I learned a new word today: perspicuity. It means clarity. Ah, the irony. Anyway, I learned the word in the context of a Protestant idea called “Perspicuity of Scripture.” This means that the meaning of the Bible is clear to the ordinary person and does not require any interpretive intermediary. The intermediary the Protestants have in mind is, of course, the Catholic Church, which argues that you cannot understand the Bible unless you read it through the filter of the Church.
While Catholics and Protestants will argue this as an “either/or” (either the Bible is perspicuous or inperspicuous), Jews will take it as “both/and,” the Bible is clear and in need of interpretation.
The Jewish view is simple: The Bible is the Word of God. God writes perspicuously, but what is perspicuous to God may be inperspicuous to humans. Hence the need to read and reread and interpret and reinterpret the perspicuous Word of God.
Now if I were God I’d make my Word truly perspicuous: See Eve. See Eve eat the fruit. Eat, Eve, eat. See Adam eat. Sin, Adam, sin. But even this clearly perspicuous text may be inperspicuous to some. After all, what does “sin” mean? And did it mean the same thing when I wrote it as it does when you read it? So even my perspicuous text may need interpretation.
The fact is you can’t escape interpretation. If the Word of God were really as perspicuous as Protestants claim, we wouldn’t have over 33,000 denominations of Protestant Christianity. The Catholic Church doesn’t have all these divisions because they admit the Bible is inperspicuous and given to many interpretations, which is why they invented the Inquisition to keep the number of interpretations down to one—their’s.
For my money, I prefer inperspicuousness to perspicuousness. The Bible is a nasty book in many ways, and if we can’t interpret it in ways that allow it to say what it perspicuously does not say we might find ourselves killing one another in the Name of God, and who would want to do that?