WHY IS THE BIBLE SO DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND?
Let’s get honest and just say… THE BIBILE IS SOMETIMES DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND! There I said it! Have you ever opened up your bible and thought, WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THIS SCRIPTURE TALKING ABOUT? If you have, you are not alone. Today, let’s examine some of the reasons the bible is so hard to understand and how we can make it more relevant in our lives!
All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness 2 Tim 3:16
Let’s start by agreeing that the Bible is the very inerrant word of God.
That it is TRUTH. No matter what anyone else says… period!
And let’s also confirm…
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.
Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we cannot grasp the very words of God. For it IS the Holy Spirit that lead us in the Truth of God.
So, believing that… why can the Bible still be difficult to understand?
There are many reasons that the Bible is sometimes a difficult book… and we can’t address them all… but understanding a few things about the Bible really made it easier for me and hopefully will for you too!
I had a huge epiphany when I studied in Israel!
The land, the people, the customs, language, the food, the mindset and almost everything else were so different than me! Soooo different!
This land… and it’s people … they are the “stuff” of the Bible. How then, could I read God’s Word through the lens of who I am and my American experience.
The bible is an ancient book, written thousands of years ago. But it is THE relevant book for our lives today!
Now here’s the thing.
We cannot deeply understand the bible if we think like 21st century Americans (or whatever your are). And most of us read the bible using a modern mindset. No wonder we have trouble understanding it!
Today, we are MODERN PHILOSOPHICAL WESTERN thinkers. Our thinking is affected by the world we live in today. We are vastly affected by Greek philosophy and our western culture.
So different from the thinking and ways of the writers of the Bible!
They were ANCIENT ORIENTAL ORTHODOX thinkers. Like us, their thinking was affected by their world too. And if we want to have a better understanding of the Bible, we need to put the Word in…
In other words, we need to understand the world and the times the Bible and the books of the Bible were written in.
Here’s an example…
And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from the region, and began to cry out, saying,”Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon possessed.”
But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying,”Send her away, for she is shouting out after us.”
But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”
And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs of the master’s table.”
Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O, woman, your faith is great; be it done as you wish. And her daughter was healed at once. Matthew 15:21-28
Let’s set the scene… important in knowing what the scripture passage means.
We need to think like a first century Jew to understand this sometimes difficult passage. Let’s put away our modern thinking!
Jesus and His disciples went to the land of Tyre and Sidon. I did a little research… and Tyre and Sidon were Gentile (no Jews there) lands. Jews would not usually travel in Gentile lands. The were considered defiled. (Remember, no modern thinking!)
By now Jesus’ fame was close to Rock Star status and He would have been known everywhere He went! This scripture takes place at the height of His popularity. Certainly His miracles would be very well known.
A Canaanite woman, a person that a good Jew would have nothing to do with, as they were an evil and idol worshiping people, came to Jesus and kept calling out for help. This was MOST unusual during this time. Jews and Gentiles usually did not mix… and certainly a Jewish man would have very little to do with a Gentile woman!
This woman was coming to the only one who could help her… even if it was totally unheard of during her time. She had a child that was sick… demon possessed. Even though she lived among a very evil people group and did not know the One true God… she loved her child. What would you do if your child was in such trouble?
Sometimes, I think we are so jaded by modern medical marvels. They are commonplace… normal. We can cure and make better so many ailments that our lives can be pretty sanitized in our affluent modern world. We don’t understand the desperate way many ancients lived. Lives shattered by disease, mental illness, birth defects and accidents. If this was one’s lot in life it remained unchanged!
Jesus, the Savior of the WORLD, would not answer her. He said, that He had only come to save the LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL. Here is a little context… the Jews were called LOST SHEEP in the ancient writings. God used sheep… the “stuff” of their time… an everyday thing in their world… to show the Jew just how lost they were and how they needed a shepherd… a Good Shepherd. But I digress…
Jesus did come to save the world. With his death that would take away ALL sin… but during His ministry on earth… it was a ministry to the Jews. Jesus and the gospel that saves…came to the Jews first, then to the Greeks. Romans 1:16 (Greek is a synonym for Gentile or not Jew)
The world… or Gentiles… would be reached primarily after His death and resurrection.
The woman would not be deterred… she came to Jesus and bowed down to Him. Again amazing!!!!! And she calls Jesus Lord… which means master. She must have been so desperate!
Here is Jesus’ response to her… “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”.
An odd response…
Hard to understand!
So, let’s put this passage into the CONTEXT of the day…
Jesus often called the Jews of the day CHILDREN. He was their Rabbi… or teacher.
The bread… Bread was a staple of life in the ancient world. No wonder Jesus called Himself “THE BREAD OF LIFE”.
And dog? Why on earth did Jesus talk about dogs? Now you really have to put away your 21st century thinking for this one… A dog was another name for a Gentile. The Jews called Gentiles dogs.
It was common language. One that both Jews and Gentiles would understand.
In today’s thinking this would be quite an insult. In the time this passage was written… that’s just how it was!
So here is what Jesus is saying to the Canaanite woman…My ministry is with my people, my children the Jews… and not to the Gentiles (at least not yet) who do not know or believe in my FATHER!
The woman’s reply astounds me… she said, Yes, Lord… acknowledging Jesus’ statement was true and added…
But even the dogs feed on the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.
She is saying that she will take the crumbs of Jesus’ ministry and that will be sufficient!!!! Oh what beautiful faith!!!!
And because of her faith… her daughter is healed by Jesus’ word.
And like the Canaanite woman I bow to my wonderful Lord… after understanding this! How can you not love Jesus when you understand!!!!!
When we can step out of our world and trod and plod through ancient lands with the ancient peoples and learn their ways… we will begin to find such beautiful and deep meaning and truths in the Bible!
I love this scripture. At first glance I wondered why Jesus was so “snarky”. Why He would not help. But when I understood the CONTEXT of this passage… and read the scripture in light of the custom and culture it made sense.
Jesus was really the amazing God I have always known Him to be. Compassionate, always calling people to a saving belief in Him. Not wanting any to perish!!!!
What a difference when we understand!!!!
Here are some practical things that have helped me study and understand the bible…
Please hear this…we should always read and study the bible starting with prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit, the ONE who leads us in all truth, to open our eyes and hearts (our mind, will, emotion and intellect) to the Word.
We should read God’s word, not for head knowledge alone, but because we want to align our lives with what the Word says. Transforming our lives is what it is all about!!!!!
We should read the bible asking the Holy Spirit to be our teacher. Don’t reach for commentaries or audio or video aids. Always dig into the word and “mine” the treasure for yourself. God wrote His Word with YOU in mind!!!!
I keep a notebook handy to write what I am learning and to write any questions I have. I always ask the Holy Spirit to help me with my questions and to guide me to a right answer. I also thank and praise Him ahead of time for I know that He will answer my prayer!
Only after I have garnered what I can learn from the word, I consult good, God-centered commentaries and study aids. They often give the historical context of what you are studying.
Knowing God’s word takes time and effort and commitment! He gave us His word to know Him… to bring us into Salvation and to change our lives.
We are His ambassadors to a lost, dark and hurting world. We will show Christ to others…so shouldn’t we know Him to do a good job?
The next time you find scripture difficult, rejoice! Take the time to get into the word and find the CONTEXT and true meaning. With the help of the Holy Spirit you will be on the journey to finding beautiful and life changing TRUTH!!!!
I am really enjoying your Sunday posts. Thank you for taking the time to share truth. Each post has been encouraging and so God-centered rather than Me-centered. God is so good!
Amen and amen! A desire to study the Word of God is a blessing and gift of grace. To have Titus 2 women teach the younger what that looks like is a great mercy of our Lord. Have a blessed Sunday!
Wonderful! I plan to use this example today with the youth and young adult (16-31) group I have in my Bible Study class this morning. Thank you as always for allowing the Holy Spirit to use you to teach others.
I appreciated your article this morning. A little education goes a long way in understanding the linguistics of the Bible….and you have educated your readers today….most Christians do not understand the simple meanings of the “thee’s, and thou’s” which explain who is being spoken to. Also, a Webster’s 1828 Dictionary is best when looking up Bible word definitions because the modern dictionaries have more modern meanings and the 1828 uses the definitions that the writers used. Culture has changed so much that it does affect the way we think and see things. This would be a wonderful subject for all of your blog followers who are Christians to look into…it could make them a better witness for Christ. Thank you for a good article.
Such a good post to read early Sunday morning! I believe we are shown truth from reading our bibles exactly as you said. Very little effort for the blessings we receive from it!
Thanks for your insight and explanation. Your readers are blessed by your love of Christ and your ability and willingness to share your faith. I look forward each week to your Sunday post!
Yvonne – I loved these words today. They really spoke to me. I love to learn about what the Bible is saying in the times of Jeaus. What the words really mean in the language they were written. You have inspired me to dig deeper into Gods word. Wishing you a blessed week ahead!
So happy to hear that Debi!
Oh my gosh! I love you and I don’t even know you! Your Sunday Blog posts help me to fall deeper in love with Jesus. I sooooo look forward to each and every blog you post but on Sunday I rush to my phone to see the blessing you have for me today. I thank and praise God for all you do and your beautiful way you share the wisdom He has given you. May God shine on you and continue to bless you. When you’re blessed, WE ARE BLESSED! Thank you God! Only God can do that. And thank you Yvonne. I can’t wait to hug you!
Thank you so much for your encouraging words, Tina. You are right… to God be the glory!!!
WOW!!! Thank you ! I’m a baby christian with so much to learn, we can never know or understand the bible fully. That’s what’s so wonderful about it, a life long journey of learning about our Lord and applying his word to our everyday world.
Yvonne, I want to personally thank you for taking the time and reaching out to people about our Christ , not everyone can or will do it. He walks with you and you are His Light….
Oh Cynthia, thank you so much! The idea of ministering to others for Christ is my biggest honor!!!
Enjoyed your blog today. Thank you!
What a wonderful piece! Mindset was something I never contemplated –nor did I ask the Holy Spirit to open my mind to the words I was reading. Your insight and explanation — thanks!
Thank you for sharing your faith, Yvonne.
Praise be to God!
Thank you for sharing this truth.
Peace Love Light
What an inspiring post. I’m glad you chose these particular scriptures. I never did quite understand how her faith had healed her daughter – until now. Thank you.
I love you sharing your faith. It is so important to me. I was wondering if you could recommend a good commentary. Thank you!
Hi Candy, I don’t have one particular commentary I go to. I like the older more scripture based ones. I love to study the bible using PRECEPTS MINISTRY for my books, etc. The best in-depth bible study I’ve ever come across!
Yvonne. You are so inspiring to me. I feel like you are one of my best friends. I always love your devotions on Sunday and seeing your beautiful home and hearing what you are up to during the week. Thank you !
What a kind and sweet thing to say! Thanks, dear friend!!!
Yvonne, would you please recommend the study guides/commentaries that you use?
As usual, yet another beautiful delivery of God’s Word! Thank-you so very much…..
Sure. I use and LOVE any study done by Precepts Ministry (Kay Arthur). Amazing in-depth study. You will certainly learn so much!!!! And it will change your life, as it did mine!
Yvonne, you hit the nail on the head. So many people I’ve talked with say the Bible is just too difficult to understand. Your information is excellent! Hope you are having a great day.
For me I have found that when i don’t understand a scripture it helps to ask myself, what the situation was then, who said it, and to whom were they talking? I found that I can’t know the New Testament without knowing the Old Testament so I refer back from one to the other. The Bible is a book from beginning to end, all building to the eventual great ending! Come Lord Jesus!
Good word!! So true.
Have a Blessed day.
Everyone has a gift and yours is the wonderful way you explain God’s Word. Happy Sunday!
Hi Yvonne. I am new to your blog, and am enjoying it very much. You are blessed with the gift of hospitality, and knowing how to make a home lovely and inviting. I so wish I was your neighbor. I would love to sit with you on that beautiful front porch and just chat.
As a fellow Believer, I am encouraged by your Sunday blogs about the Bible, your faith, and what it means to be a True Christ follower. This weary world needs the truth spoken in love, and shown to them with grace, and you do it so well.
Keep up the good work, and when we meet in Heaven, I want you to design my mansion!
Welcome to the StoneGable family, Julie!!! Thanks for your dear and kind words!
I just came home from church & read your blog. I, too, find the Bible difficult & discouraging sometimes. It’s only when I got to church & our Pastor takes verses & explains the word to us that I begin to understand. But, that’s only a few verses at a time. I love your Sunday blog when you explain the Bible to us & I thank you! One question, do you find a study Bible is helpful?
When I study the Word of God I use an online source called Biblos: http://biblehub.com/. THE VERY FIRST THING I DO WHEN I STUDY IS TO PRAY TO THE HOLY SPIRIT FOR KNOWLEDGE, SUPERNATURAL INTELLIGENCE AND THAT WHAT I LEARN WILL BE A PART OF EVERY FIBER IN MY BODY UNTO GOD’S GREAT GLORY!
I like to study the Greek and Hebrew words for the passages I am studying. Really, I get such great insight from learning what the words truly meant in their original language.
I’m not much for a Study Bible person, as it gives you the answers to questions you should be digging around for yourself.
Here is a link to the best book I have ever read on HOW TO STUDY YOUR BIBLE :http://www.amazon.com/How-Study-Your-Bible-Life-Changing/dp/0736953434/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435552526&sr=1-1&keywords=kay+arthur+how+to+study+bible
A must read if you are serious about knowing God’s word.
Thank you for the encouragement . Have a wonderful week!
I didn’t know this blog did a weekly Sunday article — Bravo! I just started following on Facebook for some of the photos for creative inspiration. 🙂 I totally agree with your encouragement that we first thank God for speaking to us and answering our prayers, even when the answer isn’t what we wished for or isn’t within our expected timeframe. Secondly, to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom whenever we read the Bible, and I like the idea of journaling thoughts and inspiration…and also questions!
I have some thoughts on today’s Gospel message (please be kind if any of you disagree). Many years ago, I heard mention of this once by one of our priests (and I can’t recall to which Gospel passage he was referring at the time), but what he pointed out was that sometimes we forget that God has a sense of humor. That has helped me better understand some of the harsher comments Jesus makes — the ones like in this Gospel message where the harshness seems so out of place for a Savior full of mercy and compassion. First of all, I believe that “dogs” was meant as a derogatory term…otherwise, the woman would not have said, “Even the dogs…” Secondly, I believe that Jesus would absolutely want to drive a demon out of this poor woman’s daughter! So, was He just teasing her by making her beg Him and recognize His Divine authority? No, my Jesus would not be so cruel or thoughtless. I think sometimes that Jesus is “playing the part” of the tyoical Jewish mindset at the time for the benefit of the Jews who followed him in throngs and especially as a teaching moment for his disciples, who wanted to send her away. Jesus would not give credibility to the idols or false gods this woman’s people worshiped by doing her bidding without first winning her over. But neither would he treat her as a non-person simply because she was a Gentile and a Caananite. So, what I mean is, that His harsh comments to her, while testing her for her WILLINGNESS to have faith in Him, were possibly meant to shame and shock his Jewish followers into realizing that faith, hope, and love of God and neighbor were most important. My feeling is that He was both wanting the woman to believe in Him and express that belief, and at the same time using the situation as a teaching moment for his disciples’ benefit. There are many other Gospel passages in which we are told He does just that. I think He must have found some sense of humorous satisfaction in using the prejudices and hypocrisy of the self-righteous (remember the “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” moment?) to turn their understanding upside down! 🙂
Hi Jean, Thanks for your inquiry about this passage. I too believe Jesus must have had a great sense of humor, but I really don’t think He would have showed it in this senario. This was a very serious matter at hand. Remember Jesus was a Jew living in an ancient culture and according to scripture obeyed all Jewish laws. But He was also all God. Jesus’ ministry was to ALL humanity, but His specific earthly ministry was to the Jews. We are the hands and feet and mouthpieces of Jesus that are to bring His salvation to the ends of the earth and to every heart!
We do see, however, that he also ministered to many Gentile people that His path crossed. And we see it in this case. I think the context and focus of this passage is not that Jesus called this woman a dog (common language of the day) but the great faith of the Gentile woman and Jesus’ compassion.
The language of the passage was again, common of the day and not the insult as our 21st century ears hear it. It was just a way of saying that the Gentiles were not Jews. Remember the Jews were, and still are , a set apart people unto the Lord.
I so agree with you that Jesus was a radical of His time. He was all about turning over hypocrisy and prejudice… I just don’t think that is the case in this scripture, that would be out of context.
But what a lesson in faith! It is not our ability to believe that bring miracles to our lives, but the ONE we believe in.
Thanks so much for sharing your thought! Blessings and a big hug to you!
Thank you so much. I deeply appreciate your teachings.
Yvonne (I think that is your name?), I forgot to add in my comment below that I love your inspired explanation of the fact that Jesus’ mission was first to the Jews and later (mostly after His Resurrection) to the Gentiles…the rest of the world. My comment and take on today’s Gospel was meant as a complement or alternative to yours, not as a correction of what you so beautifully expressed. 🙂
Hi again Jean, I am so glad you commented. Add thoughtful comments are welcomed!!! I did not take it as a correction!
So appreciate your biblical thoughts and insight. It’s a high calling to be one of the Lord’s children. Bless you for taking the time to share!!
Yvonne, thank you so much for this thoughtful and inspired lesson. I had no idea that “dogs” referred to gentiles. Now that passage makes more sense to me. The Bible is difficult for me to read and comprehend…I appreciate your generosity in sharing.
Beautiful post! Thank you for taking the time to post about Jesus Christ! I love that you are bold for Christ!
I really appreciated your comments. When I study the Bible with people I tell them the Bible is our window through which we see God. When we study the Word we need to see it as an onion that we peel back the layers. To understand we need to know who wrote the book and to whom. Next we need to read it realizing their culture and figuring out how it practically applies to our culture. We need to realize their religion was different from most of ours. Lastly, we need to figure out what it’s telling us about God. What’s important to Him? What does He like? What does He not like? How does this apply to me?
I really enjoy your decorating posts, but I just love your Sunday posts. We are not in a church right now, but I am feeling the need to get back in one. I want to find one that doesn’t expect you to follow their party line, but one that digs in the scripture andake you think. Your Sunday posts do that.
I was traveling today and was unable to attend our church. This Bible lesson was just what I needed. You are a soldier of the Lord. He will bless you many times over for sharing His teachings and spreading His word to all of us, Christians and non-Christians. You have proven to Him that you are not ashamed to share your Christian beliefs publicly…. you are winning more souls to Christ, our Lord and Savior. I look forward to reading all your blogs, and especially your Sunday posts. God bless you and God bless our fallen Country! May we soon be back on the path that the Lord intended for us to travel.
Thank you for helping me understand the meaning and content of this passage. As a catholic, going to catholic grammar schools, many, many years ago, the bible was never mentioned, almost dismissed, it was the Baltimore study books used, taught by questions and answers. Thanks again for sharing with us, Elaine
Thank you for this insightful post. I agree, the Precept Studies are so wonderful for in-depth study. Precepts now also offer Bible studies for those who have less time to study but still desire to know God’s Word. All of these studies reveal the Truth and Power of God’s Word! Thank you, Yvonne!
I have been reading your blog for awhile now and although I have always enjoyed it, I haven’t posted any comments. I think you have great style and many great decorating tips. After reading your post on Sunday I felt compelled to write and let you know that of all of your posts my favorite are always the ones you post on Sundays. They have really been helpful and insightful. I think it is wonderful that you share your faith in such a beautiful and open way. Thank you, Thank you!!! I am sure God is smiling down on you as you are touching so many people with his truth!
Hello cute lady! Thank you for hosting such a fun party. We would appreciate it if you would stop by our party.We would love to see what you have been working on! Lou Lou Girls
Dear Yvonne, I have to say that you have touched… my heart… along with so many other folks.. who have read what you wrote about the Bible, Jesus and The Holy Spirit! Wow, what a combination for anyone on this earth! I sure do understand one thing … as we go forward on our journey we continue to learn and hopefully grow in grace towards our final home, and we are given such a gift to enjoy every day . My Dear sis stepped into Heaven the day after my birthday and the day before my husbands.. last October. She had lived in Germany for 13 years… and would go on retreats to Bavaria with her friends and was led in God’s teaching by Kay Arthur! Oh, how she loved her ! I truly “Thank You” for shining God’s beautiful Light.. and I hasten to add, like others have… I just wish I could come sit on your porch and visit with you. Love and hugs, Judy
Very eloquently said! I agree so totally with what you have said. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was blessed with the opportunity to teach an early morning scripture study class to high school aged youth for eleven years. Understanding the historical background helped so much in learning the content and context of the scriptures. Without the historical background, the scriptures can be confusing.
Thank you for your wonderful post about a divinely written book that is still so pertinent to our day!
Have a very blessed day, Cheryl
I was soo blessed with your words, hope to here more.
Thank you for encouraging me to pray, open my Bible and read about our Lord! It is so refreshing to not only stumble onto a site and join because of all of the beautiful decor ideas, but to be renewed in my spirit as a Christian is more than the icing on the cake! I LOVE it, and cannot thank you enough for the courageous stand you are taking. May you continue to be blessed, your home is gorgeous inside and out and so are you sister!
What a great lesson! I soaked all of it in and will use it tomorrow during my bible study. Surely, this blog IS your purpose in life! Thanks Yvonne
Happy Sunday, thank you for this beautiful message.
With prayer may this world open their eyes and hearts to hear the truth and accept Jesus as their Savior.
Have a Blessed week.
You are such a breath of fresh air in this crazy world.
I’m so thankful I found your blog.
Someday all the people of the world will!
Thank you!!! At the moment I needed to hear this, it came. The small parts of the Bible that I do understand are sufficient enough to remove the demons that plague my life!!!