4.6 Why Is The Bible Confusing To So Many?
You could almost forgive someone for thinking that the Bible is
written in a way which almost invites us to misinterpret it. Take
what the Bible says about the devil as an example. The casual Bible
reader may open Matthew 4 and conclude that the devil is a person
who lives in deserts and tries to stop people being obedient to
God. And if he flicks over to Rev. 12, he will think that the devil
is a dragon who was thrown down from Heaven: because that's what
the Bible says. And Job 1 says satan was an Angel who talked to
God, presumably (to the careless reader) in Heaven, and then zapped
Job with problems. But we know that all this is actually not the
case, if you read the records carefully. Many times I can recall
doctrinal conversations with the likes of J.W.s where I want to
say: 'Yes, I know that's what it seems, I agree; but the general
teaching of the Bible, under the surface, is quite the
opposite. But until you give your heart to wanting to find
God's truth, that's how you'll always see it'. Thus the superficial
Bible reader will be deceived by God's word into believing things
which are a false Gospel; a system of understanding which has an
appearance of the Gospel, but which is actually an anti-Gospel
(cp. 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6). The fact that so many apparently sincere
Bible readers are so wrong shows that there is a power of delusion
at work greater than those people just making a few mistakes in
their Bible exposition. After all, how can we believe in
a 'trinity'? The Bible is so clearly against this idea. But millions
read their Bibles (after a fashion) and believe in the 'trinity'
idea. The super-human power of deceit which is at work is from God.
The hobbyists, the part-timers, those who in their hearts
are not wholeheartedly committed to God's Truth, are deceived.
And this leads me on to a serious issue. If we continue to treat
our spiritual lives on the 'hobby' level, God isn't indifferent.
The Bible then becomes confusing. When you or I meet a brother or
sister who clearly show little interest in daily studying the word
or in making the Truth the central thing in their lives, we may
be sad, we may gently plead with them, but at the end we can't do
anything else. " At the end of the day" , we say, "
it's their problem, I can't do any more" . And it's tempting
to think that God sees things likewise. But He doesn't. He isn't
passive to such indifference. He actively does something to those
who treat their relationship with Him as a hobby: He actively
deceives them. The idea of " the God of Truth" deceiving
people may seem strange at first. But consider the following evidence:
- God deceived prophets to speak things in His Name which were
actually false (1 Kings 22:20-22; Ez. 14:9). He chose Israel's
delusions by making their idols answer them (Is. 66:3,4). Jeremiah
feared God had deceived him (Jer. 20:7)- showing he knew
such a thing was possible. Dt. 13:1-3 warns Israel not to believe
prophets whose prophecies came true although they taught false
doctrines, because they may have been raised up to test their
obedience. God deceived Israel by telling them about the peace
which would come on Jerusalem in the future Kingdom; they didn't
consider the other prophecies which were given at the same
time concerning their imminent judgment, and therefore they
thought that God was pleased with them and was about to establish
the Messianic Kingdom; when actually the very opposite was about
to happen (Jer. 4:10). This is why the Bible is confusing.
- God gave Israel bad laws (referring to the Halachas?) so that
they would go further away from Him (Ez. 20:25). He must have
done this by inspiring men to say things which were genuinely
communicated by God, but which were false.
- The foolish heart of Israel was darkened by somebody, the Greek
implies (Rom. 1:21)- and because there is no devil, that person
- The Lord spoke in parables so that Israel would be deceived
(unless they made specific search of the meaning of the parable)
and therefore would not come to salvation. This fact is hard to
get round for those who feel God isn't responsible for
deception. Isaiah spoke likewise (Is. 6:9,10; 29:10,11). The Angels
will work in such a way as to allow the world to be deceived at
the end of the Millennium (Rev. 20:3,8).
- The apostate members of the ecclesia, both in Old and New Testaments,
sunk to the most unbelievable levels, but sincerely felt that
they were doing God's will. These things included killing righteous
prophets, turning the breaking of bread into a drunken orgy, and
turning prostitution within the ecclesia into a spiritual act.
For brethren to come to the conclusion that such things were the
will of God surely they were not just misinterpreting Scripture.
There was an extra-human power of delusion at work. And seeing
there is no devil, it must have been God.
- 2 Thess. 2:9-11 is the classic proof of this. This passage
explains clearly why the Bible is so confusing. God plagued the
first century ecclesia with false brethren who could work impressive
miracles; because " they received not the love of the truth
(they treated it as a hobby)...God shall send them strong delusion,
that they might believe a lie" . God deceived brethren in
the run up to AD70- it's that plain. And the events of AD70 are
typical of our last days.
- 2 Thess. 2 has many connections with the Olivet Prophecy. The
idea of brethren being deceived at the time of Christ's "
coming" connects with Mt. 24:5,11,24 describing 'the majority'
(Gk.) of the latter day ecclesia being " deceived" .
2 Thess. 2:11 says that this deception is sent by God because
they refuse to love the Truth. The conclusion is hard to avoid:
in our last days, the majority of us will be deceived because
we don't " love the truth" - it's no more than a hobby.
Whether we have yet reached that situation must remain an open
- God worked false miracles at the time of AD70, according to
2 Thess. 2:9-11. This means that the 'miracles' claimed by some
false religions may be actual miracles; God allows them to be
done because He wishes to deceive such people.
If we accept the above thesis, we can better understand why God
has allowed His word to be translated in such a way as seems almost
intended to mislead. We must all have pondered why exactly God allowed
" Gehenna" to be interpreted rather than transferred as
a proper noun; why nephesh was so misleadingly translated
" soul" in the AV; why " satan" wasn't translated
" adversary" as it should have been, etc. There are whole
verses whose translation in nearly all versions which might seem
to hopelessly confuse the seeker for truth (e.g. " Today shalt
thou be with me in paradise" , or " When he cometh into
the world, he saith...a body hast thou prepared me" , Lk. 23:46;
Heb. 10:5). Amazingly, these bad translations have never been a
serious impediment to even the most simple person who genuinely
wants to find the Truth. I find this nigh on a miracle. From
this alone it seems clear that the genuine seeker of Truth will
always find it, but the Bible is written in such a way, and its
translation has been over-ruled in such a way, as to deceive the
insincere or uncalled reader into thinking that they have found
the Truth when actually they haven't. Why is the Bible so
confusing? Here surely we have an answer.
Occasionally one meets the attitude amongst us that although other
religions do not have all the doctrinal truths which we have, they
are still sincere believers and we should treat them as such. The
impression is given that we should count ourselves as lucky that
we have greater doctrinal truths than them, but not think that such
differences affect their standing before God. But the fact is, if
you agree with the thesis presented above, the members of these
religions have been deceived by God into the doctrinal positions
they are in, and their deception is a sign of His displeasure with
their 'hobbyist' approach to Him.
It isn't only the apostate members of the world's false religions
who are deceived by God. Such deception can be frequently seen operating
in the weak Christian. Daily Bible reading is skipped, the breaking
of bread forgotten about (for those in isolation), prayer pushed
into the background, meals gulped down with no further thought for
the Father who provides, self-examination never tackled... and yet
the brother or sister feels they have come to a higher spiritual
level, whereby as they understand it even from the Bible
(e.g.) God quite understands if we marry out of the faith, or (e.g.)
they come to the 'realization' that actually friendship with the
world, or total commitment to our careers, is really serving God,
or that really, doctrine doesn't matter... And so their real fellowship
with God slips away, but they are convinced that actually
they are spiritually growing into a higher relationship with God.
God, working through their deceitful natures, has deceived them.
For this reason the Truth is in one sense the most dangerous thing
in the world. It can destroy us, blow us apart; God can terribly,
terribly deceive us, until at judgment day we gnash our teeth in
white hot rage against Him and ourselves (Is. 45:24). God has written
the Bible in such a way, whereby the majority of readers are deceived
by His way of writing into thinking that they have the Truth when
they don't. Once we appreciate this, the wonder of the
fact that we do have, in basic terms " the truth of the Gospel"
should really touch our hearts. The Truth is precious, very
precious, we must hold it like diamonds, study it, meditate upon
it, make it our life. For it will gloriously save us, or miserably
destroy us if we neglect it, and the Bible will become confusing
Why Are There "Difficult passages" In The Bible?
Why is the Bible at times, in places, so hard to understand? How can it be
that a message understandable by the illiterate, can seem so hard to piece together
by those who study the Bible in depth? What follows is just one of a number
of perspectives to bear in mind.
The basic message of God to humanity has to be simple enough to be understood
and believed by the simple and the uneducated- for not many mighty, smart in
this world, are called to understand, but God chooses the weak things of this
world to co unfound those who think they are wise. Two areas which are hotly
debated are the nature of God, and the nature of Satan. The basic, commonly
repeated message of the Bible in these areas is clear enough. There is one God
[not three], who promised that He would have a Son. The Lord Jesus was born
of an ordinary woman, and was clearly human. He died [and God obviously can't
die] and rose again. That one God is all powerful, and has no rival being in
Heaven somehow at war with Him. Sin comes from within, and we are to take total
responsibility for our sins. Whilst our own humanity can be termed our adversary
['satan'], we can't blame our sin on some cosmic being. These teachings are
throughout the Bible, and are clear enough to the illiterate, the poorly educated,
or those with no religious background who come to the Bible with an open mind.
Yet there are a minority of Bible passages which are difficult to understand
in these areas. It's usually easy enough to understand what they don't
mean. I can recall many conversations with fairly simple folk, or those from
an atheistic background who are coming to the Bible for the first time, where
I've asked: "Well, what do you think this difficult passage means?".
And they have assured me that it obviously can't mean that, e.g., Jesus
is God Himself, because that would contradict so much of the general picture
the Bible gives. And, they're not too phased by the fact they don't understand
what the particular passage means, but, they're clear enough what it doesn't
mean. Sadly, a lack of fundamental respect for the overall, obvious teaching
of the Bible is what leads people into difficulties in handling those "difficult
passages". Or, for reasons of personal upbringing and socialization, they
prefer to base their beliefs on the possible implications of say five
"difficult passages", than on the clear teaching of a few hundred
But all the same, why exactly are those "difficult passages" there?
The books of the Bible were all written within their immediate context, using
ideas current at the time, alluding to live issues at the time which have long
since become unimportant to us personally. My experience is that the closer
we study the historical, literary and cultural background of the various books
of the Bible, the more we see similarities between those "difficult passages"
and contemporary issues and ideas which were floating around at the time. I've
found that very often, those passages are alluding to those ideas in order to
deconstruct them- to show they were wrong and to present the truth about those
matters. Or, those passages are using language which was common at the time,
picking up terms and phrases which were in usage then, in order to be "all
things to all men", to reason with people within the terms they were accustomed
to. I remember the first time I read how the Genesis account of creation has
so many similarities with the creation myths of other peoples, e.g. the Gilgamesh
Epic. Initially, it worried me. The simplistic answer has always been: "Well,
those other myths must've been written after the Biblical record, and
they just copy parts of it". But as literary and archaeological research
increases, as we come to know more about ancient history, it becomes apparent
that this argument is just an assumption. It's not true, in many cases. The
correspondence between, e.g., the Genesis record of creation and the myths of
Gilgamesh is that the Genesis record is alluding to them in order to correct
them- so as to show to Israel that all the stuff they were hearing about creation
was a mixture of truth and error, and now God through Moses was giving them
the correct version. I've exemplified this in much detail at http://www.realdevil.info/dig3.htm
But as we read through the Bible, we find this kind of thing going on very
often. When we come to the New Testament, we find Paul writing, as a Jew, to
both Jews and Gentiles who had converted to Christ, and yet were phased by the
huge amount of apostate Jewish literature and ideas which was then floating
around. For example, the book of Romans is full of allusions to the "Wisdom
of Solomon", alluding and quoting from it, and showing what was right and
what was wrong in it. Wisdom 2:24 claimed: "Through the devil's envy death
entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it".
And Paul alludes to this, and corrects it, by saying in Rom. 5:12: ""By
one man [Adam- not 'the devil'] sin entered into the world, and death by sin;
and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned". This is one
of many such examples- see http://www.realdevil.info/dig2.htm.
Jude does the same thing, quoting and alluding to the apostate Book of Enoch,
correcting the wrong ideas, and at times quoting the ideas back against those
who used them- see http://www.realdevil.info/dig1.htm.
In Chapter 5 of The Real Devil, I catalogue all the Bible verses which
are misunderstood in connection with Satan and the Devil. And often I suggest
that the reason for our difficulty in understanding those passages
is because we're missing the fact that they're alluding to contemporary wrong
ideas, and correcting them, even quoting some of the ideas back against themselves
as it were (see http://www.realdevil.info/5-1.htm
And the same is true of those passages misinterpreted to prove the 'trinity'
fallacy. The incorrect Jewish understandings of "the logos", of Messiah
being a pre-existent being who would be the re-incarnation of one of the prophets,
their wrong understanding of a being they called "the son of man"...
all these are alluded to at times in the New Testament writings, and corrected.
Passages like Phil. 2:9-11 can be shown to be full of allusions to a Jewish
hymn or poem about Messiah, with Paul changing key words and phrases in order
to show the correct understanding of the true Messiah. I've given the hard evidence
for these suggestions in great length at http://www.aletheiacollege.net/dbb/1-4trinity_in_europe.htm.
Recognizing that the inspired writers often allude to current ideas in order
to correct them enables us to better relate to many "difficult" Bible
verses. And it also helps us understand the book of Revelation. The book has
so many similarities to the various 'apocalypses' of the Jewish writings which
were current just before and after the time of Christ. There's no point in simplistically
saying that these Jewish writings must have been written after the
Biblical book of Revelation. Quite evidently, many of them were around well
before it. What are we to make of the similarities, and differences? That there
are many points of contact between them can't be denied- e.g. at the
beginning of Revelation 4 there is a vision of a door ‘having been opened’ in
heaven. The figure of an open door is also used as the introduction to the uninspired
Apocalypse of Enoch and the Testament of Levi. And many other similarities are
listed in the various higher critical expositions of Revelation. These uninspired
'apocalypses' presented negative visions of some final cosmic meltdown and the
destruction of the planet, sometimes with the Jews emerging as the sole survivors,
sometimes with Israel also being destroyed. The message was negative, terrifying,
and at best taught that Jews would be saved just because they were Jews and
noble warriors. These apocalypses are at times crude nationalism, at times terrifyingly
negative science-fiction type fantasies about the destruction of our planet.
The book of Revelation- the one truly inspired 'apocalypse'- alludes to these
ideas, but shows that Israel will be punished for their sins, needs to repent,
but that God's purpose to establish His Kingdom on earth will be achieved, even
if terrible things must happen on this earth before that time finally
comes. The message is ultimately positive and not negative, and requires
us to witness to that wonderful good news whatever it costs us. And that is
in fact the essence behind all the allusions of the "difficult passages"
to then-current ideas and issues. We simply have to accept that we read the
books of the Bible from a great distance in time, language, culture and perception
of history from those who first read or heard them. And quite naturally, this
is going to cause problems for us when we come to interpret those "difficult
passages". But so far as our understanding the barest essence of the Gospel-
God's love, grace, purpose of saving us in His perfected Kingdom on earth through
His Son- those "difficult passages" need be no barrier. The basic
golden thread of the Gospel is clear. To those who give this its' true weight
and value, the presence of a minority of puzzling texts in the Bible won't phase
us one bit.
It has been observed that the academic disciplines of theology and Biblical studies are characterized by more academic disagreement than any other discipline. About every academic paper is in vital disagreement with others and rarely is there resolution or advancement towards synthesis; whereas in other academic disciplines there is a dialectic which leads to ultimate progress. I'd like to place this observation together with another one: the Bible is evidently easier and in the ultimate sense "better" understood by the peasants of the poorer world, than it is by first world people analyzing with their computers and lexicons. The Gospel is for the poor and oppressed- literally or spiritually. For them, the agony is not to understand; it is to apply. For many who struggle to academically understand, they seem to have not even begun the agony of applying the most basic elements of Christianity. Take these observations and make what you will of them; but it seems to me that the chronic lack of praxis in so many Bible readers is somehow related to their intellectual quandries of understanding.