Very frequently, I come across a passage in my Bible reading that disturbs or confuses me. With God’s help, I’ve come up with a process that seems to work for me. It aims to provide the best and most honest understanding of the text while dealing with any potential bias.
- Pray: Ask God for help, guidance and honesty as well as a successful study of His word. If you are not a Christian, pray to your God. If you don’t believe in God, move on.
- Read and reread the passage – in context – while making note of interesting points, details and questions. Ask who, what, when, why and how. If the passage has parallels (e.g. some passages in the Gospels, Torah or Chronicles, check out the parallels too). Read other biblical passages you need in order to make sense of what you are reading.
- Get Help: Get some extra-biblical data in the form of commentaries or articles and make note of your findings. Make sure you read some skeptic arguments if you can find them.
- Reread the text and edit or add to your notes from 1 using what you find out from extra-biblical sources. By this point, things should be much clearer.
- Look for examples of God’s love and care for members of his community especially weaker groups like women, children, foreigners, widows, orphans and the poor.
- Look for examples of God’s hatred or malevolence or other undesirable traits especially towards weaker groups like women and foreigners.
- Play the skeptic: Take some time to formulate an argument against God or the Bible (or for God and the Bible if you’re not Christian) from all your findings taking care to anticipate your opponents’ rebuttals and remembering to consider the data from 5 and 6. Make sure you put down something even if you cannot make a very strong argument. That might be of some help if you go over your notes.
- Rebut the skeptic making attempt to be honest in your use of your findings, making sure to answer points from 5 and 6.
- Come to a conclusion and write it down.
- If this process does not help you come to a conclusion, repeat steps 1 to 3 using different translations of the Bible and more extra-biblical sources. Try to find some context for the passage externally and then repeat steps 4 to 8. Do this as often as you need to or until you get tired.
Here are some examples of tough passages I’ve studied: