The Bible is not clear for most things¶
The Bible is clear about one thing: that nothing is clear. It encourages us to ultimately trust in only one thing: reality itself, which Christians personify as God.
Note the important word ultimately. Trusting in God does not mean to distrust humans.
And reality (God) is unreachable to human mind. No human can validly say “I know God”. A person who says “I know God” is a liar. A teaching that claims “We know God” is sectarian because it excludes those who don’t agree to the teaching. The Bible expresses this by saying that God’s name is holy (see The name of God).
So don’t mix up “God” with “our image of God” or “our teaching about God”.
The Bible contains many stories about people who trusted in a right image of reality (God) despite the fact that it differed from the established image, and who then turned out to be right, sometimes only after their death.
And the Bible also contains many stories about people who trusted in a wrong image of God (reality) and then turned out to be wrong, sometimes only after their death.
See also Biblicism.
Paul’s letter to the Romans¶
Here is an example.
Keith Giles and Steve Scott explain (in Romans 101: Why so many Christians miss the point) that Romans 1 and 2 need to be read together: Rm 1 develops an empathic description of those hated by the readers, Paul “stokes the fire of condemnation” in the reader’s emotions. And then, in the second chapter, he drops the spiritual bomb on them: “If you condemn your fellow humans like this, how can you hope that God would forgive your sins?”.
And something similar can happen for Romans 12 and 13: these two chapters explain that when somebody does evil against you, and when you live in a civilized state, you won’t punish them yourself but rather count on police and judge to do their work. But if you start reading at chapter 13, you can get the impression that Paul tells us to create an authoritarian government and demands that we obey all laws. The actual message is that if we commit evil, we should submit to the punishment given to us.
I believe that this is a great explanation. I re-read chapters 1 & 2 under this light in three different languages (German, French and Estonian) and feel that they are right.
Note that even the greatest explanation doesn’t help those who are in Hell: I forwarded the thought to a woman who was angry about a bishop who had dared to co-assist the ordination of a gay pastor in a LGBT-friendly church. She answered “Reading the 2nd chapter doesn’t revoke the truths of chapter 1. What a pity that such academic complacency has blinded the eyes of many to the truth of God.”