Understanding the Bible (Preview)

July 1, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

On occasion, I have been known to do a little math tutoring. Not only do I have two young scholars in my house, but also I’ll help random people in the church and such. What I’ve noticed is that most, if not all, people who say that they are struggling with math, know a lot more math than what they believe they do. Their problem is not comprehending the problem or doing the work. Their problem is what I will call math anxiety.

It’s similar to test anxiety and it certainly manifests itself during the tests. Math anxiety is when someone who is not naturally gifted in math or doesn’t like math declares, “Math is impossible,” “Math is stupid” or my favorite “Math doesn’t make sense.” I love it. The problem can in no way be me. The problem is math. Math is wrong. If math were right, then I would easily get it. Raise your hand if you’ve thought that. (Looking) Hey, everyone in my house just raised their hand. (I’m questioning if math acumen is genetic, or perhaps math-hating is the dominant gene. Looking at you HLoften).

I believe that we also struggle with Bible Anxiety. We have been convinced or have convinced ourselves that the Bible is impossible to understand. “I’ve tried reading it, and I just don’t get it.” “The Bible just doesn’t make sense.” I think pastors over the years have contributed to the problem. While on the one hand we say that you should read and study the Bible on your own, on the other we make it seem like you have to be a trained scholar with a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew to truly understand it.

“Well, you make think this verse says blah, blah, blah, but that that Greek verb is an intransitive pluperfect gerund, and what it really means is wah, wah, wah.” While many of these scholarly insights are helpful, often there can be the unintended consequence of making reg’lar folk believe that they aren’t smart enough to understand the Bible. If cloften.com were a blog for pastors, there would already be a post entitled “Tone Down the Scholarly Rhetoric, Einstein.”

This is the beginning of a new blog series on understanding the Bible and before we really get started, I want to first say, “You can do it.” You on your own, with a pen, piece of paper, Bible and occasionally a dictionary, can understand the Bible. If you sat down and just read the Bible, you could get the basic idea 90+% of the time.

All you have to do is use basic reading comprehension. Things like understanding the subject, verb, descriptive words, if/then, cause/effect, etc. You’ll notice if there are ever sentences that are just fragments (See previous sentence), and there won’t be. You’ll ask yourself what is the point the author is trying to make, just like when you read the newspaper (Ha, ha, ha. He just said newspaper. He might as well have said papyrus). You’ll connect with characters and find the morals in stories, just like when you read novels, you know on your Kindle (Trying to reclaim cool points). Context will tell you the definition of words you don’t know or you will look them up in the dictionary, just like you always do when you read.

“Wait, wait, wait. Cloften this is the Bible. Bible is hard. The rules are different for the Bible. You can’t just read the Bible.” Right and wrong. (Another sentence fragment). You are right in that the content is more weighty and the source of the content is God. It is more important that you understand the concepts of grace and salvation, than whether or not you are Team Edward or Team Jacob (At least it should be).

However, it is still a book, a book with words, English words, English words you know, put together in sentences that you can understand. There will be parts you don’t understand immediately. Write down your questions and read some more. Some questions will be answered in the next passage. Others can be answered by friends when you get together and talk about it. (In a small group or Sunday School. It’s like a book club, but, you know, with the Bible.)

I’m not saying that it is as simple as “believe in yourself and go for it.” That’s why this will likely be a 20 part series. We need to understand what the major themes of the Bible are, how it fits chronologically, how the different books of the Bible relate to each other, understand the different genres, etc.  These are things that help us understand the Bible better.  These are not things that we must grasp perfectly before we should even start reading.

However, the biggest issue we have is confidence.  “I believe that God wants me to understand his word, and I am smart enough to read a book and understand it.”  You really can do it. I mean, it’s not calculus.


4 Responses to “Understanding the Bible (Preview)”
  1. Carolyn Loften says:

    OK, save all of these, I smell book deal. In my old age I want my son to send me to Europe on a trip. Yes, I will come back.

  2. Charris says:

    Cloften, I have no idea what you just said…

  3. Josh says:

    They need to make a movie about the entire Bible. I am a lot better at understanding movies. It might be kind of long though. Although if Stanley Kubrick was still alive, he could probably do it. He went from dawn of civilization to space exploration in like 2 hours.

    Team Jesus!!!

  4. Peter Freund says:


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