The Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates.
These are the four rivers that flowed out of the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:10–14). They are emblazoned on my memory. Why? When I was fifteen, I became a Christian through the ministry of Young Life. A year later, my Young Life leader left to lead the same ministry in another state. I hadn’t joined a local church yet, and so I was left churchless and mentorless. In his absence, I figured I should do my best to learn what the Bible taught since I was now a Christian. So, I started reading in Genesis, taking notes as I went. I stopped at chapter 3, because in that chapter I encountered a talking snake. I was vexed. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe the truthfulness of the Bible. Instead, I had simply reached a difficult part and didn’t know how to understand it appropriately. That simple but difficult passage derailed my focused Bible study until I finally joined a local church during my second year of college.
My story highlights the importance of learning what to do when you encounter difficult passages in the Bible. The Bible is a majestic and large book, covering centuries of time and numerous cultures. It’s been said that the Bible is a book wherein a child can wade and an elephant can swim. If you are a Christian, for the rest of your life you will come across passages in the Bible that will require you to do the hard work of studying in order to understand them. To that end, how should you proceed when you reach a Bible passage that you simply don’t understand?
Don’t Go There
Imagine for a moment that you’ve just run across a difficult part of Scripture. You’re like a tourist who has lost his way. Which way do you turn? What street do you go down? First, let me point out a few of the places you shouldn’t go.
Be extra careful with Google. I know. It’s so easy. It’s so tempting. You think, “Google tells me where to go when I’m physically lost; why can’t it help when I’m lost in the Bible?” The problem is that Google only shows you what’s popular; it cannot differentiate between sites that provide truth and sites that provide ignorance. Avoid your natural impulse to click the first link that appears in a search. There are good websites out there to find answers, but you have to be discerning.
Be discerning about social media. This is a good rule of thumb: If the resource you’re considering for Bible study contains cat videos, it shouldn’t be trusted for serious study.
Not all study Bibles are created equal. I see it time and time again as a pastor. Someone is converted. They want to start studying the Bible. They go to the local bookstore and pick up the first study Bible they see. They assume that the proximity of the study notes to Holy Writ makes the study notes somehow more accurate and trustworthy. Good study Bibles (like this one) are amazing and rare, but bad study Bibles are criminal.
Most software base packages are base for a reason. This is very similar to the study Bible rule above. With online Bible study tools so readily available, many folks will commit to a software product and its base package of commentaries, assuming that they have struck hermeneutical gold. Probably not. There is a reason that the base packages are “free” with the software. Usually they’re mediocre (although Logos has done an excellent job with its base Reformed package).
These Are Your Friends
I’m going to guess that at least one of the resources above has at one time been your go-to resource for difficult passages. If so, don’t get frustrated yet. Let me show you where you should go if you get stuck on a particular Bible passage. These resources are your friends.