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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Answering Bible Difficulties

Don Stewart :: What Type of Difficulties Do We Find in Scripture?

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What Type of Difficulties Do We Find in Scripture?

Answering Bible Difficulties – Question 12

There are a number of areas of difficulty that we face as we attempt to understand and interpret the Scripture. This is not surprising seeing that the books of Scripture were written between two and four thousand years ago in a different culture, and in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Consequently, we encounter a number of areas that are difficult for us to understand in our day and age.

Some of these difficulties include the following:

1. There Is the Problem of Time Between the Biblical Events and Today

One of the basic reasons we find difficulties in Scripture is simply the problem of time. The various books of the Bible were written from two to four thousand years ago in an era that has long passed into history. Consequently there is a time gap that needs to be bridged.

2. The Meaning of Words and Phrases Is Problematic

The problem of language also comes into play when we read the Scripture. Most of us who read the Bible are not native Hebrew or Greek speakers, neither are most of us Jewish. Even those who speak modern Greek or modern Hebrew are still separated by two to four thousand years of history in which the meaning of words and phrases change. Since we are not first-century readers of the original languages, problems can and do occur when we attempt to understand the meaning of some words and phrases. Many of our problems result in our lack of understanding of the idioms of the day.

Incomplete knowledge of words and expressions can cause us difficulty in interpreting Scripture. This is especially true in the Old Testament where some of the words used are found only once in Scripture and nowhere else in the Hebrew language. This can create doubt as to their exact meaning.

3. There Are Translational Misunderstandings

Some of the difficulties we encounter are not really there; they are based upon a wrong understanding of the translation of a text. It is also possible that a particular translation a person is using has an unfortunate translation of a particular text. This is why every reader should have, if possible, at least three Bible translations to consult. At times, simply reading a different translation of Scripture will clear up a difficulty.

4. We Find Grammatical Difficulties in the Bible

There are also some difficulties that are due to the grammatical construction in the original language. The more technical commentaries can help explain these grammatical difficulties.

5. There Are Cultural Difficulties in Scripture

The lack of understanding of the historical situation is another source of difficulty. Since biblical events took place in a different cultural setting, than for those living in the Western world, those of us in the West need to understand some of the cultural background to help us with the interpretation.

6. There Are Certain Textual Difficulties in Scripture

Some of the difficulties in Scripture are due to questions about how the text should read. But this is mainly true in the Old Testament. The New Testament text is very secure.

7. Scripture Records Changing Circumstances

The difficulties are sometimes due to the changing circumstances found in the different passages. For example, the Bible says that everything was originally created good. The Book of Genesis reads:

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way. This all happened on the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31 NLT)

Yet, after humanity sinned against God (Genesis 3), things were no longer good. What was true before the fall of humanity was not necessarily true after the fall because of the changed circumstances. When we read the Bible, we must appreciate that what was true at one time was not necessarily true afterward.

There is also the record of laws that have been done away with. The New Testament says of these Old Testament laws:

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17 NASB)

The interpreter needs to recognize the progressive character of God’s revelation. God may add or change certain things He previously revealed. For example, the Old Testament forbids the people to eat pork. This commandment is rescinded in the New Testament. Paul wrote the following about false teachers who commanded people to abstain from, or not eat, certain foods:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1-3 NKJV)

While Old Testament believers were forbidden to eat certain foods, this is not the case with New Testament believers. Failure to recognize that God has revealed His Word progressively will cause all sorts of problems with interpretation, and will cause the reader to assume there are contradictions where there are none.

8. The Bible Uses Different Names for the Same People

Sometimes we find the Bible using a number of different names for the same person. This feature can certainly cause the reader difficulty. In some translations, such as the King James Version, the same name is spelled a number of different ways. This can add to the confusion.

9. There Are Different Methods of Calculation

There is also the problem of the biblical writers using different methods of calculating the years. These different methods of calculation can cause apparent discrepancies. It seems that the Northern Kingdom of Israel used a different method in calculating the reign of their kings than the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

10. The Numbers Are Sometimes Rounded Off

When Scripture records numbers, it often rounds them off. Again, we must be careful to understand the author’s intent when he gives us a particular number. Sometimes the number will be exact, but there are other occasions where the writer is speaking in a general manner and rounding off the number—he does not expect the number given to be accepted as the actual amount. Unless this is understood, there will seemingly be a discrepancy.

11. We Must Discover Whether Something Was Topical or Chronological

There is also the issue in which the way the material is presented in Scripture. Sometimes a writer follows a more topical outline than a chronological one. This has caused some to believe there is a discrepancy between two accounts. However, we need to take into consideration the fact that one author may be giving us a chronology of events while another author lists the same events in a topical manner. There is no discrepancy when an author states the same truth as another author but uses a different method in communicating that truth.

12. There Was Selectivity among the Authors

In addition, each biblical author is selective in the material he records. John made this clear about the gospel he wrote:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 ESV)

From this statement we understand that the author is only giving us a partial report of what he knows to be true. Therefore, when he records a story about Jesus that is found in another gospel, we should not expect him to tell us every detail that the other gospel writer records. The points that he mentions are those that fit his purpose. The omission of certain details, that other authors may include, does not indicate that he is disagreeing with that author.

13. The Authors May Record the Same Event Differently; It Shows There Was No Collusion

The fact that there are difficulties and apparent contradictions between the authors of the Bible shows there was no collusion among them. Whenever multiple people report an event, there will be differences in their accounts—since no two people see everything exactly the same. Yet those who witness an event will tell the same basic account. The only differences we should expect to find are in the incidental details. This is exactly what we find in Scripture. Differing accounts of the same event are not necessarily false accounts. The difference can simply be one of perspective.

An example of this selectivity is found in the genealogy in Exodus 6:13-27. In this passage only three of the twelve sons of Jacob are listed (Reuben, Simeon, and Levi). This is because the author’s purpose is to emphasize two particular descendants of Levi—Moses and Aaron. Therefore, he goes no further and does not list the other people in the genealogy. Again, it is the author’s purpose in highlighting Moses and Aaron that caused him to stop at Levi when he listed the sons of Jacob.

14. We Must Determine Whether the Bible Is Approving or Merely Recording the Event

Another concern is determining whether the writer is endorsing a statement, or event, or merely narrating it. Narrating misconduct does not make one responsible for the actions, nor is it an endorsement of that conduct. There are times in which the Scripture accurately records sinful acts without applauding the deeds. The Bible gives an accurate picture of the lives of its characters, and often this includes recording their evil actions. The life of King David is an example of this. His great deeds of faith are recorded alongside his murder and adultery. The entire picture is given for us with nothing whitewashed.

There are many occasions in Scripture where the author tells what happened without giving any commentary on the matter. Silence should not be regarded as approval. Recording some evil deed is not the same as authorizing it. Because the Bible does not commend everything that it records, we must always study carefully the context of the particular statement or act. When this is done, many of the problems and difficulties will simply vanish.

Even when interpreted properly, the Bible does contain a number of difficulties. However, these difficulties, once understood, do not prevent the reader from understanding the teaching of Scripture.

Summary – Question 12
What Type of Difficulties Do We Find in Scripture?

There are many areas in Scripture that cause the reader difficulty. These include the following: The problem of distance between the original authors, and us—at a minimum there has been nineteen hundred years from the last biblical book that was written until today.

The exact meaning of words and phrases also make interpretation difficult. There are also translational misunderstandings that can cause difficulties.

Problems of grammar also complicate proper interpretation. Cultural difficulties can cause problems in interpretation. There are difficulties in the text as it stands.

Scripture also gives examples of changing historical circumstances. We also find different names used for the same people. Another Bible difficulty is the different methods for calculating years. Numbers in the Scripture are often rounded off. This feature can cause difficulty.

There is also the question of the author narrating in a topical, or chronological, manner. The fact that the authors are selective in what they record also causes difficulty. Finally, there is the issue of determining whether the author is approving the statement, or event, or merely recording it.

All of these are difficult areas. They must be carefully looked at for a proper understanding of what the biblical author is attempting to say. However, these difficulties do not constitute contradictions. Once understood, these difficulties can be removed, and the text can be accurately interpreted.

What Are the Various Ways in Which Believers Approach Difficulties in Scripture? ← Prior Section
How Should Specific Difficulties Be Evaluated? Next Section →
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