A recent article in The Christian Post highlighted a poll done by LifeWay Research on the ability of Christians to understand the Bible. Two of the findings were that over 80% of believers felt they could help someone else who was confused over a Bible passage, but nearly 60% of the same group admitted they find it challenging to make sense of the Bible when they read it on their own.
Setting aside the fact that those two stats seem to be at odds with each other, it’s definitely a bad sign when more than half of Christians struggle to comprehend God’s Word. However, the good news is, you can absolutely understand the Bible. Let me provide five quick steps that will put you on the right path.
1. Be born again
I spent the first nineteen years of my life in church, and for those years, I was an unbeliever who had zero passion for the Bible because I didn’t understand its importance or what it was saying to me. But during the summer of my junior year in college, God saved me and everything regarding my desire for Scripture and ability to grasp its truths changed.
The first step to understanding the Bible is you must be born again (John 3:3). God’s Word tells us that Scripture “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
If you have no draw to Scripture whatsoever and find it a puzzle when you do read it, the first thing to do is, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5) because unless you have been saved, the Bible will always remain a mystery to you. As A. W. Tozer says, “The Bible is not addressed to just anybody. Its message is directed to a chosen few. Some believe and some do not; some are morally receptive and some are not; some have spiritual capacity and some have not. It is to those who do and are and have that the Bible is addressed. Those who do not and are not and have not will read it in vain. As the pillar of fire gave light to Israel but was cloud and darkness to the Egyptians, so our Lord’s words shine in the hearts of His people but leave the self-confident unbeliever in the obscurity of moral night.”
2. Choose a good Bible translation
With all due respect to the King James Bible lovers out there, when most people start reading all the “begets” and “begats” in it, they’re “begone”. Selecting a good, readable Bible translation to use is important as is understanding the three general translation approaches used to produce the Bible you’ll use on a daily basis.
A paraphrase approach, such as The Message, is just that – an interpretative end result based on the author’s summarized/restatement of the text. While interesting to reference, I don’t recommend paraphrase translations as the primary vehicle for personal Bible study.
The other two translation methods are dynamic equivalence and literal formal. Dynamic equivalence is a “thought for thought” method, with examples being the NIV and New Living Translation Bibles. Literal Formal is a “sentence by sentence/word by word” approach, with popular options being the NASB and the ESV.