Kristen Wetherell on How to Make Sense of Confusing Bible Passages

What in the world?

I was reading Psalm 128 and I thought, Surely this passage is used to promote the prosperity gospel:

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,

who walks in his ways!

You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;

you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. (vv. 1-2)

I kept reading:

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine

within your house;

your children will be like olive shoots

around your table.

Behold, thus shall the man be blessed

who fears the Lord. (vv. 3-4)

Now I’m even more confused, I thought. What about homes that never see the blessing of children? Does this psalm apply equally to them?

Five Principles for Confusing Bible Passages

Let’s be honest: Scripture can be confusing sometimes. As we grow in our knowledge of the whole Bible story, we run into these passages that can feel like roadblocks on a straight-and-narrow journey. So what do we do with them? How do we make sense of confusing Scripture passages?

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1. Read the Surrounding Verses.
1. Read the Surrounding Verses.

From the pulpit, Pastor Colin Smith often says, “Interpret Scripture in light of Scripture.” This is sound wisdom because all of God’s Word is breathed out by him and is useful for our growth (2 Timothy 3:16). It’s perfect and without error, which means God cannot contradict himself. So, if a verse or passage seems difficult, confusing, or misplaced, we interpret it in light of what directly surrounds it. Ask the following questions:

  • What did the author say immediately before and after?
  • What did they say in the previous chapter(s)?
  • What’s the message of the book as a whole?

Seek answers to these questions, and you’ll find you have a much clearer idea of what’s intended in the initial passage. Let’s apply this principle to Psalm 128:

Psalm 128. The surrounding psalms were written upon the return of God’s people from exile. God had restored their fortunes and blessed them by delivering them from their enemies and bringing them home. What the psalmist writes isn’t, “If you’re good, God will bless you,” but “God has been good to you and has restored that which you lost when you were in exile.” It would’ve been clear to God’s people that this blessing was far from what they deserved for the very sin that sent them into captivity—yet God was faithful and kind to them.

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2. Think <em>Similar</em> and <em>Different.</em>
2. Think Similar and Different.

Now consider the whole of Scripture and where you’ve seen similar words or themes. Ask, Where have I seen this before? You can also ask where you’ve read something seemingly contrary to what you’re reading, which will shed light on the meaning of the present verses.

Psalm 128. I read the word “blessed” and immediately think of Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The poor in spirit are those who fear the Lord (Psalm 128:1), who recognize their sin and confess their eternal need for a Savior. Jesus says that God’s kingdom will be theirs—and to have such blessing is the ultimate way in which “it shall be well with [them]” (v. 2). So Psalm 128 isn’t necessarily about God promising earthly prosperity—although blessing does come from “the labor of [our] hands”—but eternal prosperity, the good and security of our souls.

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Source: Crosswalk