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 was God.
- 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 question.
- 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 to us.
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 Bible passages.
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 and http://www.aletheiacollege.net/pb/2-3-1Genesis_And_Creation_Myths.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.