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Every careful student and every thoughtful reader of the Bible finds that the words of the apostle Peter concerning the Scriptures, "in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest "unto their own destruction" (2 Pet. 3:16), are abundantly true. Has any one of us not found things in the Bible that have puzzled us, that in our early Christian experience have led us to question whether the Bible was, after all, the Word of God? We find some things in the Bible that seem impossible to reconcile with other things in the Bible. We find some things that seem incompatible with the thought that the whole Bible is of divine origin and absolutely inerrant. It is not wise to attempt to conceal the fact that these difficulties exist. It is the duty of wisdom, as well as of honesty, to frankly face them and consider them. There are several things we can say concerning these difficulties that every thoughtful student will eventually encounter.
WE CAN EXPECT DIFFICULTIES
The first thing we have to say about these difficulties in the Bible is that, from the very nature of the case, difficulties are to be expected. Some people are surprised and staggered because there are difficulties in the Bible. For my part, however, I would be more surprised and staggered if there were not. What is the Bible? It is a revelation of the mind and will and character and being of an infinitely great, perfectly wise, and absolutely holy God. God Himself is the Author of this revelation, but to whom is the revelation made? To men, to finite beings, to men who are imperfect in intellectual development, and consequently in knowledge, and who are also imperfect in character, and consequently in spiritual discernment. The wisest man measured on the scale of eternity is only a babe, and the holiest man compared with God is only an infant in moral development. As a result, from the very necessities of the case, there must be difficulties in such a revelation, from such a source, made to such persons. When the finite tries to understand the infinite, there is bound to be difficulty. When the ignorant contemplate the utterances of one perfect in knowledge, there must be many things hard to understand, and some things that to their immature and inaccurate minds appear absurd. When beings, whose moral judgment regarding the hatefulness of sin and the awfulness of the penalty that it demands is blunted by their own sinfulness, listen to the demands of an absolutely holy Being, they are bound to be perplexed at some of His demands; and when they consider His dealings, they are bound to be staggered by some of them. These dealings will appear too severe, too stern, too harsh, too horrible. It is clear that there must be difficulties for us in a revelation such as the Bible. If someone were to hand me a book that was as simple to me as the multiplication table, and say, "This is the Word of God. In it He has revealed His whole will and wisdom," I would shake my head and say, "I cannot believe it; that is too easy to be a perfect revelation of infinite wisdom." There must be, in any complete revelation of God’s mind and will and character and being, things hard for the beginner to understand; and the wisest and best of us are but beginners.
DIFFICULTY DOES NOT EQUAL FALSEHOOD
The second thing to be said about these difficulties is that a difficulty in a doctrine, or a grave objection to a doctrine, does not, in any way, prove the doctrine to be untrue. Many thoughtless people imagine that it does. If they come across some difficulty in the way of believing in the divine origin and absolute inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, they at once conclude that the doctrine is discredited. That is very illogical. Stop a moment and think, and learn to be reasonable and fair. There is scarcely a doctrine in science generally believed today that has not had some great difficulty in the way of its acceptance. When the Copernican theory, now so universally accepted, was first proclaimed, it encountered a great deal of difficulty. If this theory was true, the planet Venus should have phases as the moon has, but no phases could be discovered by the best telescope then in existence. Even so, the positive argument for the theory was so strong that it was accepted in spite of this apparently unanswerable objection. When a more powerful telescope was made, it was found that Venus had phases after all. The whole difficulty arose, as almost all of those in the Bible arise, from man’s ignorance of some of the facts in the case. The nebular hypothesis is also commonly accepted in the scientific world today. However, when this theory was first announced, and for a long time afterward, the movements of the planet Uranus could not be reconciled with the theory. Uranus seemed to move in the direction opposite from that in which the theory said it should, but the positive arguments for the theory were so strong that it was accepted in spite of the inexplicable movement of Uranus. If we apply to Bible study the commonsense logic recognized in every department of science (with the exception of Biblical criticism, if that is a science), then we must demand that if the positive proof of a theory is conclusive, it must be believed by rational men, in spite of any number of difficulties in minor details. He is a very shallow thinker indeed who gives up a well-tested truth because there are some apparent facts that he cannot reconcile with that truth. And he is a very shallow Bible scholar who gives up his belief in the divine origin and inerrancy of the Bible because there are some supposed facts that he cannot reconcile with that doctrine. There are many shallow thinkers of that kind in the theological world today.
GREATER DIFFICULTIES EXIST
The third thing to be said about the difficulties in the Bible is that there are many more, and much greater, difficulties in the doctrine that holds the Bible to be of human origin, and hence fallible, than there are in the doctrine that holds the Bible to be of divine origin, and hence infallible. Oftentimes a man will bring you some difficulty and say, "How do you explain that, if the Bible is the Word of God?" and perhaps you may not be able to answer him satisfactorily. Then he thinks he has you, but not at all. Turn to him, and ask him, "How do you account for the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible if it is of human origin? How do you account for the marvelous unity of the Book? How do you account for its inexhaustible depth? How do you account for its unique power in lifting men up to God?" and so on. For every insignificant objection he can bring to your view of the Bible, you can bring many more deeply significant objections to his view of the Bible. And any really candid and honest man, who desires to know and obey the truth, will have no difficulty in deciding between the two views. Some time ago, a young man who had a bright mind and was unusually well read in skeptical and critical and agnostic literature, told me he had given the matter a great deal of candid and careful thought, and as a result he could not believe the Bible was of divine origin. I asked him, "Why not?" He pointed to a certain teaching of the Bible that he could not and would not believe to be true. I replied, "Suppose for a moment that I could not answer that specific difficulty. My inability would not prove that the Bible was not of divine origin. Yet I can present many things to you, things far more difficult to account for on the hypothesis that the Bible is not of divine origin, than this is on the hypothesis that the Bible is of divine origin. You cannot deny the fact of fulfilled prophecy. How do you account for it if the Bible is not God’s Word?" "You cannot shut your eyes to the marvelous unity of the sixty-six books of the Bible, written under such divergent circumstances and at periods of time so remote from one another. How do you account for it, if God is not the real author of the Book, behind the forty or more human authors? You cannot deny that the Bible has a power to save men from sin, to bring men peace and hope and joy, to lift men up to God, that all other books taken together do not possess. How do you account for it if the Bible is not the Word of God in a sense that no other book is the Word of God?" The objector did not answer. The difficulties that confront one who denies that the Bible is of divine origin and authority are far more numerous and much more weighty than those that confront the one who believes it to be of divine origin and authority.
SOLUTIONS DO NOT DEPEND ON US
The fourth thing to be said about the difficulties in the Bible is this: the fact that you cannot solve a difficulty does not prove it cannot be solved, and the fact that you cannot answer an objection does not prove at all that it cannot be answered. It is remarkable how we often overlook this very evident fact. There are many who, when they meet a difficulty in the Bible and give it a little thought and can see no possible solution, at once jump to the conclusion that a solution is impossible by anyone, and so they throw up their hands and forget their faith in the inerrancy of the Bible and its divine origin. It seems that everyone should have enough modesty, which is fitting for beings so limited in knowledge as we all undeniably are, to say, "Though I see no possible solution to this difficulty, someone a little wiser than I might easily find one." If we would only bear in mind that we do not know everything, and that there are a great many things that we cannot now solve that we could very easily solve if we only knew a little more, it would save us from all this folly. Above all, we must never forget that infinite wisdom may have a very easy solution to that which to our finite wisdom, or ignorance, appears absolutely unexplainable. What would we think of a beginner in algebra, who, having tried in vain for half an hour to solve a difficult problem, declared that there was no possible solution to the problem because he could not find one? A man of unusual experience and ability one day left his work and came a long distance to see me in great perturbation of spirit, because he had discovered what seemed to him an outright contradiction in the Bible. He had lain awake all night thinking about it. It had defied all his attempts at reconciliation; but when he had fully stated the case to me, in a very few moments I showed him a very simple and satisfactory solution to the difficulty. He went away with a happy heart. Why had it not occurred to him at the outset, though it appeared absolutely impossible to him to find a solution, that after all a solution might be easily discovered by someone else? He supposed that the difficulty was an entirely new one, but it was one that had been faced and answered long before either he or I was born.
DIFFICULTIES VERSUS EXCELLENCIES
The fifth thing to be said about the difficulties in the Bible is that the seeming defects of the Book are exceedingly insignificant when put in comparison with its many and marvelous excellencies. It certainly reveals great perversity of both mind and heart that men spend so much time discussing and writing about such insignificant points that they consider defects in the Bible, while the incomparable beauties and wonders that adorn and glorify almost every page pass absolutely unnoticed. Even in some prominent institutions of learning, where men are supposed to be taught to appreciate and understand the Bible, and where they are sent to be trained to preach its truth to others, much more time is spent on minute and insignificant points that seem to point toward an entirely human origin of the Bible than is spent upon studying and understanding and admiring the unparalleled glories that make this Book stand apart from all other books. What would we think of a man who, in studying some great masterpiece of art, concentrated his whole attention upon what looked like a flyspeck in the corner? A large proportion of the much-vaunted, critical study of the Bible, is a laborious and scholarly investigation of supposed flyspecks. The man who is not willing to squander the major portion of his time in this erudite investigation of flyspecks, but prefers to devote it to the study of the unrivaled beauties and majestic splendors of the Book, is counted in some quarters as not being "scholarly and up-to-date."
THE SUPERFICIAL VERSUS THE PROFOUND
The sixth thing to be said about the difficulties in the Bible is that they have far more weight with superficial readers of it than with profound students. Take a man like the late Colonel Ingersoll, who was totally ignorant of the real contents and meaning of the Bible; or take that class of modern preachers who read the Bible for the most part for the sole purpose of finding texts to serve as pegs to hang their own ideas upon. To such superficial readers of the Bible, these difficulties seem immensely important. On the other hand, to the one who has learned to meditate upon the Word of God day and night, they have scarcely any weight at all. That rare man of God, George Müller, who had carefully studied the Bible from beginning to end more than one hundred times, was not disturbed by any difficulties he encountered; but to the man who is reading it through for the first or second time, there are many things that perplex and stagger.
THE ROLE OF CAREFUL STUDY
The seventh thing to be said about the difficulties in the Bible is that they rapidly disappear upon careful and prayerful study. How many things there are in the Bible that once puzzled and staggered us, but have since been perfectly cleared up and no longer present any difficulty whatsoever! Every year of study finds these difficulties disappearing more and more rapidly. At first they go by ones and then by twos, and then by dozens and then by scores. Is it not reasonable, then, to suppose that the difficulties that still remain will all disappear upon further study? Then let us look into some of these difficulties in greater detail.
Posted July 8, 2011
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