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Want to learn how to understand the Bible better? This post gives you 11 simple but useful steps to help you understand what you read.
- Why is it so hard to understand the bible?
- Why is it important to understand the bible?
- How to understand the Bible better
- A foolproof tip for understanding the Bible
- Pin It!
Why is it so hard to understand the bible?
The Bible is a beautiful, God-breathed book full of wisdom, encouragement, and life-changing power.
But, let’s be honest.
With its old English, parables, imagery and prophecies, it can be hard to understand.
Not to mention the fact that the Bible was written centuries ago – in a time that was very different from the life we know now.
Understanding the Bible is difficult if we cannot understand the way Biblical characters lived, what they believed, their habits (good and bad) and their culture.
Another reason it can be hard to understand the Bible is the way we approach it.
We cannot just open the pages, pick out a chapter, and expect to understand without the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We’ll talk more about that later.
In the meanwhile, these are just a few reasons why it might be hard to understand the Bible.
Why is it important to understand the bible?
Even if the Bible can be hard to understand, we should still seek to understand it.
Because being unable to understand the Bible has its share of issues.
- be discouraging: what’s the point of reading something you don’t understand?
- misled you: if you misinterpret the Bible, it’s likely that you will do things that you shouldn’t – or at least things you don’t need to
- be frustrating: you can try to read the Bible even when you don’t understand, but it can leave you with a headache
- waste time: reading your Bible is a great way to have God speak to your heart. But if you read without understanding, you can end up walking away with nothing
- hurt your evangelism: in order to share God’s word with others, you need to know the word for yourself!
- cripple your spiritual life: reading and understanding God’s word gives us access to that power and allows us to apply it to our trials, claim its promises, declare it over our circumstances, and use it to change our lives.
If you feel like you’re facing any of these challenges right now, there’s good news.
With the right tips, tools, and mindset, you can easily learn how to understand the Bible better.
In this post, I’ll teach you the exact things that I use to help me understand God’s word.
Of course, I’m no Bible scholar and I don’t understand everything I read. But I’d be lying if I said that these tips didn’t help me to read and understand the Bible better.
Let’s get started!
How to understand the Bible better
1. Get rid of distractions
While this first step isn’t the most crucial, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t important.
When you sit to read your Bible, are there people talking all around you? Is the TV on and secular music playing in the background? Is your mind on something else? Are you going back and forth between texting and ‘reading’?
All these distractions are going to, well, distract you.
If you really want to learn how to understand the Bible better, you first need to give it all your attention.
- Find a quiet and cozy spot, put away all distractions, open your Bible, and concentrate on the words in front of you.
- Set a do-able goal to read a chapter, a passage, or a verse. If your goal is too big, it’ll be easy to get distracted.
Just by doing this step, you’ll find that you can focus, and things will start to make a little more sense.
Although second, this next step is definitely one of the most important.
In order to really understand your Bible, you need to pray.
In James 1:5, the Bible says that God will freely give wisdom to all who ask (and believe).
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”James 1:5 (NIV)
When you pray for wisdom from God, you can be sure He will give you a clearer understanding of His Word.
Why is this step so important?
Imagine you were standing in front of a large crowd and forced to explain a difficult Bible passage that you don’t even understand.
You’d probably try to give an explanation – I would too!
But would either of us be correct?
My point is that anyone can come up with some interpretation of the Bible.
They can make it mean what they want it to mean and apply to who they want it to apply.
But it isn’t right for us to give our own random interpretation of the Bible.
Rather, we should depend on God to show us what His word means.
Proverbs 3:5 says this:
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.’Proverbs 3:5
This is why it’s so important to pray so that HE can direct us rather our own (false) understanding/ interpretation.
When we pray, we invite the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read so we can understand and apply the Word to our lives.
Here’s a nice quote and some Bible verses about seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance:
“If you do not understand a book by a departed writer you are unable to ask him his meaning, but the Spirit, who inspired Holy Scripture, lives forever, and He delights to open the Word to those who seek His instruction.” – CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.1 Corinthians 2:14
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.John 14:26
How to pray before you read the Bible
When you pray before you read the Bible all you need to do is ask God for forgiveness for your sins and humbly request that He helps you understand and apply His word.
Here’s an example of a prayer you can say before you read the Bible:
As I open Your Word, I ask that you would cleanse me from my sin and unrighteousness. I thank you that you have given me Your Word to instruct all areas of my life.
As I read, please send Your Holy Spirit to guide me. Help me not to add my own interpretation, but to understand the truth, as You want me to understand.
May your Spirit also reveal to me how to apply Your Word to my life first, even before I think of how it can apply to the life of another.
Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer.
I ask all this through Your Son Jesus Christ,
Prayer is just ONE step
As important as prayer is to understanding the Bible, it’s really important to know that it isn’t the only step.
Here’s why I believe this.
Not too long ago, I felt a bit frustrated that I could not understand a particular Bible passage I was reading, and I prayed about it.
I said something like: “God, I really want to understand this, please help me.”
And you know what God told me?
He said: “What are you doing to understand?”
This hit me like a rock!
There I was, saying that I wanted to understand, but I wasn’t making any effort.
Like we read earlier, God freely gives wisdom to all who ask, but I believe this wisdom comes in various forms.
Sometimes you will read a Bible passage and it will just make sense. But sometimes it’s a podcast, sermon, blog post or Bible study with a friend that helps you understand.
God has given us access to countless resources and tips that help us to understand His Word better. When seeking to understand the Bible better, we should make use of them!
This is where all the other steps come in.
Let’s go on to the next one.
3. Slow down & be attentive
Of course, you aren’t going to understand much of the Bible if you rush through it.
So step three is to slow down & be attentive.
Don’t skim over the words or try to read it quickly.
Take your time and hang on to every word like you were reading the best part of your favorite novel.
When you’re attentive, you pick up words and context clues that you would easily miss if you were rushing. (More about context clues in step 6).
These can help you understand more than you can imagine.
How to be more attentive when reading your Bible:
We know that being attentive is super important to understand your Bible — but how can you actually be more attentive?
Well, we already spoke about putting away distractions and slowing down which are two great ways to pay more attention to what you’re reading.
Another helpful tip is to think carefully about the time you schedule your reading.
If you’re reading the Bible at night when you’re sleepy or in the morning when you’re pressed for time, it’s just too easy to rush through it so you can finish quickly.
- if you need to read an hour before bed so you can stay alert, do that!
- and if you need to wake up an hour earlier so you can still follow your usual schedule, do that!
- if you can only read a verse or short passage a day, then that’s fine!
- and if you can only read once a week that’s fine too!
It’s much better to read a little and understand, than to rush through it and not understand a thing.
4. Break it down
This one is straightforward.
Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to understand an entire book, chapter or even a passage all at once.
Instead, break each book down into chapters and each chapter down into verses. You can even break down long verses into shorter chunks.
Then tackle it piece by piece, starting from the smallest sentence right up to the book.
It’s like a puzzle — as you begin to put the smaller pieces together, you begin to make sense of the whole picture.
This truly makes understanding the Bible so much easier.
Similar to what I said earlier, it’s better to read a little and understand, than to tackle too much and not understand a thing.
5. Use a dictionary
Those fat, heavy books with so many words in small print like it wasn’t meant for reading.
I actually still use one almost every time I read the Bible.
Why I use a dictionary to help me understand the Bible better
Earlier, I mentioned that one of the reasons the Bible is so hard to understand is because it was written centuries ago when the language and way of life was much different from what it is today.
Because of this, there are many words and objects referenced in the Bible that most of us aren’t so familiar with.
A dictionary helps you to get the meaning of unfamiliar words and objects and in that way gives us a greater understanding of the Bible.
Now, I know what you might be thinking:
I need one of those dinosaurs to help me understand the Bible? I don’t know about this anymore…
But please, don’t be discouraged!
Using a dictionary is really not that bad.
Personally, I just use a dictionary app on my phone and it’s as easy as just typing in the word I don’t understand.
Plus, it’s free!
If you’re more traditional, you can also get an easy-to-read Bible dictionary on Amazon.
Promising review: “Awesome resource!! the bible has some confusing parts since it has been translated and obviously not every language has a word for word translation (especially since english is kind of an odd ball). But this helps get back to the original meanings of the bible and helps eliminate the confusion. Obviously there is more to it than just that such as eastern cultures, idioms of permission, etc… great tool once you figure out how to use it properly, But all said and done worth every penny for the truth it brings to your life.” — Chris
Finding definitions within the Bible itself
Another place to find definitions is in the Bible itself.
Some Bibles, like the one I own, have footnotes and definitions at the bottom of every page.
This is extremely useful for understanding the Bible better.
6. Look for context clues
While a dictionary really does help you understand the Bible better, you can increase your understanding even further by using context clues.
Context clues are hints you get from the verses ‘surrounding’ the one you want to understand better.
Without context clues, you stand the risk of taking a verse or passage in isolation and completely misinterpreting it.
How to understand the Bible in context
How can you understand the Bible in context?
The first step would be to figure out how to approach the difficult verse (let’s call it ‘verse A’).
Often, the best approach is to read the entire chapter to get a full understanding.
However, if your Bible uses subheadings (like NIV), you can always read from the beginning of the subheading to the end.
Sometimes it’s enough to just read the verse before and after the confusing verse.
Luckily, as you begin reading, you can easily figure out if any other verses apply to ‘verse A’.
Look carefully at the surrounding verses to figure out what other verses you need to read.
If verse A starts with but, therefore, not, so, and, even, yet, nevertheless, finally, if, or a small letter, it’s a good idea to read the verse before it.
If a verse doesn’t end in a full stop or the next verse starts with one of the words mentioned above, it’s a good idea to read that next verse.
Of course, there are many, many exceptions to this, so only use the rules above as a guide.
The Holy Spirit will lead you to the right place to start reading — this is why praying is so important!
The second step is to ask yourself some questions.
Once you’ve read any other relevant verses, ask yourself:
- Based on these other verses, what is ‘verse A’ referring to?
- How do these verses change the meaning of ‘verse A’?
P.S when it comes to context, it can be helpful to read in chronological order through the Bible, rather than read at random. So you could read the beginning of a testament to the end, the beginning of a book to the end, or the beginning of a chapter to the end.
How to use context clues from the entire Bible
It’s also important to consider context in terms of the Bible as a whole.
In other words, verses and references throughout the Bible help us to understand other verses and references.
So if you think one verse is saying that we should hate our enemies, you need to think again because the Bible clearly tells us to love our enemies. This is a really basic example, but the point is that a correct understanding of a verse cannot contradict what God says.
Some Bibles make it easy to find related verses by including references next to it.
By reading those referenced verses, you can get some more context about the verse you are reading.
As you can tell, context clues are essential to understanding the Bible. When learning how to understand the Bible better, you should never ever ignore them.
7. Try different versions
Another great way you can learn how to understand the Bible better is by using different versions of the Bible.
If you’re learning how to understand the Bible as a beginner, you probably want to stay far away from the King James Version (KJV) which is written in old English and can be extremely hard to understand.
The KJV does have it’s advantages though!
Since it is one of the most original and accurate translations of the scriptures, you can use it to compare more modern versions to ensure that they are not changing the meanings.
The New Kings James Version (NKJV) is easier to understand than the NKJV, and also very accurate, but it can still be intimidating for some people.
You might want to try one of the following versions to understand the Bible better:
- Amplified Version (AMP) — one of my favorites!
- New International Version (NIV)
- Contemporary English Version (CEV)
Some versions of the Bible are beautiful to read, but aren’t great for understanding!
What I mean by that is that some versions of the Bible omit, add to, and change the meanings of certain verses.
Here’s an example.
This is Psalms 18:1-3 in the New King James Version (NKJV):
I will love You, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my [a]strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the [b]horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies.Psalms 18: 1-3 (NKJV)
And this is what it says in The Passion Translation (TPT):
I love you, Yahweh, and I’m bonded to you,
Yahweh, you’re the bedrock beneath my feet,
my faith-fortress, my wonderful deliverer,
my God, my rock of rescue where none can reach me.
You’re the shield around me,
the mighty power that saves me,
and my high place.
All I need to do is to call on you,
Yahweh, the praiseworthy God.
When I do, I’m safe and sound in you—
delivered from my foes!Psalms 18: 1-3 (TPT)
It may sound nice and poetic, but it’s not the most accurate.
Of course, accuracy may matter more in some scenarios than others, but when it comes to learning how to understand the Bible better, accuracy is non-negotiable.
(You can read this post by FaithFoundedByFact for more information about the most accurate Bible versions.)
What I like to do is use the compare feature on the YouVersion Bible app to quickly and easily check if another version helps me to understand a verse better.
If you don’t use the YouVersion Bible app, you can always just Google the verse/passage in the version you want.
Speaking of Google…
8. Use Google!
Google helps us with lots of things, and learning how to understand the Bible better should be no exception.
Because Google helps us to find the websites and resources that can help us understand the Bible.
If you came to this post from Google, you know exactly what I mean!
When trying to understand the Bible, don’t be afraid to use Google.
Search for the verse or passage you want to understand and look for a trustworthy source that explains it.
Similarly, you can use YouTube to help you find sermons and other videos explaining difficult Bible passages.
A great YouTube channel for this is The Bible Project.
Documentaries (like Mysteries Of The Bible) are also great for getting a historical background of Bible stories.
How to use Google to understand the Bible better
It’s important to note two things when using Google to understand the Bible:
1. You’re probably going to learn something new:
You’re going to come across a lot of different interpretations of the Bible that you may/ may not have previously believed.
When that happens you should do 3 things:
- Accept the fact that you could be wrong and be open to reading different Christian sources
- Ask God to help you find the truth
- Evaluate the interpretation in the context of the entire Bible to see if it aligns with or contradicts what the Bible says. Of course, if it contradicts the Bible, reject it at all costs.
2. The devil is on Google too
Google is a search engine for EVERYTHING.
It doesn’t have a Christian filter.
So, as helpful as Google and YouTube can be, be mindful that there are resources and videos meant to mislead you.
And don’t be fooled into thinking those intentionally misleading resources are going to look obvious. They could be very subtle and look totally harmless.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.Colossians 2:8 (NIV)
This is why it’s so so important to pray first and to evaluate the information you read for yourself using the Bible.
I can’t stress this enough!
9. Don’t be afraid to make a mess
What I mean by this is don’t be afraid to mark your Bible!
A pristine Bible looks nice, but it doesn’t help you understand the Bible any better.
When I find the definition of a word I didn’t understand, I like to write it down in the margin of my Bible, as close to the original word as possible.
I also write down my thoughts and understanding of particular verses and passages.
I also really like to highlight promises of God, verses that speak to me and convict me, verses that apply to situations I have been through or experiencing at the moment, and verses that I like!
Marking your Bible is an underrated tip to learn how to understand your Bible better and all you need is a pen and some good highlighters like the ones below.
Marking your Bible is useful because the next time you read a particular passage, the meaning and explanation is already right there.
You don’t have to worry about forgetting and having to look everything up again!
Journaling Bibles are made just for marking and taking notes. They have lines/ space in the margins that allow you to easily write notes in your Bible.
Check out this beautiful journaling Bible from Amazon:
Promising review: “Beautiful bible, has lots of space to write notes, really nice mapping pages and some lovely quotes scattered in. I also really like footnotes that help with translations...” — Natalie
If you don’t want to mark your Bible, consider starting a Bible journal where you can write your thoughts and reflections about different Bible passages and what you are learning from them.
This can be a lot of fun for some people so give it a go!
10. Practice & apply
Step 10 to learning how to understand the Bible better is to practice and apply what you read.
If you were reading a self-help book, it would be completely useless if you didn’t use any of the information you read.
When you practice and apply the information you read, you get a better understanding of what it means, and you’re more likely to remember it.
Similarly, applying God’s word to your life helps you both understand and remember what you read.
Application should be our purpose of trying to understand the Bible, anyway.
Our understanding of the Bible should help us to improve our lives, become better Christians, and be better people in every aspect.
11. Just do it
Here’s a fun fact: if you don’t read your Bible, you’re never going to understand it.
So, the final step in learning how to understand the Bible better is to just do it!
Or rather, just read it.
In fact, Mark 4:24-25 tells us that those who pay attention and seek understanding will be given a greater ability to understand!
Then He said to them,
“Pay attention to what you hear.
By your own standard of measurement [that is, to the extent that you study spiritual truth and apply godly wisdom] it will be measured to you [and you will be given even greater ability to respond]—and more will be given to you besides.
For whoever has [a teachable heart], to him more [understanding] will be given; and whoever does not have [a yearning for truth], even what he has will be taken away from him.”Mark 4:24-25 (AMP)
In other words, you must try to understand.
It’s not enough to depend on someone else’s interpretation or to know a few verses out of context.
You need to read the Bible for yourself and to be honest, this is probably the very first step into understanding it.
But since you’re reading this guide, that means you already know all this.
So, I just encourage you to be consistent.
Show up as often as you can, say a prayer before you read, and use the other tips in this guide.
If you do so, you’ll be well on your way to understanding the Bible better.
I’m praying for you!
A foolproof tip for understanding the Bible
The 11 tips above will help you learn how to understand the Bible better, regardless of the Bible you own.
However, there’s one more tip that can make understanding the Bible even easier for you.
The tip is: choose a good Bible.
This makes a HUGE difference, so ensure that you have a copy of the Bible that’s best for you.
The Bible is an amazing book about God’s love, filled with wisdom and guidance about how to live a truly good life.
But with its old English, imagery, parables, and prophecies, it can be difficult to understand.
In this post, I walk you through 11 tips to help you learn how to understand the Bible better, so you can benefit from all the Bible has to offer!