There are many difficult verses, some would say troubling, hard-to-understand or accept verses throughout the Bible and there will never be unanimous agreement as to which verse is the most difficult. Measuring the difficulty in a verse of Scripture is not an objective exercise like deciding on the shortest verse, 2 words "Jesus wept" (John 11:35) or the longest, 78 words "Then were the king's scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language." (Esther 8:9)
Some would argue that there are no difficult verses or passages of Scripture, just that our lack of understanding of that verse or verses cause us difficulty in understanding them. There is much truth here but even the most brilliant Bible scholar needs to be extremely careful in declaring that there are no difficult scriptures.
The Apostle Peter in admonishing the early church, over which he had leadership, was very understanding and reminded them, "As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16)
It is still true today that those who "wrest" with scripture "unto their own destruction" are the unlearned and the unstable or, as we would add today, the superficial or inexperienced. To overcome this particular problem it is vital that believers become mature-meat-eating-adults that have transcended the milk-drinking stage of their spiritual development and have gone on to perfection: "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18)
Having said all that it is still true that sincere, committed, mature Christians will still find some scriptures tough to deal with.
Let me pause here to say this because I believe this is very important. Whether we are able to explain a scripture to everyone's satisfaction or not does not in any way affect the veracity, power or reach of God's Word because God's Word "...is forever settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89)
Here are four verses likely to be at the top of nearly every list of difficult-to-understand scriptures.
1. "Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his sonEnoch." (Genesis 4:16-17) The pertinent question here is who was Cain's wife?
2. "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me." (Matthew 27:8-9) The important question here is, how come this quote was credited to Jeremiah and not Zechariah (Zechariah 11:12)?
3. "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison." (1 Peter 3:17-18) The important question here is, did Jesus preach while he was in the grave?
4. The most difficult Scripture is this one, "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." (Mark 13:32) This verse is part of the discourse where Jesus is telling his disciples about events taking place at the end of the world, of the destruction of Jerusalem's Temple and at his second coming. Matthew chapter 24 is the other place where this same discourse is recorded, but in Matthew this applicable verse is recorded thus, "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." (Matthew 24:36).
So where does the difficulty lie in this Mark 13:32 verse?
First it seems to signify that God the Father knows things that God the Son does not. Think about this for a moment and you will see where this can lead.
Second it seems to suggest that the day and hour when the world as we know it ends is known to God the Father only, excluding God the Son.
Third and most important it implies that Jesus is not God since the accepted definition of God includes three absolutes; Omnipotent (All Powerful), Omnipresence (Present Everywhere), Omniscience (All Knowing) and only God, and God alone can be all of these.
Another pause here for reflection is important. The person of Jesus Christ in all his varied dimensions; his person, ministry, mission, in fact the entire doctrine of Jesus Christ known in theology as Christology has a very tumultuous history. Nevertheless it is now a settled history, an established theology and all mainstream churches accept the doctrine of Christ as agreed at The first ecumenical council of Nicea in 325AD and all subsequent affirmations by the following councils up to and including The Council of Nicea 2, 787AD.
This still leaves us with trying to reconcile Mark 13:32 with all that is known and accepted by the church as regards Jesus Christ.
First it should be made clear that Mark 13:32 has no errors. It is easy to say that the verse was an erroneous translation and the correct translation is the one given in Matthew 24:36 where "nor the Son" is excluded. There are many Greek manuscripts where the texts are as Mark 13:32 and Bible scholars are satisfied that no translation errors are involved.
Next some commentators have made the case that when Jesus came to earth he emptied himself of Divinity (Philippians 2:7) and was a mere mortal so he could not know the things that were of Deity. This view is incorrect for Jesus was all man as well as fully God during his time on earth (Colossians 2:9) as agreed at Nicea 325AD.
The answer to this puzzle lies elsewhere.
Jesus is God incarnate and knows all things and has so demonstrated during his time on earth. (John 4:18, John 1:48, Luke 11:17, John 18:4) The combination of God with man, though a puzzle to humans, is the essential, unique character of Jesus Christ making him fully God and fully man without altering any of the natures or characteristics.
The answer is in understanding the word Son. Jesus Christ as God the Son knows all things, just like God the Father, for they, along with the Holy Spirit, form the Blessed Trinity and what is known to one is known to all. Jesus Christ as the Son of Man has all the limitations of humans and so did not know the hour or the day of the coming judgment. The word "Son" in Mark 13:32 emphasises Jesus' humanity and the verse could have been written thus:
'But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son of Man on earth, but the Father only."
The correct understanding of Mark 13:32 then is as follows:
The day and the hour of the event (the end of the world or the destruction of the temple or the second coming) is not to be made known by the angels which are in heaven for it is unknown to them, neither the Son for it is not part of his portfolio but the Father only. Understanding it this way ties up all the loose ends and are compatible with our understanding of the body of Scripture.
All this goes to show that a proper exegesis is the very best way to explain and understand all the complexities in Scripture. When we take into account the full context of the verse or verses under scrutiny and the speaker, purpose, intended audience and all such relevant matters then most difficulties vanish.
We are counselled to, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15) Were we to follow this guidance, not only would we be in a prime position to solve these Bible difficulties and help others along the way, we would also be in fine fettle to live victoriously as did David, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." (Psalm 119:11)
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013
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