(Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.)
The Bible is an incredible book filled with wisdom, poetry, history, and teachings. It contains mysterious prophecies, symbols, and figures, along with lengthy genealogies and detailed laws. Above all, it reveals who Christ is and God’s eternal purpose for mankind.
As Christians, we may know that we should read the Bible, but we might feel apprehensive about it. Maybe our previous attempts to understand the Bible discourage us, or maybe we think it’s a daunting task to read and digest such an important, complex book. But the Bible is God’s Word written for us. Surely He wants us to read and understand this gift He’s given to us. Today, we’ll take a look at the first important step in understanding the Bible.
Read the Bible cover to cover
Many of us have heard messages about Scripture, participated in Bible studies, and read Christian books. All of these wonderful things can increase our comprehension of God’s Word. But they can’t replace the first, most basic step in understanding the Bible: reading it for ourselves.
What do we mean by “read it”? Should we use a devotional to read a few verses each day? Should we choose a topic and read all the Scriptures related to it? While both of these ways of engaging with God’s Word have their place, we first need to read the whole Bible cover to cover in order to understand it.
This may seem intimidating, but what’s the first step to understanding any book? Lectures, discussion groups, study notes, and dictionaries are useful tools, but the first step in understanding any book is to read it through for ourselves. This is the basis upon which our understanding of it is built. Everything else just enriches our personal reading. In the same way, reading the Bible is the first step to understanding it.
Establishing a foundation for understanding the Scriptures
What if we start reading the Bible and we don’t understand anything we read? That’s perfectly all right! In fact, it’s quite normal. After all, this book is God’s Word; it simply isn’t meant to be comprehended in one sitting.
We need to lay a foundation for understanding the Scriptures. We do this by reading through the Bible and discovering its basic contents: the history, the parables, the people, the prophecies, and so on. We’re exposed to new words and ideas, and these become the foundation for our future understanding of God’s 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. Then we started learning to form words using those letters, and then began forming sentences.
The first sentence we read might have been a short one, but being able to read and understand it was the beginning of a lifetime of reading. In the same way, we might struggle with reading the Bible at first and even wonder, “What’s the point if I don’t understand it?” But this is the crucial first step in unlocking a lifetime of enjoying God’s Word.
As we read the Bible, chapter by chapter, book by book, we lay a foundation, and over time we become more and more familiar with its contents. 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 figures in the Old Testament point to events and people that appear in the New Testament, giving us a greater appreciation and comprehension of both. Verses we only skimmed before will come alive with rich meaning and practical application to our personal lives. And the more we consistently read the Bible, the more we’ll begin to understand this wonderful Book as a whole.
The Bible is a book of life
Once we’ve embarked on reading through the whole Bible, we may still get discouraged when we don’t understand certain passages or verses, or frustrated by the fact that it takes time to gain the “ABCs” of Scripture. In this day and age, we’re conditioned to expect quick results, but truly worthwhile things take time and energy.
Even if we don’t understand every word in the Bible, especially at first, that doesn’t mean we’re not benefiting at all from reading it. In John 6:63, the Lord Jesus said,
“The words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
The Bible is unlike any other book; it’s a book of life. Its primary purpose isn’t to impart knowledge, but life. If we come to the Bible seeking only knowledge and understanding, we will miss God’s primary purpose in giving us this marvellous 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 still receive life. When we come to God’s Word, we can pray something like this:
“Lord Jesus, there are so many things preoccupying me. But I want to spend time with You in Your Word right now. I love You, and I want to receive life from Your Word. I open my heart to You.”
The most important thing is to keep reading. Our Christian life and faith depend on our reading, knowing, and receiving life from the Word of God. As we read day by day, our understanding of the Word will deepen, and we’ll also grow in God’s life.