Understanding Difficult Bible Passages
Reading the Bible is one thing, understanding the Bible is another. Anyone can read the Bible if they have basic reading skills, but that does not mean they will understand what they are reading. Sometimes it is difficult to know what a particular passage of scripture is saying.
It should first be noted that the message of God's Word is clear. There is even a fancy doctrinal word for that – perspicuity. The issue of the Bible being difficult to understand is not an issue with the Bible itself; it is an issue with us - the readers. We are limited in our understanding because we are fallen and sin clouds and distorts our understanding.
However, we are not destined to be ignorant! Paul prayed for believers to be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9). Jesus has remedied our sin, and given us renewed minds so that we may be able to comprehend his love (Rom. 12:2, Eph. 3:18). In all of this, God uses the Bible as the primary tool for shaping our lives (2 Tim 3:16).
So what makes a Bible passage difficult? Here are three reasons:
1 - It’s Difficult Because it Demands Much
Jesus made huge claims. He told us to take up our cross. That the first will be last, and the last will be first. That we should cut off body parts if it means not being cast into hell. In John 6, Jesus told his followers that they would eat his flesh and drink his blood. If they didn’t, they would have no life in him.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" John 6:60
Some of his listeners stopped following him at this point. Jesus followed this up by saying that the flesh is no help at all. The words that Jesus spoke are spirit and life.
You will not understand God’s words apart from God’s help. It takes someone outside ourselves to help us in our understanding.
2 - It’s difficult because the more we understand the more we are responsible.
When we actually understand what the Bible says it will demand a full surrender to God to walk faithfully with Him. God hides his truth from the proud, especially if we are unwilling to confess that we have sinned and need God’s rescue. This is why Jesus spoke in parables. However, when we begin to understand truth, and are humble enough to obey it, God will show us more. But we must realize that we will be responsible for more. How are you doing with the things that you already understand? Begin to live out what you already know, and God will show you more of what you don’t know.
3 - It’s difficult because there seems to be a contradiction.
How do you reconcile James, who speaks about faith without works being dead, and Paul, who says we are saved by grace through faith, apart from works? They actually fit together quite nicely. God has a masterful way of bringing balance to the scriptures, a balance that never contradicts. Contradictions will seem to be present at times in the Bible, but when we take the whole counsel of God’s Word, and use some simple hermeneutics, we will find consistent unity and clarity of scripture.
And then there is stuff that is just plain hard – because the Bible is a book written in over 1,500 years, by approximately 40 different authors, in 5 various genres.
So what should you do?
This might seem too obvious, but too many Christians are unwilling to put in the time that it takes to have a full and rich understanding of the Word of God. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was that if he were going to do any significant work for the Lord, he would need to study.
2 Timothy 2:15
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Paul told Timothy to study – to be diligent in the way that he presented himself as a worker for God by accurately understanding the scriptures. Rightly dividing the word of truth speaks of being able to interpret the scriptures correctly. To be able to break them down, do surgery on the scriptures, and find out everything you can. This verse also tells us is that there is a right way and a wrong way to divide the word of God. The right way needs to be learned. This can be done through training from others who know how to rightly divide God’s word. Paul taught Timothy, and in turn, Timothy taught a few good men. Learning to study happens through discipleship. Find someone who has more understanding than you, and have them teach you.
Know that you are in good company when you don’t understand something. The Bible will take a lifetime to plummet it’s depths, and even still there will be more to search out. The most brilliant minds have spent their entire lives to this end, and one of those brilliant minds was a writer of the New Testament - his name is Paul. Another Apostle, Peter, felt that he should include in one of his New Testament writings that he was having a hard time understanding his co-worker’s writing.
2 Peter 3:15-16
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
Paul was “notorious” for being hard to understand in his writings. Even the Apostle Peter admits that when he read Paul’s letters (which by the way he calls scripture) he had trouble understanding it all. However, this does not give license for those who take hard-to-understand scriptures, and twist them to their own destruction. We can be certain that Peter sought out from his fellow Apostles a full understanding of what Paul was writing to the church
Desire to understand the Bible because God desires for you to understand Him.
We believe that the Bible is God’s inspired, infallible, inherent, authoritative word and we use His words to guide and direct our steps. The Bible has in it everything we need to know about God, and everything we need to know about ourselves. Work through the difficult passages, because if we know anything about life, we know it is difficult, and the Bible will give us real hope and lead us deeper into God.