Why the Bible Is So Difficult to Understand
Have you ever wondered why the Cross took the disciples by surprise? During His ministry, Jesus taught the disciples at least three times, in plain, explicit language, that “it was necessary” that the Son of Man should “suffer many terrible things . . . and be killed” (Matt. 16:21, NLT). He also alluded to His death at least eight other times. In addition, the Gospel of John registers seven references made by Jesus in the last week of His ministry to the “hour” of His death. What else could Jesus have done? How in the world were the disciples able to dismiss such clear warnings?
The failure of the disciples to understand such clear warnings of Jesus has both intrigued and haunted me for years. If the disciples missed such clear warnings, the odds are that I am missing some as well. It is important then to understand why this happened. Consider this perplexing story in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking:*
On September 1983, Gianfranco Becchina, a Sicilian art dealer, communicated with the J. Paul Getty Museum that he had a magnificent marble statue that he asserted had been made in the sixth century B.C. The statue was a kouros, an ancient Greek representation of a naked man. Becchina asked for $10 million.
The museum analyzed the offer with caution. It received the statue on loan to do an in-depth investigation, which lasted 14 months. The Getty Museum concluded that the style of the sculpture was similar to the Anavyssos kouros that was located at the National Archaeological Museum of Greece in Athens. The Getty attorneys concluded that the documents certifying the recent history of the statue were genuine.
The Getty Museum also contracted the services of Stanley Margolis, a geologist from the University of California, Davis. Margolis dedicated two days to examining the surface of the statue with a stereo high-definition microscope. Then he took a sample and examined it with an electron microscope; he performed mass spectrometry, X-ray diffraction, and X-ray fluorescence. In his report, Margolis observed that the material was dolomite from the ancient quarry at Vathi Cape in the island of Thassos and that the surface was covered with a thin layer of calcite. Margolis explained that dolomite could transform itself into calcite only through a process that lasts hundreds or thousands of years, which demonstrated that the statue could not be a recent falsification. The Getty Museum purchased the statue for $9 million.
The story is extraordinary because when the kouros was first put on exhibition, a large number of ancient art experts immediately concluded that it was a fake. They had excavated and personally studied many ancient statues and knew that that one couldn’t be genuine.
Eight years later, scholars devoted a whole congress to discuss thekouros of the Getty Museum. The result was that the formidable scientific argument for its authenticity began to crumble. A zip code mentioned in the original documents of the kouros did not exist in fact until 20 years later than the date of the documents. A bank account mentioned in them had also been opened eight years later. The style of the kouros was in fact a pastiche of different styles from several periods and several places. A geologist also demonstrated that the thin layer of calcite could be produced with potato mildew. Somehow, the Getty had been blinded by science.
It seems that the problem was that the museum badly wanted thekouros to be genuine. The Getty was a young museum that wanted a world-class collection, and the kouros was the perfect piece for that. Somehow that desire filtered the information they received.
This is what it happened with the disciples. They disciples did not want to believe that Jesus would die. The necessity of the death of the Son of Man was a most objectionable idea. The title “Son of Man” identified Jesus with the glorious, heavenly figure of Daniel 7, who would receive dominion and a kingdom that would never be destroyed: “‘I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed’” (vss. 13, 14, ESV).
How could this glorious figure, beneficiary of God’s dominion over the kingdoms of the earth, be given into the hands of sinners and executed by the powers from which He was foretold to liberate His people?
Yet Jesus asserted that the suffering, rejection, and death of the Son of Man were necessary, and that He had come for this specific reason (John 12:27).
The disciples resisted this notion. Peter rebuked Jesus (Mark 8:32, 33) and the rest of the disciples, though distressed, failed to understand because the whole matter was simply unthinkable (John 12:34). In their desire they forgot that the seed would be destroyed by His heel while smashing the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), that the Messiah would “be cut off” (Dan. 9:26, NKJV) in the middle of the week, that He would be “pierced for our transgressions, . . . crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5, NIV). Their strong desire made them cling strongly to part of the information and filter out other information.
A wrong interpretation of the Bible is often not a matter of the head, but of the heart (2 Thess. 2:10, 12; 2 Tim. 4:1–4). The reason that makes the Bible so difficult to understand is that it requires conversion. “‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight’” (Matt. 11:25, 26, NKJV).
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