Dec 272015 4 Responses

A Simple Trick to Understand the Bible

One of the most common confessions I hear from people is, “I really don’t understand the Bible.” They are quick to admit they don’t read it very much, but the main reason they don’t read is that whenever they try they are confused.

The bad news–we may live in the most Biblically illiterate generation in centuries.

The good news–there has never been a time in which the average person could so easily understand the Bible. (See: Spiritual Check-up–10 Questions)

As a pastor, even I consider the Bible difficult to understand. Randomly open a Bible to an Old Testament passage and on the first reading I will struggle to grasp what is going on. And I’ve had over 200 undergraduate and graduate college hours of training to interpret the Bible.

While I’m amazed how difficult the Bible is to understand on the first reading, it is equally shocking how quickly understanding comes with a second, third, or fourth reading.

The simplest step a person can make to understanding the Bible is reading a passage a third or fourth time.

When the average person opens the Bible, they are very close to understanding the major aspects of a passage, but they far too often give up right before that understanding comes. They read, or skim, a paragraph, can’t understand it, and close the Bible assuming it is too complicated or they are too ignorant to grasp its teachings. What they fail to see is that with just a little more effort, they can understand the text far more than they do on the first reading.

Here is the process I use to read the Bible:

First, purchase one of the following Study Bibles:

ESV Study Bible

Zondervan NIV Study Bible

No longer is it necessary to have volume after volume of Bible study materials. While other books are useful, these two study Bibles have ample information for the average person. Neither of these Bibles are the “take to church” kind of books. They are big and heavy. Get one (probably a hardback, not the leather bound) and put it on your desk. (See: Friends Don’t Let Friends Misquote the Bible)

Second, pick a book of the Bible. Start small. Consider one of Paul’s letters like Philippians or Ephesians. But choose to study one book. Each book of the Bible is written during a specific context and with a specific purpose. By focusing on one book of the Bible, it is easier to grasp an understanding of what is being written. Once you understand a small book in the New Testament, branch out to small Old Testament books or longer New Testament books.

Third, follow this process:

Day One: After reading the introduction to the book, read the book in one sitting. For a small epistle this will take around 20 minutes.

Day Two: Read the first chapter. Then read the chapter notes. As you read each note, you can look back up into the chapter to see exactly what the author is writing about. Then re-read the chapter. Do it in this specific order. If you don’t understand something on the first reading, don’t look down at the chapter notes. Just keep going and make a mental note that you need more information on that issue.

Day Three, Four, and Five: Read the previous process for each chapter. One chapter per day with two readings of the book sandwiching a reading of the notes.

Day Six: Re-read the whole book.

With this simple process, the average person can greatly increase their understanding of the Bible. It’s amazing how much of the nuance and context can be gained by slowing down and paying more attention. With just a little help from the editors of the Study Bible, a great amount of understanding can be gained. (See: The Most Confident Christians)

If you want your knowledge to increase even more, add a friend to the process. Find someone who will study the same book as you. Meet on a weekly basis and text on a daily basis to discuss insights, asks questions, and hear what is interesting to one another.

The Bible isn’t an easy book to understand. Everyone struggles to grasp its teachings on the first reading. However, with a little work we can greatly increase our knowledge and understanding.

4 Responses to A Simple Trick to Understand the Bible
  1. John Adams Reply

    Great tip Kevin! I’m passing this on to the church I serve. Dr. John Adams

  2. […] 2. Daily read His Word alone. Don’t expect to understand everything. Don’t feel pressure... kevinathompson.com/hearing-quiet-god-loud-world
  3. Kate Hall Reply

    Hi, Kevin. I would suggest that praying for the LORD’s assistance in understanding His Word will greatly increase anyone’s ability to understand what they are reading, rather than simply struggling through with human skills alone. The LORD is quite clear in His Word that it is the Holy Spirit Who enables us to understand spiritual truths (1 Cor. 2:13-14; Luke 11:13) and comprehend things we do not know (John 16:13; Jer. 33:3; Ps 143:10; Is. 30:20-22). The LORD Himself specifically identifies Himself as the One Who should be teaching us how to read His Word: Job 36:22; Is. 48:77; Jer. 16:21; Jer. 31:33-34; Micah 4:2; John 13:13. Perhaps you can add these suggestions to your website so that people know that they can simply ask the LORD to help them understand what they are reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Please enter your name, email and a comment.