How Hard is it to Understand the Bible?

As a child, I thought pastors had some secret element in their character that enabled them simply to know more about the Bible than anyone else. It looked like such a huge book to a five-year-old, that I could not imagine anyone knowing all about it.

As an adult, I realize that nobody actually can know all about the Bible, but I also realize that a pastor’s gifts are much more comprehensive even than knowing all about the Bible, and I have discovered that anybody can learn from the Bible. Nobody needs a theological education in order to receive the value of the Bible. Anyone can read and understand God’s truth from the Bible.

This particular aspect of the Bible was pointed out clearly in a recent lesson in the Bible Gateway series, “How to Study the Bible.” I have been studying the Bible now for many years, yet I always gladly learn from anyone who has something to share about Bible study, and Mel Lawrenz has a great deal to share.  I subscribed recently to Mel Lawrenz’s series on Bible Gateway, and I strongly recommend it to my readers.

Mel is briefly introduced to reader by his biography on the Bible Gateway website:

Mel Lawrenz trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a Ph.D. in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University.

Mel’s lessons are not speeches that promote his own point of view. Rather, he draws from Christian scholarship going back to the first century. For example, in this most recent lesson, he quotes Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th century Christian, and traces the roots of Anselm’s thoughts about Bible study all the way back to St. Augustine, a 4th century Christian writer. This is important. The Bible is for each of us an individual guide, but we can run amok and confuse ourselves unnecessarily if we start thinking that we have discovered anything in the Bible that nobody else ever noticed.

Not so many years ago, there was a writer who thought he had discovered a code that had remained hidden from Bible scholars for generations. Understanding the code required a reader of the original languages to follow a tortured path through the words and characters of the ancient writing. The photos of his work resembled a “find-a-word” puzzle more than anything else. It was a most unnatural method of reading that resulted in quite unnatural conclusions by the inventor of the code. He ignored a fundamental truth of Bible study: the most straightforward reading of the text is likely the best way to understand the text. We love the Bible precisely because it is not a secret code known only to erudite scholars, comprehensible only if you know secret methods in secret languages.

That is a major difference between the Bible and books of magic. The magic “arts” require the student of magic to swear that he will never tell anyone the secrets, while the Bible constantly provokes the reader to tell the good news of its truth to everyone. It would not be such good news if only special people could read it in some secret way and use it only on dark nights in haunted forests.

Some ancient religions have secret books, too. Or they have orders of priests and maybe a hierarchy for adherents who learn more and more secrets as they advance their standing in the religions. Reading books in those religions is complicated unless you know the code.

The Bible is not like that. Like any other writing, the more you study, the more you understand, but many people understand the Bible and receive Christ into their hearts simply because they finally sat down and read the Bible. They did not need coaches or guides to sit over them. The Bible is God’s truth, and God himself in the person of the Holy Spirit is always ready to be the teacher of a willing learner. Numerous people have testified that they came to understand the fundamental truth of the Bible the first time they sat down and read it.

Who might some of these people be?

  • William Fay, who went from being a wanted criminal with high Mafia connections to being a devout follower of Christ and a fervent evangelist for Christ—simply because he read the Bible.
  • Lew Wallace, the author of the book Ben-Hur which was subsequently made into a very successful movie, started reading the Bible in order to disprove it. He took Christ into his heart and wrote Ben-Hur as a testimony to his faith.
  • C S Lewis, an Oxford scholar and profound atheist made it his career to prove the Bible was a lie, but instead, he learned that it was true, and his whole life changed.
  • Dr. Mike Adams, professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina was denied promotion and other professional recognitions after his research on the effect of Christian teachings on individuals led him to read the Bible. After he became a Christian he frequently spoke out about the desirable social and behavioral changes that occurred when criminals were exposed to Christian teachings, and these observations put him at odds with faculty and fellow criminology professionals.

If you have not read the Bible, you can read it with confidence that you can understand it, but if you want help to get started or to go deeper, go to Bible Gateway blog and start reading Mel Lawrenz’s series of posts on “How to Understand the Bible.” You can understand the Bible right now if you simply read it, but once you meet Jesus, you will want more. Bible Gateway is a good place to get the help you need in order to grow in your faith.