A photograph of a person reading the Bible, surrounded by pages filled with intricate, overlapping text, symbolizing the complexity and confusion often encountered when trying to interpret its teachings.

Why Is The Bible So Confusing?

The Bible has been a source of spiritual guidance and moral authority for millions of people for centuries. However, many find the Bible to be a complex and confusing text full of contradictions. If you’ve ever struggled to make sense of the Bible, you’re not alone.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Bible is confusing for several reasons: it was written over 1500+ years by 40+ authors in 3 languages and includes many different literary styles. It requires historical and cultural context to interpret.

There are translation issues from ancient languages. And there are theological differences in how Christians interpret passages.

The Bible was written by many authors over 1500+ years

The Bible is an anthology – it is a collection of books written by many different authors over a vast period of time. This can make it seem confusing to read, especially since it was written in multiple languages and translated into English.

However, understanding the origins of the Bible can help bring clarity.

The Old Testament was written approximately between 1400 BC and 400 BC

The Old Testament contains 39 books written by a variety of authors, including Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others. The earliest books are thought to have been written around 1400 BC, while the latest books were completed around 400 BC.

That’s a span of over 1,000 years for composition of the Old Testament.

During this time, the Old Testament books were written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The content covers early biblical history, poetry, prophecy, and more. Some key elements in the Old Testament narrative include God’s covenant with Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, God’s laws given to Moses, the reign of David, the wisdom writings, the conquest of Jerusalem, and the prophetic books warning of exile.

The New Testament was written approximately between 45 AD and 95 AD

The New Testament contains 27 books written by early Christian authors in the 1st century AD. The earliest New Testament books were likely written around 45 AD, while the last books were completed around 95 AD. So the New Testament was composed over about 50 years.

The New Testament books were written in Greek, the common language of the early church. The content is centered on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the early development of the church. The four Gospels narrate Jesus’s ministry, the book of Acts describes the growth of the first churches, the Epistles contain letters of instruction to early Christians, and Revelation contains apocalyptic prophecy.

The Bible was written in multiple languages

Old Testament was written primarily in Biblical Hebrew

The vast majority of the Old Testament was written in Biblical Hebrew, the language used by the ancient Israelites. Biblical Hebrew is an archaic form of the Hebrew language and has some differences from modern Hebrew.

According to scholars, most of the Old Testament books were composed between the 12th and 5th centuries BC.

A few examples of Old Testament books likely written completely in Hebrew include Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Minor Prophets. Some of the most well-known stories from the Bible like Noah’s ark, the Exodus, David and Goliath, and Daniel in the lion’s den originated in Hebrew manuscripts.

Some portions of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic

While most of the Old Testament is in Hebrew, there are a few portions written in Aramaic. Aramaic was the common language of the Near East during the Persian period. Parts of the books of Ezra and Daniel contain Aramaic passages.

These may have been quotations from Aramaic documents that were used as sources by the authors.

In addition, it is possible that a sentence or two of Aramaic may have slipped into the book of Jeremiah. But the overwhelming majority of the Old Testament text was composed in Hebrew rather than Aramaic.

The New Testament was written in Koine Greek

The entire New Testament, including the Gospels describing Jesus’s ministry, the book of Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation, was written in Koine Greek. Koine Greek was the common language across the eastern Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus and in the early decades of the church.

As the Christian message spread across the region, the New Testament writings circulated in Greek manuscripts. Many key terms of Christian theology like gospel, baptism, eucharist, repentance and charity reflect the Greek vocabulary used to convey the faith to new converts.

So while the Old Testament preserving God’s interactions with Israel was done through Hebrew (and a bit of Aramaic), the New Testament was written in Greek which was much more widely spoken during its composition.

The Bible contains many literary styles and genres

Narrative history

Much of the Bible contains narrative history, which recounts the stories and events that shaped the Jewish and Christian faiths. Key examples include the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), which tells Israel’s foundational story, and the four Gospels, which narrate Jesus’s life and ministry.

Narrative sections vividly portray real individuals and their faith journeys in down-to-earth language.


Poetry constitutes about one-third of the Old Testament. The Psalms especially showcase the full spectrum of human emotion in exquisitely crafted verse. Other poetic books like Proverbs, Job, and the Song of Solomon convey profound truths through creative metaphors, similes, parallelism, and other literary devices.

This artistic genre adds aesthetic appeal and philosophical depth.

Wisdom literature

Books like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job offer practical advice and thoughtful reflections on the meaning of life. Their wisdom literature explores fundamental human experiences like work, friendship, suffering, and our relationship with God.

Their timeless insights speak to every generation with common sense and sophistication.


The prophets preach urgent moral messages, warning of judgement but also promising restoration. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12 minor prophets courageously call God’s people back to covenant faithfulness.

Their impassioned poetic oracles provide spiritual direction and hope during times of social decay. The prophets manifest how God’s Word pierces human pretensions.

Apocalyptic literature

Apocalyptic texts like Daniel and Revelation envisage cosmic upheaval and a new world to come, encouraging the faithful during periods of foreign domination or persecution. Their mysterious visions and symbolism promise that evil will be defeated and righteousness will triumph.

This genre fuels resilience during turbulent times of massive societal change.


The four Gospels present complementary portraits of Jesus’s identity and mission. Their biographical narratives mix history, theology, and evangelism as they recount the same events from differing perspectives.

The Gospels skillfully adapt Graeco-Roman biography to communicate the earthshaking significance of Jesus’s incarnation.


The New Testament contains 21 epistles or letters addressing theological and ethical issues arising in churches. Authors like Paul shape Christian belief and practice through pastoral advice to specific congregations.

Their teachings on salvation, ethics, church leadership, and other matters provide authoritative guidance for the development of theology and the nurture of faith communities.

Understanding context is key to proper interpretation

Historical context

To accurately interpret the Bible, it is vital to understand the historical background when the texts were written. Knowing the culture, politics, economics, and events of the time period helps provide clarity on the intended meaning of passages.

For example, familiarity with Roman occupation and oppression of Israel in Jesus’ day makes his calls to “turn the other cheek” more poignant. Checking reliable Biblical archaeology sources like the Biblical Archaeology Society can uncover insights into ancient laws, customs and practices that may seem foreign to modern readers.

Cultural context

Grasping the cultural context surrounding Biblical texts is also indispensable for avoiding misinterpretation. Social norms, figures of speech, modes of communication, gender roles, and traditions in Biblical eras often differed greatly from today.

For instance, Paul’s directives for women to wear head coverings in church services stemmed from expected cultural standards for that period. Resources like the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible provide extensive information to better understand the cultural landscape at the time.

Getting clarity on cultural nuances prevents presentism – incorrectly ascribing modern viewpoints onto past civilizations.

Literary context

Considering the literary style and genre of Bible passages is crucial as well. The Bible contains historical narratives, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic writing, parables, letters, and more. The literary conventions in each genre shape the way they were intended to be read.

For example, the poetic lyrics of Psalms should be appreciated for their artistry and emotional expression rather than strictly analyzed for historical or scientific accuracy. Additionally, the Gospels feature Jesus’ use of hyperbole and metaphor, indicating a deeper symbolic meaning behind his vivid illustrations.

Resources like The Bible Project outline these literary techniques to aid Biblical literacy.

Translation from ancient languages can be challenging

Some nuances of ancient Hebrew and Greek lost in translation

The Bible was originally written in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. When translating from an ancient language to a modern one, some of the nuances in word meanings and language structure can get lost. For example, ancient Hebrew has very few vocabulary words compared to modern English.

Many Hebrew words have a broad semantic range and can be translated in different ways depending on context. Some concepts expressed in ancient Greek do not have exact equivalents in English.

In addition, the ancient Biblical languages often used rhetorical devices like parallelism, hyperbole, and repetition to convey meaning in a way that does not directly translate into English. The linear thought patterns of English cannot fully capture the cyclical, poetic nature of ancient Semitic languages.

Translators have to make difficult decisions about how to best convey the original meaning.

Translators have to make decisions on word choices

Since no two languages match up perfectly, translating the Bible requires hundreds of judgment calls along the way. Should a particular Hebrew verb be translated as “know,” “understand,” or “perceive”? Should the Greek word agape be rendered as “love,” “charity,” or something else?

Is a phrase idiomatic or literal? The options are endless.

Small word choices can result in significantly different interpretations. For example, the Hebrew verb almah in Isaiah 7:14 has been translated both as “virgin” and “young woman.” This one variation causes major theological differences!

Translators have to weigh nuances carefully to decide which English words will most accurately reflect the original meaning.

Better translations get closer to original meaning

Modern translators have access to far more historical, linguistic, and archaeological information than translators centuries ago. They understand more about ancient manuscripts, languages, and cultures. This helps them produce more accurate translations.

For example, the 1611 King James Version was translated during the peak of English literary achievement, but from a relatively small number of much later Biblical manuscripts. Modern versions like the ESV or NIV are based on many more ancient manuscripts.

The translators also have centuries more of scholarship to guide their word choices. Experts agree that the current translations are the closest ever to the original meanings.

While no Bible version is perfect, continued effort helps get us closer. As one scholar said, “Every new generation must translate the Bible anew if it is to speak with relevance to the present age.” Thankfully, dedicated translators continue working hard so God’s Word will keep speaking truth!

There are theological differences in biblical interpretation

Literal vs. metaphorical interpretations

One of the main reasons the Bible can seem confusing is that there are often debates around whether certain passages should be taken literally or metaphorically. Many Christians take a literal approach, believing the Bible is the direct word of God and everything should be understood verbatim.

Others argue some passages use symbolic language and were never meant to be taken literally. For example, when Jesus refers to himself as a “door” in John 10:7, most agree this is a metaphor not meant to be taken literally.

Old Testament vs. New Testament priorities

Another source of confusion is that Christians debate which testament should take priority. Some focus on the Old Testament laws and stories, while others emphasize the New Testament gospel. For example, the Old Testament decrees strict sabbath observance, but the New Testament does not stress sabbath-keeping.

Which guidance should Christians follow? There are good faith arguments on both sides. Ultimately, whether to prioritize Old or New Testament teachings comes down to theological interpretation.

Individual vs. denominational perspectives

Adding to the complexity is the fact that biblical interpretation often varies between individuals, denominations, and church traditions. A Methodist and a Baptist reading the same passage may reach very different conclusions based on their theological backgrounds.

For example, practices like infant baptism are accepted by some denominations and rejected by others based on differing biblical interpretations. With over 45,000 Christian denominations worldwide, there are bound to be conflicting perspectives on what scripture says.


In summary, the Bible is a complex text with a long history. Appreciating the diversity of authors, languages, genres, contexts, translations and interpretations over centuries is key to making sense of this profoundly influential yet confusing book for many readers.

With some background knowledge and an open mind, the Bible’s wisdom can become accessible.

Approaching the Bible with humility, curiosity and an appreciation for its richness will lead to greater understanding. Don’t get discouraged by the confusion – let it inspire you to dig deeper into the Bible’s multilayered meanings and messages of faith.

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