What Does It Mean to Take the Bible Literally?

Living Biblically? 
Last night I watched the first two episodes of a new sitcom on CBS called "Living Biblically."  The show tells the story of a man who recently lost a best friend to death, and who also recently received news that he and his wife were expecting their first child.  As a result of these two significant life-changing experiences, he decides to make a change in his life, and that change is to take the Bible "literally," word for word, for at least the next nine months until his child is born.  As you can probably guess, his commitment to the "literal" interpretation and application of the Bible leads to (supposedly) hilarious outcomes (although I watched the first two episodes and only snickered once). 


But this isn't the first iteration of the culture's attempt to take the Bible literally.  10 years ago, author A.J. Jacobs wrote the book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible to rave reviews among secularists and Christians alike.  In the book, Jacobs describes what his life is like when he follows every command of the Bible to the letter.  And just a few years ago, Rachel Held-Evans wrote A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband 'Master', in which Held-Evans recounts her attempts to "literally" obey every biblical command directed toward women for the period of one year.  As you might expect, both Jacobs and Held-Evans have plenty of interesting and strange stories about what it's like to follow Old Testament laws and commands in a 21st century world. 

If nothing else, these cultural excursions into the realm of biblical Christianity have served to show that people are generally very confused about what it means to take the Bible "literally."  The culture believes that taking the Bible literally means following each Old Testament command to the letter, and obeying every obscure Jewish ritual and tradition.  For instance, one of the first changes the character Chip makes in his life in the show "Living Biblically" is to make sure that he only wears clothes that are made of a single type of fabric.  After all, Leviticus 19.19 says "Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material" (NIV).  So if we take the Bible literally, we shouldn't mix fabrics, right? 

Similarly, Christians are often maligned in the culture when they insist upon the Bible as an absolute source of moral authority.  Christians are charged with inconsistency at best, and hypocrisy at worst because, after all, there are plenty of laws in the Bible about not eating shell fish, and we don't follow those.  The accusation leveled against Christians is that we pick and choose which parts of the Bible we want to take "literally." 

So what does it mean to take the Bible "literally?"  According to the culture (and even to some within Christendom), it means to follow every jot and tittle of every command in the Bible, irrespective of when the command was given, why it was given, and to whom it was given.  If the Bible says it, it must be obeyed, no matter what - shell fish, fabrics, and everything else.  And that's what it means to take the Bible "literally."

Except...no.  That's not it.  Not even close.  As with almost every attempt the culture makes to determine just what it is Christians believe about a particular doctrine, this one is a resounding swing and a miss.  To take the Bible literally does not mean to follow it word for word, or to obey commandments that were given to a nomadic people group three thousand years ago as they wandered around in the wilderness.

Well then, what does it mean to take the Bible literally? 

First, it means to believe that God wrote the Bible. 
Taking the Bible literally means believing that it is actually inspired by God, and that the Bible contains God's message to human beings.  The Bible is a revelation of God's character and nature (who he is and what he is like), and a message to human beings as to how we are to respond God's revelation of himself.  What does he want from us?  How are we to act towards him?  Can we live in relationship with him?  And if so, how?  God himself tells us these things in the Bible.  Did you catch that?  God himself tells us these things in the Bible.  The Bible was written by God - the Creator of the universe.  If we are believing that the Creator of the universe communicated with us personally, we will be far less likely to treat the Bible flippantly or in some silly manner.  The first step to taking the Bible literally is to believe the Creator of the universe wants to communicate with you, and he has done so through his word contained within the Bible. 

Second, it means to receive what God has said in context. 
The Bible wasn't written to you and I - it was written for you and I.  Over 70% of the Bible (the Old Testament) was written to the ancient Israelites who lived 3000 years ago in and around the nation of Israel as shepherds and farmers.  Thus, the commands were given to them in their specific time, geographic location, cultural context, etc.  It would be (and is) ridiculous to try to "literally" apply commands given to nomadic shepherds 3000 years ago to our modern day lives. 

Put simply, there are a myriad of differences between us and the people to whom the Bible was written (time, culture, language, political, geographical, covenantal, etc.).  It would be ludicrous to not recognize these differences as we seek to understand and apply the Bible in our lives today.  However, this is exactly what A.J. Jacobs, Rachel Held-Evans, and the producers of "Living Biblically" are doing when they universally apply commands given to a specific people, in a specific geographic location, in a specific culture, etc. to our present circumstances.  It's no wonder that several Old Testament laws seem foreign to me: I'm not a wilderness-wandering shepherd living in 3000 B.C. 

In order to take the Bible literally, we must understand it in its historical and grammatical context.  This means that in order to understand what God told his people, we first have to understand them: their history, their culture, their language, their socio-political circumstances, etc.  God's commands to them will only make sense to us if we know who they were, how they thought, how they lived, etc. 

This does not mean, however that because I am not a wilderness-wandering ancient Israelite that the Old Testament is obsolete or irrelevant to me as a 21st century American.  Far from it!  Remember, the whole Bible shows us God's character and nature.  So although I don't apply the Old Testament purity and cleanliness laws (such as the laws regarding fabrics, shellfish, etc.), those laws tell me about a holy and righteous God who desires to live in relationship with his people.  I don't apply the laws literally, but I apply the principles communicated by the laws when understood in context, literally. 

Also, we need to realize that the Bible contains different genres of literature.  This means that different parts of the Bible function differently from others.  For example, history books tell an historical story.  Poetry books contain poetry.  You wouldn't read a poetry book to learn history, nor a history book to learn poetry.  So then, we have to take the Bible "literally" according to the rules of interpreting literature. 

Case Study: Exodus 21.28-29
Let's use an example to see how we can apply Old Testament commands literally.  Exodus 21.28-29 says, "When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable.  But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death." 


This law was given to a vagabond nation of wanderers about 3500 years ago.  These people kept livestock as a regular part of everyday life, so God gave them rules and laws that would bring order to their society and help them to live in relationship with him.  Then how can I - a 21st century urban American who does not own livestock - apply this command "literally?"  By knowing the history of the people to whom the law was given, and the genre and grammar of the literature in which it was communicated. 

According to our culture, in order to apply this command literally, I'd have to go out and buy some oxen and then make sure to keep them penned up securely.  But to do so would be just as ridiculous as wearing clothes of the same material or swearing off shellfish.  Instead, I can literally apply the principles of this command by interpreting what it is saying.  For instance, from this command we learn at least three things about God: 1) Human life is valuable to God.  God does not desire that men and women be killed by animals.  2) Personal responsibility is important to God.  God expects people to act responsibly so as to minimize any potential threat to others or to the community.  3) Justice is important to God.  In each scenario, punishment is meted out to fit the crime. 

When we take this command literally, we don't go out and buy oxen and make sure to put up a sturdy fence around them, because this command was not given to us.  Instead, we interpret the command, and apply the principles the command teaches to our lives literally.  This means that we literally love and value life because God does; it means that we literally take responsibility for our actions for the betterment of ourselves and our communities; it means that we literally work and advocate for justice in our society.  If we do these things, we will have obeyed the command to keep our rambunctious ox penned up, literally. 

*Note: for a great guide to how to read and apply the Bible literally in the ways briefly mentioned here, check out the book Grasping God's Word by Duvall and Hays.  

Fighting Spiritual Laziness

This summer my family will be going to the North American Baptist Triennial Conference in Edmonton, Alberta Canada.  It's a journey of more than 1,200 miles, and we're beginning to look into transportation options and costs.  Like most people, I find the process of shopping for and booking travel accommodations to be a tedious and frustrating process.  It's a pain to have to shop airlines, schedule departure and arrival dates, arrange rental cars, and everything else.  In light of this frustration, I've decided that my family will travel to Canada this summer by bike.  After all, each of us has a bike hanging on the wall in the garage.  We won't have to navigate airline websites and arrange for rental cars if we all ride our bikes.  All we have to do is take them off the wall and get going.

Obviously the above isn't true.  We aren't going to ride our bikes to Canada this summer.  But this is a great analogy for how Christians often treat their walk with Jesus: we neglect a source of immense power (an airplane) because it takes a little work to use it (booking travel), in favor of a more readily available, albeit much less powerful, way of doing things (a bike).

God has guaranteed that all those who belong to him will live in the power he provides through his Holy Spirit.  The Bible says that the one who is in us is greater than the one that is in the world, and that by his power, we can overcome (1 John 4.4).  Paul says that we are "more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8.37).  The power of Christ has overcome the world (John 16.33), and Christians have access to that very same power.  

If all of that is true, then why do I so often feel like a spiritual loser?  Why do I so often feel spiritually beaten down, like a failure?  Why do I find it so hard to forgive?  Why is it such a challenge for me to love and honor my spouse?  Why do I so easily lose my patience with my children?  Shouldn't the power of God help me gain victory in those areas?  

Yes, it can and it should.  But it doesn't.  

Why not?  One of the primary reasons is that we are spiritually lazy.  There is an ocean of divine power at our fingertips that Christians are able to access, but most of the time we don't put in the necessary time and effort to access it and gain the victory that we desire.  We would rather just take the bike off the wall than go through the hassle of booking a flight on an airplane, even though we know full well that the airplane is more efficient and effective at meeting our needs.  

In Mark 9, Jesus' disciples find themselves in an embarrassing situation: a father approaches them and asks them to heal his son who has been possessed by an unclean spirit.  But try as they might, they are not able to exorcize the demon.  This is awkward, because just a short time ago Jesus had given them authority over all demons (Luke 9.1).  So then, why couldn't they drive out this demon?  That's the question they want answered, so they ask Jesus, and his response is revealing: "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer" (Mark 9.29).

The disciples did have the power and authority to drive out this demon, but they failed to access the power.  They opted for the bike instead of the airplane.  Jesus says that this kind of demon could only be drive out by prayer, the implication being that the disciples weren't praying.  Well, why weren't they praying?  I'm suggesting to you it's because they were spiritually lazy.  Prayer takes time, effort, and intentionality, and for some reason the disciples didn't put that time and effort and intentionality into their dealing with this demon.  

Access to God's power takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes intentionality.  Do you have a besetting sin that you struggle with, and you just can't seem to gain victory over it?  Do you find it difficult to forgive?  Do you find it hard to love and honor your spouse, or to be patient with your children?  How much time have you spent in prayer about it?  How much time have you spent studying the Bible about it?  How much time have you spent talking to others about it and asking them for support and accountability?  

If you haven't done any of these things, then don't expect to tap into divine power to help your areas of weakness.  Spiritual laziness inhibits our access to God's power to transform our hearts, minds, and lives.  Just like the disciples power over demons was directly connected to their willingness to spend intentional time in prayer, so is our power to see transformation in our lives connected to our willingness to spend intentional time in prayer, study, fellowship, and host of other resources God has given us to tap into his power.  

And if you don't feel up to the task, that's alright.  Neither did the disciples, and neither did most of the people Jesus came into contact with.  Jesus is eager to help those who want to experience the power of God in their lives.  He is eager to lend a hand to those who are spiritually lazy.  

Questions and Answers


From time to time, something I say during a sermon generates questions from the congregation.  This week's sermon produced several questions that I'd like to answer in this blog post.  You can hear the sermon on Luke 9.1-9 here

What is the "kingdom of God"?  
Throughout the gospels Jesus refers to the kingdom of God several times (more than 100 times, in fact).  And in Luke 9.2 Jesus sends his 12 apostles out specifically to "declare the kingdom of God."  Bible scholars have pondered the exact nature of what the kingdom of God actually refers to, and there are many nuanced interpretations that remain today.  As I see it, the kingdom of God represents the new reality brought forth by Jesus through his life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil that first began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve fell into sin.  He came to redeem people from the effects of living in that fallen world, and to usher in a new reality of atonement, forgiveness, and righteousness.  Thus, when the 12 are sent out to "declare the kingdom of God," they are telling people that the destruction brought about by sin will be/has been remedied by the entrance of the Messiah onto the scene.  Jesus has come, and he will right the wrongs caused by sin and build a new kingdom of righteousness. 

This kingdom is partially realized when we put our trust in Christ.  When we are saved from the consequences of sin and enter into the eternal life that God has prepared for those who trust in Christ, we become partakers (citizens) of this new kingdom.  We no longer live in a world where the eternal effects of sin are hanging over our head.  Instead, we live in a kingdom that is ruled by the righteousness of God in Christ, and we look forward to the full realization of that kingdom in this world when Jesus comes back.  Until then, Jesus builds his kingdom in the hearts and lives of those who will be his subjects. 

Can we be witnesses for Jesus by how we live?
Yes.  The Bible clearly teaches that there is a marked difference between those who are living in the kingdom of God and those who are living outside of it (see Matthew 5.1-12, for example).  And when the world sees us living as citizens of the kingdom of God, they take notice.  They realize that we are different (Matthew 5.13-16).  Moreover, 1 Peter 3 says that wives are to win over their unbelieving husbands through their godly behavior.  So according to these scriptures and many more, we can be faithful, obedient witnesses for Jesus by exhibiting godly behaviors, actions, and attitudes for the rest of the world to see.

But it is important to note that this is only one part of our witness and/or testimony about the truth of the gospel.  The New Testament also clearly and explicitly says that faith comes by hearing, not by seeing.  In order for the message of the gospel to be communicated, it must be spoken.  After all, it would be difficult to "live out" the reality of the kingdom of God described above.  What kind of actions would you perform to communicate that the Messiah has come to rescue fallen sinners?  In order to communicate this message, we must speak.  The fruit of transformed lives and hearts bears witness to the truth of the gospel, but it does not explain the gospel.  In order to declare the gospel, we must speak.

The disciples worked powerful miracles when they preached the gospel.  Why don't we see those same kinds of miracles today?  
Luke 9.1 says that when Jesus sent the 12 out to declare the kingdom of God, he also gave them "power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases."  The reason the disciples had this power was not to wow the crowds with their abilities or to perform magic tricks for entertainment purposes, but to act as signs about the truth of their message.  Remember, they were sent to "declare the kingdom of God" - this new reality that was being ushered into the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  The proof of this new reality was that the disciples had authority over demons and the power to heal diseases.  Jesus didn't give the disciples power for the sake of them being able to do cool miracles, but for the sake of authenticating their verbal message. 

It is my belief that we don't see these kinds of miracles accompanying the declaration of the gospel today because we don't need to see them - we've seen them already.  The authenticating signs and wonders performed by the apostles prove to us - just as much as it did to the people who saw them - that the new reality of the kingdom of God in the hearts and lives of people who follow Jesus is actual, and that it is true.  To require additional signs and wonders on top of the ones already given to us as proof seems to me to be redundant. 

That being said, the power of God is still evident in his word when it is declared and shared.  It brings the power of conviction, repentance, faith, obedience, and a host of other actions that are simply impossible for sinful human beings to perform.  We cannot respond to the truth of God's word without his power to strengthen us to turn from sin and believe.  We cannot obey God's word without the power of his Holy Spirit to empower our obedience.  We cannot join God in his mission to declare his kingdom without his power to energize our efforts and strengthen us to care for those who are perishing.  God's word today brings with it no less power than it did in the first century.  That power just doesn't manifest itself in signs and wonders anymore. 

Do we need to ask for God's power, or do we have it automatically?
All those who are trusting in Christ are empowered by the Holy Spirit to accomplish whatever it is that God has called them to do.  This power is given to us at the time of our conversion.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to combat sin in our lives, obey God's word, venture into ministry endeavors, and a host of other activities. 

As believers, this power is available to us on demand.  It does not require a special prayer or incantation in order for it to be accessed.  It is not forced upon us, however.  For example, although Christians have the power to battle against sin and temptation in our lives, there are many times when we neglect to access this power, and instead give into sinful temptations.  When this happens, it is not that we do not have the power to resist temptation, but rather that we have neglected to use it.  We are not slaves to our sinful nature, and we do not have to obey it.  We have power over it, and a free will to refuse its enticing demands.  This ability only exists because of the power of God.  Yet, there are many times when we choose to not exercise or take advantage of this God-given power, because we still struggle against our flesh.

The Glory of God in a 38-7 Loss


Like most Vikings fans, last night I watched our hopes of Super Bowl glory fade away into a familiar void of despair.  It's happened so often in my lifetime that it has become a familiar feeling: the Vikings will do well during the regular season, and then dash themselves against the rocks in the playoffs.  Even my son, at the tender age of 10, chose to play Minecraft on the computer rather than watch the game because, according to him, "They're just going to lose."  Such is life as a Minnesota sports fan (actually, if you're looking for a bandwagon to jump onto, check out the Timberwolves, who are having a great season). 

Last week's "Minneapolis Miracle" that led to a spectacular first-round win against the Saints was the stuff of legends.  I was pleasantly surprised by the commentary of several Vikings players last week who, after the improbable win, gave glory to God: "It's probably going to go down as the third best moment of my life," Case Keenum said, "behind giving my life to Jesus Christ and marrying my wife."  Keenum preceded that sentiment with a huge smile and said, "God is SO good!"

The first words out of Stefon Diggs' mouth were "Glory to God, because without him, nothing is possible, and I wouldn't be here."  I was glad to hear Keenum, Diggs, and several other players glorify God for what he has done in their lives.

But...there's a problem when we conflate God with professional sports, and that problem is when you get blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles 38-7 a week later. 

After the "Minneapolis Miracle" took place, and after hearing from players like Keenum and Diggs, I couldn't help but wonder what the Christian players on the Saints team were thinking: were they giving glory to God after just losing what was possibly the biggest game of their lives?  Were they giving glory to God after their almost certain victory was snatched from their hands in a matter of mere seconds?  I doubt it.  There probably weren't very many "All glory to God!" exclamations in the Saints locker room.  I don't know for sure, but I would guess that the same was true of the Vikings locker room after yesterday's blowout loss.  Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs probably weren't thanking God for all that he had done for them. 

That's the problem when we associate God's activity in our lives with only the good things that happen: we begin to see God as someone who is only active in our lives when life is going well.  Too often we think that God rewards us with good things in life, or that our life will be free from difficulty or painful football losses.  We forget that God is sovereign over all things - the wins and the losses.  God is not in the business of handing out football wins to those who give him the most glory.  The reality is that all glory goes to God whether you win or lose.

Have you ever prayed a prayer that goes like this? "God, if you (fill in the blank), then I will (fill in the blank)."  For some reason we are tempted to try to strike deals with God in order to get what we want, or to think that our good behavior will somehow garner his reward of a smooth, prosperous life.  But then, when things go wrong, we are also tempted to blame God, and we can't possibly see how he could be glorified in our disappointments and failures.

The reality is that the Bible never guarantees that true faith in God will lead to a pain-free life.  We live in a fallen world where suffering is unavoidable.  Sometimes the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper - that's just the way it is.  But not only is that the way it is, that is the way God has ordained to bring the most glory to himself.  It sounds counterintuitive, but that's what the Bible tells us: that God can even use our disappointments, failures, and suffering to bring about his good purposes for us.

Nobody knew this truth better than Joseph (Genesis 37-50).  Time after time, Joseph does the right thing and follows God, and as a reward he gets thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, and thrown into prison.  At every turn, Joseph does the right thing, yet God allows bad things to happen to him.  Compare that to how we often think that if we do the right thing, then good things will happen to us.  But that's simply not always the way it works in God's plan.  God is big enough and strong enough to even use our disappointments and failures and times of difficulty to accomplish his purposes. 

Too many Christians have the false idea that if God is with us, then nothing bad will happen.  We have a tendency to think that God is with us during the good times, but not during the bad.  He's with us when we win the football game, but not when we lose.  We think of Bible verses like Romans 8.31 that say, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" as if they promise us a life without adversity.  But we leave out the verses that say we might experience suffering, famine, nakedness, peril, and many other obstacles (Romans 5.35-39). 

We are tempted in the tough moments to question if God is with us, but the Bible assures us that he never leaves nor forsakes his people (Joshua 1.9, Deuteronomy 31.6, Hebrews 13.5).  Our hope is not in a God who keeps bad things from happening to us, but in a God who is with us in life and death, and who sees to it that nothing separates us from his love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.38-39).  No suffering, no disappointment, no failures in our personal lives can remove us from the reach of his grace or disrupt his eternal plan. 

Imagine for a moment that you are one of Jesus' disciples, standing at the foot of the cross.  All of your hopes and dreams are nailed up there on that cross.  There's absolutely no way that you could ever imagine something good coming from having your Savior nailed to a cross.  But that was not God's plan.  God's plan was to use the horror of the cross for good, and so he did.  In order to rise from the dead, Jesus had to die; in order for him to be exalted, he had to be brought low; in order for him to be vindicated, he had to suffer. 

The difference-maker is that we know that God is sovereign over all aspects of our lives - even failure, disappointment, and suffering.  And God promises that he will use all things to carry out his plans and purposes, even those things that are very painful in the moment.  Your sadness and disappointment and pain are not in vain; they are not meaningless; God can and will use them to carry out his plan. 

Let's face it: disappointments and failures are coming in your life.  Don't fall for a fake Christianity that says that God is not in those times, or that he can't or won't use them for your good.  You have a Savior who suffered before he lifted up, who died before he rose.  And he said that those who follow him would suffer like him.  But even in the midst of that disappointment and pain, we can rejoice because we know that God uses all things for his glory and our good. 

So even if something hard happens in our lives, we can say with confidence and sincerity, "All glory to God!" because we know that he will use this difficult thing for exactly that purpose.  And not only that, but we have the promise from scripture that God will use difficult times for our good - to shape us more into the image of Jesus.

Why Jesus Meant to Be Confusing


In the things that he said, Jesus was often cryptic and mysterious, as though he were telling riddles that his audience had to discern in order to understand what he was saying.  In Luke 8 his disciples ask him about the meaning of a particular parable he told and he says to them in verse 10: "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.'" 

This statement is shocking on its face.  It seems to imply that God is deliberately hiding knowledge through parables from certain people.  In fact, that's what Jesus not only implies but declares outright in Matthew 11.25: "...you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children."  But why?  Why would God want to hide life-giving information from people?  Is God vindictive and just plain mean? 

Rather than God acting unjustly, there are actually numerous reasons why God would only grant understanding to some and not others, and none of them has to do with God wanting certain people to be condemned.  Indeed, God's desire is that all should come to repentance and faith (2 Peter 3.9).  So it is not accurate to say that God is purposely hiding the truth from anyone because he is vindictive or unjust.  Rather, the fact that the truth is hidden to some people tells us more about ourselves than it does about God.  That being said, there are several practical reasons why "the secrets of the kingdom of God" are given to some but not to others.  They include, but are not limited to, the following.

1. Jesus hid the truth for practical reasons.  Throughout the gospels there is what is known as the "Messianic Secret."  This refers to those times when Jesus healed people but told them not to tell anyone that it was him that healed them.  The reason Jesus did this was to control the timing of the events that would lead to his death.  Being the sovereign God of the universe, Jesus controlled even the timing of his own death.  He knew that if word spread too quickly and too far about what he was doing, it would hurry along the process that would lead to his arrest and execution.  So in some cases he insisted on secrecy.  The same could be said of his teachings: Jesus' ultimate message was that he was the Son of God, come to save all those who would believe from the punishment of sin and to bring them back to God.  The sooner that message got out, the sooner the religious leaders would get angry and call for his life.  So in one sense, we could say that Jesus veiled the content of his teaching with parables because he was working on a predetermined time table.

2. Jesus hid the truth because he wasn't going to be anyone's clown.  Another common aspect of Jesus' ministry is that he refused to be a clown.  There were many people who came to him only to see or hear what he would do or say next.  In other words, Jesus' ministry was attention-grabbing and provocative, and many people followed him just to see what miraculous thing he would do next, or what provocative statement he would make that would anger the establishment.  Jesus knew of this tendency, however, and so he refused to perform like a trained animal.  In some instances, he refused to perform miracles because he knew the people regarded him as a sideshow act.  So it makes sense that Jesus would mask his message in parables so as to not be regarded merely as a provocative communicator.  The things he said internalization and deep thought.  Parables don't make good one-liners or soundbites. 

3. Jesus hid the truth because he knew that some people don't want to hear the truth.  This, again, is a very practical reason for Jesus veiling the truth of his teaching: why give people the truth when they refuse to hear it?  The notion that some people don't want to hear the truth is a common refrain throughout scripture.  When God commissioned Isaiah to be a prophet, he told Isaiah to go and preach to the people even though God already knew they wouldn't listen (Isaiah 6.9-10).  Jesus' teaching ministry, on the other hand, was veiled in parables so that those who sought understanding would find it, and those who did not, wouldn't. 

4. Jesus hid the truth because some people won't believe the truth even if they hear it.  This reason is similar to number three above, but differs in that some people seem open to the truth but refuse to ever acknowledge it or act on it.  This is made evident in Matthew 11 when Jesus cries out in woe against unrepentant cities.  In these particular cities, the works of God had been performed marvelously and miraculously, right out in the open for everyone to see.  But rather than respond to these miraculous works, the people just ignored them and went on about their business, making their ultimate condemnation even more just.  The same is true of Jesus' teaching.  Jesus, knowing that even if these people knew the truth of his words that they wouldn't act on it, hid the truth from them.

5. Jesus hid the truth because understanding comes from a place of humility.  God has a track record of hiding things from the wise and proud and revealing it to the simple.  People can't figure out God on their own, no matter how hard they try.  And if they think all of their knowledge and wisdom will be enough to help them reach God, they're sorely mistaken.  God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4.6).  If you think you've got it all figured out, it's actually proof that you don't.  For this reason, Jesus taught the truth in parables that could be discerned by the humble, but which confounded the wise. 


6. Jesus hid the truth because understanding is given to those who want to understand.  In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul says that "Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom..."  The Jews of Jesus' day didn't want to understand the truth that Jesus was teaching - they just wanted to see signs.  And Greeks, Paul says, want wisdom more than truth.  In other words, neither Jews nor Greeks were too interested in understanding the truth.  They had already determined what they wanted, and none of it had to do with Jesus.  But for those who do want to understand the mysteries of God, God is gracious and is willing to give them understanding.  Paul also says that "to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."  Those who want to see Jesus will find him.  Those who want to know the truth will be given understanding.  Jesus differentiated those who wanted truth and those who wanted something else by veiling his teaching in parables. 

7. Jesus hid the truth because understanding comes from God, not from human effort.  Finally, we simply have to come to the somewhat difficult realization that God grants understanding to those whom he will.  In God's sovereign wisdom, he has granted understanding to some and not to others.  So then, regardless of how much they try to puzzle out the truth of Jesus' teaching, they never will, because it has not been granted to them.  This is why some of the smartest biblical scholars in the world are not Christians.  They have monumental intellectual capabilities, but the mysteries of the kingdom of God cannot be discerned naturally, they must be known spiritually.  In this sense, then, when Jesus spoke the truth of God, those to whom God had granted understanding understood, and those to whom God had not granted understanding, were left in confusion. 

Regardless of why Jesus was sometimes confusing in his message during his ministry, rather than the reality that Jesus was sometimes intentionally confusing leading us to accuse God of some sort of injustice, it should instead cause us to seek understanding.  It should cause us to ask God to show us the mysteries of his kingdom, and to give us the knowledge we need to be saved.  It should inspire us to study God deeply, to know him, and to rely on him for all wisdom and knowledge.