It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.Mark Twain
The Bible can be challenging to understand. 66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,173 verses, ~40 authors over a 1,500 year period, etc. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t accessible. As Twain noted, some things are very clear. The parts that aren’t as clear take a little more work to understand.
The letters in the New Testament were written to real people. They didn’t have to get a priest to figure out what the author meant. It wasn’t like the Ephesians got their letter and said, “I have no idea what he is talking about!”
Of course, there are many cultural things and a lot of background information that can help us understand the Bible better. It is a large book so it can be overwhelming at times. Solid teaching and preaching are important, but you can learn much on your own as well. Here are some Bible study tips.
One of the easiest things to do is focus on what you do understand and not just what you don’t understand. Make a list of questions and seek answers later if you like, but don’t let that stop you from reading.
I always liked this passage in Acts 8, and especially v. 31 where the Ethiopian says what so many of us think: How can we understand the Bible unless someone explains it to us? God made sure the Gospel got to someone who truly wanted to hear it. Who knows what impact the Ethiopian man had when he returned home with the Good News? Are we doing our part of spreading the Gospel and taking what we know to lost people?
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
I like to use that passage to encourage people to take Bible studies. In many areas of life we take classes and lessons to get better at something – golf, computers, math, etc. But when it comes to the Bible many people think they need to know about it before going to a class. They are embarrassed to admit that they are Christians and don’t know the Bible well. But today is always a great day to start studying it.
P.S. Beware of churches or denominations that insist that you can’t understand the Bible without them giving their official interpretation of it to you. Some churches actually discourage people from reading it on their own.