There are three things you should have alongside your Bible during your daily Scripture-reading session: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a guide to the early Church Fathers (like this one), and Trent Horn’s newest book, Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach To Bible Difficulties.
I have been waiting for this book; even before I knew Trent was writing it. It has been my experience both in public evangelization, in running faith formation classes in my parish, and through online ministry that the Bible is a great point of interest and confusion, both from Christian and non-Christian perspectives. From questions regarding the historicity of the Scriptures or Christ’s divinity, from questions regarding the immoral behaviour of the Old Covenant people or God’s nature and “personality”, people have pressing questions and are waiting for good answers.
Finally a book has come out, written from a Catholic point of view, that may well relieve the prevalent anxiety that often infiltrates Bible-reading in such a skeptical and uncatechized culture.
Hard Sayings is organized into three main parts. The first part explores external difficulties or parts of the Scriptures that appear to conflict with non-theological areas of knowledge like science, history, and archaeology. As Trent emphasizes throughout this part of the book: it essentially for the reader to understand what the Bible is meant to reveal and what it is not. For example, the Bible is not meant to reveal strict scientific or historical facts in the way we understand science and history to be recorded today. The reader must consider, first, the genre of the book within the Bible he is reading and, second, the basic cultural nuances of time—especially literary nuances. Furthermore, there must be considerations about what the ancient people held to be true about the world at the time. Ancient history is ancient because it is deals with cultures that existed a long time ago; cultures that, despite some similarities, are very much unlike our own. Cultures change fast (just look at your parents’ high school yearbooks) so we need to read each book of the Bible through the lens of one who lived during the time the book was written.
In the second part, Trent deals with internal difficulties. Beginning with a chapter titled, “1001 Bible Contradictions?”, this second part of the book largely addresses the common “contradiction” objections throw about by many of today’s skeptics (New Testament scholar and best-selling author, Bart Ehrman, being one of the most famous of these). This section is important, and especially relevant for modern Christians and skeptics alike, and Trent has nailed it. Before Hard Sayings came out my first book recommendation for someone looking to reconcile apparent difficulties (including apparent contradictions) in the Scriptures would have been Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. I still recommend Blomberg’s book, but first I recommend you read Hard Sayings.
The third part of the book deals with moral difficulties in the Bible. From violence in the Old Testament to gender beliefs in the New Testament. With both sensitivity and matter-of-factness, Horn clears up many misconceptions and difficulties regarding topics that are—in an age of radical feminism, relative peace, and legal constraint—hard to swallow. As he so often does on live radio and in public debates, Trent dismantles these often-cantankerous objections with charity and unambiguity.
Hard Sayings has many strong points as you’ll see when you read and study this book. It is both clear and prudently-researched, although written primarily for a popular audience (the footnotes, however, are great for anyone looking to go deeper). It will serve as a great precursor and companion to a more academic treatment of Bible difficulties. Although Trent’s gifted capabilities as a scholar and apologist have been proven time and time again, he has done what only some academics are capable of doing: he has put together a clear and accessible treatment of a complex topic that can be appreciated by both layman and scholar alike. His knack for teaching and his passion for equipping evangelists shines in this book as he structures the book around 16 easy-to-memorize rules on reading the Bible.
We are blessed to live in a time where many great Catholic books (and I mean this) are hitting the shelves. Catholic authors, new and old, are working with fire under their rear-ends and in their hearts to get good content into the hands of Catholics everywhere; and Catholic publishers are raising the standards to a level that will challenge any secular publishing house. It is an exciting time to be an evangelical Catholic.
And amidst all the good Catholic books coming forth this is easily one of the best I’ve read. You and your parish need to own this one. Tell your pastors and your pastoral councils, and if you haven’t started to build a good Catholic library at your parish, start now—and along with your Bibles and Catechisms, start with Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach To Answering Bible Difficulties.