Hard Sayings of the Bible

By Pollard, Paul | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Hard Sayings of the Bible


Pollard, Paul, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Hard Sayings of the Bible. By Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996, 808 pp., $29.99.

No matter what level of study has been attained, many readers of the Bible come away from it confused and even clueless about what certain problem texts mean. At times verses may even seem to contradict other parts of the Bible. Where can a person turn for help? One of the best resources available is Hard Sayings of the Bible, written from an evangelical perspective by four competent scholars.

In 1983 F. F. Bruce launched the "Hard Sayings" series with The Hard Sayings of Jesus. This was followed by other volumes on the Old Testament by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., on Paul by Manfred T. Brauch and on the rest of the New Testament by Peter H. Davids. After more than a quarter million copies of the "Hard Sayings" series, Hard Sayings of the Bible combines the earlier versions and also provides new material. More than 100 new verses were added plus 12 introductory articles addressing a range of questions, such as: "How do we know who wrote the Bible?" "Can we believe in the miracles?" and "Does archaeology support Bible history?"

The texts included in this volume as "hard" sayings are so because differences in culture, time and perspective make information that was perfectly clear to an ancient audience very difficult for modern readers to grasp. Many such texts are cleared up by discussion of these types of cultural problems. Some texts, it is acknowledged by the authors, are "hard" not because they are unclear but because they are totally clear and rise up to challenge our lifestyles and thinking. For the most part Hard Sayings of the Bible deals with the former type of "hard" Scripture.

In analyzing the OT texts Walter Kaiser (who wrote all of the articles on OT hard sayings) looked for texts containing tensions in doctrine and ethics within the books or between authors of the Bible. A few of the OT articles deal with difficulties involving "facts" but most examine theological and ethical questions.

Bruce, mainly in articles dealing with problem passages in the Synoptics, assumes the priority of Mark and the use of Q by Matthew and Luke (along with other special sources). His view of the interrelatedness of the Synoptic material does not seem to affect his exposition of the hard sayings. In addition, he rightly does not see the necessity of sorting out whether or not the verses examined are authentic sayings of Jesus.

Manfred Branch, in discussing hard sayings in Paul, assumes that his epistles are documents written to address specific occasions, i.e. problems, both of congregations and individuals. Branch is sensitive about how Scripture should be applied today and warns against universalizing instructions written to a specific situation in Paul's day. Davids also cautions against too easily applying Scripture today without first grasping what it meant to the original readers.

The book is easy to use. After addressing common questions dealing with the Bible in general in the introductory essays, the hard sayings are organized canonically by chapter and verse, going from Genesis to Revelation. Cross-references point readers to comments on other Bible texts or to remarks in the introductory essays pertaining to the same thought. For example, in the discussion of Adam and Eve's death in Gen 2:17 readers are also pointed to the discussion in Rom 5:12. In the same way, readers wondering about the discussion of pigs in Mark 5:11-13 are directed to the parallel passage in Matt 8:31-32 for an explanation. In this way readers are led to other texts dealing with their verse that may not have immediately connected with it.

Occasionally the reader will find different points of view on Biblical texts dealing with the same subject. This is due to the multiple authorship of the book and shows that even "experts" can disagree on these matters. …

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