- “Who wrote this?”
- “Why is this happening?”
- “How long is a cubit again?”
- “What does this mean?”
Asking these questions helps us focus on the text and get more out of it. As a kid, I learned to “interrogate the text”—that is, to constantly ask these kinds of questions when reading any passage of the Bible. If we’re always playing Q & A with the text, we’ll slow down—and hopefully get an objective idea of what it says. (You can learn more about that methodology in this book.)
Here’s the problem
Sometimes, the answers just aren’t there.
- “Who wrote this?” is a difficult question to answer in Hebrews.
- “What does this vision mean?” is especially tough in Daniel and Revelation.
- What is the “sin that does not lead to death” (1 Jn 5:16–17)?
When I come across passages like these, I search and search and search for answers. It’s frustrating. These aren’t especially complex questions; I just want to know who the “spirits in prison” are (1 Pe 3:18–20)!
But sometimes the concrete answer is nowhere to be found. And that’s when I fall back on three little words:
“It doesn’t say.”
This simple, three-word rule of thumb has saved me a lot of headache over the years:
- “It doesn’t say” protects me from drawing distinctions and finding “nuggets” that God didn’t really put there.
- “It doesn’t say” gives me an excuse to throw up my hands and move on.
- “It doesn’t say” helps me focus on what God does say—which is what I should be focusing on, anyway!
Example: my most recent infographic is on David’s mighty men. The Bible breaks this group into a few subsections, but it also leaves a lot of questions. “Who were the mysterious three? Why don’t the numbers add up?” I looked around for answers, but it doesn’t say.
Once I realized that, I could move on with my study.
But how do you know when it doesn’t say?
Here’s the new problem the it-doesn’t-say solution introduces: when do we know for sure that the Bible doesn’t say?
Here’s the checklist I go through before playing the it-doesn’t-say card:
1. Is this issue addressed anywhere else in the book?
Sometimes getting the big picture of the book of the Bible you’re reading from helps make sense of the smaller passage swatches.
If not . . .
2. Does the original language give me any clarity?
Most of us don’t read Greek and Hebrew—which is kind of a bummer, right? But there are some tools out there that can help us get a little closer to the original text. I use Logos Bible Software, but I started with my family’s copy of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance with Greek and Hebrew Dictionary.
If that doesn’t help . . .
3. Do cross references shed any light on the matter?
Most study Bibles will have superscript letters in the Bible text—these point to similar verses in the Bible. It’s especially helpful to see how the Bible speaks on the same issues to different audiences.
If not . . .
4. Does a search turn up any results?
It’s best to search by original-language words, but searching in your own language is OK, too.
My friends built an awesome Chrome extension to help you do this. You can get the Bible Search extension free here.
But sometimes, the Bible still won’t give me the answer to my question.
5. Can commentators help me out?
I can’t read Greek and Hebrew AND I have a really weak sense of what life was like during Bible times. Lucky for me, I live in an age when smart historians and linguists make lots of this information available to us.
If I still come up with nothing, there’s a good chance Bible is silent on the matter.
Accepting that the Bible doesn’t fully explain everything has helped me a lot, and I hope this principle helps you as your study the Word, too.