That Cannot Mean That: How to Deal With Hard Passages of Scripture?

If you have been reading scripture for any length of time it probably didn’t take you too long to run across a few passages that made you think, “Did the Bible really just say that?”  There is no doubt that there are some scriptures that are hard to understand in our limited capacity.  After all, this is a book that was written ultimately by a holy, all knowing, and all powerful God.  We are none of the above.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”  How the trinity works, how election and predestination work together with man’s choice can all be hard things to understand.  However, there is a difference between something that is hard to understand and something that is hard to accept.  There are some scriptures that at first glance people may say, “I don’t like that,” but if we believe that “all scripture is God breathed” then God must have intended to have it in the canon of scripture.  So how are we to deal with these hard passages in scripture that we might say we don’t like?  I believe that there are several principles we should employ when reading (and teaching) these texts.  Let’s use Psalm 137 as an example . . .

By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion.  Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How can we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom The day of Jerusalem, Who said, “Raze it, raze it To its very foundation.” O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you With the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes Your little ones against the rock.  

Read and teach them in their context:

If the motto for real estate is “location, location, location” then the motto for scripture interpretation should be “context, context, context.”   The first eight verses of this Psalm are a beautiful, yet sad picture of the feelings of many of the Jews who were being led into exile from Judah to Babylon.  This was a horrible time for the Jewish people.  If you read Jeremiah or Lamentation you can get a picture of the horrors of the situation.  The first eight verses fit that situation nicely, but then we read verse 9.  If you are anything like me, I was taken aback by it the first time I read it.  After seeking the Lord, and reading commentaries on it, I came to understand it better in light of its full context.  The Psalmist is not calling for Israel to do this but rather calling for justice and retribution from God upon this nation.  In reality, this would actually be merciful for God to kill the children of this pagan nation.  If he were to kill the children in their state of “innocence” then their ultimate eternity would be in heaven, I believe (Why We Believe that Babies Who Die go to Heaven – Albert Mohler) rather than the place (Hell) that many of the youth and adults will end up for denying God.  So, while it may not be a pleasant picture that comes to our minds, we can understand it much better when put into its proper context.

Read and teach them as an ambassador and not an author:

We must always remember who’s book we are reading when we read the Bible.  It is not an ambiguous book that we can just have it say what we want it to say.  We cannot read into a text what we want it to say (eisegesis), but we must take out of the text that which God intended to say in the text (exegesis).  God does not need you to defend Him, but rather to be faithful to Him. It is always tempting to try to make a hard text say something that it does not by trying to “soften” it.  Revelation gives a very strong warning about adding to or taking away from God’s word.  This is why we must remember that we are simply delivers of God’s word, and not the writers of it.  This is why study is important.  This is why prayer is important.  This is one of the roles the Holy Spirit has, to give us the interpretation of a text.  The text is God’s text, not ours.  We must always be faithful to what it says, and not try to make something up that will make you feel better about it.

Read and teach them with humility:

            When dealing with one of these hard texts it is important to deal with it with humility.  God’s ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  We need to be thankful that God has graciously revealed himself to us so as to even be able to start to comprehend the truth of who He is.  When we step back and remember that He is God, and we are not.  He is sovereign, and we are not.  He is all powerful and full of complete wisdom, and we are extremely limited in these areas.  We do not have to know everything about God to trust him and know that He is good.  When you come to a text that you just cannot wrap your mind around simply humbly admit it and ask the Lord to give you understanding.  Remember Deuteronomy 29:29 and (if He does not give you understanding) humbly say that you may not completely comprehend all the complexities of God, that you can trust that He is good, and rest in the fact that “ . . . all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

If you read scripture often you will run upon these texts from time to time.  When you do, don’t fret.  Simply read it in its full context, remember that you are the messenger and not the writer of the message, and read it with humility.  God does not need you to defend his scripture, but simply to believe it and obey it.  In doing so, you can trust in the character of the God who wrote it . . . remembering that He is good, He is just, and He is kind.  Just because we may not like what it says, does not mean that it is not for our good.  Do you remember that bad tasting medicine you had to take when you were a kid?  You didn’t like it then, but it was good for you.  When reading a text you may not like, just remember that in the end . . . it is best.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B Burrell

Don’t judge me . . . no wait, please do!

If you have been alive for more than 10 days, you have probably heard someone quote (or misquote) the most popular verse in all of scripture: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”  This verse is very popular among those who do not hold to Christianity, and certainly do not hold scripture to be a holy book.  This is also one that is popular among many Christians who do not always put scripture into its proper context.  With all the sin that is in the church, and the onslaught of moral and ethical issues facing our society today, I think it would do us well to understand what this scripture really means, and just who we are not supposed to judge, and who we are to judge . . . if anyone.

We are not to judge those outside the church:

Let me be clear about what I mean by this heading.  Paul writes in I Corinthians 5:12-13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?  But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”  Christians are not to judge those outside of the church.  We are to witness to outsiders, but not judge them.  Anyone that has been in church for any length of time will understand that we are all sinners.  God has made it clear that He is the judge of all, and those who are not found righteous will be judged for their sins.  So, in a way, those outside of the church are right when they say we should not judge them.  However, Christians understand the penalty for those who do not know the Lord and walk in sin and thus should always warn those who are walking a path contrary to God.  Warning and judging is not the same thing.

We are to judge those inside the church:

While most people understand that Christians are to witness to and not judge those outside the church, it gets a little more tricky and difficult with the responsibility of those within the church to help judge the body of Christ. This is something that is very foreign in many churches today. Scripture is clear that we are to hold each other accountable (Proverbs 27:6, Matthew 7:1-5, John 7:24, I Corinthians 5, Etc.).  It must always be done with humility and love.  However, we must realize that if done properly, judging each other is a healthy and good thing.  Often people want to say, “get that log out of your eye, before you get the spec out of mine.”  Those who say that often miss the word “before.”  Jesus was not saying to never call someone out on sin, but BEFORE you do, you need to make sure that you are clean of it as well.  The church has a responsibility to hold each other accountable for the way we live our lives (Matthew 18:15-20).  Church discipline (the final act of judgment from a church) is actually a loving thing.  It shows the person that is being disciplined that sin is a big deal, and has consequences.  It shows the church member the same thing. It is not loving to let someone continue in their sin without cautioning them.  It may not be easy to confront them, or seem loving . . . but to let someone willfully spit in the face of God by sinning and say nothing to them shows a type of hate for that person.  A word of correction is loving, if done humbly, wisely, and with care.

We will all be judged by a righteous judge:

Paul Washer was right when he said, “The most terrifying truth of all of Scripture is that God is Holy, and we are not.”  God is a righteous judge and must always judge righteously.  I have heard so many people say, “God is my only judge.” The scary thing is, everyone will go before the judge one day.  He will see one of two things when judging you.  He will see your piles and piles of sin that must be paid for with eternal hell, or He will see one that is righteous because Christ imputed it to them.  Christ paid for the sins of his people at the hand of the righteous judge already.  However, there is an impending judgment for those who do not know Him by faith.  He is a good and loving God, but He is also a good and just judge who must render a proper sentence.   My plea to anyone that is reading this is to get on the right side of the judge now, so that you do not have to bare His wrathful sentence later.

When I hear people say, “Don’t judge me.”  I know what most of them are thinking.  Nevertheless, I want to say, “Please judge me!”  It is not always easy to hear a corrective word, but as Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”  I want to live a life that is most pleasing to God.  To do this I need to be conformed to the image of Christ as much as possible.  One of the ways of doing this is to have other godly people look at my life, speak into it, and call me out (judge) if I am veering off the path.  So, we need to always take “Judge not, that you be not judged” in its proper context.  We do not need to judge those outside of the church, but need to share with them the gospel.  To those inside the church; we need to lovingly, humbly, and regularly examine ourselves and hold each other accountable to God’s word in a way that is both scriptural and practical.  So, again I say, “Please judge me!” If you find I am veering away from God’s righteous path, tell me . . . and I hope you are willing to do the same.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B Burrell