I know that some might be offended at the question. “The Bible isn’t difficult to understand,” they may claim. But the fact is, I’ve been studying the book my entire life and there are still portions of the Scripture that I struggle to understand. Even Peter mentions that some Scripture written by Paul would be difficult for some to understand. (II Peter 3:16)
Stop! Don’t get discouraged! I have some good news for every Bible student. Understanding the Bible becomes much easier when you identify the four challenges of Bible interpretation.
The Distance of Time
The New Testament is nearly 2,000 years old and parts of the old testament can date back 3,500 years. To understand what happened to a person or group of people four to five thousand years ago can be a daunting task. When a prophet speaks of certain cities, practices, events that were all commonly understood 2,400 years ago to the original audience it’s natural for a modern reader to stumble over the names of these cities, people and events without studying the historical context of certain passages. The better the student understands history the better he will understand the Scripture he reads.
The Distance of Culture
The primitive agricultural world in which the characters of the Bible inhabit are starkly contrasted to the modern, urban world in which many readers find themselves. To leave behind our cultural contest and mentally travel to another land and culture can be difficult for many people. This takes imagination. Why did the Pharisees place such an emphasis on ceremonial washings? Why was Jesus so upset with the moneychangers in the temple? Why did Boaz exchange a shoe with Ruth’s kinsman and how did this signify that Ruth could now marry Boaz? Beginning to understand other cultures will help the student in their understanding of the Bible.
The Distance of Geography
Perhaps the easiest obstacle to overcome is geography. In our modern world it is as simple as traveling to the holy sites to visit the locations. However, this is not always possible. Understanding the geography of the Bible will help you when the Bible speaks of “going up to Jerusalem from Caesarea” which is on the coast. Or when the good Samaritan was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho its important to understand that Jerusalem is in the mountains and hills while Jericho is down by the dead sea.
The Distance of Language
I would argue that language is the most difficult barrier to overcome in understanding Scripture. In the first place, the Bible was originally written in other languages, portions in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. To master any one of these languages would take a devout student many years. However, just because this may be difficult, doesn’t make it impossible. The Lord has provided within His church those gifted in languages who have produced impeccable translations, lexicons, language learners and study guides in order to have a proper understanding of Scripture. Along with the promise of God to preserve His Word (Psalm 12:7), we have been given English translations and many tools to aid us in our study of God’s Word.
Though the Bible can be difficult to understand doesn’t mean it’s impossible. God has written His Word for the sole purpose of giving us a proper understanding of Himself. Though there are several difficulties to overcome, the diligent student should have no problem understanding the teachings of Scripture. Let us remember the exhortation of Paul to his beloved disciple, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – II Timothy 2:15
 William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 13-17.
 William Sanford Lasor, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1996), 52-53.
 William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 15.
 Ibid, 16.
 Ibid. 16-17.
Francis KeatonJanuary 17, 2014 at 12:35 pm
I feel the greatest difficulty for Americans is vocabulary. According to Time magazine, in 1950 the average 14 year old had a knowledge of 25,000 words. In 1999 this was down to 10,000 words. In addition, when the government hired Daniel Webster to “Americanize” the English language, many nuances were lost. There are many great tools to use with reading your King James Bible daily. Improving word power is not a “nerdy” thing to do but an essential for many aspects of life. I’ve seen an estimate that there are only about 600 words in the Bible that are no longer in use. You easily get a dictionary that covers most of those. What you can’t get it easily, is the motivation to get rid of pride and actually learn a word or two a day. For example, if we do not understand the difference between want and desire, we have no hope of understanding many passages in the Bible, including the 23rd Psalm. Nor do we need to read a “dumbed down” version of the Bible. For the average person, we don’t need to learn Greek, Hebrew, Latin or any other language, we just need to learn English a little better
Joshua TeisJanuary 20, 2014 at 8:23 am
A compelling thought. Dramatically enhancing our vocabulary will furnish each reader with a richer comprehension of the Scriptures. 🙂
AlanJanuary 18, 2014 at 10:40 am
Understanding The Bible is a lot easer than trying to understand the political problems we have today, are trying to understand some of the science fiction theories they call facts today. What a play with words, I do run into a lot of people that thank there are a lot of mistakes in the Bible, but with a little study are research I often find it is only because of their lack of understand and knowledge. Even when I have problems my self I just tell my self there are no mistakes in the Bible and keep searching for Gods truths. Most of the Time Gods reviles it to me. The baggiest problem I run into are men thanking they are wise men that have become sophist both on bible doctrine and science that thank it is more important wining a argument then seeking Gods truths. It seems that you can never prove anything when you are going up against pride that has said I am not wrong in ones heart. That is why it is so important to always keep a open heart for the LORD. Truth can stare some people in the face and they cannot see it. LORD open our eyes.
James PfeifferJanuary 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm
I came across 2 Timothy 3:7 again today which relates to your comment about amassing biblical knowledge for the sake of obtaining knowledge or winning debates. “…ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I think the lesson from Paul in this passage and the previous verse is to remember to seek Gods truth and will for your life as you study scripture…and then also do what he says! It shouldn’t be about having the ability to recite book of Proverbs by heart or to be the next Bible Jeopardy Champion 🙂
Joshua TeisJanuary 20, 2014 at 8:27 am
Great point James. The Bible was not given to us so that we could merely study obscure facts in order to impress fellow believers. It is a love letter from God the Father.
Joshua TeisJanuary 20, 2014 at 8:25 am
Great thought – Reminds me of Proverbs 11:2 When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.
Tracy BradfordJanuary 18, 2014 at 10:30 pm
Another potential source of difficulty comes especially in the epistles. I find it helpful to remember that in this instance one is reading someone else’s mail. This makes it important to know as much as one can about the circumstance of the persons to whom the letter was written. Which in turn makes it really helpful to have the sermon archives available on http://www.shbaptist.org. Check ’em out.
I mean – when next you get/write a letter from/to your parents or an old pal, imagine it then being read by someone 2,000 years from now. Would they “get” it? How much study would it entail for them to do so?
And that brings up how fortunate we are to have our pastoral staff to do the hard digging.
Joshua TeisJanuary 20, 2014 at 8:29 am
Tracy, Brilliant point. The epistles are simply letters that have been divinely inspired & preserved in our Bible. Without a proper understanding of the author, recipient and reason for writing the letter we are often lost in our understanding of each individual book. Great post.
AnonymousJanuary 21, 2014 at 12:14 am
The “Divinely Inspired” is why these epistles are so incredibly relevant even 2,014 + years hence, and doubtless 2,000 years from now. (should The Lord tarry). My letters to my kids – well – – – not so much – – – – – 🙂
dissolve meSeptember 15, 2014 at 8:36 pm
Thanks for finally writing about > Why is the Bible Difficult to
Understand? | Josh Teis | Lead Pastor Southern Hills Baptist Church < Liked it!