What Do You Mean By “Correctly Understanding” the Bible?


I am concerned about your words “correctly understanding” the Bible. To me the Bible is black and white. The different denominations are irrelevant to me. What our Lord has given us in the Bible is what I know is true.


We admire—and share—your respect for the Bible. We agree completely that the Bible is true. It is our one sure foundation without which we have nothing solid to stand upon. However, I am unsure as to what you mean when you say the Bible is “black and white.”

If you are suggesting that everything the Bible teaches is obvious and on the surface, I have to disagree. Perhaps the Bible’s teachings “are all plain to him who understands” (Prov. 8:8-9) but we must study carefully to arrive at that point of understanding. This is evidenced by the Bible’s being one of the most misunderstood books ever written.

Consider the diversity of interpretations that exist in the world. Not everyone can be right. There were false teachers in the Apostles’ days, as Paul and Jesus and John all warned (Matt. 24:11-13; 1 Tim. 4:1-2; Acts 20: 29-30; 2 Peter 2:1) and there are false teachers today. We need to study to be sure that we have a correct understanding, i.e., one which is supported by the general teaching of the Bible itself, not what Peter called a “private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20).

Think of learning to understand the Bible as learning to understand a new language for, in a sense, the Bible has its own language, defined by its various authors, that we must come to understand. For example, it does no good to apply a definition to the word “logos” which came into use during the twelfth century AD when John used the term during the first century. We need to define Bible terms in context and using the definitions given them by the Bible authors themselves, or we cannot hope to “correctly understand” the Bible.

Sometimes a single word will have more than one meaning. For example the “grace” Peter speaks of in 1 Pet. 1:13—”grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”— is obviously different from the “grace” Paul speaks of as teaching us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). By taking all that the Bible says upon a given term or topic and by relating passages to other passages, we can more safely draw conclusions as to the author’s meaning.

One can easily read words, without any idea of what the words are saying, unless one has background knowledge in the language (the Bible) to understand. It would be as informative as reading a book on advanced calculus would be, if one was ignorant of the fundamentals of the science.

Acts 8:26-31 tells us of that when the Lord told Philip to approach a man who was riding in a chariot, Philip found the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. He asked the man if he understood what he was reading. The man answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:26-31).

We read of class instruction in the Bible in Neh. 8:8 and in Acts 17:11 the Bereans were commended for searching the Scriptures daily so as to distinguish between what was true and what was false teaching. Jesus spoke in parables that were not understood at the hearing, for many of Jesus’ explanations to His confused disciples are recorded for us in Scripture.

Jesus was well aware that many lack understanding, saying “The hearts of this people have grown dull. There ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them” (Matt. 13:15). In fact, Jesus says to His disciples that the majority would decidedly not understand.

Even for those who do diligently seek understanding, there are many passages which we will not have knowledge of until we have further revelation from God. At the present time, we must walk by faith.