confusedHave you ever been reading the Bible and had to stop and think, “What in the world does that mean?” Don’t worry. You are completely normal. Even the Apostle Peter admitted that some of Paul’s writings were difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16).

Join us for mid-week study during the month of May as we study some of these difficult passages together. We will be meeting at Jim and karen’s home at 6:30 p.m.

Please send passages you would like explained to Pastor McShaffrey in advance and he will endeavor explain them as best he can. Below are outlines of past studies:

The kingdom suffers violence?
A coin in the fish’s mouth?
What were the Nephilim?
Swear not at all?
Are all sins equally heinous?
What is the unpardonable sin?
Defilement comes from within?
Praying in Jesus’ name?


The Kingdom Suffers Violence (Matthew 11:12)


Initial Difficulty

This passage is difficult, first of all, because of the unpleasant  nature of the illustration: Violence

This difficulty is easily overcome by realizing that Jesus frequently borrowed shocking images from his culture to describe his kingdom (e.g., Matt. 18:34, 24:43, Luke 18:2, etc.).


Interpretive Difficulty

Another difficulty with this passage is that it can legitimately be interpreted as either a positive or a negative lesson:

If it was intended as positive, the lesson was: “So persuasive was John’s preparatory ministry, that desperate sinners are now impassioned to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

If it was intended as negative, the lesson was: “Though the arrival of the kingdom is evident, the sons of the kingdom (i.e., the Jews) are intensely opposing it.”


Proposed Solution

Luke 16:14-16 retains the interpretive tension, so we should probably receive the saying as being intentionally cryptic with an intended double meaning (c.f., Matt. 11:15).


A Coin in a Fish’s Mouth? (Matthew 17:24-27)

This passage is difficult simply because Jesus is affirming/teaching so many things at the same time:

TITHING – All men (age 20 and up) were required to pay this religious tax for the maintenance of the Temple (Exodus 30:13).

OBEDIENCE – To fulfill all righteousness, Jesus obeyed every OT Law perfectly and Peter affirmed this (vs. 25a).

TESTING – Priests and Rabbis were not required to pay this tax and revolutionaries refused, so the questioners were testing him.

OMNISCIENCE – Jesus knew about this private conversation and initiated the discussion with Peter.

CHRISTOLOGY – Since Jesus was God’s Son and since the Temple was his House, he technically did not have to pay.

OFFENSES – The spread of the Gospel is always more important than pressing personal rights (1 Cor. 8-9).

PROVIDENCE – Peter’s first catch was a fish that had four day’s worth of wages in its mouth!


What Were The Nephilim? (Genesis 6:1-4)

This passage is difficult due to its general obscurity and its many fanciful interpretations. Many suggest that the Nephilim (lit., “fallen ones”) were demons who impregnated humans with half-breed giants.

We reject this interpretation on the following grounds:

– “Man” is in view here, not demons (vs. 3-4)

– Demons cannot reproduce (Matt. 22:30)

– The “according to its kind” principle (Gen. 1:25)

– Nephilim survived the flood (Num. 13:33)

A far more contextual interpretation would be this:

– “Sons of God” are the Sethites (Gen. 5)

– “Daughters of Men” are the Cainites (Gen. 4)

– The sin was the mingling of “seeds” (Gen 3:15)

– Their “giantness” was dynastic militarism (vs. 4-5, 11)

The passage, therefore, is about the importance of preserving the promised seed through godly separation as the devil continually seeks to corrupt the church and cause apostasy.


Swear Not at All? (Matthew 5:33-37)

This passage is difficult because it may appear to contradict other passages which speak favorably of oaths/vows:

– God swore an oath (Hebrews 6:13-14)

– Jesus was put under oath (Matt. 26:63-64)

– Paul took oaths/vows (Acts 18:18, 2 Cor. 1:23)

– An Angel swore and oath (Rev. 10:5-7)


Considering the Context

The Jews developed a system that allowed them “an out” by swearing on things lesser than God’s name (e.g., heaven, the temple, Jerusalem, their heads, etc.). Jesus here demonstrates the sinful folly of “false swearing” by affirming God’s omnipresence.


The Main Point

Oaths should only be taken in matters of necessary weight and moment (e.g., marriages, court trials, citizenship, etc.).

In more ordinary matters, our simple word of “yes” or “no” should be sufficient and trustworthy. Saying “I swear…” is a poor substitute for personal integrity.


Are All Sins Equally heinous?


This question is difficult because the Bible clearly states that  each and every sin is sufficient to condemn a soul to Hell (Ezek. 18:4, James 2:10).

Nevertheless, the Bible does speak of varying degrees of severity when it comes to sin. This is proven by:

– Explicit Statement (John 19:11)

– Analogy (Luke 12:47-48)

– Categorization (Proverbs 6:16-19)

– Intentionality (Numbers 15:22-31)

– Punishment (Exodus 21:12-27)

– Condemnation (Matthew 11:21-24)

– Aggravations (2 Samuel 12:14)

Main point: While all sins are hated by God, there are some that are more abominable in his holy sight.


What is the Unpardonable Sin? (Matthew 12:22-32)

The nature of the “unforgivable sin” can only be understood if we consider who committed this sin. So let’s get to know the Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees:

– Experts in the scriptures (Luke 11:37-54)

– Held spiritual authority (Matt. 23:2)

– Witnessed Christ’s works (Matt. 12:9-14)

– Hated hearing Christ praised (Matt. 21:15)

– Tried to discredit Christ (Matt. 22:34-36)

– Guilty of Hypocrisy (Matt 23:13-36)

– Led others into Hell (Matt. 23:15)

– Conspired to kill Christ (Matt. 20:18)

– Mocked the dying Christ (Mark 15:31)

In light of this, it seems that the unforgivable sin should be understood as inexcusable, unrepentant, willful, persistent Christ-rejection to the point of publicly ascribing his works to Satan.

Discussion: Can this sin still be committed today?


Defilement Comes from Within? (Matthew 15:1-20)

This passage is difficult because it seems to suggest that we need not worry about “taking in” potentially harmful things via sensory experience, but this would contradict other scriptures:

– Job 31:1

– Psalm 101:3, 119:37

– Proverbs 31:4-5

– 1 Cor. 15:33

According to the context, Jesus’ words are intended as a rebuke to a specific group of religious hypocrites people who:

– Valued religious traditions more than scripture

– Worshipped God only in mere externals

– Minimized sanctification to rules/rituals

– Fancied themselves as righteous in God’s sight

Main point: Our sin problem is far deeper than “religionists” imagine. We need a new heart (not a religious “to do” list).


Praying in Jesus’ Name? (John 14:13-14)

This saying is difficult to understand because it seems to suggest that if we simply say, “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers, we are guaranteed a favorable answer.

However, Jesus warned against superstition (Matt. 6:7, 7:21) and no prayer recorded in the NT ends with this specific formula.

What it means to pray in Jesus’ name:

– Acknowledging our sin (Isaiah 59:2)

– Accessing through our Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5)

– Approaching God boldly (Hebrews 4:14-16)

– Asking for appropriate things (1 John 5:14-15)

– Advancing God’s glory (Daniel 9:17, Jer. 14:7)