Feb 24, 2010 David Lang

Hard Sayings and Bible Difficulties

As I mentioned in a previous post, my family has been reading through 1 Peter recently. During our family devotions, I'll teach from my laptop while my wife and kids all follow along with their print Bibles. They'll each take turns reading portions of the passage, and then I'll read through it again offering commentary and explanation. I rarely prepare ahead of time, and so I sometimes find myself scrambling for answers. That was the case the other day when we read 1 Peter 3:18-22:

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

As my daughter was reading this passage aloud, I started scrambling to find a good explanation for what this passage means. I had studied it enough in the past to have a rough idea of the different interpretations of this passage, but I really wasn't prepared enough to give a good explanation that would make sense to children ranging from fourteen to eight years of age (the one year old was blissfully unconcerned with the proper interpretation).

ivp-hard sayingsThe first place I turned was to two resources devoted to explaining difficult passages without going into too much technical detail: Zondervan's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties and IVP's Hard Sayings of the Bible. Both of these are Reference Tools, which means they are organized in verse reference order like a commentary. Since Reference Tools can be displayed in parallel panes with the text of the Bible, I simply opened up panes containing those two resources.

Both resources gave fairly lengthy explanations of the passage, but I was able to skim to the most relevant parts and read those to my family. Even that was a little much, so I then had to summarize what those resources were saying.

The danger of a passage like this is that it can get you picking theological and interpretive nits so that you miss the author's larger point. My goal was therefore to give as simple and clear an explanation as possible without getting bogged down. Put another way, my goal was to "gloss over" the more difficult theological questions. The resources I chose gave me the quick interpretive help I needed. I might also have turned to a good study Bible (such as the NIV or ESV Study Bibles).

Afterward, I felt the need to get a clearer understanding of this passage and its various interpretations. That's when I turned to my commentaries and a systematic theology for a fuller treatment. Those resources would have been overkill in the context of our family devotion, but they helped me gain a better understanding now that I really had time to consider all the interpretive questions. Hopefully, the next time we read 1 Peter 3:18-22, I won't need to scramble to find a good explanation. But if I do, I know which resources to consult for quick help.

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