Author Topic: SDA Sabbath School Lesson 12--2nd Quarter 2020--Dealing With Difficult Passages  (Read 803 times)

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 Lesson 12 June 13-19

Dealing With Difficult Passages

Commentary in Navy                  Inspiration in Maroon

So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants:  we have done that which was our duty to do.  Luke 17:10

Richard Myers

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Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: 2 Tim. 2:10-15, 1 Chron. 29:17, James 4:6-10, Gal. 6:9, Acts 17:11.

Memory Text: “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord [is] salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all [his] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” 2 Peter 3:15, 16

When discussing the apostle Paul’s letters, Peter writes that in them, and in some other places in Scripture, there are “some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” 2 Pet. 3:16.  Peter does not say that all things are difficult to understand, but only that some are.

And we know that, don’t we? What honest reader of the Bible hasn’t come across texts that seem strange and difficult to understand? Certainly, at some point or another, we’ve all had this experience.

That’s why, we will take a look this week, not so much at difficult texts per se, but at what might be the reasons for these challenges and how, as faithful seekers of truth from God’s word, we can work through them. In the end, some of these challenging statements might never be solved this side of heaven. At the same time, the vast majority of texts in the Bible present no difficulty whatsoever, and there’s no need to allow the small number of difficult ones to weaken our trust in the reliability and authority of God’s Word as a whole.

There is much we do not understand in the Bible. How is it that we can understand what we read? We must first be converted if we want to understand difficult passages. It is the Holy Spirit that reveals truth through the Word. Do you always ask for the Holy Spirit to give you understanding? Do you stop and ask again when you are having trouble understanding? If not, why not? Do you think man can understand spiritual things without the help of God? Added to the difficulty is the old English in the Bible. But, when the Holy Spirit wants you to understand, you will understand if you are asking Him for grace.

Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 20.
Jesus receives His reward when we reflect His character, the fruits of the Spirit......We deny Jesus His reward when we do not.

Richard Myers

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Sunday          June 14

Possible Reasons for Apparent Contradictions

Read 2 Timothy 2:10-15.

 2:10   Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 
 2:11   [It is] a faithful saying: For if we be dead with [him], we shall also live with [him]: 
 2:12   If we suffer, we shall also reign with [him]: if we deny [him], he also will deny us: 
 2:13   If we believe not, [yet] he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. 
 2:14   Of these things put [them] in remembrance, charging [them] before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, [but] to the subverting of the hearers. 
 2:15   Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 

Paul admonishes Timothy to be diligent and to be “rightly dividing the word of truth." What important message is he giving to all of us here?

No thoughtful and honest student of Scripture will deny the fact that there are things in the Bible that are difficult to understand. This situation should not disturb us. In fact, in a sense those difficulties are to be expected. After all, we are imperfect and finite beings, and no person has a comprehensive knowledge of every area of learning, let alone of divine things. Hence, when ignorant and finite human beings try to understand the wisdom of the infinite God of Scripture, there is bound to be some difficulty. Such difficulty in understanding biblical teachings, however, does not in any way prove that what the Bible affirms is untrue.

Those who dismiss the biblical teaching of divine revelation and inspiration often declare those difficulties to be contradictions and errors. Because for them the Bible is more or less just a human book, they believe that the Bible must contain imperfections and errors. With such a mindset, there is often no serious attempt to look for an explanation that takes into consideration the unity and trustworthiness of Scripture that results from its divine inspiration. People who start to question the first pages of Scripture, the Creation account (for instance), may soon be led to cast into doubt and uncertainty much of the rest of Scripture as well.

Some discrepancies in Scripture might be due to minor errors of copyists or translators. Ellen G. White has stated: “Some look to us gravely and say, 'Don’t you think there might have been some mistake in the copyist or in the translators?’ This is all probable, and the mind that is so narrow that it will hesitate and stumble over this possibility or probability would be just as ready to stumble over the mysteries of the Inspired Word, because their feeble minds cannot see through the purposes of God. Yes, they would just as easily stumble over plain facts that the common mind will accept, and discern the Divine, and to which God’s utterance is plain and beautiful, full of marrow and fatness. All the mistakes will not cause trouble to one soul, or cause any feet to stumble, that would not manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth”. — Selected Messages, book 1, p. 16.

Amen!! There are many errors of translation in many the modern bibles. In the KJV I have found one error. There may be more, but not many. God has had His hand over this version. Does it bother me that there is an error? Not all. I understand the error. It is plain to see it is an error. The Bible does not rest on one verse. It is consistent from Genesis to Revelation. That is why I am not bothered by an error. Take to heart what was stated in this last quote. And remember that the Holy Spirit is the Teacher of truth. We are not alone in our attempt to know and understand the will of God.

Why is it so important that we approach the Bible in a spirit of humility and submission?

Because are evil by nature and need of God's help to understand what is written in Scripture.
Jesus receives His reward when we reflect His character, the fruits of the Spirit......We deny Jesus His reward when we do not.

Richard Myers

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Monday         June 15

Deal With Difficulties Honestly and Carefully

Have you ever had the experience of coming across a text or set of texts that you didn’t understand, or found difficult to harmonize with other texts or reality in general? It’s hard to imagine that at some time or another you haven’t faced this problem. The question is, How did you respond? Or, even more important, How should you respond?

Read 1 Chronicles 29:17, Proverbs 2:7, 1 Timothy 4:16.

29:17   I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of mine heart I have willingly offered all these things: and now have I seen with joy thy people, which are present here, to offer willingly unto thee. 
2:7   He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: [he is] a buckler to them that walk uprightly. 
 4:16   Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. 

What are these texts saying that can apply to the question of how we deal with difficult passages?

Only when we are honest can we face difficulties adequately. Honesty safeguards us so that we do not evade any difficulties or try to obscure them. Honesty will also restrain us from giving superficial answers that do not really bear the test of scrutiny. God is pleased with honesty and integrity. Therefore, we should emulate His character in all we do, even in our study of the Bible.

Honesty?  What is honesty? Is it wanting to do right, or is it thinking right and doing right. Let's look at the verses more closely.

"Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them." 
Here we read that we need to continue in the truth (doctrine) we understand. It is not good enough to go on sinning and think we can understand truth. "He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous." Who does He give truth to? To the righteous, those that obey what they have learned. "I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness." So if honesty means being truly converted and walking in all the light God has given, then we rightly understand that the verses tell us if we want to know truth, then we must be filled with the Spirit which will empower us to walk in the truth we already have.

Honest people will deal with Bible difficulties in such a way that they are careful not to present information out of context, distort the truth with loaded language, or mislead others by means of manipulating evidence. It is far better to wait for a sustainable answer for a difficulty than to attempt to provide an evasive or unsatisfactory solution. A positive side-effect of being honest in our Bible study is that it builds trust, and trust is at the core of all healthy personal relationships. It convinces people much more than flimsy answers. It is better to say that you just don’t know how to answer the question or accurately explain the text, than to try to make it say what you want it to say when, perhaps, it really doesn’t.

Careful people earnestly want to know the truth of God’s Word and, therefore, consistently make sure that they do not rush to hasty conclusions that are based on limited knowledge or flimsy evidence. Careful people are determined not to overlook any aspect or detail that could be important. They are not hurried in their thinking but thorough and diligent in their study of the Word of God and all related information.

What do you do, or what should you do, with texts that you don’t fully understand or that don’t seem to fit with your understanding of truth?

Or better yet, that don't fit with the rest of Scripture.  How does God look at those who teach error in regards to Bible truth? We have two Bible writers who give us a glimpse at how God views such things. First from the Book of Job.

 38:1   Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, 
 38:2   Who [is] this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? 
 38:3   Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. 

God then goes on for two chapters rebuking Job for his self righteousness and saying things which were not true.

And, some doctrines are more serious than others. Do you know any pastors or teachers that teach a false gospel? How serious is this?  Paul tells us in the Book of Galatians.

 1:6   I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 
 1:7   Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 
 1:8   But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 
 1:9   As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. 

When someone comes to me and says that I am wrong regarding a doctrine, what is my response? It ought to be one of humility understanding that we are erring humans capable of being wrong. We are to teach with the authority of Scripture, not leading others to think we may be wrong. But, when one comes and says we are wrong, then we ought to listen. If Bible is shown to us then we ought to pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth. Who would want to remain in error, especially when handling the Word of God.

Jesus receives His reward when we reflect His character, the fruits of the Spirit......We deny Jesus His reward when we do not.

Richard Myers

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Tuesday       June 16

Deal With Difficulties Humbly

Read James 4:6-10; 2 Chronicles 7:14; and Zephaniah 3:12. Why is humility important when we try to tackle difficult passages in Scripture?

Many people have come to the amazing realization and humbling insight that they are dependent upon something and someone outside of themselves. They have realized that they are not the measure of all things. These people value truth over their ego’s need to be right, and they are aware that truth is not of their own making but, rather, what they confront. Perhaps the greatest truth that these people understand is just how little they really know of truth. They know, as Paul wrote, that they “see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12).

The benefits of this humility in thinking are manifold: the habit of humble inquiry is the foundation of all growth in knowledge, for it generates a freedom that naturally produces a teachable spirit. This does not mean that humble people are often necessarily wrong, or that they will always change their minds and will never have a firm conviction. It means only that they are submissive to biblical truth. They are aware of the limitations of their knowledge and, therefore, are capable of expanding their knowledge and understanding of God’s Word in a way that the intellectual person, arrogant and proud, won’t do.

And when many have been deceived by Satan, there is a very real danger that one who is spiritual and has seen the truth can become proud because they are "special."  They are in that they received the truth when many do not. But, this can lead to pride. Look at Waggoner and Jones. They had a very special work to do. They supported the gospel message being delivered by Ellen White. And they fell from grace and lost their way. Look at Dr. Kellogg. God blessed him with great knowledge and pride took him down also.

Our only hope is to be continually looking unto Jesus that we might continually partake of His divine nature. That is what keep a Christian humble and safe.

“All who will come to the Word of God for guidance, with humble, inquiring minds, determined to know the terms of salvation, will understand what saith the Scripture. But those who bring to the investigation of the Word a spirit which it does not approve will take away from the search a spirit which it has not imparted. The Lord will not speak to a mind that is unconcerned. He wastes not his instruction on one who is willingly irreverent or polluted. But the tempter educates every mind that yields itself to his suggestions and is willing to make of none effect God’s holy law.

“We need to humble our hearts, and with sincerity and reverence search the Word of life; for that mind alone that is humble and contrite can see light”. — Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, August 22, 1907.

Amen!  "Determined to know the terms of salvation...."  Are you determined to know the terms of salvation? Or have you been taught there are no terms, just "believe."  Christ does it all. We do nothing. Then you do not need to be concerned about what are the terms of salvation. The Jews thought they were worthy of salvation. They had good works. Saul said he was blameless when it came to the law of God. But, Saul had been deceived by his teachers. Are things different today? Are we all in agreement as to the terms of salvation? Only a blind person would say that in our churches we are in agreement on the terms of salvation. There are multiple false gospels being preached from our pulpits. But, no need to be determined to know the terms of salvation. The author chose a very good quote to share with a Laodicean church, a church that is indeed "poor, and blind, and naked."

How do you strike the right balance between humility and certainty? For example, how would you answer the charge, How can you Seventh-day Adventists be so certain that you are right about the Sabbath and that almost everyone else is wrong?

Strike a balance between humility and certainty? That is not the question. There is no certainty with humanity. We are erring humans and may be in error. But, that does not mean we are not to teach with authority. There is no pride in the heart of one who is truly converted and filled with the Holy Spirit. Then where is humility in the Christian who teaches the Sabbath is binding and the Sunday is straight from hell? The humility comes when the heart is fully given to Christ. Then when one objects to his teaching, there is humility in that the love for the false teacher is seen in how the Christian deals with him/her. Do we listen in order to reach the one in error? Or are so proud we care not about the other one? And, since we are erring humans, it may be that we are right about the Sabbath, but are wrong about the old covenant. When we are told we are wrong, will we listen to understand if we are wrong? It is very sad when  professing Bible believers and those who believe in the Spirit of Prophecy will not listen to the truth, but will turn away thinking they are right, when in fact they are so very wrong.

It is not a balance we need, it is Jesus that we need. Without loving Him supremely self will ruin our witness and ultimately our opportunity for salvation.
Jesus receives His reward when we reflect His character, the fruits of the Spirit......We deny Jesus His reward when we do not.

Richard Myers

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Wednesday         June 17

Determination and Patience

Read Galatians 6:9.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. 

While Paul speaks here about our persistence in doing good to others, the same attitude is necessary when we deal with difficult questions. Why are determination and patience important in solving problems?

Solving problems means having patience to figure out the answer. If it did not, then it would not be very of a problem.

Real achievement always requires tenacity. What we obtain too easily we often esteem too lightly. The difficulties in the Bible give us an opportunity to set our brains to work, and the determination and persistence with which we pursue a solution reveals how important the issue is for us. Any time that we spend studying the Bible to try to find out more about its meaning and message is time well spent. Perhaps the experience of diligently searching the Scriptures for an answer, even for a long time, will be a greater blessing than the solution to the problem if we eventually do find it. After all, when we find a solution to a vexing problem, it becomes very precious to us.

Looking at it another way, is patience something that we inherit, or is something we received by something we do? Read Romans 5:3-5. Which is it?

The fact that you cannot solve a difficulty quickly does not prove that it cannot be solved. It is remarkable how often we overlook this 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 at the conclusion that the problem cannot be solved. Some start questioning the trustworthiness of the Bible altogether. But we should not forget that there may be a very easy solution even if we in our limited human wisdom — or ignorance — don’t see it. What would we think of a beginner in algebra who, having tried in vain for half an hour to solve a difficult problem, declares that there is no possible solution to the problem because he could find none? The same is true for us in our study of the Bible.

When some difficulties defy even your strongest efforts to solve them, lay them aside for a while, and in the meantime, practice what God has clearly shown to you. Some spiritual insights are gained only after we have been willing to follow what God has already told us to do. So be persistent and patient in your study of the Bible. After all, patience is a virtue of the believers at the end of time (see Rev. 14:12).

Yes, it is a virtue of the last generation to live til Jesus comes. They will go through a time of trouble such as never was. How did they obtain that particular virtue? Did God impart it to them? Yes, it is a fruit of the Spirit that all who surrender the whole heart to Christ have. But, in order to have more of that virtue, there must be cooperation with God. Re-read Romans 5:3-5. Do we want to glorify God? The three angels message say yes, we will give glory to God which is to reflect His character.

What can we learn from other people who have diligently and patiently studied challenging Bible passages? How can we encourage others not to give up their search for truth? Why don’t we have to be afraid when we come across a difficult passage in Scripture?

Some who have been patient and diligent in studying the Bible have not done so with a pure and holy heart. Thus, they will deceive others who look to them rather than going to the Bible and asking for the Holy Spirit to open their eyes. He is the great teacher whom Jesus would send to lead us into all truth.

When we come to a difficult verse, we ought to ask for the Holy Spirit to help us. If we do not, what does that say about our humility?
Jesus receives His reward when we reflect His character, the fruits of the Spirit......We deny Jesus His reward when we do not.

Richard Myers

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Thursday     June 18

Deal With Difficulties Scripturally and Prayerfully

Read Acts 17:11, Acts 8:35, and Acts 15:15, 16. What did the apostles and members of the early church do when they were confronted with difficult questions? Why is Scripture still the best source for its own interpretation?

The best solution to Bible difficulties is still found in the Bible itself. Bible problems are best dealt with when they are studied in the light of all Scripture instead of just dealing with a single text in isolation from others or from the whole of Scripture. We must, indeed, use the Bible to help us understand the Bible. Learning to mine the great truths found in Scripture is one of the most important things we can do.

If you do not understand a passage of Scripture, try to gather some light from other biblical passages that deal with the same subject. Always try to find clear statements of Scripture to shed light on those passages that are less clear. It is also very important never to darken and cloud clear statements of Scripture by bringing to them difficult-to-understand passages. Rather than having extra-biblical sources or philosophy, or science explain the meaning of the Bible, we should allow the text of Scripture itself to unfold its meaning to us.

It has been said that on our knees we literally look at difficulties from a new perspective. For in prayer, we signal that we are in need of divine help in interpreting and understanding Scripture. In prayer, we seek the illumination of our minds through the same Holy Spirit who inspired the biblical writers to write what they wrote.

In prayer, our motives are laid open, and we can tell God why we want to understand what we read. In prayer, we ask God to open our eyes to His Word and to give us a willing spirit to follow and practice His truth. (This is crucial!) When God guides us through His Holy Spirit in response to our prayers, He does not contradict what He has revealed in the Bible. God will always be in harmony with the Bible, and confirm and build upon what He has inspired the biblical writers to communicate to us.

How does prayer help you get into the right mind-frame to be able better to understand and obey the Word of God?

When we pray, we pray for the Holy Spirit to give us understanding. It is an acknowledgement that we don't have good wisdom, but are in need of wisdom from above.
Jesus receives His reward when we reflect His character, the fruits of the Spirit......We deny Jesus His reward when we do not.

Richard Myers

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  • Posts: 41532
  • A glorious sunset teaches of trust and faith.....
    • The Remnant Online
Friuday         June 19

Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “What to Do With Doubt?” pp. 105-113 in Steps to Christ. Read section 8 in the Document “Methods of Bible Study”, which can be found at

In the Bible are many mysteries that finite human beings find difficult to comprehend and that are too deep for us to explain fully. This is why we need a humble mind, and should be willing to learn prayerfully from Scripture. Faithfulness to Scripture allows the biblical text — even though its meaning goes against our grain — to say what it actually says. Faithfulness to Scripture will respect the text rather than alter the text (yes, some actually change the texts themselves) or evade its true meaning.

“When the word of God is opened without reverence and without prayer; when the thoughts and affections are not fixed upon God, or in harmony with His will, the mind is clouded with doubts; and in the very study of the Bible, skepticism strengthens. The enemy takes control of the thoughts, and he suggests interpretations that are not correct. Whenever men are not in word and deed seeking to be in harmony with God, then, however learned they may be, they are liable to err in their understanding of Scripture, and it is not safe to trust to their explanations. Those who look to the Scriptures to find discrepancies, have not spiritual insight. With distorted vision they will see many causes for doubt and unbelief in things that are really plain and simple”. — Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, pp. 110, 111.

Amen! Notice that she said "really plain and simple."

Discussion Questions:

    Why are the attitudes toward the Bible that we discussed this week so foundational for a proper understanding of Scripture? What other attitudes toward the Bible do you believe are crucial in helping you better understand it?

    Why should we not be surprised to find things in the Bible that are hard to explain and understand? After all, how many things of the natural world itself are at times hard to understand? To this day, for instance, water (water!) is filled with mysteries.

    As Adventists, how can we answer the question of Luke 23:43, where (according to most translations) Jesus is telling the thief that he will be in heaven with Jesus on that day? What are honest ways to respond? How, for instance, can texts like John 20:17, Ecclesiastes 9:5, and 1 Corinthians 15:16-20 help us understand the issue in question here?
Jesus receives His reward when we reflect His character, the fruits of the Spirit......We deny Jesus His reward when we do not.