Three good things about difficult Bible passages

I recently heard a recording of a pastor with decades of experience say that the passage in Mark 7:24-30 is one of the most difficult passages about Jesus in the entire Bible.1 This was also the passage from which we read a few weeks ago at our local church. How does one defend Jesus’ apparent ethnocentrism directed at a marginalized mother who is desperate to find a cure for her child?

Confronting difficult passages is, well, difficult. But this difficulty presents some important points. Here are three good things about difficult Bible passages:

  1. We learn about veracity of the Bible. In other words, a difficult passage about the life of Jesus (or of any other Biblical “hero”) reinforces the historicity of the documents, because this is exactly the kind of thing that writers of hagiography or fiction would avoid.2
  2. We learn about our church’s relationship to the Bible. A church leadership that routinely walks paragraph-by-paragraph through a biblical book demonstrates a posture of humility and submission to the Bible’s authority. In other words, verse-by-verse progression provides a practical demonstration of a church doing its best to simply take God at his word. It’s the difference between asking, “What does the Bible say?” and, “How can I make the Bible say what I want to say?”3
  3. We learn about our own biases. It’s important to recognize that when it comes to the Bible, “difficult” almost always means, “contrary to the norms, presuppositions, or expectations of my own culture.” No single culture or people group finds all of the Bible’s teaching attractive – not even the cultures recorded in the Bible itself! The fact that the very passage that you find “so difficult” is one that millions of others find “so obvious” (and vice versa) is both humbling and heartening.

We don’t dodge Mark 7:24-30. We read it. We meditate on it. We discover that we needn’t defend Jesus at all, at least not in the way we originally feared: compelled to “explain away” or “spin” his words with present-day categories that have nothing to do with the original intent of the passage. Instead, we discover that the sum total of Jesus’ action with the woman in Mark 7 is like his action with us: offering bread (himself) that was never deserved.

So before gritting your teeth or quickly scanning to the next chapter heading, remember that there are (at least!) three very good things about encountering difficulty in the Bible.

  1. John Stott, who makes this point when preaching from the same text.

  2. Ibid.

  3. This doesn’t mean, of course, that topical studies are never beneficial.