Handling the Hard Passages, Part 1

Abner Chou | November 28, 2017


We all get embarrassed sometimes. Whether it be by a messy house, a family member, or a quirky habit. To try and diffuse our embarrassment, we do things like stuffing our messes in a closet when company is on the way, or cropping the offending family member out of our profile pictures. We want to hide these embarrassing things because we believe they would make us seem to be less than we are.

We can have the same mentality about handling the hard passages or doctrines in Scripture. People like to argue about six-day creation, election, or certain laws in the Old Testament. They say they are contradictory or morally objectionable. How could God do that?

Unfortunately, we treat these hard passages just like the things that embarrass us. We often want to diffuse the situation and do some so-called “damage control.” Just like with a quirky habit or a messy house, the reason we do this is because we believe those questions are beneath us.

However, that should not be. All of God’s Word is profitable and it is authoritative truth. It stands above us and convicts us, not the other way around (Heb 4:13). We need a better way to think through these “difficult” issues.

Before thinking through various examples, we need to think through some fundamental issues about these texts. That will give us some important perspective in handling these texts well.

Hard Passages Are Good

First, we need to have the right goal in dealing with these “hard” passages. We do not want to merely show that a doctrine is not that bad. We can’t have an attitude like, “eat your vegetables because they’re healthy for you even though they’re disgusting.” We don’t want to say, “Well, this doctrine is good for you even though I think it’s terrible.” We want to say with all confidence, “this is a good doctrine.” We want to demonstrate that, like all of Scripture, these “hard” passages are beautiful and necessary. We have nothing to be ashamed about in the Scripture.

Answering Hard Passages is Not About Winning

Second, we need to remember that learning to handle “hard” passages is notabout winning debates. You can lose a debate and be right. Sometimes debates are determined by who can yell the loudest, speak the fastest, think quickest, rattle off a bunch of arguments, and execute the greatest rhetorical tactics.

Well, when you lose a debate on those grounds, you didn’t lose based on content, you lost a debate based on strategy. That doesn’t prove that you’re right or wrong. Conversely, you can win a debate and lose your witness. If you win a debate with cheap tactics, you might have won the argument but you lost the cause. Winning the argument and dishonoring Christ is a loss. Answering the hard questions is about witness, not just about winning a debate.

Studying Hard Passages Takes Time And Effort

Third, we need to understand is that the hard questions require patience. In debates, people often don’t want to take the necessary time to understand the issue at hand. One way to respond is to slow them down and say, “Hey, I think what you’ve asked is a really great question and I want to work through that with you, but that might take some time. I’m willing to put in the time to work through this with you. Are you willing to do the same?”

We need to remind ourselves about this as well. We need to invest time and effort into grappling with these passages. As soon as we start to talk about learning and studying, inevitably, somebody will raise Deuteronomy 29:29 and the “secret things.” Can’t we just say that and be done with it? But there’s another phrase in Deuteronomy 29:29, “But the things revealed belong to you and your children to know and to do.” This passage is not a cop out to study. Yes, ultimately there are limits of how much we are going to know because we only know what God reveals. But we are responsible to know what He does reveal. We need to make sure we think through what God has said to the very depth He has established.

Handling Hard Passages Matters

When we encounter a difficult passage or doctrine, our goal is not to do damage control or even to win a debate. Rather, it is understanding the text as best we can. In the end, we will have to admit that we have limits and that glorifies God (Prov 25:2). At the same time, we want to put in the hard work to get as close as we can to hitting that limit of knowing all that God has revealed. Then, we will see that what we thought was “hard” is actually beautiful. And that brings tremendous glory to God.

Dr. Chou walks us through some specific hard passages in part 2 of this series.

Abner Chou avatar
Abner Chou began teaching Greek at The Master's University in 2004, and continues to teach both at the university and seminary. Ultimately, he aims for students to know the Word of God deeply, study it accurately, and be driven by it to live fully for the Kingdom.

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