Biblical Clarity: Can You Understand The Bible?
Have you ever left in the middle of a movie at a theater because you absolutely couldn’t hold it any longer? Odds are, by the time you rushed back into the theater, stepped on a few toes returning to your seat, and turned your attention back to the big screen, you knew you would need some help catching up with the story. Reading the Bible can often feel the same way.
Often, the Bible feels confusing, and it may even seem too complicated to understand for anyone who hasn’t made a four-year degree out of it. But, the whole point of having a Bible is to read it and be transformed by it. God didn’t give us the Bible just for us to do a little extra head-scratching.
The Bible Affirms Its Own Clarity
First and foremost, the Bible itself claims to be understandable. Psalm 19:7 says, “the law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” If the Bible weren’t clear, then the simple would only be made confused, not wise. I would go as far as to say that the Bible is so clear in what it says, it is able to make someone who doesn’t see themselves as smart, and even gets fooled by others, become filled with wisdom.
However, we know from experience that the Bible isn’t all storybook reading. There is even a whole book full of the seemingly impossible-to-pronounce names of people and their children. But, by asking a few questions, we can restore our confidence in opening the Bible with the expectation of learning something.
The main question ought to be: “how do we understand a collection of books that are thousands of years old?” The answer to that question is three-fold:
- The Bible is a collection of books, but they all build on what the other books have to say. This means that if we get confused by what we are reading, we can always look for help in other parts of the Bible.
- While the Bible wasn’t written in English, it is very much meant to be read by us. To help us understand what is written, teams of people have worked tirelessly to translate the original languages of the Bible into English, and their translations are very nearly the same.
- There are many scholars who have dedicated their lives to the study of the Bible and are able to help us understand what it means. These people are grounded in the historical beliefs of the church and have a thorough understanding of what’s in the Bible, making them an excellent resource.
Another excellent question would be: “where do we begin to understand the modern Bible?” Similar to the third approach from the last question, there are people who can help. In this day and age, we have access to so many more of these individuals and, to make it even better, we have a nearly infinite number of resources online to investigate (although I would always recommend asking a leader at your local church for a resource before your Internet browser).
You Don’t Need Special Qualifications To Understand The Bible
Before you sign yourself up for Bible classes at a nearby private university, there are a few things that you should know. The Bible, while it does have some extremely confusing statements and ideas, can be read and understood by anyone. What is required to understand the Bible is the right attitude, something you may or may not learn in college.
The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that people who aren’t open to God will read his Word and get nothing from it because it seems like a load of rubbish. The reason is the things in the Bible are for people who are looking for God and are seeking with their spirit (by praying and meditating) as well as their minds.
What makes the Bible confusing to so many people is that we struggle with two realities: the sinful one where we selfishly just want to do things that we like and the reality where we obey God and are able to resist our selfish desires. Reading the Bible as a person who wants to learn, changing your mind and your life, is the only way to be able to truly understand what the Bible says. Unfortunately, a college degree won’t make you an expert in that.
How To Learn From The Bible
Great, so you’ve learned how to gain access to the secret treasures in Scripture. Let’s take a step back though. There are some important things to know before we begin throwing Bible verses around as the end-all-be-all solutions to every problem we face.
First, there are important subjects in our lives that the Bible may be silent on. Trying to take a Bible passage and bend it to fit our attempted goal is possibly one of the worst things we can do to it. Instead, we have to trust God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit.
Second, when passages that you have read before come to mind as you are reading, go back and reread those verses. Perhaps even read a little before and after them to compare with what you are reading currently. This is a process called cross-referencing, something that most study Bibles will aid you with. It is through this process that you may discover for the first time that 1 and 2 Kings are extremely similar to 1 and 2 Chronicles. As you read more and more of the Bible, you will start to see how the stories are all interconnected.
Thirdly, don’t expect the Bible to have a clearcut answer. There will always be important questions that the Bible and the church don’t have a foolproof answer for. As 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now . . . [we] know in part.” Some issues take more study to address than others, and often, a considerable amount of faith. The study of the Bible is supposed to take time. It transforms us, day by day into the image of Christ. Be patient and dedicated to your study and rely on God’s goodness and grace for the time being.
Benjamin Murray graduated from Grand Canyon University with a BA in Christian Studies with an emphasis in Biblical Studies. Since high school, Benjamin has had a discipline for learning and passion for God's Word and his Church.