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The Blue Letter Bible

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

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Don Stewart
There are a number of areas of difficulty that we run into 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.Problem Of Distance

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.

2.The Meaning Of Words And Phrases

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 and 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 idiom of the day.

Incomplete Knowledge

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.Translational Misunderstandings

Some of the difficulties we encounter are artificial, based upon a wrong understanding of the English translation of a text. This is why every reader should have at least three English translations to consult. Often a difficulty will be cleared up by reading a different translation.

4.Grammatical Difficulties

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.Cultural Difficulties

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

6.Textual Difficulties

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

7.Changing Circumstances

The difficulties are sometimes due to the changing circumstances found in the different passages. For example, everything was originally created good.

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good (Genesis 1:31).

Yet after humanity sinned against God (Genesis 3) things were no longer good. What was true before the Fall 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.

Certain Laws Done Away With

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

Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16,17).

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 (see Acts 10; 1 Timothy 4:3). 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.Different Names And Methods

Sometimes we find the Bible using a number of different names for the same person. This feature can certainly cause the reader difficulty. In addition, there is also the problem of the biblical writers using different methods of calculating the years as well as the lengths of the reign of a king. These different methods of calculation can cause apparent discrepancies.

9.Numbers 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.

10.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.

11.Selectivity Of Authors

In addition, each biblical author is selective in the material he records. John wrote:

Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:30,31).

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 and the omission of certain details that other authors may include does not indicate that he is disagreeing with that other author or authors.

Old Testament Example

An example of this selectivity is found in the genealogy in Exodus 6:13-27 where only three of the twelve sons of Jacob are listed (Reuben, Simeon, and Levi). This is because the authors' purpose is to emphasize two particular descendants of Levi - Moses and Aaron. Therefore, he goes no further in listing 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.

12.Approving Or Recording?

Another concern is determining whether the writer is endorsing a statement or event or merely narrating it? Narrating misconduct does not make one responsible, 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.

No Comment

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.


There are many areas in Scripture that cause the reader difficulty. These include:

1. The problem of distance between us and the original authors.

The meaning of words and phrases.

Translational misunderstandings.

4. Problems of grammar.

Cultural difficulties.

Difficulties in the text.

Changing circumstances.

Different names for the same people. Different methods for calculating years.

9. The rounding off of numbers.

Narrating either in a topical or chronological manner.

Understanding the authors are selective in what they record.

Determining whether the author is approving the statement or event or merely recording it.

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