7 Steps to a Deeper Understanding of the Bible
- Chara Donahue Contributing Writer
- 2020 2 Jan
Truth. Everyone is looking for it, nearly everyone makes a claim to it, but few know its fullness as revealed in God’s word. There is no greater resource to help us understand the mysteries of God, and his desires for people than the Bible. The Holy Spirit worked through Moses, David, Prophets, and the Apostles to contribute to the collection of 66 books that make up the Good Book; many writers—but one author. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 affirms this reality, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Not only is the Bible breathed out by God, but it was given to us so that when our finite minds cannot make sense of the world around us, we have a solid bedrock of truth to steady our hearts and minds.
God’s enemy, Satan—the deceiver, would love for us to believe that the Bible is inaccessible to us and difficult to understand. While there may be challenges and questions that arise as we study God’s word, we cannot allow them to stop us from reading the words that change hearts and provide our souls’ sustenance. The Bible is like a vast goldmine waiting to be explored, and the following steps can help us unearth the treasury of knowledge and God-wrought wisdom as we dig into each verse.
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1. Read to Know God
Going to Scripture for guidance, comfort, or assurance in the midst of trials is the right place for our souls to find what is most needed. God also calls us to spend time with him, to be in his presence, and to build our one-on-one relationship by listening to his voice, most clearly given through his Word. We are blessed to be able to have unhindered access to the Living God and his Word. He is a King who reigns supremely, eternally, and welcomes us into his throne room unreservedly. That we hesitate to walk in and instead abandon ourselves to the outer courts of curiosity is like being told we’ve inherited a mansion, but never make it past hanging out in the topiary garden. Without making the effort to explore the riches of our inheritance through Christ we can settle for a weak and immature faith resulting is nothing short of a tragedy.
God already knows and loves us, and He is willing to be known if we simply seek him. When we let the fear of limited comprehension keep us from learning of God’s character, we also fail to grow in trusting him. Why would we place our loved ones, careers, and biggest life decisions into the hands of someone we barely know? If we let the desire to know God drive us to the Word, the discipline will become delight, and the pressure of striving towards sophisticated scholarship will give way to knowing our Father who loves his children.
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2. Seek to Understand the Whole of Scripture
I know it sounds like a big ask, but it’s not the daunting task you may think. If you want to go deeper, you must also go wider (cover to cover). When I was a new Christian one of the most helpful things I did was pick up a children’s Bible. I read through the whole thing in one sitting, and even though I am pretty sure it was intended for four-year-olds, I walked away from that reading knowing who Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Peter, and Paul were. The Old and New Testaments work together to show the beauty of creation’s beginning, the tragedy of humanity’s fall into sin, the forecasting and fulfillment of prophecies, and the joy of the long-awaited messiah’s entrance into human history. It takes the whole Bible to bring the whole message of God, and point us unmistakably to Jesus as the Savior and Redeemer of every nation, tribe, era, and culture. If we read the Bible by curated topic or only read certain sections, we miss so much, like only seeing the homes below the Starry Night of Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpiece. It’s ok to start small, but eventually, we must grow to read the whole Bible if we hope to know and understand the whole story.
When we drink deeply from the well of God’s word, we see Jesus is the metanarrative. He isn’t only in the gospels but he’s present at Creation, he appears as the Angel of the Lord before he arrives as a baby in the manger, and he declares victory in the end!
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3. Slow Down
Now that we have covered how important it is to have an understanding of the whole story, in order to uncover profound and deep truths, we must also take our time to savor the richness of what Scripture offers. We can spend a lot of time with one verse and still never fully grasp the entire weight of truth it presents, but still walk away with deep conviction, comfort, and knowledge.
By slowing down and looking for as many observations as we can about one section of scripture at a time, not only are we likely to come away with a more informed interpretation, but we also realize the great truth that no matter where we are in our walk with Christ there is always more to discover. This shouldn’t be a discouragement but an exciting reassurance. To know we will never know it all this side of heaven relieves any temptation to panic because we stop reaching for an impossible goal and let ourselves rest in the words before us. We can be patient with our progress.
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4. Analyze Passages as Literature
We can be tempted to pluck verses from their context and apply them where convenient, but we don’t see the major themes God is trying to point us to if we don’t look for the larger themes that emerge from portions of the text that seem to have a specific focus. For example, the whole book of Judges points to the havoc that unfolds upon a people insistent on doing what is “right in their own eyes.” We can learn from both the stories of the wise and foolish in the book, but by noticing the overarching theme we come away with even more.
The Bible carries tales in different literary forms with varying intentions behind them. Much of the New Testament is made up of letters to churches and people, the Psalms are songs and poetry, Moses made sure the Old Testament was filled with history that tells us of God’s first interactions with humanity. By noticing structure, themes, and even grammatical choices, we see more of the message. These literary elements act as the body language of the holy words.
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5. Explore Your Motivations
If you are looking for God to confirm your ways when you read the Bible, you are heading down a path of frustration. We must acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways, or our hearts will not humbly come to the word ready to be taught. When we open the Scriptures and seek them to make us more like Christ, we will find our will doesn’t always align with his. When the question presents itself, “Am I right or is God right?” You must acknowledge only one of the options in this scenario is someone who cannot fail. Spoiler alert: we are the fallible ones, for God, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
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6. Be Discipling Others
By bringing your study of the Bible into the context of community you greatly enhance your ability to retain what you have learned. This doesn’t mean you have to teach a Bible study, but it does mean sharing your faith with others in whatever context you find yourself in. Sharing the good news was commanded by Jesus and he has ALL authority in heaven and on earth Matthew 28:18-20. Teaching will help to increase your own understanding as well as bring understanding to others, and what better knowledge could we share other than the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?
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7. Couple Your Reading with Prayer
If you are a believer in Christ, you have the Holy Spirit within you. You could find no greater teacher, counselor, or giver of wisdom; before you begin your study, ask for his instruction. In 1 John 5:14, we have this promise, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” We can be confident that seeking a deeper understanding of the Bible is within his will for us, but we can’t just ask—we need to listen.
There will always be more to find as we explore the word of God. As Jesus said in John 6:63, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” We cannot forget that when we read the Bible, we are interacting with a holy being, the holiest being. Reading the word of God is not an independent activity, God is always with you. Let him be your guide and you will realize that even if you struggle to find your way, with him, you will never be lost.
Chara Donahue is a co-author of the Bible study 1, 2 & 3 John: Experiencing Transformation and is working on her next book. She enjoys serving as a biblical counselor, speaking to women, and savoring coffee when her four kids are out playing with dad. She holds an MSEd from Corban University, is passionate about seeing people set free through God's truths, and is the founder and editor of Anchored Voices. Get in touch with her on Facebook or Twitter.
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