Stupid Christian Argument #40: Interpret Difficult Passages in Light of Clear Ones

Stupid Christian Argument #40: Interpret Difficult Passages in Light of Clear Ones January 2, 2021

How can Christians maintain their belief when the Bible is full of contradictions and instances of God’s barbarity? Let’s look at their secret weapon.

(This list of stupid arguments begins here.)

This argument is an attempt to wriggle away from Bible verses that make God or Christianity look bad or that contradict each other. “Interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones” is advice from Josh McDowell’s New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (page 48).

McDowell makes clear that difficult isn’t actually the issue—it’s contradictions that are the problem. They’re not difficult to understand, only to reconcile. For example, the epistle of James says that salvation is by works but Romans says that it’s by grace. The trick, McDowell tells us, is to find the interpretation that you like within the constellation of competing verses, bring that one forward, and either ignore the others or reinterpret them to be somehow subordinate to or supportive of your preferred interpretation. He doesn’t put it quite so bluntly, but that’s what he means.

The quest for the “clearer” passage has become a quest for the most pleasing (or least embarrassing) one.

The mere existence of what McDowell euphemistically calls “difficult” passages is a problem that few apologists admit to. How could verses conflict in a book inspired by a perfect god, even if some argument could be found to harmonize them? If conflicting verses exist, doesn’t that make the Bible look like nothing more than a manmade book? How could God give humanity a book that was at all unclear or ambiguous? What does it say that 45,000 Christian denominations have sprung up over varying interpretations of a single holy book?

And no, “I’ll just have to ask that of God when I see him in heaven” won’t do because the Bible must be self-contained. It has no purpose except to be clear and convincing to people here on earth.

See also:

When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity.
When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.
— Robert M. Pirsig


(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 7/27/16.)

Image from Toa Heftiba (free-use license)

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