The Bible is an incredible book, filled with wisdom, poetry, history, and exhortation. It contains mysterious signs, types, figures, and prophecies, along with lengthy genealogies and detailed ordinances. And it reveals who Christ is and God’s eternal purpose for man.
As Christians, we may know we should read the Bible but feel apprehensive about it. Perhaps previous attempts at trying to understand the Bible discourage us, or maybe we can’t fathom how we could understand such an important, complex book. But the Bible is God’s Word for us and to us. It’s one of His greatest gifts to us; surely He wants us to read and understand His Word. So in this post let’s take a look at the simple, first, most important step in understanding the Bible.
Read the text of the Bible
Many of us have heard Sunday messages, sung songs of Scripture, participated in Bible studies, or read Christian books. All of these are wonderful helps that can assist our understanding of God’s Word. But they can’t replace the first, most basic step to understanding the Bible—to read it for ourselves.
What do we mean by read it? Do we mean use a devotional to read a few verses each day? Choose a topic and read all the Scriptures related to it? While both of these have their place, something else will better help us understand the Bible as a whole, and that is, to read the whole Bible, in sequential order, book by book, cover to cover.
This may be shocking, especially when the Bible seems so inscrutable to many of us. But consider, what is the first step to understanding any book? Lectures, discussion groups, study notes, and dictionaries are useful tools, but the first step in understanding a book is to read it for ourselves. This is the basis upon which our understanding of the book is built. Everything else is just an enrichment to our personal reading. Reading the Bible is the first step to understanding it.
The ABCs of Scripture
What if we start reading the Bible and we don’t understand anything we read? That’s perfectly ok! In fact, it’s quite normal. After all, this book we’re reading is God’s Word; it simply isn’t meant to be comprehended in one sitting.
To understand the Bible’s meaning, we need to first pick up the ABCs, the rudimentary building blocks, in Scripture. We do that by reading through the Bible and discovering the basic contents of God’s Word: the history, the stories, the parables, the people, the prophecies, and so on. We’re exposed to new words and new ideas, and these become our ABCs, the building blocks for our future understanding of the Word.
This can be compared to how we learned to read as children. We didn’t begin with whole words, much less whole books, but with the ABCs. We first had to learn each letter, then the sound of each letter. Then we could sound out combinations of letters and small words; then those small words were put together and finally we could read a sentence! And as we kept practicing, we moved on to bigger words and bigger sentences. Our reading comprehension continues to be built on that, and even today we still learn new words.
The process of learning to read might seem tedious if we think about it now. But every step was crucial, and each led to our ability to read and comprehend written words. The first sentence we read might have been a small one, but being able to understand it was the beginning to a lifetime of reading. Similarly, we might consider reading the Bible to be tedious at first and wonder, “What’s the point if I don’t understand it?” But this is the crucial first step in gaining the basics we need to unlock a lifetime of enjoying God’s Word.
As we read the Bible, chapter by chapter, book by book, we acquire the basic building blocks of understanding, and over time we become more and more familiar with the contents of the Bible. Eventually, when we reach the end and begin to read it over again, we’ll be astonished at the revelation and understanding we receive from verses we didn’t even notice the first time around. We’ll begin to see how events, types, and people in the Old Testament point to and appear in the New Testament, giving us a greater appreciation and understanding of both. Verses we only skimmed before will come alive with rich meaning and practical application for our daily life.
The more we read the Bible as a whole, the more we’ll begin to understand this wonderful Book as a whole, little by little.
The purpose of the Bible
Although we may understand that we need to read through the Bible, we still might be discouraged when we don’t understand certain passages or verses. We may even be discouraged just knowing it takes time to gain the “ABCs” of Scripture. In our day and age we’re conditioned to expect quick results, but worthwhile things takes our time and energy.
Additionally, not understanding some of the words we read doesn’t mean we aren’t getting any benefit from reading them. The Lord Jesus said,
“The words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” John 6:63
The Bible—unlike any other book—is a living book, a book of life, and its primary purpose isn’t to impart knowledge, but life. When we come to the Bible seeking only knowledge and understanding, our primary purpose in reading the Bible doesn’t match God’s primary purpose in giving us this marvelous Book.
But when we come to the Word with our heart open to the Lord, we receive life. So even when we don’t understand what we’re reading, we can receive life. When we come to God’s Word, we can pray something like this: “Lord, I turn away from everything preoccupying me. I love You, and I want to receive You as life from Your Word. I open my heart to You.”
The important thing is to keep reading. Not only our understanding of the Bible but also our Christian life and faith depend on our reading and knowing the Word of God. As we read day by day, we’ll grow in the life we receive from the Bible, and we’ll begin to grow in our understanding of the Word as well.