Digging Deep: Finding Answers to Difficult Texts in the Bible

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 

By David Aukerman

A pair of ninety-minute conferences, held on Monday afternoon, gave NAC attendees the opportunity to learn several Bible study techniques, and to apply them to challenging passages of scripture, all in a group setting. Each conference attracted around thirty-five people, with about fifteen attending both conferences. Above all, these two conferences emphasized the importance of understanding the context of difficult Bible stories. To help prevent the forcing of scripture to say what we want it to say, we should learn to ask helpful questions about the text and search for answers—a process known by the term exegesis.

The Old Testament conference, led by Shannon New-Spangler and Adam Harger, focused on Ecclesiastes 7:15–18. This passage appears to suggest that we should strive to avoid too much foolishness, but at the same time, avoid too much wisdom. Generally, Christians approve of avoiding foolishness, but this passage is hard to understand because it tells us to not be too righteous. How can this be, especially since we belong to a movement that emphasizes personal holiness? The conference leaders helped us to understand the passage's true meaning by investigating a few crucial Hebrew words found in the passage. The passage, like many in Ecclesiastes, must be understood in reference to Ecclesiastes 12:13—"Fear God and keep his commandments..." (niv). It points us towards a reverence for God's wisdom alone.

The next conference, led by David Aukerman, studied a New Testament passage, Mark 10:1–12, which is difficult for many people, because it connects divorce and remarriage with the sin of adultery. Since divorce is a reality for many people both inside and outside the church, many pastors might avoid preaching this passage. However, this conference emphasized studying the passage's historical context to understand it more fully. In these verses, Jesus does indeed speak about God's design for marriage, but he does it in the context of a strong challenge from the Pharisees. Would Jesus side against the Pharisees in their support of the Law of Moses? Or would he speak out, as John the Baptist did, against the public affair involving Herod Antipas, who married his brother's wife Herodias? The words of our Savior become more powerful when we understand the world in which he spoke them.