Sound familiar? Even if you’ve never said it, chances are, you’ve heard it. And the truth is, the Bible can be a hard book to understand. It’s really a compilation of sixty-six books, all telling different parts of the same story. Some of the books are history, telling us what happened in the past; some of the books are prophecy, telling us what will happen in the future. Some of the books are poetry, some are letters written to churches 2,000 years ago. No wonder people say it’s hard to understand!
Most importantly, though, the Bible is the word of God. It was inspired by God himself, and the Holy Spirit guided its writing, compilation, and preservation. The Bible is also sufficient to teach us everything we need to know about God, about our relationship to him, and what we can do about it (which is really what God did about it).
But along with the inspiration and sufficiency of the Bible, we have a lesser known belief in the perspicuity (understandability) of the Bible. Because we believe the Bible was inspired by God and tells us everything that’s essential to our spiritual condition, the Bible can be clearly understood by any person of average intelligence. In other words, you don't need any special training to grasp the essential truths of the Bible.
Think of the ocean. A child can play in the shallowest parts on the beach, while any adult can swim out and play and surf and swim and enjoy the waves. Still farther out, with the right equipment an experienced diver can descend to parts unseen by most people, while the deepest parts will likely never be reached. Just because we’re not trained or prepared for deep sea diving doesn’t mean we can’t play in the water.
Likewise, just because there are deep parts of the Bible doesn’t mean we can’t still read and understand and grow. We may have to ease into it. We may have to work hard. We may need the right equipment to go deeper. But since the Bible is inspired, sufficient, and understandable — we have to get in the water.
If you’re not a good swimmer, you need practice and some training. If you’re not a good Bible reader, or the Bible is hard to understand, maybe you simply need some direction and the right equipment. Several years ago I stumbled onto a strategy for Bible reading that has helped me wring out passages like never before. Coined by Matt Rogers, these Seven Arrows for Bible Reading* could help you better understand your Bible.
Answer a few, or answer them all. Either way, you will get more out of your reading when you read with a purpose. In order, the arrows ask you to look for seven things when you read the Bible:
- What does the passage say? Try to summarize the main idea of the passage in one sentence.
- What does the passage mean to its original audience? Try to figure out the author’s intent based on context and culture. (This question will likely require the help of a study Bible or other tools.)
- What does this passage teach me about God? Try to discern what the text reveals about the nature and character of God.
- What does this passage teach me about man? Try to recognize what the passage teaches about humanity (and man’s need for the gospel).
- What does this passage demand of me? This question begins to apply the reading. Try to observe the ways the text calls you to action.
- How does the passage change the way I relate to other people? This question applies the reading to relationships. Try to determine how the text shapes your daily interactions with those around you.
- How does the passage prompt me to pray? Try to pick out specific ways to pray based on what you’ve read.
If you don't read the Bible regularly—or even if you do!—see if these questions don’t help you understand more of what you’re reading. The word of God is meant to be understood; God wants you to know him. So try it out! Wade out into the ocean. Start playing in the waves. Before you know it, you’ll be deeper than you ever expected!
For further reflection, try out the arrows on 2 Timothy 3:12-17.
*For more information, check out Seven Arrows, by Matt Rogers, available on Amazon.