Understanding the Bible really isn’t as hard as it seems. I know the Bible can come off as a pretty complicated book. Especially when you hear pastors or Bible teachers start talking about Greek and Hebrew and all these theological terms. It can really make your head spin sometimes. We start to think, “I’ll never understand the Bible like those guys so what’s the point.” But in reality the Bible really is a pretty simple book. We’re the ones who complicate it. But a few simple techniques can really help us. One, read with a dictionary handy. Two, take your time. Three, remove all assumptions about the text before reading.
You Can Understand the Bible
Just as a word of encouragement I’ll share this little story. When I first started reading the Bible in 2006 I was looking for a verse I had heard somewhere before. It was Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
But back then I didn’t know the verse was in Matthew and couldn’t even remember exactly what it said. Well someone told me to look in Matthew. At the time I didn’t even know there was a book in the Bible called Matthew. I had to use the table of contents in the front of the Bible to look it up.
When I found it I turned to Matthew in the New Testament. Since I couldn’t remember exactly what I was looking for I decided to start from the beginning of the book. So I started in Matthew 1:1, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:” and I kept going, “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers” (v.2). And on and on it goes like that for the first 16 verses!
Now, I knew absolutely nothing about the Bible at that time. I knew so little about the book that I expected to read about some guy named Matthew since the book was titled Matthew. I made it about halfway through the first chapter before I got frustrated and closed the book.
I got frustrated because I assumed the book was about some guy named Matthew because it’s titled Matthew. Therefore, I was expecting to read about somebody named Matthew. Now there are a lot of people mentioned in the first chapter of Matthew. Forty-eight people to be exact. But Matthew is not one of them and I could not make any sense of what I was reading or why it was talking about all those people. It made my head hurt!
I forgot all about the verse I was looking for. I remember feeling overwhelmed looking at all those people who are named in that chapter and thinking to myself, I’ll never be able to understand this stupid book. In my frustration I slammed the book shut and decided to just stick to my little devotional for the time being. But now God uses me to preach and teach to other people from the very same Bible I thought I would never be able to understand myself… much less help others understand it! Moral of the story: If I can get it so can you! You can understand the Bible!
Simplifying the Bible
This story is not just a good encouragement for those who sometimes feel frustrated when it comes to reading the Bible. It is also a good illustration of how helpful it can be if we read with a dictionary handy, take our time, and remove assumptions before reading. These three simple things will honestly remove the majority of what we feel are complications. Do these three things and it will really help to simplify the Bible for you and help you understand it.
What I didn’t know then was that the first chapter of Matthew is a genealogy of Jesus Christ. That’s why Matthew wasn’t mentioned in it because he’s not part of Jesus’ genealogy. The funny part is that the very first verse of the chapter says that it is “the record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah.” Even though I had read that verse I missed that part! Why did I miss it?
Read with a dictionary handy
Well, there’s three answers and the first is kind of embarrassing. First of all, I missed it because I didn’t know what a genealogy was! I saw that word in the first verse but it was a much bigger word than I was used to and way outside my vocabulary. Which brings me to the second reason I missed it.
Take your time
Secondly, I missed it because I was going too fast. I saw a word I didn’t know and I was in too much of a hurry to stop, pull out a dictionary, and look it up. I was in such a hurry to read about this guy named Matthew and find the verse I was looking for that I didn’t even realize until much later (like months later) that there was a word in the first verse I didn’t know. I was going so fast it never really registered that I had seen a word in the first verse I didn’t know. If I had slowed down, then it would’ve registered, Hey, what does that word mean? And if I had looked it up then I would’ve known that the chapter was about Jesus. One simple word would’ve changed everything for me if I had just slowed down.
Thirdly, I missed it because I entered into the text with assumptions. My assumption when I opened the book was that I should be reading about Matthew because of the title of the book. My assumption laid the grounds for my frustration. That’s what assumptions will do. They will also mislead our understanding and really complicated things for us. When we open our Bible we have to lay any assumptions we may have about the book or the text to the side. Because they are like a foundation which we will use to build off of. They will either complicate things and cause frustration. Or they will complicate things and cause misunderstanding.
In addition to having a regular English dictionary handy its a good idea to get a Bible dictionary. A Bible dictionary is just like an English dictionary. Except its specifically for things in the Bible that you might not find in a regular dictionary. For example, I could’ve used and English dictionary to look up genealogy and that would’ve helped greatly. But say I wanted to know who some of the people in that first chapter of Matthew are. I would need a Bible dictionary for that.
A good way to start with the other two steps, take your time and remove assumptions, is with prayer. Taking a moment to pause for prayer before rushing into the Bible is already putting the second step, take your time, into action. Then pray for God to help you take your time as you read and for Him to help you read without any assumptions about the text.
If the Bible seems like a complicated book and you feel like you’ll never be able to understand it then I encourage you to try these three simple things. They may not turn you into a Bible scholar but they can definitely make your Bible reading more enjoyable and more rewarding.
Copyright © Lawrence Joseph Sterling 2016. All rights reserved.