In the first few posts in this series, we covered the Why’s of Bible study, tips for starting an inductive study, and tips for doing deductive, topical, and words studies.
This post will address understanding difficult passages.
No matter what method you prefer or how you go about reading and studying Scripture, you will encounter passages that you just don’t understand. Thankfully, there are several ways to approach this situation.
The first and most important is to pray. Ask God to open your eyes to behold wondrous things from His Word. (Psa 119:18) Ask for the Holy Spirit to soften your heart to receive God’s Word and to give you the humble mind of Christ (see Phil 2:5-8) so that your studies will be fruitful and wise and that you can glean truth.
I really like John Piper’s words regarding the Holy Spirit’s role in studying difficult passages:
“When we pray for his help, we do not pray that he will spare us the hard work of rigorous reading and reflection. What we pray is that he would make us humble enough to welcome the truth. The work of the Spirit in helping us grasp the meaning of Christ’s manual of operation is not to make study unnecessary but to make us radically open to receive what our study turns up, instead of twisting the text to justify our unwillingness to accept it.” (For the entire article click here.)
After praying, it’s time to dig.
If you have a study Bible, use it to your advantage. Study Bibles usually include book outlines or descriptions preceding each Book (which can help put a difficult passage in context), notes to explain or expand verses, cross-references to other passages, a concordance, maps, a topical index, and additional charts and tables that may enhance your understanding. If you do not have a study Bible, there are a few online. Or, you can use websites for study that contain these tools.
I do love books, but I only have so much room on my shelves. Are you the same? Or perhaps you’re just getting involved in deep digging and don’t have many resources of your own yet. Take heart! We are so blessed to live in a modern world with conveniences galore. The average American has a vast supply of resources readily available online. Most are free.
As I mentioned in my last post, Biblehub.com is one of my very favorite sites. If you are looking for a great site that is user-friendly and contains parallel texts, commentaries, lexicons, and more, I recommend you take a look at Biblehub.
Whether you choose to use physical books, or a website, there are a few helps that you should familiarize yourself with. Some of these I’ve mentioned in the past posts, but I’ll expound on them a bit more. Here are some practical steps to take when you come to a difficult passage:
- Read the passage several times, focusing on the words and phrasing
- Look up any words in an English dictionary that you don’t understand
- Read the notes (if applicable) regarding the verse or verses in your study Bible
- Read the same passage in a variety of translations (called parallel texts)
- Use the cross references and concordance to expand your knowledge and understanding of the topic of your passage
- Use a Bible Dictionary to look up a specific word to gain the Biblical definition (which is sometimes different from the secular English definition)
- Read the passage (or difficult words) in the original language using a Hebrew or Greek Interlinear translation or a lexicon. (This is also available online.)
- Read commentaries on the passage. Remember, commentaries represent the views of other humans and are not the inspired, holy Word of God. However, they are typically written by individuals who have devoted their lives to examining and understanding the Scriptures. At the very least they are helpful in aiding our understanding.
- Look into the historical context of the passage. This can often be accomplished through commentaries, but outside history sources can also be useful.
Like I mentioned, most of these steps can be accomplished on biblehub. (And just a note, I have no affiliation with that site, I’m just a happy user!) Biblehub is so convenient because it has so many tools all in one location. There are a few tutorials on Youtube that guide you through the use of biblehub. I make apologies to you because I hesitate to recommend any one in particular since I haven’t watched any all the way through.
As always, keep in mind that studying the Bible should always be about growing your relationship with God and maturing your faith. It is never just about gaining head knowledge, but is always about matters of the heart. If you’re looking for reasons to study the Bible, click here.
Please let me know if any of these tips have helped you, or which ones you already use and find helpful!
Praying for fruit and blessings as you study His Word!