How Can I Understand The Bible?
Published on 15 September 2020
The answer is pretty simple:
Read it faithfully and pray for God’s help.
I love the story of Acts 8:26–40 which details the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch. In brief, Philip was directed by the Holy Spirit to go to a particular road. Upon arrival, the Holy Spirit directed him to approach a particular chariot on the road. In this chariot, was a particular man—an important official of the Queen of the Ethiopians, a Eunuch.
When Philip got close, he heard the man in the chariot reading and recognised that he was reading from Isaiah. Intrigued, Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, to which the man replied: “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” Perceiving that Philip possessed the required insight, the man invited him to sit in the chariot and asked him to explain the passage. When he learned the truth about Jesus Christ, the Eunuch confessed his belief and requested baptism from Philip. After the baptism, Philip suddenly disappeared and reappeared elsewhere for his next assignment, while the Eunuch went on his way rejoicing.
Some time ago, while I was enrolled in a theological degree, I read an article in which the author used this story to build a case for a special, educated class of Christians who could explain the Bible to those less fortunate. “How can they possibly understand,” the author asked in the words of the Eunuch, “unless somebody explains it to them?” The article was the subject of discussion in class one day and I remember at the time feeling uneasy about it. There was no good reason for my reaction to the article. After all, I myself, along with my colleagues, was enrolled in a course of theological education. I myself, aspired to be one who could help people to understand the Bible. After all, was that not the reason for the huge investment of money and time I had made to be here? This article seemed to be an affirmation; a vindication of that sacrifice.
The problem is, I don’t see my vocation that way. I am indebted to the Holy Spirit and at His disposal. He is not indebted to me. So I was uneasy. Actually, I’m probably being a little unfair. It really was a good article: well written, helpful and honestly, humble. But back to my reaction. At first, I could not put it into words, but then all of a sudden, it dawned on me. What seemed (at least for me) to be missing from the argument that the article made, was the agency of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who had sent Philip! It was the Holy Spirit who was helping the Eunuch to understand! Philip had no special training, though he obviously knew his Bible. And the Eunuch, though pleased for the help, had not sought him out.
Indeed, when we look at this encounter from the Eunuch’s perspective, we see a different picture. Here was a man who was desperately seeking God. Though he did not understand, he faithfully read the Word of God, and in all probability, was crying out in his heart for understanding when the strangest thing happened. A man who he had not noticed, suddenly appeared beside his chariot and asked: “Do you understand what you are reading?” His faithful devotion had been rewarded. His prayer had been answered. God began to speak to his heart through the Word and it changed his life forever.
So here’s my plea: Don’t put off reading the Bible—even the difficult bits—just because you don’t understand it. Read it and ask for the Spirit’s help. This is the way that God has always used His Word to speak to His children. Does that mean that we can’t learn from those who have studied the Bible more than we have? Of course, we can. What it means is that the education of others should never be used as a shortcut to our own diligent seeking of God in His Word. A helpful supplement for sure, but never a shortcut. Seek God. Read His Word diligently. Pray for understanding. God answers those kinds of prayers. But if He chooses to do so by sending someone, don’t be too proud to invite that answer (be it in the form of books, leaders, courses, preachers etc) into your chariot. It could change your life.
Check out ”How to Read The Word of God” for practical tips on how to understand The Bible.