Difficult Bible Passages

By Tom M. Roberts

“…as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 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, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16).

Both February issues of The Guardian of Truth will focus on a few of the many passages of Scripture which historically have presented us some uncertainty and variability. It does not shame us to admit that some passages of Scripture are “hard to be understood,” difficult of perception. If Peter, an apostle of Christ, can admit so readily, we must also be willing to face the fact that some passages from the word of God are both profound and complex.

Actually, can we expect anything less? The divine wisdom that framed the universe with all its intricate laws of physics, biology, chemistry, etc. is capable of thoughts beyond our finite comprehension. As the Lord himself said: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8). Yet God speaks to man, accommodating his wisdom to our level of perception (Heb. 1:1-2). Is it not marvelous to communicate with Deity? Should we assume it to be simple? Yet, God reveals so as to be understood, not to conceal; to enlighten, not to confuse. Difficult Bible passages do not presuppose the impossibility of knowing the mind of God (John 6:44-45; 8:32; 1 Cor. 2:16).

Paul, whom Peter admitted to teach things “hard to be understood” spoke of the gospel as a “mystery.” To the Corinthians, Paul said, “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God had ordained before the ages for our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7). To the Ephesians, he admitted that Christ and the church were “a great mystery” (Eph. 5:32). However, it is inexcusable today that some philosophies speak of the Bible as “mysterious,” even mystical, placing it in the realm of that which is beyond definition. Recognizing that the plan of redemption was once beyond our reach, secure in the mind of God (thus, a mystery), we quickly note that God chose to reveal the meaning through his apostles (1 Cor. 2:4-13), forever clarifying what had been “hidden through the ages” (Col. 1:26). Paul concluded that God had “made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself’ (Eph. 1:9). We have access to Paul’s explanation so that “when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (3:4). It was the intent of gospel preaching “to make all people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ” (Eph 3:9). God intends that men everywhere receive and understand the message of the gospel. To that end, the Great Commission was given (Matt. 28:18-20).

Understanding Difficult Passages

“Difficult Bible Passages” do not suggest the impossibility of understanding. Some truths may be deeper, more complex than others, but God intends that we know his will (John 8:32). Though it suits the purpose of some to deny truth as knowable, we all shall be held accountable to the standard of truth (Jn. 12:48).

“Difficult Bible Passages” do not suggest that “one interpretation is as good as another.” Words are vehicles of thought and God’s thoughts have been put into words (1 Cor. 2:6ff). It is our obligation to exegete a passage so as to receive from it only what God put into it. Beware what Peter said about those who “wrest the scriptures to their own destruction.”

“Difficult Bible Passages” does not permit a multitude of various views of a single passage to deny the truth of that passage. Though some delight in attempting to defuse what a passage actually teaches by pointing to various interpretations, confusion among men should not be attributed to confusion on God’s part. “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).

“Difficult Bible Passages” simply admits that some pas-sages are “milk” and that some are “meat” (1 Pet. 2:2; 1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-14). Meat takes more chewing and digestion than milk, but each is capable of nourishment to its own level of advancement. As one matures in the faith, God expects each to progress from milk to meat, from simple to complex truth, from babes to full grown men who “have our senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:13).

What remains is for us to accept the revelation of God as it is, to study it, to accept it into our hearts (Col. 3:16-17). Every single passage is knowable, no truth that God has revealed is beyond our ability to comprehend (Deut. 29:29). As we love and respect God’s word, as we let scripture interpret scripture (Isa 28:10; Matt. 22:23-33), as we “meditate both day and night” (Ps. 1:2), what God intended to tell us will become clear.

Appreciation of Those Who Write

Those who have contributed articles to these special issues, both young and old, bring a respect of God’s will, as well as a studious attitude, to some of the difficult Bible passages so often questioned. Each writer has been challenged to give a careful exegesis of the text and context before making any kind of application. Among this group of writers, you will find no “new hermeneutic” disciples, none who doubt inspiration, none who seek to escape the force of truth on any subject. You are familiar with most of the names as seasoned writers; some will be newer to you. Each will bring to the difficult passage he attempts to unlock a belief in the inerrancy of the scriptures of God, as well as a belief that God wants us to understand his will. If they do their work well, as it is fully anticipated that they will, this issue (and the next) may serve as a valuable reference volume in coming years to your study of some of the “Difficult Bible Passages” that are deserving of special attention.

Guardian of Truth XL: 3 p. 1
February 1, 1996