Controversy Quotations

Define “Obscurity”

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici, Preface

I have dwelt longer on this Subject than I intended; and longer than, perhaps, I ought; for having laid down, as my Foundation, that the Scripture is a rule; that in all things needfull to Salvation, it is clear, sufficient, and ordain’d by God Almighty for that purpose, I have left my self no right to interpret obscure places, such as concern the possibility of eternal happiness to Heathens: because whatsoever is obscure is concluded not necessary to be known.

Certainly all true Protestants can join in gladly affirming the first part of Dryden’s statement. The problem then is that it were only too easy to identify any part as obscure, and conclude it unnecessary to be known. But if it is absolutely unnecessary, why is it in Scripture at all? Here is another take on the matter:

G.N.M. Collins, “Knox and the Scottish Reformation” in Puritan Papers, v.2

[Recording a conversation between Knox and Queen Mary]

“Ye interpret the Scriptures in one manner, and other [sic?] interpret in another. Who am I to believe? and who shall judge?” said the Queen.

“Madam,” replied Knox, “ye shall believe God, that plainly speaketh in His Word, and further than that Word teacheth you ye shall believe neither the one nor the other. The Word of God is plain in itself; and if there appears any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, which is never contrarious to himself, explains the same more clearly in other places.”

4 replies on “Define “Obscurity””

I hold with love the Reformed doctrine of perspicacity, but I suspect the Bloody Queen rather expected her own light and her own little candles to portray the spiritual truths convenient to her.

Well, it’s convenient to write at least certain Scriptures off as obscure. But I suspect their obscurity often stems from our pre-commitments rather than anything in themselves. As a for instance, Roger Nicole stated in an article about the role of women in the church in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology that Paul’s words on the subject are hard to interpret. To me they seem quite easy to interpret. But I don’t mind accepting their implications: I suppose because I am a male chauvinist pig.

It seems that Scripture often calls upon us to believe what is “unthinkable” in our culture. But it’s so easy to think it if you remind yourself that God’s wisdom is above ours, so it is quite possible that He would actually say that. It seems to me that the adoption of an extra-Scriptural principle (and there are many) as a given in our interpretation of Scripture, is one thing that leads us very far astray.

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