How do you deal with difficult passages in the Bible? Thankfully the Bible is straight-forward and understandable. The most important things are the most clear. However, there are passages that are more difficult, requiring more work by the interpreter.
I remember about 12 years ago as I worked as a pastoral intern at a church. I was teaching through a passage and my pastor gave me some feedback. “You are calling out audibles like a quarterback.” I was working through a difficult passage and in order to prove my interpretation I marshaled some other (many) verses. Like Peyton Manning yelling “Omaha! Nascar! Bradshaw! Montana! Hut Hut!” I was calling out Bible verses from everywhere.
Then he said to me, “Hey, if Hebrews 6 teaches that you can lose your salvation then you can lose your salvation.”
What did he mean? The Bible is God’s Word. The meaning of the text is the meaning of the text. There are not multiple meanings. In order to faithfully teach a passage you have got to understand what it says before we say what it means. In other words, we draw out from the meaning from text (exegesis) rather than impose our meaning into the text (eisegesis). Even with good motives I was skipping this critical step.
To be clear, I do not believe that it is wrong to cite corresponding verses to support the text’s meaning. In fact, it is not only not wrong it is very helpful. However, it is when and how you cross-reference that is key. In order to model faithful hermeneutics, teachers should faithfully handle the individual text, discerning its meaning before cross-referencing. This teaches people how to actually read their Bibles and wrestle through the interpretive process.
I was reminded of this last week when preaching through Hebrews 6. I could hear my former pastor in my ears, “Work through this text. Understand its meaning.” I’m profoundly thankful for his advice.