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NEW STUDIES IN BIBLICAL THEOLOGY 21 Series editor: D. A ... · PDF fileNEW STUDIES IN BIBLICAL THEOLOGY 21 Series editor: D. A. Carson A clear and present word THE CLARITY OF SCRIPTURE

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    Series editor: D. A. Carson

    A clear and present word


    Mark D. Thompson



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  • InterVarsity Press, USA P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, USA World Wide Web: Email: [email protected]

    APOLLOS (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press, England) Norton Street, Nottingham NG7 3HR, England Website: Email: [email protected]

    Mark D. Thompson 2006

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of InterVarsity Press.

    InterVarsity Press, USA, is the book-publishing division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, a student movement active on campus at hundreds of universities, colleges and schools of nursing in the United States of America, and a member movement of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. For information about local and regional activities, write Public Relations Dept., InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, 6400 Schroeder Rd., P.O. Box 7895, Madison, WI 53707-7895, or visit the IVCF website at .

    Inter-Varsity Press, England, is closely linked with the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, a student movement connecting Christian Unions throughout Great Britain, and a member movement of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Website:

    Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

    USA ISBN 978-0-8308-2622-3 UK ISBN 978-1-84474-140-3

    Set in Monotype Times New Roman

    Typeset in Great Britain by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Manchester

    Printed in the United States of America

    InterVarsity Press is committed to protecting the environment and to the responsible use of natural resources. As a member of Green Press Initiative we use recycled paper whenever possible. To learn more about the Green Press Initiative, visit .

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

    British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

    A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

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    Y 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 09 08

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  • With thanks to God for three wise theological guides: Alan D.Catchpoole, Principal, Capernwray Bible College, Australia(19701982); D. Broughton Knox, Principal, Moore TheologicalCollege (19591985); Peter F. Jensen, Principal, Moore TheologicalCollege (19852001), Archbishop of Sydney (2001).

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  • Contents

    Series preface 9Authors preface 11Abbreviations 13

    1 Oh sweet obscurity: The absurdity of claiming clarity today 17

    Traditional objections to the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture 19

    The contemporary context of this discussion 30A reason to think again 46

    2 The effective communicator: God as the guarantor ofscriptural clarity 49

    The God of the gospel 55The purposeful communicator 60God and human words 65God and this text 70The clarity of Scripture and the character of God 78

    3 It is not beyond you: The accessible word of the living God 81The phenomenon of Scripture according to Jesus

    and the apostles 82The Old Testament and the clarity of Scripture: The

    classic texts 93Clarity hard won: Scripture acknowledges its own

    difficulty 102Confidence and concentrated attention: The textures

    of biblical clarity 109

    4 Engaging the hermeneutical challenge 111Theology and the shape of contemporary

    hermeneutics 115


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  • Taking Scripture and its readers seriously 120The theological protest at the contemporary

    hermeneutical agenda 132The hermeneutics of a clear text in the hands of a

    good God 140

    5 The sharp double-edged sword: Restating the clarity ofScripture today 143

    The classic exposition 143A doctrine for the times 159A clear and present word 164

    Bibliography 171Index of authors 189Index of Scripture references 193



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  • Series preface

    New Studies in Biblical Theology is a series of monographs thataddress key issues in the discipline of biblical theology. Contributionsto the series focus on one or more of three areas: 1. the nature andstatus of biblical theology, including its relations with other discip-lines (e.g. historical theology, exegesis, systematic theology, historicalcriticism, narrative theology); 2. the articulation and exposition ofthe structure of thought of a particular biblical writer or corpus; and3. the delineation of a biblical theme across all or part of the biblicalcorpora.

    Above all, these monographs are creative attempts to help think-ing Christians understand their Bibles better. The series aims simul-taneously to instruct and to edify, to interact with the currentliterature, and to point the way ahead. In Gods universe, mind andheart should not be divorced: in this series we will try not to separatewhat God has joined together. While the notes interact with the bestof scholarly literature, the text is uncluttered with untransliteratedGreek and Hebrew, and tries to avoid too much technical jargon. Thevolumes are written within the framework of confessional evangelic-alism, but there is always an attempt at thoughtful engagement withthe sweep of the relevant literature.

    It is a pleasure to include in the Series this volume by Dr MarkThompson. I suppose one might initially question why his work hasbeen included in a series devoted to biblical theology. His earlier workon Luther was essentially an historical study; the present work, itmight be argued, belongs at least as obviously to the domain of sys-tematic theology as to biblical theology. But that is just the point.NSBT is interested in how biblical theology contributes to related dis-ciplines, and while this present work addresses historical and dog-matic questions, on several fronts its fulcrum is responsible biblicaltheology.

    Certainly there are few topics more pertinent in the first decadeof the twenty-first century. A strange combination of collective


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  • theological amnesia and an uncritical acquiescence in the least discip-lined forms of postmodernism have made many Christians highlysuspicious of hearing any sure or clear Word from Scripture. Theperspicuity of Scripture (often designated claritas Scripturae) hasfallen on hard times. Dr Thompsons clearly written and robust ar-ticulation of the clarity of Scripture will help many people thinkabout these matters knowledgably, crisply, faithfully, pointedly. Thepurpose of such an exercise, of course, can never be an end in itself:the purpose is to handle Scripture itself with greater wisdom and con-fidence. That is why this book deserves the widest circulation.

    D. A. CarsonTrinity Evangelical Divinity School



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  • Authors preface

    The five chapters of this book were originally the Annual MooreCollege Lectures, delivered in August 2005. It was an enormous priv-ilege to be invited by the Principal, Dr John Woodhouse, to deliverthose lectures. His encouragement during the study leave granted forthe purposes of preparation kept the project on track when a myriadof other demands threatened to derail it. I join with many others inthanking God for his gifted and godly leadership of the MooreCollege community and I am grateful for this opportunity to recordmy own extensive debt to his faithful ministry of the word of God.

    Like many before me, I have found that one of the great benefits ofworking in a theological college is the opportunity to wrestle in fellow-ship with faithful and insightful colleagues and highly motivated andgifted students about questions such as the clarity of Scripture. I havegreatly benefited from conversations on this topic with Drs Peter Jensen,Robert Doyle, Peter Bolt, Andrew Shead, Mike Ovey and Peter OBrien.A number of former students at Moore College have also investigatedthese questions and shared the results of their work. While there areundoubtedly others, I owe a particular debt to Stephen Anderson, HefinJones and Orlando Saer. Outside this environment I am glad toacknowledge the philosophical insights of Mr Shane Waugh.

    In researching this subject, as previously, I have been much morethan adequately equipped by the resources of the Moore CollegeLibrary. I found that almost everything I needed to explore thesequestions was already held by the library and in those rare caseswhere something was not, Mr Kim Robinson ensured that it wasordered or borrowed with unusual speed. I am very grateful to himand the rest of the library staff.

    Professor John Webster

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