Scripture is intended for all people and is therefore clear to anyone on the essential elements of the gospel and what it means to please God. We learn that from texts such as Deuteronomy 6:6–7, which assumes that the ordinary men and women of ancient Israel could teach God's Word to their children. The great theologians of the early church, including Irenaeus, Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, John Chrysostom, and Augustine, all confessed the clarity of Scripture. However, the institutional church has not always been true to this teaching. Things had changed by the time of the late medieval church just before the Reformation. The leaders of the Western church had come to view the Scriptures as unclear, as a closed book that could not be accurately understood apart from the Magisterium (the pope and bishops). The Roman Catholic Church continues to maintain that we need its Magisterium to rightly understand the Scriptures, though Roman Catholics have more freedom today to study the Bible on their own than they did in the past.
In one sense, this reluctance to allow for the private interpretation of Scripture is understandable. Church history is filled with individuals who privately interpreted their way into heresy. Yet, church history also proves that putting interpretation solely in the hands of an elite few is not the answer either, for the leaders of the church have at times taught error as well. The solution, as the Protestant Reformers argued, was to give the Bible to all Christians and to teach them how to interpret it accurately. Scripture’s clarity entails the right to read and interpret the Bible as individuals, but since Scripture is God’s Word, that right carries with it the duty to handle Scripture responsibly. We are obligated to read Scripture rightly and carefully so that we do not read our own views into the text.
One of the most fundamental principles of sound biblical interpretation may be deduced from today’s passage. Since “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Cor. 14:33), we can never read Scripture in such a way that it teaches contradictory things. There is a fundamental unity to the Bible that means it teaches the same central message from Genesis to Revelation. God does not confuse us by packing an individual text with several irreconcilable meanings or by giving us contradictory teaching on what it means to please Him. Scriptural teaching is unified, and we should always be looking for the harmony between different parts of the Bible.