For some people, reading a manual for the space shuttle and reading the Bible are similar–they are hard to understand. The reality is that while the space shuttle manual may never make sense, the Bible can. Certainly there are parts of the Bible that are more understandable on the first read, but the reality is that it can all be understood. This speaks to its clarity.
If you have ever read the Bible and felt a little confused, you are in good company. Even Peter admitted that some of the writings of Paul were challenging to comprehend.
…Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15b-16).
Look back at the Peter quote. He says that they are hard to understand, but not impossible. Just because parts of the Bible might be difficult to understand does not mean that it cannot be understood. Thus, after some wrestling with the text they were able to comprehend the message that he was trying to convey to them. The same is true for us today. We may not fully understand the message after the first reading, but with some time and study the meaning can be obtained.
One of the major challenge to the clarity of the scripture is that the things of God are “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Wayne Grudem explains it this way:
A proper understanding of Scripture is often more the result of an individual’s spiritual condition than his or her intellectual ability. 
Don’t take this as an attack on your personal spiritual condition. Just because you don’t understand something right away doesn’t mean you are “less spiritual” than someone else. Peter, and the other disciples (Matthew 15:16), struggled with understanding the teachings of Jesus often. Even the early church leaders didn’t always totally agree on the meaning of the text (Acts 15, Galatians 2:11-15).
We must remember that when there is disagreement on the meaning of a text, it is not the result of faulty Scripture. The Bible was guided and authored by God through the pen of man so that it is able to be understood (for more on this see the post “The Bible, Its Authority”). When a misunderstanding happens we can link it to our fallen human state (see Genesis 3). As a result of our fallen sinful condition, our thinking can be faulty as well. This can cause us to not completely understand the meaning of a text.
So what should we do? Should we just resign that we cannot know what the Bible means? NO! God, through the writers of the Bible, meant something by what was written. Our responsibility is to do our diligence to try and figure out what the original meaning of the text is so that we can know how to apply it to our lives today. There is meaning in the text! Thus, we must ask God each time we open His word to reveal to us what He wants us to understand from the text. In fact, that is a great way to start any reading of the Biblical text–with prayer.
One final note on clarity. Even though we can understand the text on it’s own merit, it is helpful to read and listen to what scholars have said on a text. What I try to do is read the text and try to figure it out on my own. When I think that I have a pretty good grasp on what it means, I read what others have said. The reason I do this is so that I can be sure that the conclusion I come to falls in line with what others have been teaching throughout the years. While there may be some things that are not 100% accurate throughout history, it is more likely that if God showed Spurgeon 200 years ago, and Luther 500 years ago, the same thing that I am learning today–I’m in good company.
Tell me about your attempts–success and failures–to understand difficult texts in the comments below.
Also, If you have a difficult text that you would like to see a blog post about, let me know and I will try and tackle it.
 Wayne Grudem, Christian Beliefs: 20 Basics Every Christian Should Know. ed. Elliot Grudem. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 16.