Is the Bible really that difficult to understand?

That’s the question I offer to skeptics who blame God for the number of professing Christian denominations.  “God”, they say, “is a terrible communicator if no one can agree on what it says.  After all, God should have made it unconfusable”.  To this complaint I always request a citation for a passage from the Bible that is difficult to understand.

I’m never taken up on it.  I don’t think it is all that difficult to understand.  Of course, rejoinders include citing the number of denominations due to vast disagreement on the understanding of the Holy Writ.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t take into account the reasons for the denominational splits.  There’s many reasons churches split and form new denominations.  But I’ve yet to come across a skeptic to delve into those reasons.

But I’ll take the claim on it’s face.  Maybe there is large swaths of ambiguity.  Maybe the Bible is communicated poorly.  Maybe it’s just that I’m too biased to see it.  Let’s say I grant Revelation.  I’ll do so with the stipulation that I’m not aware of any Christian church who derives it’s doctrinal beliefs from it.  However, if the skeptic can cite a doctrine that a Christian denomination grounds in the book of Revelation, I’ll be impressed.  Otherwise, the remaining 65 books are up for discussion.

So let’s have some citation.  Cite a passage and offer an interpretation consistent with the language’s linguistic parameters, i,e, definitions, and usage.  I’m not asking if there is disagreement, or even for speculation as to why. I’m looking for examples. Which passages are too ambiguous or muddled that they can’t be easily understood?


  1. This should be a simple challenge to those who seem so confident in their suppositions. I’m afraid we’ll hear long periods of chirping crickets instead.

    There is little doubt that there are various passages about which exact understanding can be troublesome. But have such passages resulted in denominational splits? I’m not so sure. Beyond the split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestants, I’m not so sure the reasons would have much to do with Scriptural ambiguity as much as matters of polity and the manner of worship. The essentials remain in most, if not all, cases.

  2. I think the main reason no specific passages are cited is quite simple – it’s a fool’s errand.

    It would be no different trying to argue about the meaning behind a particular tarot card or the interpretation of a configuration within an astrological chart. It’s pointless.

    The basic question is this: If you god’s message is so clear cut, why is there any disagreement at all about it?

    Now I realize you may tap-dance around trying to make excuses regarding certain doctrine or political agendas, but the underlying question still remains. Why is your god such a poor communicator? (You shouldn’t need any specific examples and you don’t get to blame man for it.)

    • It’s not a fools errand. I’m curious as to what you think is difficult to understand. I suspect that if you spent some time looking, you’d be hard pressed to find something. Of course that would undermine your complaint as it would require you to realize there might be a different reason for dissection of a single church.

  3. “I think the main reason no specific passages are cited is quite simple – it’s a fool’s errand.” Buck-bucAWK!!

    I’ve conceded that there are areas of contention, but there is nothing, of which I am aware, that has caused denominational rifts. I will also concede one more thing about the issue: what rifts stand out these days are man made by the same type of people who wish to legitimize things like homosexuality. But this isn’t a case of there being true and legitimately different interpretations. It is a case of immoral people forcing meaning the words on the page just don’t imply. We’ve been trying for years for Dan Trabue to explain his twisted notions on the subject and he still hasn’t filled in all the gaping holes of his argument.

    It goes to a current discussion at his blog and mine regarding “good faith” disagreements. THAT issue isn’t one of those.

  4. The basic question is this: If you god’s message is so clear cut, why is there any disagreement at all about it?

    Suppose a ten-year-old walks into the kitchen while his mother is beginning to get things together for dinner. He opens the fridge and begins to pull out the chocolate cake, leftover from a party that weekend.

    “Put that back,” his mother tells him. “I don’t want you to have any cake right now, it’ll ruin your appetite for dinner.”

    While she’s busy looking for a particular skillet, he quietly grabs a candy bar from the fruit-and-snack bowl and starts to head for his room. His mother catches him in the act, tells him to put it back, and grounds him for the evening: no TV, no Internet, no dessert, just finish your homework and go to bed.

    The kid could argue that, if his mom didn’t want him to eat a candy bar, she should have said so: she only said that she didn’t want him to eat cake.

    That sort of response would AND SHOULD lengthen the sentence of his punishment, because he’s being willfully and deliberately obtuse: he knew what his mom would have said if he had asked for a candy bar, and so he tried to lift one surreptitiously.

    What the kid tried to do with his mother’s instructions, is what man often does in trying to have his own way: he quibbles, equivocates, and tries to find loopholes to justify his behavior.

    It’s an executive arguing that he was never alone with that intern because, while they were the only two people in the room, there were always lots of people in the same building, it’s that same graduate of Georgetown and Yale asking about the meaning of the word “is.”

    No communication is so clear that a rebellious heart cannot find a way to pretend that it is obscure.

    • Bubba

      I couldn’t have said it better myself.

      You’re right. People try to hang on to what they believe to be technicalities. Sometimes they look for ways to “technically” look at it in such a fashion that they can justify themselves.

  5. Dr. Chronosphere says:

    I hate it when people take their NIV or Message ‘Bibles’ and think it is as good as the KJV Bible. Things that are different are not the same- If you try to think that I’m judging you then it’s about time you visit this website- READ IT!

  6. Dan Forbes says:

    If this is true, why don’t you believe the earth was created in 6 days and God rested on the 7th? While I may agree that God is a clear communicator, it seems the simple, clear, historical account from Gen 1-3 is somehow confusing to you.

  7. DJ Droppy says:

    As Dan Forbes mentioned, people can’t even agree what the clear meaning of Genesis 1 is. The same people who believe the literal words of Scripture that declare that Jesus created fish and bread out of nothing and raised people from the dead also insist that God didn’t really create life, the universe, and everything in six days because… SCIENCE!
    What is the proper role of the Law this side of the cross? Arminianism or Calvinism? Four points of Calvinism or five? Believer’s baptism or infant baptism? Dispensationalism or covenantalism? Amillenialism, premillenialism, or postmillenialism (all teachings mostly based on Revelation)?
    Brilliant men who honestly sought after God and His absolute truth have been prayerfully led to believe one side or the other of all of these questions based on their understanding of what the Bible “clearly” teaches. Many denominations or individual churches exist because of their staunch belief in the truth and importance of these doctrines and how they play out in the everyday lives of believers.
    If there are no difficult verses or chapters or doctrines in the Bible, what is Peter talking about in 2 Peter 3:16 where he writes that some of the things in Paul’s letters are hard to understand?
    If there are no verses or chapters or doctrines in the Bible that are difficult for you, may I ask which church you regularly attend? Do you agree with 50% of what it teaches? 75%? 90%? Are you prayerfully seeking to teach and correct them in love as a brother in Christ?

    • DJ

      I’m not arguing that people disagree. I’m asking for examples. disagreement is often paraded about as an argument against God. The commenter ZQTX routinely offers that the bible isn’t clear enough yet refuses to produce a passage that is in question. Just because something is difficult, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

      You seem like this might me an issue for you too. Do you have any thoughts on what’s too difficult to properly understand?

      • DJ Droppy says:

        I am challenging the basic premise of your original post: that the Bible isn’t difficult to understand and that therefore it is possible to intellectually convince a skeptic or an atheist of the truth of it. If godly men throughout the history of the Church have had honest disagreements about all of the doctrines I mentioned in my previous post (and the proper interpretation of the verses and passages that are cited to support or reject a particular idea), then how can an unbeliever whose heart is dead and whose eyes are blind to God’s truths ever understand them unless the Holy Spirit changes that person first?
        I would still like to know what church or denomination you attend or believe has all or most of the answers on what others have wrestled with over the centuries. If the Bible is not that difficult to understand, I want to see that statement of faith! Can you provide a link?

        • You’ve missed the premise of my post. Therefore everything you’ve built on what you think is my premise is flawed. Maybe reread the post and if you need clarification, let me kbow.

  8. Dan Forbes says:

    It appears you have set yourself up at the last word on interpreting Scripture. It also appears that you completely misunderstand a number of Scriptures based on your posts. So I think what you mean to say is this…can anyone find a verse in the Bible that I (Jon Barron) cannot properly interpret or explain? Kind of like Goliath standing in front of Israel saying…can anyone challenge me? DJ Droppy gave some excellent examples of Scriptures that are commonly misunderstood…and yet you must have an answer. And it appears you have the right answer according to you. But then again, nobody really knows who you are. Truth is not in need of defense, and it isn’t always easy to spot someone in error or caught up in folly, but in this case, it is plain where you stand.

    • No Dan, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m asking for a citation of a verse that is too difficult. For example, find one we disagree on and explain why we cannot disagree. Is it really that ambiguous? Do you have a theological presupposition? Do you attend a church that teaches otherwise? That’s what I’m looking for, not something I merely can’t interpret.

  9. Dan Forbes says:

    I’ll tell you what is ambiguous…your question. I don’t know what you are asking…but Genesis 1-3 is clear…even though you try to explain it away in your post…clearly you cannot understand it. Those verses are ambiguous to you.

  10. DJ Droppy says:

    The title of your post is “Is the Bible really that difficult to understand?” I answered in the affirmative: that there are many difficult passages and ideas in the Bible that the Church has struggled with for centuries. I named a number of those controversies. You did not respond to that.
    The first line of your post explains that this is a question you like to ask skeptics. I answered to the effect that debating Scripture with skeptics and atheists is essentially fruitless without the intervention of the Holy Spirit in their lives. You did not respond to that.
    You write in the second paragraph that “I don’t think it is all that difficult to understand.” I asked you for information regarding your beliefs and church in light of your understanding. You did not respond to that.
    In the third paragraph, you say that “I’m not aware of any Christian church who derives it’s [sic] doctrinal beliefs from [Revelation].” I listed the various “millenialisms” (a-, pre-, and post-) that are largely based on the book of Revelation. There are many churches which are heavily focused on eschatology. For instance, most premillenialists are dispensationalists, too, and this also forms their view of the covenants and the Law. You did not respond to this, either.
    Here’s a direct answer to your challenge in the last paragraph of the post: please explain to me precisely what Rev. 17:1-13 means. Who or what is “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (NASB)

    • Ok. First, you listed different theological schools of thought, not passages which might serve to demarcate them.

      I also conceded that given the apocalyptic nature of revelation, I agree that is difficult. What I’d suggest is reading the passage within the scope of the paragraph and chapter. I’m at work now and can do so later on if you’re still interested. For now, to help make the point,will you interpret it and explain why you think so.

      • DJ Droppy says:

        So, if I list the passages that demarcate the different theological schools of thought, you will explain them in a clear, easy-to-understand way? If the Bible is not that difficult (for you) to understand, then you can settle the questions of baptism on which Spurgeon and Warfield held different beliefs? If I give you a list of verses that cause disagreement regarding limited atonement, we can cross that one off the list, too?
        I know that sounds kind of sarcastic, but rhetorically telling skeptics that you’ve got most of the answers regarding the Bible — because it’s not nearly as difficult to understand as all of those competing denominations make it seem — sounds kinds of arrogant.
        Regarding Rev. 17, I prefer not to show my cards until I see your interpretation and understand your hermeneutics.
        Thank you for your willingness to continue this discussion.

        • Again, telling skeptics that I have all the answers. Their claim is that because everyone doesn’t agree, God is a poor communicator. My response is that it’s not a liability to God because we may disagree. As Bubba said, some people come in with certain presuppositions.

          I say that there shouldn’t be as much disagreement as there is, because when you go back to the era, location, language, and word usage of the time, it’s not that difficult. Sure, we might like some of what it says so we look for ways to understand something different based on some technical rationale. But overall, it’s not that difficult.

        • DJ

          I haven’t forgotten about this. I have some things going on at home and didn’t have a chance to get to it. I’ll try to remember to read the passage at lunch time today. Thanks for being patient.


  1. […] Is the Bible really that difficult to understand? – That’s the question I offer to skeptics who blame God for the number of professing Christian denominations. “God”, they say, “is a terrible communicator if no one can agree on what it says. After all, God should have made it unconfusable”. To this complaint I always request a citation for a passage from the Bible that is difficult to understand. […]

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