Is it possible to read and understand the Bible?
Yes! You can really read the bible and make some sense of it. Most people are so overwhelmed even thinking about the bible that they are afraid even to start reading it.
Granted, it is a complex book. It is not “easy” or casual reading. And it is not for the faint-of-heart. It is a tough book. It requires some serious reading and studying. And it also is very real-to-life with anything you will see from your favorite soap opera to the scariest movie; because it is about real people living in the real world. It is not made-up fiction; it is more dramatic than that!
Here are some steps to consider if you are going to read the bible and understand what you are reading:
You have to make up your mind that you are going to commit to reading it, even on days that it doesn’t seem to make any sense. In other words, you have to be “all in” when making the choice to start reading it. It is like committing to a workout program. Each time you go to the gym you may not feel like starting, let alone, finishing the workout for the day. But you envision your goal and the good it will do you in the long run so you are able to do the workout in the short run. Reading the bible is the same way.
Keep in mind reading the bible will not always be fun. But like most things in life that grow us and change us, we do them even when we don’t want to so we can accomplish things we have always wanted to and be the person we have always known we were meant to be.
Once you have committed to reading and studying the bible, the next step is to develop a routine based on your own rhythm of life. There is no one time or place to read the bible for everyone. Everyone has a different rhythm that works for them. You need to find it and then establish how and when you will read the bible.
Another thought is that it is not important to spend long periods of time reading the bible. Some people feel the need to spend at least 30 minutes or an hour or they haven’t really read the bible or pleased God. Others feel they need to read big chunks of the bible, such as several chapters or even a whole book in one sitting. Again, bible reading is not about quantity, but quality. This principle usually applies to most things in life. Probably a better approach is to start with only a few minutes and only a few verses. You will have the time to really reflect and digest what you are reading; and you will probably stay with it longer because it will work into your busy, everyday schedule better this way.
Another aspect of reading a portion of the bible is to begin with a basic understanding of the overall meaning and message of the book that the passage is found in. Then next, try to understand the basic meaning of the chapter the verses or passage are found in. There are many good tools on the internet today to help you with this. One really good website is www.blueletterbible.org. Another really good source is more conventional, the Life Application Study bible. Both of these will help you understand context. Without understanding the proper context, you won’t get the real meaning of the passage.
There are two basic contexts that you want to get as you approach any passage. The first is the literary context, which includes knowing who wrote the passage, to whom the passage is written, and what type of literature it is. Is it an allegory, a metaphor, a parable, wisdom literature or historical? The second is the cultural context. If we are really going to understand the bible – which was various smaller books written to people in a different time and in a different part of the world – we need to understand the customary language and genre that was used when the book was written.
After we get the basics of the context of the passage, then we are ready to get down to reading and understanding the actual passage. Probably the best method here is to simply read the passage several times – it may be done in one sitting or done over a few days. It is recommended to do it over a few days so the passage has time to “soak in” and germinate within you.
Then after reading it a few times slowly just to reflect upon it, then it is time to ask a few pertinent questions. The first being, “What do you think the original meaning of the passage was?” Listen for key words or phrases. The second question being, “What does the passage mean to me?” This question goes beyond thinking or “head-knowledge” to “how does the passage make me feel?” Another method you may want to use here is to picture yourself as one of the characters in the passage (this especially is effective when it is a story, parable or an account of an OT story). Putting yourself into the story can really help bring the passage alive to you. [Rick Warren recommends this method in his “40 Days in the Word” program]
Next, you focus on how the verse or passage might apply or speak specifically to your life. You begin to understand the commands or principles found in the passage, and then you ask how this applies to you personally. If you notice, we have taken you from the broadest point of view understanding the particular book down to how a verse or passage relates directly to your own personal life. Most people who read the bible superficially or read it in big chunks short-cut this process; and they will never get the meaning of the passage or even more importantly, the message from the passage that they need for their own personal lives
Finally, you will want to memorize some verses to store them in your spiritual arsenal. Jesus used the Word of God to fight off the devil in the wilderness. We will need to do the same (Matthew 4:1-11). Paul tells us that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit – it is the one offensive weapon we need in fighting and winning the spiritual battles we will face in life (Ephesians 6:17). Some people say they can’t memorize. What we are talking about here is not necessarily memorizing word for word, but rather having a clear understanding of the passage and being able to say it to yourself so that you get the meaning of it. Don’t get hung up trying to memorize word for word if you aren’t good at it. But you can remember principles and meanings. We all remember things that are important to us.
One final thought on reading the bible and understanding it. If you are really going to read it, understand it, and apply it to your heart and spirit (and not just your head), you will need to partner with the Holy Spirit. While you may read the words, He will reveal the truth of the bible to your own life so that you can live as God has called you to live (John 16:13)