Why is Reading the Bible so Hard?
Maybe you’ve been trying to read the Bible your whole life or you just picked it up for the first time yesterday. Maybe you’ve pretended that reading the Bible is a piece of cake, but inside you just don’t get it.
Inside you want to toss that famed, holy book across the room, scream at the top of your lungs, “Reading the Bible is HARD!” and then pick up your copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
You are not alone.
Most people are in the exact same place as you. We pick up the Bible and hope to have a divine experience. Instead, we are often left stumped and frustrated.
What does Jesus mean by “white washed tombs?”
If Philippians 4:13 says I can do everything, why can’t I do well in school?
Judah did what with his daughter-in-law? Why is that in the Bible?
If you have asked these questions before or ones like them, I want to let you know this is healthy. In fact, if you sit down, read the Bible, and don’t feel a little confused sometimes, then you’re doing it wrong.
That’s right. I said that.
Let’s have a brief chat about why the Bible is so hard to read.
But before we start, you might be wondering if the hard work of reading the Bible is worth it. My answer: you bet! Check out this blog to read more on why.
Why the Bible is Difficult to Understand:
1. The Bible Was Not Written to You…
Hold on to those angry comments for a moment. The Bible was not written to you. That doesn’t mean it isn’t for you. The Bible is a powerful resource God has created for you, but when God used Paul to write Philippians, Paul did not have you in mind. Not even a tiny bit.
As Paul painstakingly scribbled down every word of his letter to the Philippian church, he was thinking about the people there he knew personally. I’m going to make a huge assumption that these people did not look like you, act like you, think like you, or speak like you.
This is the first and biggest reason the Bible can be so hard to understand at times. If you approach the Bible as if the words are meant to perfectly fit into your culture, mindset, and beliefs, then you are going to miss the world-changing knowledge the Bible offers.
2. The Bible Was Not Written in English
This might be new info for some and old info for others, but it is important info to always keep in mind.
A majority of the Bible was written in Ancient Hebrew and Greek. Both of these languages are considered to be dead languages. What does that mean? It means that though there are modern versions of both Greek and Hebrew, no one speaks the ancient versions of the Bible today.
It’s a little like a modern English speaker trying to read Shakespeare, except worse.
I personally know how to read a bit of Ancient Greek, but this knowledge is almost altogether useless if I wanted to go to Greece and speak to the people there in their native tongue. I wouldn’t even be able to understand the road signs!
Does that mean we all need to learn old, unused languages in order to understand the Bible?
Absolutely not! There’s a lot I could say—because I’m a Bible nerd—about the awesome job translation committees have done with many of our modern translations of the Bible. You can trust the work they have done to give you an accurate, un-biased translation of the Bible whether it be the NLT, ESV, or NIV.
But if you have ever studied another language, you’ll know that word-for-word translations don’t always exist. Though the translation experts do their best, our English translations can have some pretty…unique sentences. This makes the Bible a lot harder for us to read in comparison to Harry Potter.
3. You Don’t Know It All
Despite your best efforts, I know for a fact you do not know it all.
Ok, Jon… 🙄 I already knew that. So what?
Give me a second to explain.
The Bible is a beautiful, cohesive piece of literature composed over several thousand years of human experience. Even many atheist scholars agree that within the pages of the Bible are some of the world’s most important works of historical literature.
Thinking about it gives me goose bumps!
But, here’s the most important word you may have missed above: cohesive.
The Bible contains a powerful, cohesive story of God’s heart for bringing humanity back into relationship with Him. Many times, when we don’t understand something the Bible says in a particular book, it is because the writer is assuming you know about something written in a previously written book.
That means the more you know about the book of Genesis, for example, the more you are going to understand about the book of Matthew.
Since I can confidently say you don’t know it all when it comes to the Bible, the Bible is going to be hard to understand. Hang in there. The more you read, even though it is hard work, the more you going to understand.
Yeah, the Bible is hard to understand. That’s because it was written to people who are vastly different than you in a language you don’t speak and because you don’t know it all.
Does that mean you should give up on reading the Bible? Many do, and they miss out on the extraordinary wisdom God offers us in the pages of the Bible.
If you are willing to start doing some of the hard work of reading the Bible and reap the benefits, check out this blog I wrote about some tools you can use to better understand the Bible.