The Hard Work of Bible Study

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Often when I converse with people about such topics as the interpretation of the book of the Revelation I encounter objections such as, “It is too difficult for me to understand,” or, “I am a simple person and cannot grasp these kinds of things,” or, “I have never understood the Revelation and I don’t think that I ever will.” I certainly sympathise with such stated sentiments. The study of certain passages of Scripture are challenging indeed. I think especially of the Old Testament prophetic material, as well as that which deals with the end of the Jewish age as depicted in Matthew 24, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and, again, the Revelation. These portions of Scripture are filled with challenging imagery, obscure statements, and complicated metaphor coupled with historical illusions. We are tempted to wonder if we are sufficiently informed to be able to work through these difficult passages. Who of us is able to grasp God’s purpose in revealing them? In fact, in our moments of frustration we might think, “Is this really a revelation from God or is it a divine concealment that I will never understand?”

I submit that these frustrations are real in experience but should not dilute our commitment to study the text in order to get to the bottom of what these words teach. I fear that we too easily dismiss contemplative, hard digging into the text of God’s Word and that, in the end, our indolence is inexcusable.

I recently read The Word of God in English by Leland Ryken. I consider it one of the best books that I have ever read. It is characterised by a well-presented and clear argument with regard to the issue of modern Bible translations, especially with reference to the important question of how to choose one. It is by far the best book I have read on that particular subject.

Ryken highlights numerous fallacies that many assume with regard to what is a good translation. For most, the issue today surrounds the question of readability and comprehension. That is, most are looking for a Bible that takes away all difficulties when trying to understand its meaning. Ryken argues that this is completely wrongheaded for, in point of fact, the Bible is a book that is difficult to understand. And it is difficult because God intended it to be so! If God had wanted all of Scripture to be easily understood, He would have produced such a book. Obviously, He did not do so.

So, why are there passages in Scripture that are so difficult to understand? Is it because God is seeking to drive readers away? I believe that the opposite is actually the case. In fact, a major reason for the difficulty of understanding some passages is because of God’s desire that believer seek Him with devotion and dedication. And this seeking is, by nature, an action that demands effort.

Consider mining houses, which invest plenty of money and effort over the long haul because they expect a large return on their investment. So must it be for the believer. It may not cost you much money (though you may need to invest in some good books), but it will certainly require the expenditure of much intellectual, spiritual, and even emotional and physical energy to discover the nuggets of truth gleaned from the vein of God’s Word.

My firm conviction is that we often give up in our quest to understand the difficult passages of Scripture and hence we adopt emotional positions with regards to supposed biblical teachings. That is, we haven’t a clue as to why we believe what we say we believe, but we hold tenaciously to these “beliefs” anyway. At the risk of offence, this is irresponsible and sets us up to be led astray. We need look no further than the cults that have ensnared so many to see the truth of this premise. And sadly, even within evangelicalism, this is often a repeated scene. The result is that we see well- meaning yet clueless believers holding to untenable and virtually unexplainable convictions.

I would appeal to you to commit yourself to seeking light from God with regards to passages with which you have providentially been confronted. Refuse to be content with the attitude of, “I will never understand ______.” This attitude will cut you off from some wonderful treasures and will hinder you from being able to point others to the truth. Do the hard work of digging, praying, meditating, researching, and reading, and you will find in the end that your abilities are far more proficient than you realise. These are not days in which we can afford to be lazy or flabby in our thinking. Let us be committed to knowing all that the Lord intends for us to know this side of eternity (see Deuteronomy 29:29).

May the Lord be pleased to make us a people that digs for the gold that lies under the surface of His Word. Since all of God’s Word is profitable, let us explore until we profit from it.

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