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Which is the Smallest of Seeds? Resolving Bible Difficulties, Part 2
by Daryl E. Witmer
EDITOR’S NOTE: This month’s issue of the Proclamation features the second in a three-part series of articles on reasonable solutions to difficult Bible texts. There are many alleged discrepancies in Scripture, but given the right resources, we are convinced that there are sensible ways to unravel every one of them. This series cites three such challenges, their respective solutions, a few key principles for tackling Bible difficulties in general, and two more helpful resources.
Today we know that there are seeds even smaller than the mustard seed. For instance, the orchid seed is so small and fine that it’s almost dust-like. There are those who would also question whether a mustard seed could ever grow into a tree that is large enough to hold a bird nest.
Now if Jesus (who claimed to be God) was wrong about the mustard seed, why should we trust anything else that He said? And on what basis can the Bible be considered reliable on any scientific or historical matter?
It’s important to remember that the Bible often uses everyday terminology in order to communicate simple truth. Even today we might refer to a “sunset” when, technically, scientifically, we know that the sun never actually ‘sets,’ i.e. it’s the earth that revolves.
When people come to visit us here in north central Maine, we might take them on a drive, passing a good number of lakes and ponds, to Moosehead Lake, which I will describe to them as being “the largest lake of all.” Of course, our guests will usually realize that I’m speaking locally, not globally. They don’t often question my credibility.
The context of Matthew 13 makes it quite clear that Jesus was addressing a local lay audience, not an international conference of botanists. It seems that no reasonable person would therefore insist for very long that this text provides a viable basis for questioning either Jesus or the Bible when it comes to getting the facts straight – scientifically, historically, or technically.
RELEVANT PRINCIPLES FOR DEALING WITH BIBLE DIFFICULTIES
– KEEP THE TEXT IN CONTEXT. Failing to consider the historical and Biblical context of a particular verse or passage may be the most common mistake of all. But it’s crucial to an accurate understanding of the text. The Bible doesn’t approve of every-one whom it quotes or talks about.
– SUBJECT THE OBSCURE TO THE STRAIGHTFORWARD.
– ALLOW FOR PARTIAL ACCOUNTS, QUOTES, AND PARTICULAR POINTS OF VIEW.
– ACKNOWLEDGE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CITATIONS AND QUOTATIONS.
– REMEMBER THAT THE BIBLE EMPLOYS LITERARY DEVICES
HERE ARE TWO MORE HELPFUL RESOURCES
Hard Sayings of the Bible, edited by Kaiser, Davids, Bruce, and Brauch, ©1996 by InterVarsity Press
Bible Difficulties Solved, by Larry Richards, ©1993 by Revell