Is the Bible Simple to Understand?

In another discussion, a claim was made that the Bible was written so that even a child could understand it. I used to share this same sentiment. However, after a considerable time reading and studying, I am beginning to question that idea.

A few things are going against this idea. One is that even the disciples in the Bible didn’t understand many of the things Jesus said, which we have recorded in the Bible. And the stories were relayed to them in a time, place, context, and language that we do not share. The claim that even a child can understand what the disciples could not seems incorrect prima facie.

Further, we have the eunuch who is reading the Bible, who says, “How can I understand this unless someone explains it to me?”

I can see that there are some very plain things in Scriptures. However, there are many things which are not clear at all. These things take a tremendous amount of time to work out.

At the very least, you need at least one other person to read the Bible plainly, the translator. Often that translator has made several theological decisions in their translation, affecting the “plain reading.” Just look at the Latin Vulgate versus out translations now.

Speaking of the Latin Vulgate and the Reformers, even they walked back on the idea of Sola Scriptura. They used to think that the interpretation was open to anyone. Anyone could pick up the Bible and begin to perform exegesis. Then the Anabaptists came along and were saying things with which the Reformers emphatically disagreed. The was a considerable gap in the scholarly approach to the Bible the Reformers took vs the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists defended that they didn’t need Greek or commentaries or to read tradition. All they needed was the Bible!

At this point, many reformers decided that Sola Scriptura wasn’t Sola Scriptura at all. Proper exegesis had rules and methods. Those rules and methods should be followed in order to come to as close an interpretation as possible to the thoughts of the authors.

This is, in part, why there is a ministry of teaching. To teach people the Word and how to go about performing good exegesis. Now, anyone can do this process. There is no “one appointed person” (such as the Pope) whose interpretation is the law. But, the idea that you can pick up the Book and understand what you are reading there on a first pass without any further study doesn’t seem like a stable path for the Church.

Now, that doesn’t mean that a person can’t access what they need for salvation. That would be demonstrably false. This happens all the time. But, there are many things a person could not access without some scholarship, in my opinion. I would love to hear other’s thoughts.

I would like to invite @SeanO and @jlyons to share their thoughts since they were involved in the original discussion, which inspired this question.

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Without getting to deep into this just yet (would love to see the replies of those whom you’ve mentioned), I think the answer to this question… like so many other things pertaining to God is multi-faceted… perhaps analogous to the concept of ‘already…but not yet.’

I think there are concepts that are very easily understood without any extra-biblical training. Concepts such as God’s love, mercy, grace, justice, wrath, etc. I think even the Gospel itself is easily understood (albeit on a basic level). But then even within each of those concepts you could dig and dig and dig for centuries and still find new treasures because God Himself is just that rich and will never be exhausted even throughout eternity.

The gospel though we understand it on a base level when we initially repent and are saved, is something we have to fight daily to keep at the forefront and yearn to go deeper. I still feel like even though I understand the gospel, I don’t understand the gospel… if that makes sense.

Of course you could also go beyond that and get into various doctrines, 'isms, etc which would fly above the understanding of a child. Some of these require deep study to understand and even after deep study we are still centuries deep with various denominations (and abominations as Ravi would say) disagreeing as to the meaning… but someone has to be wrong and someone has to be right…right?

I often think God allows this so as to teach us patience and grace with one another. He could have worded things in such a manner as to make them abundantly clear to all if He chose but some things are still a mystery to us and I think that had to be by design. The problem is in our sinful nature, we take that and allow it to divide us when Paul states that there is to be no division in Christ…but now I’m getting off topic :slight_smile:

You make some good points though… there are certain parables that I never would have understood without reading the works of others. There are points in scripture where I never would have known Jesus was talking about Israel and not about XYZ, and I wasn’t a child while reading them… BUT I can clearly see Christ’s character and I think a child could too!

Looking forward to reading the responses!

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@Joshua_Hansen Exciting to hear how you are growing in wisdom and knowledge! I agree. The entire New Testament assumes that there are those with the gift of teaching. It is listed as a spiritual gift and James warns that not many should become teachers because they will be held accountable. We see the Bereans searching the Scriptures and the masterful use of the OT by the NT writers. Jesus even told the people to obey the teachers of the law because they sat in Moses’ seat, but not to imitate their lives because they were hypocrites (Matthew 23:2). Why would teachers be necessary if everything in God’s Word was obvious to anyone regardless of their intellectual abilities or education?

Sometimes the idea that the Bible’s meaning is obvious is actually a tactic people use to defend their own beliefs. For example, I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” But if you dig a little deeper, people who use this approach are often using circular logic. Consider this conversation.

P1: I believe X because the Bible says so

P2: How do you know that the Bible says X?

P1: Just read it for yourself.

P2: Okay, I will.

P2 goes and reads it.

P2: I disagree with your interpretation.

P1: Your wrong.

P2: How come?

P1. Because the Bible says so

This type of circular reasoning is extremely frustrating and a good example of a way that the idea of the Bible being simple to understand can be abused.

That said, the Reformers were reacting against the idea that only the clergy could understand the Bible. The Catholic Church was, at that time in history, abusing limited access to Scripture in order to protect their own power. The Reformers reacted against that abuse with Sola Scriptura, but later realized the truth had to be safeguarded in some fashion. So today we have the three legs on which Christian teaching stands—Scripture, tradition, and reason.

I agree with @N0tThe1ne that some portions of Scripture are truly easy to understand, while others are much more difficult. Who doesn’t prefer reading John to Leviticus when they are a new Christian?

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Love this discussion. Thx @Joshua_Hansen

I also believe the Bible is simple enough for evangelism, not because the text are simple, but because His love is so simple it speaks for itself and we can all relate to. John 3:16 requires little explanation to apprehend.

But the Bible is complex and deep enough for us to never stop learning in our lifetime. Its depth seems to be God’s invitation for anyone who is interested, to know Him more and more, and deeper and deeper, as we mature in our walk with Him.

Hi @SeanO, just want to dive deeper into the “3 Legs” you mentioned. One of it is tradition. Which traditions are considered authority? And what if Christians disagree on which traditions are authoritative? (Except the unifying Apostle’s Creed that all Christians can rally behind)

Blessings.

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@RoySujanto That is a great question! Different Churches approach tradition differently. And the reality is that even Churches that claim to be Sola Scriptura often rely heavily on the doctrines and teachings of the reformers. That is one form of tradition. So we should recognize all denominations are impacted by tradition to one degree or another. If you see arguments going back to the Church fathers for support, that is a kind of appeal to tradition.

In my view, tradition is not the ultimate authority. Scripture is the ultimate authority. But what tradition does is provide a sanity check. If my interpretation is different from anything that has been taught in the last 2000 years of Church history, I should consider the possibility I am wrong. Now, my reason could lead me to believe I am still correct, but I would need a very strong argument. So that is the role I see tradition playing and I think that is generally the case in Protestant Churches.

The Anglican Church, as you can see below, takes a somewhat similar approach, but probably leans a little heavier on traditions.

Part of what makes the Anglican Church the via media (middle way) is the conviction that its beliefs and practices must derive from a thorough integration of Scripture, reason, and tradition. Though it’s impossible to achieve a perfect equilibrium, Anglicans believe that we are in danger of teaching and living heresy if we highlight one of these categories such that it excludes the others.

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That’s awesome. I like how you consider tradition as a sanity check.

In a way, it probably serves as a sort of guideline, and for us to trace how our predecessors come to believe what they believe today and how they disagree, criticize and sharpen their own interpretation. I also see it as some kinda fence, for us to know how far we can take our interpretation before it gets way erroneous. A sanity check nonetheless.

Thanks for the answer.

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I think the part that matters can be summed up in the simple song a lot of us learned in vacation Bible school or Sunday school.
P1 Jesus loves me this I know.
P2 How do you know?
P1 Because the Bible tells me so.

Here is a link to reinforce this thought.

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@Jimmy_Sellers Lol - very cute :slight_smile:

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@RoySujanto Yes - really like that idea of iron sharpening iron. It’s such a blessing that we can be sharpened by our brothers and sisters who have already gone on to be with the Lord as we pursue the truth. When I read the Church fathers, sometimes I am amazed by their wisdom and other times shocked by how far off their exegesis is… So I do think we always have to remember that everyone, including ourselves, is looking at the text from within their own culture and I think that gives us a lot of humility as we engage with the Word.

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Excellent points, @Joshua_Hansen – and good follow up @N0tThe1ne – interesting comments on Scripture, reason and tradition – particularly the tradition thoughts @SeanO and @RoySujanto.

Overall, I think everything previously mentioned here looks pretty good. I might seek clarification on an item or two. But now I’d just add the following – and I suspect that none of those who’ve already posted will likely disagree with anything I say here, because it’s not really anything new.

As @N0tThe1ne has observed, some of the Bible is milk and some is meat (Hebrews 5:12-14). Some parts can be understood from earliest childhood (II Timothy 3:15). And these would be the most foundational truths of the gospel such as the apostle listed in Hebrews 6:1-2.

And we study to show ourselves approved, to rightly divide as our understanding builds line upon line, precept upon precept. Because many passages do have layers of meaning beyond our sight.

I don’t know that having sound principles of interpretation are exactly violating the concept of sola scriptura. Most of these principles are things like comparing scripture with other scripture, considering statements in context, understanding the type of literature being studied, preferring the most obvious meaning over the abstruse, and so on. I don’t see any of those as reaching outside of scripture itself to guide the understanding. The closest thing to that might be something like using a Bible Dictionary to understand unfamiliar people, places, objects, and historical events.

The Bible has wisdom for people of every age of life and every stage of maturity - little children, young men, and fathers (I John 2:13-14).

One’s comprehension of the Bible at any age is largely dependent upon his willingness to obey it. I don’t necessarily mean his ability to academically know what the words say – but to experience the reality of them, to see their truth unfolding in his own life and in those around him. Those who hunger and thirst to understand it will be filled.

A rabbi trained by the great Gamaliel could not understand things that were child’s play to ignorant and unlearned fishermen until he was humbled and made willing to hear.

So a little child who fears the Lord has more insight than a PhD who mocks Him. The 12-year-old Jesus, Who is our ultimate example, amazed the lawyers and scribes with His wisdom. In Psalm 119:99-100, David says, I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.

Obviously, the longer one studies the Bible, the more he will learn – so while a child can understand the layers available to his level of maturity, as he continues in the Word over time, he will be able to unpack ever deeper layers. I don’t know what Jesus astounded those men with at the age of 12, but years later He revealed the resurrection implicit at the burning bush – an amazing insight that no rabbi in 15 centuries had ever discovered!

And in this age, we have the advantage of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I Corinthians 2:14 says that the natural man, someone who only has a natural birth, cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God – but the spiritual man, someone who has a spiritual birth, can spiritually discern them.

Some passages are made deliberately obscure as a mercy against heaping accountability on those still unwilling to know the truth – like the parables in Matthew 13. It is curious that so many people say Jesus used these parables to make their truths more understandable when He Himself explicitly said the opposite. It was because they didn’t really want to see, hear and understand that He hid these things from the “wise and prudent” and revealed them unto babes.

And it is also dependent upon the level of light that God has prepared the world to become accountable for at given points in history. Daniel’s prophecies were sealed against even his own understanding in 12:4. But the Revelation, which some people oddly consider a closed book to us, was unsealed in 22:10. Throughout his writings, Paul unveiled multiple mysteries that in other ages were not made known to mankind.

So can a child understand the scriptures? Well, a child willing to obey them, who has the Holy Spirit indwelling him, can certainly understand the most foundational teachings in the Bible, and can build from there. And, yes, they can stand on the shoulders of good teachers who can greatly forward their understanding.

I should note that the comment in the other thread that this one was spun off of was in the context of a discussion of one of the foundational teachings listed in Hebrews 6:1-2 that even a child should be able to understand.

Hope it helps!

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Agree. We need to come to the Holy Word, God"s breath with a sincere heart, ask and it will be give to you, God have said. God is his mercy meet us where we are . Also his word remember us the secret belongs to the Lord book of Deuteronomy 29:29
The secret things things belongs to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belongs to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" ALELUYA!

Yes, thank you for that clarification. I did not intend to decontextualize in order to criticize. When I read that line in the other post, it brought up a conversation I had been having internally with myself and with others around this topic. This is something I have been moving my position on and was looking for some good insight. I appreciate the balance you brought in your comments.

I agree. It is quite a shame that so many in the American church that I come in contact with have zero knowledge of church history. The reason that is such a shame is because the tradition and history of the church, to me, serve as a bit of an immunization, to an extent, against heresy. I see a lot of church heresy being repeated over the pulpit that was dealt with centuries ago. Many look at these teaches as something new to be considered and others, who know their history, look at it as an old heresy that has been dealt with and rejected. Even if you do not agree with the church fathers, that is fine, just understand and be able to articulate why. These great men, and many women if we are being honest, spent considerable time writing, thinking, and conversing over the things of God. Their insight should be a valuable guide. Even if we end up disagreeing with them we at least know why they thought what they thought and why and where we differ from them.

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Thank you, @Joshua_Hansen - I had assumed something like that, but nice of you to confirm.

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I think the message of The Bible (The Gospel) is simple to understand. It’s an interesting thing because it is both simple and complex at the same time. Going further into the teachings, the Law, the Teachings of Jesus, etc. Can all be very complex and deep. However, at the same time they can be quite simple and clear, and easily understood.

So the Gospel it self can be simple and Easily understood, yet we can also get very deep and complex about it. Think of it this way as well. The entire message of the whole Bible can be summed up in John 3:16, a short simple verse. Yet, still all the 66 books give us even more deeper and complex understanding of the Bible’s Message.

So, is the Bible simple to understand, yes and no. It’s message however can be understood clearly for all to hear, and to come to Christ.

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Hi.
We do serve a merciful God,who meet where we are, if we look for his true, he will revel himself, in his word,the Holy Biblie, in the nature arond us, in his supreme revelation in the person of Jesus Christ.
Let me suggest , star from the begging Genesis 1:1
Since the beginning of the creation, God reveal his eternal redemptive plan.The Holy Biblie is God’s love letter, where his eternal love and grace is express.
Just we need to ask with a sincer heart and he gives us the discern to understand his will and the way how apply in our life. He longs for us, is necessary embrace his love and walk in his ways with the power of the Holy Spirit. The constant persude for his will and the develop of relation ship it is a proces. The most we get to know his will the more aware of our sinful nature and more and more aware of his greatness. But we will never be satisfy , we will be always thirsty for more of his undescrible characther. Act. 1: 8 remeber us that is vital, it is a comand to share God’s true .( sorry if the spelling was not corrected) Mary.

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In a nutshell, we humans lost paradise in the book of genesis but gained eternity in the book of revelation, the bible traces only one blood line, the blood line of Jesus christ, it is written to proclaim truth about salvation and redemption.

When it comes to the Old Testament, it talks about History and faith. Because of the fact “Faith” modern people thinks that it is a fairy tale, used by Jesus to convince his people about his teaching.
The old testament is little bit complex, when it comes to types and shadows in which new testament follows, it is therefore a scholarly topic, one must have the knowledge of laws,
prophets and writings, inorder to understand the Old Testament clearly.

But,.

When it comes to New Testament, especially in the gospels, the author of the gospel gives us the “lens of revelation”
In John’s gospel, John 1:1 is the lens of revelation, the gospel could only be understood, if you read the gospel with that lens, otherwise when Jesus says "one has seen me has seen the Father, me and my Father are one (note the word “are”) etc. It is definite for sure that the reader will interpret the gospel as a contradicting text and they may contradict the entire gospel message.

Only in the light of trinity, one can understand the gospel message. Because trinity is not a verbal truth told by Jesus, it is a revealed truth. That’s why John places the lens of revelation in John 1:1.

Hope you’ll understand.

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Would you say that an understanding of the OT is necessary for a full understanding of the NT?

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In the sense of theology, yes.

The Bible can be interpreted in two ways, either by using the principle of SOLA ECCLESIA or by SOLA SCRIPTURA.

Therefore the biblical interpretations offered by these principle are entirely different, not only that, when it comes to doctrines, many theologians have different opinions on the same subject, that’s why we have many christian denominations within the same group who have the same biblical interpretation under the same principle.

SOLA ECCLESIA is way more complex than SOLA SCRIPTURA, which includes oral tradition, early church writings (both canonical source and gnostic christian literatures), archeology, divine revelations etc, all these things can sum up into THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH, in other words, they have multiple sources and multiple choices.

Reformers believe in FIVE SOLAS,

SOLA SCRIPTURA
SOLA FIDE
SOLA GRATIA
SOLUS CHRISTUS
SOLI DEO GLORIA

Therefore their biblical interpretation is based on these five solas, especially based on SOLA SCRIPTURA.

When it comes to the Christian faith, I personally recommend the SOLUS CHRISTUS to any christian, and therefore the FIVE SOLAS for biblical interpretation.

I count SOLA SCRIPTURA as the only reliable method for biblical interpretation.

When it comes to SOLA ECCLESIA, (look at the above facts). I do not risk biblical interpretations and doctrines for oral tradition, because for me, oral tradition is like a DNA, if any misinformation happens to that DNA in the transcription process, it will affected the future generations and exhibits deformalities. It is even more dangerous and destructive to relay on gnostic christian literatures based on the available information pass down through oral tradition, throughout the centuries.

Im not condemning the CREED, I’m just saying,
when politics came into the picture, the focus will always the political.

One of the classical example for this is the marian dogmas.There is a little information about the life of the blessed one, Mary, in the bible. But there are plenty of information in the gnostic sources. In my opinion, it is not an ideal way to relay on the gnostic sources based on the information available from the oral tradition, to assume or to conclude the historic life of the blessed one. Also it is not reliable to read the New Testament in light of these above methods to formulate dogmas or interpretations, and bind it to the types and shadows of the Old Testament, in light of their findings to make their case convincing. If they did, it is what we called Counterfeit Christianity.

On Christian Denomination

One may wonder about the christian denominations within the same group with the same biblical interpretation based on the same principle .The bible is not written to accept a Christian denomination, which we like, the whole theme is about the salvation and redemption.

For salvation, you follow christ, you follow his teachings and obey his commandments. Then you’ll get redeemed. It is not as easy as you think,the bible says.

“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24)

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The Reformers did start our believing in Sola Scriptura. They believed this to the extent that you did not take another’s interpretation as law. And, if the priests view contradicted Scripture, it was Scripture that was to be prized above all else. In this sense, Scripture was to speak for itself.

However, to understand what the Scripture was saying did require the aid of others. It was a lot of hard work. In fact, many Reformers, including Luther, abandoned the idea of Sola Scripture when the Anabaptists were pushing what he felt were heretical doctrines. When he confronted them they yelled Sola Scriptura back in his face. At this point he knew this would not be a sustainable doctrine. So, to tell a person all they need is Scripture is to set someone up for failure.

In fact, Scripture itself attests to this. The Ethiopian Eunuch said, “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?” We need both Scriptures and teachers.

As for

Sola Gratia would call this position into question. I don’t think that Scripture teaches that redemption and salvation are achieved by works. At all. Salvation come through Christ alone through Grace alone. Sanctification, however, is another matter. Actions based on gratitude for the Finished Work of Christ is also another matter.