Can anyone deny that there are passages in the Bible that are very hard to understand and sometimes hard to accept? The question is of course, rhetorical. Certainly no one could make such a claim. Those who would deny that there are difficult scriptures either do not spend much time in the Word or they are simply dishonest. I am not sure which of the two is worse.
From simple questions about where Cain’s wife came from, to more complex issues such as the apparent misquote in Matthew 27:9-10; there are literally scores of passages where there seems to be confusion. In some instances it is seems almost impossible to reconcile what is being said with other portions of scripture.
In ministry, it would be relatively easy to avoid the difficulties and not bring attention to them at all. Who would know? And if the Bible was just a book written by men, Biblicists such as me might be inclined to do just that. But the Bible is not just a book. It is the transmitted thoughts and will of Almighty God. It is the Word (and words) of God. It is the final and only authority on truth and fact.
Many have attacked it. Many have tried to prove it false, and in so doing, have been converted by its awesome power and authority. Men will claim that it is full of contradictions, but are not able to point out a single example to support their argument.
Knowing there are those who would jump at the chance to find problems in scripture should not make believers apprehensive or shy in declaring it the plenary word of the Living God. Nor should we refrain from using those portions we feel might pose difficulties to explain. Too often Bible teachers will avoid passages in their sermons and lessons because they imagine there is conflict in what the scripture says.
Difficulty in understanding a passage does not discredit what is being said. Rather it reflects on the knowledge level of the one who sees it as difficult. The fact that we cannot immediately understand or explain the difficulty away does not mean it cannot be solved with proper research and prayer. Sometimes that research takes a long time, but this is the case with almost anything that one wants to learn. I may not understand what the mechanic is telling me about needed vehicle repairs, but I could learn mechanics myself and gain that understanding if I was willing to make the effort.
In my formative years as a Christian, I came across many difficult or hard to understand passages in my studies. Indeed, some of what I read seemed illogical, perhaps even impossible and they tested my faith. Yet I trusted the authority of scripture and accepted it as truth. Years later, with a more sound knowledge of scripture, those same passages posed absolutely no difficulty to me whatsoever. With experience and broader familiarity with scripture, the once difficult passages became very easy to understand.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the “milk” and “meat” of the word. Christians must start out with the milk or easier-to-digest things of God before they are ready to consume the meatier things. It is the superficial or inexperienced reader who adds calamity to a difficult verse. They read something they do not understand and panic. Too often young Christians get bogged down trying to understand something that they simply are not capable of grasping at their present knowledge level. Sometimes spiritual anxiety over such small issues completely consumes them and they run around like Chicken Little declaring that their faith is falling.
The seasoned, faithful reader of the Bible knows that understanding will come in time after appropriate effort is invested in researching the perceived difficulty. They have been down this road before. They have come up against seemingly unexplainable passages that subsequent studies explained. There is always an explanation. God’s Word is always correct and without conflict or contradiction.
I am not trying to diminish the fact that there are very difficult passages of scripture that are problematic to the student of scripture. II Peter 3:16 confirms this. We are told:
“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures ”
God openly tells us through the Apostle Peter that some of the things written in the Bible are hard to be understood and we wrestle with them. Why are they hard? Is it because God purposely wanted to hide something from us? Is it because God wants to play a game of cat and mouse with his higher knowledge? No. God does not play games. He wants us to understand, but that understanding must come when we are ready for strong meat. Believers must go through a growing process. Verse 18 of this chapter confirms this:
“But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
In keeping with all the other passages that tell us to “study”, “prepare” or “learn”, we are told to “grow in grace”. The only way to grow in grace is to read the manual (the Bible) faithfully and consistently, building ourselves up in knowledge and understanding.
Increasing our knowledge in the Bible is like any other thing we learn – we must study and learn in order to grow and excel. That is precisely why it is important to not shy away from difficult passages. We need to learn what they mean. If we shy away from them, our confidence in the word will wane and our regimen for study will eventually wane as well.
There really are no difficult passages. There is just a lack of understanding of those passages. This can be remedied through faithful study. The wisest advice I ever received from a man of God I would like to pass on here. He said “Put your nose in the book and keep your eyes on Jesus.” The meaning is clear; study and trust the Lord to bring you to a place of understanding.