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How Should We View Bible Difficulties?

Understanding Difficulties in the Bible

Every careful student and thoughtful reader of the Bible will acknowledge the words of the Apostle Peter concerning the Scriptures, recognizing that there are indeed some things in them that are hard to understand. Peter specifically mentions Paul’s letters, saying, “as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16, UASV). If this was true for Peter, how much more so for us, who are 2,000 years removed from the original context and of a different language and culture?

Who among us has not encountered passages in the Bible that puzzled us, or even led us to question whether the Bible is truly the Word of God? There are passages that seem impossible to reconcile with others and statements that appear incompatible with the belief that the entire Bible is of divine origin and absolutely inerrant.

Facing and Understanding Biblical Difficulties

It is neither wise nor honest to attempt to conceal the fact that these difficulties exist. Instead, it is both wise and honest to face them directly and consider them thoughtfully.

The Nature of the Bible

The first thing to understand about these difficulties is that, from the very nature of the Bible, difficulties are to be expected. The Bible is a revelation of the mind, will, character, and being of an infinitely great, perfectly wise, and absolutely holy God. This revelation is given to finite beings who are imperfect in intellectual development and consequently in knowledge, and who are also imperfect in character and thus in spiritual discernment. Even the wisest man, measured on the scale of eternity, is only a babe, and the holiest man compared to God is an infant in moral development.

Therefore, by necessity, there must be difficulties in such a revelation. When finite beings attempt to understand the infinite, difficulty is inevitable. When the ignorant contemplate the utterances of one perfect in knowledge, there must be many things hard to be understood, and some things that appear absurd to their immature and inaccurate minds. When beings whose moral judgments are imperfect listen to the demands of an absolutely holy Being, they are bound to be staggered at some of His demands and dealings, which may appear too severe, stern, and harsh.

Expecting Difficulties

It should not surprise us that there are difficulties in the Bible. What would be more surprising is if there were none. The Bible is not a simple book that can be fully understood as easily as the multiplication table. Instead, it is a profound revelation that invites deep engagement and reflection. If someone handed us a book as simple as a multiplication table and claimed it was the Word of God, revealing His whole will and wisdom, we would be right to be skeptical. A true revelation of infinite wisdom must contain things that are hard for beginners to understand, and we are all but beginners in comparison to God's infinite knowledge.

Difficulties Do Not Disprove Doctrine

A difficulty or grave objection to a doctrine does not prove the doctrine untrue. Many people think that it does, but this is illogical. They encounter a difficulty in believing in the divine origin and absolute inerrancy of the Bible and immediately conclude that the doctrine is false. This is not reasonable or fair. In science, there are many doctrines that were accepted despite grave difficulties, because the positive arguments for them were so strong. Similarly, we must be willing to accept well-attested truths in the Bible even if there are difficulties we cannot currently reconcile.

Overcoming Superficial Reading

Many difficulties in the Bible have more weight with superficial readers than with profound students. Superficial readers may find these difficulties immense, but those who have learned to meditate on the Word of God day and night find them less significant. George Müller, who studied the Bible more than one hundred times, was not disturbed by any difficulties he encountered. For those who are reading the Bible for the first or second time, there may be many things that perplex and stagger.

Careful and Prayerful Study

Difficulties rapidly disappear upon careful and prayerful study. Many things in the Bible that once puzzled us have since been perfectly cleared up. Every year of study finds these difficulties disappearing more and more rapidly. At first, they go by ones, then by twos, then by dozens, and eventually by scores. It is reasonable to suppose that the difficulties that remain will also disappear upon further study.

Practical Principles for Handling Bible Difficulties

1. Different Points of View: Sometimes, different writers of the Bible write from different perspectives. Understanding these perspectives can help reconcile apparent contradictions.

2. Contextual Understanding: Study the context and framework of the verse carefully to establish what the author meant by the words he used. This involves finding the beginning and the end of the context that the passage falls within.

3. Exegesis: Find the historical setting, determine the author's intent, study key words, and note parallel passages. Slow down and carefully read the account, considering exactly what is being said.

4. Harmonization: Find a reasonable harmonization of parallel passages. This involves considering how different passages fit together in a coherent whole.

5. Consult Reliable Sources: Consider a variety of trusted Bible commentaries, dictionaries, lexical sources, encyclopedias, and books on Bible difficulties. These resources can provide valuable insights and explanations.

6. Transmission Errors: Investigate whether the difficulty is a transmission error in the original text. Remember that while the Bible is without error in its original manuscripts, errors may have crept in through the process of copying.

7. Literary Styles: The Bible contains diverse literary styles, including narrative, poetic, prophetic, and apocalyptic, as well as parables, metaphors, similes, hyperbole, and other figures of speech. Understanding these styles helps avoid misinterpretations.

8. Levels of Exactness: Understand the level of exactness that the Bible intends. For example, rounded numbers are not meant to be precise.

9. Historical and Cultural Context: Our knowledge of the history, geography, and customs of Bible times is often incomplete. This lack of knowledge can create difficulties in understanding the text.

10. Moral and Spiritual Perception: Our own moral and spiritual perception can be dull. The more we grow in our spiritual understanding, the fewer difficulties we will encounter.


The difficulties in the Bible arise from our imperfection, not from the imperfection of the Bible. As we grow more into the perfection of God, our difficulties with the Bible will diminish. We must approach the Bible with honesty, humility, determination, fearlessness, patience, and prayer. By doing so, we will find that the apparent difficulties will dissolve, and the truth of God's Word will shine clear.

About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).



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