Some claim that the Bible is difficult to understand. In this Little Lessons series, Bible teacher David Servant argues that the basic, most important facts of the Bible are not hard to understand at all. Learn more!
Why Is the Bible So Difficult to Understand? (Part 1)
Why is the Bible so difficult to understand?
That’s the question that I posed at the outset of this Little Lesson. I want to now rephrase that question because I don’t think it is really an accurate question. It’s not an honest question in one sense, because the Bible really isn’t that difficult to understand, generally speaking. It’s got stories, it’s got Proverbs, it’s got letters written to actual people who, from all we know, understood what was written to them. It’s meant as a communication from God to humanity, to me, to you. We don’t want to really say that the Bible is hard to understand. I think more accurately, we could say parts of the Bible are hard to understand. Or maybe even better, small parts of the Bible are hard to understand.
You’ve got this class of scholars, we call them theologians, who spend their adult lives studying the Bible. We often think about how they don’t agree and they interpret different passages differently. Amongst the denominations and the various sects of Christianity, they debate and argue over this and that and the other. We often magnify the differences and then use that as a means to prove that the Bible must be hard to understand because there’s so much differentiation in its interpretation. But may I suggest, and fairly boldly suggest here, that if you took all those people who disagree on various parts of how to interpret scripture and were able to assemble them and discuss everything that they agree on, I think what we’d discover is that they agree on the important stuff, 99%, because the Bible’s not that hard to understand.
We learn about God in the Bible. Well, everybody agrees that God is all-powerful and God is all-knowing and God is omnipresent and that God has no beginning and God has no end and God is love, God is righteous, God is a consuming fire, God is pure, God is holy, God is merciful, God is gracious. All these important aspects about God’s character and His personality and His being, everybody who reads the Bible is going to come to the same conclusion. It’s inescapable. Now, there might be some nuances, sure, and some people might empathize God’s justice and holiness over His love, and some emphasize more His love than His justice and holiness, but they all agree that God’s got both components of those aspects within His personality. And God’s attitude towards people and what the Bible has to say about people. The Bible says people are sinners and they need the grace of God if they’re going to be saved, and God’s merciful and He gives them time to repent, and He offers everybody’s salvation and so forth. 99% of all the people who read the Bible are going to agree on that.
I realize that there are some who say that Jesus didn’t die for everybody and so forth, and they’ve got their proof techs, and they say that God predestined some to be saved and some to be damned, but those are actually the minority. I’ve ministered the Word of God in, I think, about 40 countries many times in the past to pastors and spiritual leaders and so forth, and those who subscribe to the idea that God doesn’t want to save everybody and Jesus didn’t die for everybody, they’re in the small minority. Anyways, the big things there’s a lot of agreement on.
Now, the small things are the things that people debate over, and we need to keep that, for crying out loud, in perspective because we divide over these things and we put signs in front of our churches to let everyone know that we’re not like those people down the road or that church right next door, we are this kind of a Christian because it’s all based on a specific doctrinal stance. It’s a shame. It is a shame.
The average person reading the Bible can gain enough wisdom to have a relationship with God and to know how God wants him or her to live. Right? Right. Okay, so it’s the little things, the little things that people debate over, there’s disagreement over, and then therefore we could say, “Well, okay, must be hard to understand because all these smart people, these theologians, don’t even agree on this.” All right, so I’ll grant you that.
Now, why? Why? Why is that? Why are the small portions of the Bible difficult to understand? I submit that there are a number of reasons, and the one that I’m going to propose in the remaining short time that I have left in this Little Lesson is that it’s hard to understand because we have a limited capacity to understand. When you look at all the creatures that God has made on this earth, a lot of variety there. We got butterflies and we got elephants and we’ve got bacteria. A lot of creatures. It’s obvious that God gives each a capacity of understanding. It’s also obvious that the human species is by far and away superior in this sense. People have a much greater capacity, a mental capacity.
It’s interesting that scientists study animals, will often say, “Wow, this particular species really is highly intelligent.” Like dolphins, for example, because they can learn things and remember things. But even the dolphins compared to human beings, I never saw a dolphin writing computer programs yet. They’re still subpar to human mental capacity. But there’s a limit to human mental capacity. In fact, even within the human species, we know this is obvious, that individuals have different capacities. There are people that we term as geniuses who have an IQ that’s higher than the average, so they have a greater mental capacity. I often find myself saying, however, that certain concepts are above my pay grade because I know that I’ve got a limited capacity and that I’m not a genius. Even some of the geniuses, I don’t think they can understand some of these things either.
I’m going to close with this one passage of scripture, and then in our next Little Lesson I’m going to go into it a little more deeply. I’m going to do a part two on this, so don’t miss it. This is actually from the Apostle Paul and from 1 Corinthians chapter 13, he said, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.” So he’s admitting we have a limited knowledge, and even if we prophesied, that is speaking by the inspiration of God, even that’s partial. We’re not speaking out everything that God knows. Of course, God knows everything, so He allows us to understand so much.
Then the Apostle Paul gives this beautiful analogy, which I think is often ripped from his context to make it mean something it doesn’t mean. We’ll read it briefly here and then we’ll pick up here in the next Little Lesson and go into it deeper. He said, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. When I became a man I did away with childish things.” I think that Paul’s using an analogy of how children, when you’re a child, you have a limited capacity to understand. Children ask their parents questions at times, and the parent realizes, if I explain that to you, you’re not going to get it because you don’t have the capacity yet to understand that. Maybe when you’re a teenager or fully an adult, you’ll have the foundational understanding that then we can build upon that to answer that question you just asked.
We’ll talk more nest time about why parts of the Bible are so difficult to understand. Hope to see you then. God bless you.
Why Is the Bible So Difficult to Understand? (Part 2)
Why are some parts of the Bible so difficult to understand?
This is going to be a continuation of our last Little Lesson in which we addressed the same question but I didn’t say everything I wanted to say. So if you didn’t see that one, I hope you’ll stop right now and go find that one and watch it because we’re going to build on that foundation.
But we laid a little foundation in that the Bible isn’t actually hard to understand. The important basic concepts about who God is and how he relates to people, very clear. Anyone who reads the Bible, even the lowest IQ person, is going to come up with the conclusion that God’s good. Amen. And that God’s holy. And God gives commandments, and God is also merciful. And everyone’s going to come up with that. So the most important things we can all understand and all theologians agree about those things. It’s the little things that we fight about and we scratch our heads over sometimes.
Let me take, for example, the subject of Calvinism, which I have talked about on Little Lessons before. Now, I’m not a Calvinist. Calvinists believe that Jesus didn’t die for everybody. And they believe that because God only wants certain people that he’s preselected to be saved. And the rest, of course, if he doesn’t want them to be saved, the only conclusion is that he wants them to be damned. And that’s what Calvinists believe. I don’t believe that. But I’ve studied Calvinism quite thoroughly and I know all the proof texts that Calvinists use. And I have to confess, yikes, some of them are pretty good scriptures, and you could make a case for Calvinists. So I sometimes jokingly say that I’m about a 30% Calvinist, in all honesty, because I believe the whole Bible, and you can’t escape some of those Calvinistic proof texts.
But again, we don’t want to base our theology on just a limited number of verses. We got up open our minds to say I accept the whole Bible. That’s why I’m 30% Calvinist. Now, logically I know you can’t be 30% Calvinist. And logically, I also know that Calvinism can’t agree with the opposite viewpoint, which would be, I call it non Calvinism. Arminianism is often how it’s referred to. And they’re diametrically opposed to one another. They both can’t be true. But yet, I also understand that with my peanut brain, maybe there’s things I can’t understand, how to my mind things appear incapable of being reconciled but not to God. Because God’s much higher pay grade. He knows everything. He understands everything.
So when you reach that place spiritually that you can just admit, “I don’t know everything. I have a limited mental capacity. That’s how God made me. And things that appear contradictory in scripture, it may be just beyond my understanding. And I just believe it. I just accept it. And one day I won’t have that problem anymore because I’ll have a better mental capacity when I get a new body.”
So we were reading in our last Little Lesson a scripture that I think illustrates this really nicely, a passage in First Corinthians 13 that I think oftentimes is ripped out of its context and made to mean something that it really wasn’t intended to be meant that way by the Apostle Paul. Let’s start reading in verse number three. “Love never fails.” You know all that good stuff he wrote about love in the first two verses. “If there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away with. If there are tongues, they will cease. If there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes…” Now the perfect is not the Bible, in spite of what some people think. Read the context. The perfect comes is when Jesus comes and his kingdom comes and we all have resurrected bodies, the culmination of God’s eternal plan. “When the perfect comes, the partial will be done away with.”
And so we have partial knowledge. That’s what he just said in the sentence before. Well, then we’ll have no longer partial knowledge. I don’t know if we’ll know everything, but we’ll know everything we need to know. And every question we have will be answered. That’s going to be great. You won’t need Little Lessons anymore in that time. So now here’s the analogy I was talking about. Paul said, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. When I became a man, I did away with childish things.”
Now, I think that oftentimes that little sentence there is used to say, well, we need to grow up spiritually and not be spiritual children. That’s what Paul is saying. But that’s actually not what he’s saying. This is in the context before and after about the fact that we have impartial knowledge. And a beautiful analogy is children who have impartial knowledge when they’re children, but as they grow and develop and mature mentally, they have a greater capacity of understanding. And every parent knows that kids sometimes ask questions and you realize there’s no sense me even giving you the answer because you won’t understand the answer. Well, Paul is trying to tell us that’s how it is with us and God. You could ask him a question and he could give you the answer, but you’d still be as clueless as you were before he gave the answer because you don’t understand the answer. You don’t have the mental capacity.
I’ve watched some discussions on YouTube between some brilliant people, and they start using terminologies that are foreign to me, or they’re building on concepts for which I’m unfamiliar, and so they lose me. And I can’t understand them because they’re at a higher level. It’s above my pay grade. Well, that’s how it is with life in general. There’s just things that we just can’t understand. And there are some things in the Bible you just can’t understand. That’s one reason why the Bible is difficult to understand. Parts of the Bible are difficult to understand. And there are other reasons.
Now, just so you get the context, let’s keep reading. “For now, we see in a mirror dimly.” So the analogy is you’re looking in a mirror, but you’re getting a lousy reflection of yourself. Other translations don’t say mirror. They say we’re seeing through a glass darkly. And I actually like those translations better than the New American Standard version in this case, because you’re looking out, trying to get an understanding of what’s out there. You’re not looking at yourself in a mirror. You’re looking out there trying to understand what’s truth, what’s perception here. But the window is imperfect. It’s clouded for some reason. Maybe it’s dirty or whatever so you’re not getting a true, accurate picture. “For now we see in a mirror dimly,” or, “through a glass darkly,” “but then face to face. Now I know in part…” See again, the context here is partial knowledge, and that’s the child analogy is found within the context. “But then I will know fully just as I have been fully known.”
So good news. All those things that we’re scratching our heads over right now, we’re not going to be scratching our heads over one day. And all theologians who get to heaven will be in agreement. And that’ll be the end of all denominations, hallelujah, and all the theological debates and all the division, because everyone will be going, “Ah, now I understand.” Now, you got to realize there’s other reasons that parts of the Bible are hard to understand because God obviously didn’t want people to fully understand them until a certain time came. Some of the prophecies were like that.
I’m going to close on this part of scripture. The Bible itself admits that parts of the Bible are hard to understand. The Apostle Peter, writing in his general epistle to the church, his second general epistle to the church, he says, and this is chapter three, verse 14 of Second Peter. “Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our beloved brother, Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking to them of these things in which are some things hard to understand.” So even Peter thought some of the things that Paul wrote were hard to understand. That makes me feel a whole lot better if even Peter had trouble with some of the things Paul wrote. And look what he says, I got to close on this now, “which the untaught and the unstable distort, as they do also the rest of scripture.”
So what he’s saying, the unstable and the untaught twist Paul’s words, just as they twist the rest of scripture. He believed that Paul was writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and his writings qualified as scripture. And so they were twisting Paul’s words, just like they twisted the rest of the scripture. So we don’t want to twist Paul’s words, try to force a meaning into them to fit our theology. Let’s just try to be honest, take the whole Bible. And let’s admit we have a limited capacity to understand. And we can pray and God will help us, but you’re not going to have full, complete knowledge and understanding until you make it to glory. So that’s why it’s important to keep on that narrow path.
Until next time, may the Lord bless you.