Some of the best advice I’ve been given is that the Bible is its best commentary. When I received one of my first Bibles after my baptism, I put this advice in the front cover. Another way this idea is expressed is through the saying “Let the easy texts interpret the hard texts.”
I’ve fallen back on this hermeneutical tool time and time again in my lifetime, but I’ve realized in the past several years how this can also lead to lazy Bible study. It can also protect us from being challenged and acted upon by the Spirit both through and apart from the Scripture. Let’s dive in.
Lazy Bible Students
While I believe that Scripture can and does interpret Scripture, or at the least interacts with Scripture, I believe it is best to first let each passage stand on its own. Before jumping from Leviticus to Hebrews or Matthew to Luke to clarify or explain some difficult passage or idea, one must first exhaust their resources in trying to understand that passage on its own. What words are used? What is the historical context? What emotions does the passage conjure up? Why is this passage hard to understand or challenging? How might one understand this passage if they didn’t have access to the other ones you might use to assist you in your studies?
These questions remind us that not all of Luke’s readers would have access to Matthew or Mark, if any. And nobody reading Leviticus had the book of Hebrews for hundreds of years. In other words, how might the original audience have understood this passage on its own?
It can be easy for us to skip these difficult steps and run to familiar passages to give us easy answers. While there may be a time and place for this, doing the hard work of trying to understand the passage on its own can be rewarding.
There’s another reason why one might not use this tool too quickly, and I think this next reason may be even more important.
The Bible is Not a Safe Space
Let’s admit that it is not safe to read the Bible. What I mean by that is that there are things in there that will challenge us and convict us. We may realize ways in which we have not taken up our cross. the Bible is also not a safe space because it relates stories about real people, and real people get messy: violence, sexual assault, wars, racism, and bad ideas about God (like those expressed by Job’s friends) can be found in those “hard” places we rarely venture to, and most of those difficult parts can be found in Judges!
But the Bible is not safe in another way. If you are looking for a neat and clean guidebook to all of life’s questions and easy, clear-cut answers about the world we live in, then the Bible is not the book for you. All through its pages, especially in the poetic sections, these questions are asked and go unanswered. When Job, who seems qualified to receive an answer, asks God for an explanation, he is basically told that he is trying to operate way above his pay grade.
But the Bible can turn into a safe space if we take out anything that might challenge us. Stick to these books, read these passages, follow this guide, listen to these sermons, then you’ll be okay! And so when you come across a passage that challenges you, just bring in one of these kinder, more familiar passages and everything will be alright.
Could it be that these “easy” passages we are told can interpret the harder ones only seem easy because we’ve heard about them our whole lives? And could it be that our “easy” or “plain” reading of these passages might actually be wrong? Using these to frame everything else in Scripture, then, is a recipe for disaster.
When you bump up against a “hard” passage, then, maybe it is only hard because it seems to contradict the passages you were told were “easy” or “obvious.” Let’s just label it hard or obscure so we can ignore it and it won’t challenge us!
Now I’m not denying that there are passages that are harder than others to understand, but hard doesn’t mean impossible, and so we shouldn’t run from them at the first sign of trouble. Instead, perhaps God has led us to them so that we will be willing to challenge those “easy” interpretations and grow in our faith.