Dealing With Tough Passages

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Look for examples of God’s hatred or malevolence or other undesirable traits especially towards weaker groups like women and foreigners.
  7. 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.
  8. Rebut the skeptic making attempt to be honest in your use of your findings, making sure to answer points from 5 and 6.
  9. Come to a conclusion and write it down.
  10. 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:

Deuteronomy 25:11, 12
God Hardens Pharaoh’s Heart
Abraham and Child Sacrifice

Comparing Hebrew and Foreign Slaves in the Books of the Law

Bitter Water Test for an Unfaithful Wife

7 thoughts on “Dealing With Tough Passages”

  1. What did I think of your post?

    Well, I feel sorry for you. It seems not to have occurred to you that the Bible is a collection of the myths and legends of a desert-dwelling group of superstitious people. This collection was compiled over a period of several hundred years between two and three thousand years ago,

    The God portrayed in this collection of stories is a vengeful, malicious, self-obsessed, mind-changing, slavery-condoning psychopath, and yet you seek his help to understand his warped ways better. He is also twisted enough to make it very difficult for any thinking person to believe in him, while promising eternal damnation if we don’t believe in him.

    You have a brain (which presumably you believe God gave you). Use it! I don’t know for certain whether or not there is some form of superior being, but, if there is, it can it really be be the foul being portrayed in the Christian Bible?

    1. You’re absolutely right. In all my years, I have never once contemplated the things you have discovered. Instead, I have staunchly laid aside my reasoning abilities to hold something which other unthinking people like me have held – all the way from Pascal and Descartes, Alvin Plantinga.

      Thank you, wise elder, for opening my eyes.

      1. Ouch! Nobody that I know has ever called me a ‘wise elder’ before. I have to admit that I am elderly, but I am not so sure about the ‘wise’.

        If I have, as you say, opened your eyes, remember that all I have done is suggested that you use your powers of reasoning. I happen to believe that there is no god, but I cannot prove that there isn’t one, any more than I can prove that there isn’t a small teapot or a flying spaghetti monster circling the earth.

        What my reasoning does tell me is that, if there were a god, he/she/it would not be the irrational, cruel being of the Jewish Torah, the Christian Bible, the Muslim Qur’an, the Book of Mormon or any of the other books written by human beings .For a start, any god who created humans mainly so that we could spend all our lives praising and glorifying him/her/it seems to have a bit of a personality problem. And if that is really what he/she/it wanted, wouldn’t you think he/she/it would have made it a little bit easier for us to believe? Why does he/she/it reveal him/he/itself to us only by speaking from a burning bush to a Jewish nomad, by being born to the (virgin!) fiancee of a Jewish carpenter, by speaking to an illiterate Arab peasant in a cave, by presenting golden plates (which later disappear) to a convicted American fraudster? You’d think a god could do better than that.

      2. I was being sarcastic. But since you chose to ask all those questions at once, which one do you want an answer to first? You do want an answer, right? You’re not just asking them

  2. You were being sarcastic? And there was I boasting to all my hundreds of atheist friends that with just one post of 160 words I had converted a life-long believer. Ah well, back to the drawing board.

    If you think you can answer them, I’d be happy to read what you have to say, Take them in any order you like.

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