion or misunderstanding – as we most naturally read it in the translations above. Rather, the word depicts instability, disorder, disturbance, commotion, upheaval. Look at how it is used the four other times it occurs in the New Testament. I will mark where it’s translated in { }.

“And when you hear of wars and {revolts}, do not be alarmed; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately” (Luke 21:9; these are all from the NASB).

“but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in difficulties, in beatings, in imprisonments, in {mob attacks}, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5).

“For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish, and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, selfishness, slanders, gossip, arrogance, {disturbances}” (2 Corinthians 12:20).

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is {disorder} and every evil thing” (James 3:16).

As you can see, the “confusion” in 1 Corinthians 14:33 does not pertain to misunderstanding but rather to disorder, commotion, upheaval. Paul goes on to present the opposite of this word as “peace” (rather than something like knowledge). In light of this, more recent translations (like the NIV, NLT, CSB) are beginning to use the word “disorder” rather than “confusion.”

From this quick word study, we see that Paul is not saying God is never confusing. The Bible is full of people who are confused by God and His ways. Just think of Jesus’ ministry and how little He was understood. In this passage, Paul is saying God is not one of disturbance and disorder. Thus, he concludes, “all things must be done properly and in an orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

In sum, the Bible never claims to be a simple book that is easy to understand. It contains many perplexing sections that continue to be debated by those who care deeply about faithfully following what it says. We are edified as we allow these discussions to draw us deeper into the text to behold more of God’s heart for us and those around us.

Go Deeper

[1] See page 6 – https://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/WCFScriptureProofs.pdf

[2] These are taken from Luther’s Works, ed. W. Brandt and H. Lehman (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1962), pages 357-66.

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