56 Tough Bible Passages (and How to Understand and Teach Them)

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In 2016, Brandon Smith and I launched a new podcast called Word MattersThe gist of the show goes like this: We take a contested or puzzling passage of the Bible, walk through the most common interpretations, and then recommend how to preach or teach the passage effectively. The podcast is sponsored by the Christian Standard Bible, and we are sometimes joined by scholars and pastors to help us wrestle with some of the harder texts of Scripture.

This summer, after 56 episodes, we brought this podcast to a close. Brandon has joined the faculty at Cedarville University, and I am in the initial stage of planning for some future podcasts.

We are grateful for all the listeners who have benefited from our treatments of these passages. Instead of doing a traditional episode list, we’ve categorized below in canonical order the passages we discussed. Our prayer is that this podcast remains a helpful reference to pastors and teachers who love God’s Word and his people.

Old Testament

  • Genesis 1 and Romans 5 – “Was Adam an historical person?” (Episode 13)
  • Genesis 6 – “Who were the nephilim?” (Episode 19)
  • Exodus 1 – “Did God bless the Hebrew midwives for deceiving Pharaoh?” (Episode 40)
  • Leviticus 11 and 19 – “Why does the OT condemn mixed cloths and shellfish?” (Episode 5
  • Deuteronomy 7 – “Does God promote genocide?” (Episode 30, with guest: Joshua Ryan Butler)
  • 1 Samuel 15 – “Does God change his mind? (Episode 27)
  • 1 Samuel 28 – “Did a witch bring a prophet back from the dead?” (Episode 55)
  • Psalm 139 – “Does the Bible tell us to hate our enemies?” (Episode 51)
  • Proverbs 29 – “What vision keeps us from perishing?” (Episode 48)

Gospels

  • Matthew 5 – “Why did Jesus say that those who mourn are blessed?” (Episode 43)
  • Matthew 5 – “Does Jesus expect his followers to be perfect?” (Episode 28, with guest: Jonathan Pennington)
  • Matthew 5 – “Did Jesus prohibit oath-taking?” (Episode 2, with guest: Scot McKnight
  • Matthew 7 – “Is it possible to do works in Jesus’s name and still be lost?” (Episode 11, with guest: Scot McKnight)
  • Matthew 7 – “What are the storms of life?” (Episode 53)
  • Matthew 10 and Luke 12 – “Did Jesus come to bring peace or a sword?” (Episode 22)
  • Matthew 15 – “Why did Jesus say He only came for Israel?” (Episode 17)
  • Matthew 15 – “Did Jesus call a woman a dog?” (Episode 25)
  • Matthew 16 – “When did the disciples see the kingdom of God?” (Episode 39)
  • Matthew 16 – “How did Jesus build his church?” (Episode 45, with guest: Jonathan Leeman)
  • Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25 – “What does it mean for a camel to go through the eye of a needle?” (Episode 15)
  • Matthew 24 – “What is the abomination of desolation?” (Episode 37)
  • Mark 1 – “Why were there wild animals with Jesus during his temptation in the wilderness?” (Episode 7)
  • Mark 9 – “Is doubt the enemy of faith? (Episode 4, with guest: Barnabas Piper)
  • Mark 13 – “Was Jesus omniscient?” (Episode 38)
  • Luke 14 and Matthew 10 – “Why does Jesus say to hate your father and mother?” (Episode 18)
  • Luke 16 – “Can we enter the kingdom of God by force?” (Episode 52, with guest: Patrick Schreiner)
  • Luke 16 – “Why did Jesus commend a dishonest manager?” (Episode 34)
  • Luke 16 – “Is Jesus’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man about heaven and hell? (Episode 10)
  • Luke 22 – “Did Jesus tell his disciples to carry swords for self-defense?” (Episode 8, with guest: Preston Sprinkle)
  • John 5 – “Can Jesus do anything apart from the Father?” (Episode 20, with guest: Scott Swain)
  • John 14 – “Is God the Father greater than God the Son?” (Episode 26, with guest: Fred Sanders)

New Testament Letters

  • Romans 1 – “Does the Bible forbid same-sex sexual activity?” (Episode 44, with guest: Tom Schreiner)
  • Romans 2 – “Who are the Gentiles in Romans 2?” (Episode 41, with guest: Tom Schreiner)
  • Romans 7 – “Who was Paul referring to in Romans 7?” (Episode 14, with guest: Michael Bird)
  • Romans 12 – “Should we heap fiery coals on our opponents’ heads?” (Episode 24)
  • Romans 13 – “Should Christians submit to the government in all instances? (Episode 6, with guest: Russell Moore)
  • 1 Corinthians 5 – “Why does Paul instruct us to hand people over to Satan?” (Episode 36)
  • 1 Corinthians 15 – “Did early Christians practice baptism for the dead?” (Episode 1)
  • 2 Corinthians 12 – “What is Paul’s thorn in the flesh?” (Episode 32, with guest: George Guthrie)
  • Galatians 4 – “Does Paul use allegory?” (Episode 54, with guest: Matthew Emerson)
  • Philipians 2 – “What does it mean to work out our salvation?” (Episode 31)
  • Philippians 2 – “Did Jesus empty himself of divinity?” (Episode 12, with guest: Lynn Cohick)
  • Colossians 1 – “Was Jesus created?” (Episode 3)
  • Hebrews 4 – “Was Jesus really tempted like we are?” (Episode 46, with guest: David Allen)
  • Hebrews 6 – “Can true Christians lose their salvation? (Episode 23, with guest: Tom Schreiner)
  • Hebrews 13:2 – “Do angels walk among us?” (Episode 16, with guest: George Guthrie)
  • James 5 – “Can we pray without doubting?” (Episode 49, with guest: Darian Lockett)
  • 1 Peter 3 – “Does baptism save?” (Episode 47)
  • 1 Peter 3 – “Did Jesus spend the night in hell?” (Episode 35, with guest: Matthew Emerson)
  • 1 Peter 3 – “What does it mean for women to be weaker vessels?” (Episode 9, with guest: Jen Wilkin)
  • 1 John 5 – “What is the sin the leads to death?” (Episode 21)
  • Jude – “Are extrabiblical books authoritative?” (Episode 50)
  • Revelation 7 and 14 – “Who are the 144,000?” (Episode 42)
  • Revelation 13 – “What does the number 666 mean?” (Episode 33)
  • Revelation 21 – “Will there be oceans in eternity?” (Episode 29)
  • Revelation 22 – “What is John warning us about at the end of Revelation?” (Episode 56)
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