“Navigating a Difficult Text”Categories: Christian Living, Encouragement, Joshuah Ellis, Theology
I know we have all been there. You’ve just finished your Bible reading and the only thought that is swimming around in your head is, “what?” Maybe it was the word usage. Perhaps you were reading about a complex concept. It could have even been the style of writing that tripped you up. While I am by no means the authority on interpreting biblical text, I do think there are some things we can keep in mind while studying our Bible that might help us get through some of these more difficult passages.
1. Start with what you know. This is a favorite method of mine when teaching Bible class. We have a tough passage, there might even be more questions than answers, but what do we know for sure? Generally, when we make it a priority to start there, it reduces the temptation to make assumptions that are not really supported by the text.
2. Remember the context. Context goes beyond who was writing and to whom. Those are important pieces of information to have but there are other questions to ask as well. Where did the audience live and is their culture a factor? Why was this being written? Is the author answering a question, correcting, rebuking, teaching or prophesying? And, the list could go on, but these should get you started.
3. Use another version of the Bible. Other translations are a huge asset to us and most of them can be accessed for free online. www.biblegateway.com is a favorite of mine, and from there you can access every version of the Bible on the planet. Look at one verse but from a handful of translations. At the very least, you should get a better idea as to what you are reading. Bonus: This website also has a great Bible dictionary/lexicon that can be very useful.
4. Consider commentaries. I almost hesitate to include this. However, commentaries can be a helpful tool. I would always advise caution however and suggest that the commentary is your last, and I mean very last resort to be used, and only after you have studied the passage on your own for a while. Even then, make sure that any information derived from commentaries is supported by the text rather than a human ideology.
5. Take some time away. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to step away from a text for a while only to find that when I returned, it was like the lightbulb went off. Sometimes we just need fresh eyes when looking at something. At the very least, a break can give you some time to pray about what you are reading and really let it sink in.
I hope you found this list useful. I am sure there are other suggestions I could have added. Leave a comment below with your methods for navigating difficult passages.