6 Ways to Approach Even the Toughest Bible Passages

6 Ways to Approach Even the Toughest Bible Passages

Some passages of the Bible are easily accessible and make a lot of sense. Others are complex, but every time someone goes to read it, they learn something new, making it intriguing and engaging to read. Still, some passages are difficult to understand, even for pastors and theologians. Despite approaching the passage again and again, it is hard to understand personally, and difficult for there to even be theological consensus among scholars.

What Makes Some Bible Passages Difficult to Understand?

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/SIphotography

1. It Has Abstract or Highly Specific Concepts

Confused woman looking at a chalkboard with scribbled lines across it

Examples include the symbolism in Jesus’ parables in the Gospels, prophets who had to act out their prophecies such as Hosea or Ezekiel, and political subtext.

God’s ways are higher than our ways, and trying to wrap our minds around what He is communicating can be difficult. Some of Jesus’ parables are hard to approach for new believers. What is this pearl in the field? Why would these farm hands murder three people? Why is Jesus even teaching like that?

In the Old Testament, some of God’s prophets were called to suffer physically to act out God’s relationship with Israel and coming discipline. What is the purpose of it?

Finally, sometimes there are underlying political issues going on that are not directly addressed in the Bible, but would illuminate certain details, clarify conversations, and more.

2. It Is Prophetic

Several books in the Bible, and key sermons in the Gospels, are of a prophetic nature, and have not yet come to pass. It is full of powerful imagery, some of which seems decipherable, but not fully. It is so abstract that it could be seen through different lenses, and understood in different, academically valid ways.

3. It Recounts Something That Is Emotionally or Intellectually Difficult

The Bible recounts thousands of years of history, including periods where human sacrifice was common, where the horrors of war were a daily occurrence, and where women and children were not always treated well. Even believers with a strong relationship with the Lord can struggle to understand why certain things took place. Why did Jephthah have to sacrifice his daughter? Why did the Israelites suffer so much? These are valid questions with which people should wrestle.

So, what are some ways to approach a book or passage that is difficult to understand?

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/eternalcreative

6 Study Tips for Hard Bible Passages

Bible study group

1. Give It Time

Growing as a Christian is like growing as a person. As a baby, you can’t digest foods like adults can. For a new believer, there are certain theological ideas in the Bible that may be harder to digest. Wisdom, sanctification, and discipleship from other believers may be necessary to grasp deeper truths.

It doesn’t mean it is forever beyond your comprehension, it just may be something that you will understand later in your Christian walk. One of the wonderful truths of the Bible is how it can be infinitely mined for truth and understanding.

2. Find Sermons or Online Sources on the Subject

One of the blessings of being a Christian in the 21st century is the access to information. There are video sermons, articles, blogs, e-books, and so much more that can give insight into a confusing passage, a complex book, or a difficult study.

However, it is important to vet the source. Don’t trust just anything said on the internet. Make sure it doesn’t contradict the Bible and that it can be crossed-referenced against other reliable sources. Go to elders or pastors in your church to get a list of reliable internet sources. Once you have a database of reliable pastors and sources to access, you can begin to use those tools to demystify confusing passages.

3. Talk to Other Believers

Other Christians can be a wonderful source of knowledge and wisdom to understand the Bible. New believers should seek out someone to disciple them, and more seasoned Christians should be in regular Bible study and fellowship. Having regular conversation about what you are studying in the Bible can be an uplifting experience, and also allows for time to ask questions and dive deep into God’s Word.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/pcess609

4. Use a Concordance or Other Reference Book

Stack of books

Sometimes understanding the word in its original language or getting bite-sized pieces of information to provide a little insight and context can make a huge difference in deciphering a passage. There are both physical and online concordances that give the words of the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek, their various uses, and their modern definitions.

Reference books may be large and intimidating, but they can provide useful context without excessive information that could add to the confusion.

5. Cross Reference the Challenging Passage with a Similar One

Reading a passage from a minor prophet in Obadiah about a prophecy of Israel that doesn’t make sense? Cross reference with the passages in 1 Kings about Elijah. They were contemporaries! What is happening historically?

What about context for something happening in one Gospel? Look at the same account in the others, or what was going on around that same time according to other Gospels. Many of the books of the Bible have overlap, and even reference one another. Using a passage that may have been more accessible to understand a trickier one can help.

6. Pray for Wisdom and Guidance

When we are confused about God’s Word, we should go directly to God in prayer! Once someone accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit indwells them, meaning God lives inside each Christian. Our bodies become the temple of the Holy Spirit. God is there, ready to answer your questions.

The answer may come in unexpected ways, like coming across a resource, the topic coming up unexpectedly in conversation, or the Spirit may just unlock new understanding in your mind. Prayer is a way to ask for wisdom, and can be particularly useful when trying to wrestle with a passage about the nature and character of God. He wants us to know Him personally and will always reveal Himself to those who seek Him earnestly.

Related Podcast:

Photo credit: Unsplash/Sharon McCutcheon

How Can We Understand Evil Acts in the Bible?

woman upset, thinking while reading the bible

But what about those passages about people doing evil in the Bible? What are we to make of that?

The Bible was written over the course of thousands of years, guided by the Holy Spirit. Like any book that records historical events, it will contain accounts of events that seem to contradict the idea that God is good. Even understanding historical context doesn’t take away the feeling that what is recorded is wrong.

Understand that just because something is recorded in the Bible doesn’t mean the Bible is endorsing it. God challenged Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to test his obedience, but ultimately, God stopped him because God does not condone human sacrifice. When other cultures, even the Israelites, practice human sacrifice later in the text, this also does not mean that God wants human sacrifice. These were evil, pagan practices.

Another lens through which someone can understand difficult moments in the Bible is that just because God tolerated something for a season does not mean it was His will, or original intent. Polygamy, and all the suffering that came along with that practice, is an example. When God created man and woman, He created them to demonstrate that marriage was between one man and one woman. Some believing men took multiple wives, but there were always consequences. After the exile, there is no record of Israelites taking multiple wives, and even before that it was mostly royals doing it for political reasons. When Jesus came to earth, He clarified that God did not intend for His people to practice polygamy.

Many of the most challenging moments in the Old Testament can be understood through these two perspectives, and are often clarified through the ministry of the Lord Jesus.

God wants His Word to be accessible for all people so they can have a deep relationship with Him. As frail and sinful people, there will always be things that are difficult to understand, but with modern technology, the friendship and fellowship of other believers, and direct access to God, He will answer our burning questions in His time, at His pace. God does not want His people to live in ignorance, misunderstanding, and confusion. He is the God of clarity, wisdom, and light.


Halley, Henry. Halley’s Bible Handbook. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Kramer, Joel. Where God Came Down: The Archaeological Evidence. Expedition Bible, 2020.

Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated and Expanded Edition. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 2007.

Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Old Testament and New Testament. United States of America: Victor Books, 1987.

Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/digitalskillet3

Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.