This is week one in a new series by Bible Gateway and Mel Lawrenz called “How to Understand the Bible.” Over the next 30 weeks we will cover questions about the content of the Bible and interpreting and applying the Bible. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along, encourage them to learn more and sign up to receive the series via email.
If you wish you understood the Bible better, you’re in good company.
It is not just newcomers reading the Bible for the first time who think the Bible can be challenging to understand. Mature believers think that. Bible scholars think that. Even biblical writers thought that. Second Peter 3:16 says: “[The apostle Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand.”
This should not surprise us. It should, instead, enthuse us and inspire us. It should fuel our curiosity and compel us to worship. If, when we hold a Bible in our hands, we have the very words of the Creator of the universe—a Creator who loves us so much that he chooses not to leave us in silence—then we should not be surprised that those words can be mysterious, complex, and deep.
We should not want it any other way.
If the Bible were as easy to understand as a news magazine or someone’s blog, then God would not be greater than a journalist or a blogger. If we could understand all of the Bible the first year we read it, what more would there be for us for the rest of our lives? If the Bible did not take some work and patience to grasp, how could it possibly be a reliable guide for the great challenges of our lives? Think of it this way: if you went to a great banquet where there was a 30-foot- long buffet table with dozens of different foods, you would not be discouraged if you walked away having tasted only some of the amazing foods there. You would, instead, be enthused to return to it another day in order to taste more.
The Bible is challenging because it challenges. Mark Twain put it this way: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” The word of God is wonderfully subversive. Scripture is like the scalpel that cuts, but also like a salve that heals. No empire or civilization can suppress the truth of the word of God because:
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in. (Isa. 40:22)
This is the God who has spoken—to us.
Vast numbers of people respect the Bible, but they long to understand it better. That includes people who have read the Bible for many years, and those who have been hesitant even to try. Here is great news: The Bible, written by many authors over many years, and believed to be the word of God by billions of people, is God talking to the human race. And God wants to be understood.
The Bible is God’s word in human words. The prophets and apostles were real people, urgently proclaiming, teaching, correcting, and warning. These writers of Scripture meant specific things in what they said.
If the Bible has stood the test of time across the ages and within thousands of different cultures, then we can be sure that this word of God will prove reliable for any circumstance of our lives.
This series, “How to Understand the Bible,” is not a study of the authority of the Bible—a topic covered ably in many other places. This 30-part series is a concise and practical guide for any believer wishing to read the Bible and understand it as the word of God—to understand what God is saying in it.
It is meant to encourage and enthuse you, and motivate you to feed on this truth. As Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” The great prospect of better understanding the Bible is that we also come to understand God better.
And that is why God spoke in the first place.
So this is how, in this series, we’ll walk through the question of understanding the Bible. First, some questions on “Approaching the Bible,” like “What is the most natural way of reading the Bible?” “What translation should I use?” “Why are there so many different interpretations?” etc. Next, we’ll answer basic questions about “Understanding the Old Testament,” to be followed by “Understanding the New Testament.” Finally, we’ll say some things about “Interpreting the Bible.” In all, we’ll cover 30 questions spanning from Genesis to Revelation.
Next time: “How will our lives be better if we understand the Bible better?”
Care to offer feedback this week?
Not yet signed up to receive “How to Understand the Bible” via email? You can follow along here at the blog, but we recommend signing up for email updates here. “How to Understand the Bible” is available as a print book at WordWay.org.
Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.