How to Study the Bible, by Watchman Nee


There are a few basic principles to dealing with difficult passages in the Bible. First, we must believe that the Bible itself contains no difficulties whatsoever. If there is any difficulty, it is with our biased and misaimed understanding.

Second, in order to solve these difficulties, it is not enough to interpret according to the text alone. No portion of the Word can have its own interpretation. Whenever we encounter a difficult passage, we have to study it in conjunction with other passages before we can arrive at any conclusion. No difficult passage can be in conflict with the teachings contained in other parts of the Bible. When God wrote the Bible, He did not write one portion without regard for the other portions. If there is any conflict at all, it must be in our mind.

Third, although some words can be found only in one place, not in other places, we still have to believe them. We should not doubt God’s Word simply because of our prejudice and reason.

Fourth, we have to look for evidence to solve the difficulties, that is, scriptural evidence as well as logical evidence. God’s Word is absolutely logical. He can never say anything that is illogical.

Fifth, the difficulty that we are speaking of here is difficulty in interpretation and doctrine. If there are contradictions in the numbers used in the Scriptures, we should not consider them as difficulties. These may be manuscript errors. Recently, a manuscript was discovered near Mount Sinai. It has many manuscript errors. At the time it was made, the church was under persecution, Bibles were destroyed everywhere, and it was not easy to make copies. Copying errors are unavoidable, but this does not mean that there is a problem with the inspiration itself. It is nit-picking for someone to attack the Bible on account of this kind of error.

After we have agreed on the above principles, we can group the difficult passages in the Bible together. For example, there are “the sons of God” in Genesis 6:2, “go down alive into Sheol” in Numbers 16:30, “An old man is coming up.…Saul knew that it was Samuel” in 1 Samuel 28:14, “Concerning that day and hour, no one knows, not even…the Son” in Matthew 24:36, the two swords in Luke 22:38, “Whosever sins you forgive, they are forgiven them” in John 20:23, “renew themselves again unto repentance” in Hebrews 6:6, “There no longer remains a sacrifice…for sins” in Hebrews 10:26, “The spirits in prison” in 1 Peter 3:19, and “The gospel was announced also to those who are now dead” in 1 Peter 4:6. All of these can be considered problematic passages for interpretation. Other issues such as the camel passing through the eye of a needle in Matthew 19:24 have been settled over four hundred years ago already; they no longer can be considered problematic. Paul’s journey to Jerusalem in Acts 21 is also not a problem in interpretation; it is a problem related to his own action.

Following the above principles, let us deal with one specific passage in the Old Testament that poses difficulty.

Genesis 6 speaks of the sons of God. This relates quite much to the second coming of the Lord Jesus, because the Lord said, “Even as it happened in the days of Noah, so will it be also in the days of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:26). What were the days of Noah like? At that time the sons of God married the daughters of men. Many Bible expositors think that this refers to the sons of Seth marrying the daughters of Cain. Many popular versions of the Bible also interpret it this way, but this is too farfetched. When the sons of God married the daughters of men, the offspring were called nephilim. (The King James Version translated it as giants. The original meaning of the word is “fallen ones.”) How could Seth’s sons marry Cain’s daughters and bring forth nephilim? Seth was a man. So was Cain. How could their offspring be something other than ordinary humans? This interpretation is too farfetched.

(How to Study the Bible, Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)