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Can the Bible Be Understood?

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Can the Bible Be Understood?

It is not uncommon for someone to claim that “the Bible can’t really be understood, particularly a book like Revelation.”

Is that true?

In this post, we’ll look at what the Bible says about its ability to be understood, and we’ll follow this to a logical conclusion by applying what we might learn, for example, from Revelation Chapter 4.


If we understand what the Bible says specifically about understanding the Bible, we must conclude that “yes” the Bible can be understood, with a caveat that I’ll explain with yet another verse.

Finally, and especially with a Book such as Revelation, we need to recognize what it is that we should “walk away with” from that which the Bible is teaching.


What the Bible says about understanding the Bible

Certainly, the foundational truth about the Bible can be found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The scope of  2 Timothy 3:16-17 is comprehensive. It leaves no room for exceptions, and is supported by other scriptures such as 2 Timothy 2:15 which states “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

Together, we have a number of fundamental truths:

  1. All scripture is from God,
  2. all scripture is profitable,
  3. we are commanded to study the Bible,
  4. as presenting ourselves to God Himself,
  5. knowing that the word can be “rightly handled” (other translations use “accurately.”)

Adding to these foundational tenants, God warns, both at the beginning and end of scripture (Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18-19) not to add to or take from God’s word.

All this not only guarantees that the Bible can be comprehended but also addresses the problems of 2 Timothy 2:14 “…not to quarrel about words, which does no good…” 

In other words, we are not to “speculate” about what something means in the Bible only to give our opinions – we are to study and let the scripture confirm itself.


Are there those who can’t understand the Bible?

The Bible couldn’t be more clear about this.

In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul asserts “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

This is the caveat mentioned above to the question “can the Bible be understood.”

The Bible is calling out a distinction here – the unsaved can not understand the Bible. If both the saved and the unsaved were unable to understand the Bible, this contrast would not make any sense.


How are we to understand the Bible?

Whereas 1 Corinthians 2:14 shows us who can’t understand the Bible, 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 shows how Believers can understand the Bible by stating “…we have received…the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

Simply stated, the Holy Spirit facilitates the believer’s ability to understand.

These verses are not declaring that the Bible is easy to understand. In 2 Timothy 2:15   above Paul states “be diligent, or do your best” and uses the Greek “spoudason” which means “make every effort” to hasten and be zealous. In other words, it will require dedicated effort.

Peter in 2 Peter 3:16 even remarks that “…some things (written by Paul)…are hard to understand.” Here Peter was referring to “justification by faith vs. works.”  That concept is hard to understand, but our understanding is absolutely indispensable for salvation.


What about understanding the Book of Revelation?

Revelation literally begins in verse 1:3 with an encouragement to read the Book of Revelation – “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”

This is the only book in the Bible that offers such a blessing. This blessing is not only for one who “reads” but to those who “keep what is written.”

How can someone keep what is written without understanding what they read? And why would God offer a blessing that couldn’t be obtained?

Yet if we read the fourth chapter of Revelation we may ask “who is the living creature with a face of a man, or the living creature that was like an Ox?  Who are the twenty-four elders? And what about the jasper and carnelian?”

But, this misses the point.

Chapter 4 is simply describing what the throne in heaven is like.

We can summarize the following from Chapter 4:

  1. There is a magnificently beautiful throne in Heaven,
  2. Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father,
  3. Twenty-four Elders, representing the believing saints, are present,
  4. Four special angels and myriads of other angels are also present, and
  5. the Saints and Angels are all worshiping and praising Jesus.

If we saw this throne in Heaven, could we describe it any better? I’m not sure I would do any better.

The fact is, we know that Heaven is occupied by God, the Angels, and the Saints, and they are all praising and worshiping Jesus.

Does knowing a deeper meaning about the angel with a face of an Ox, or the significance of jasper vs. some other stone add to 2 Timothy 3:16’s “profitable for teachingreproofcorrection, and training in righteousness?”


In fact, this type of speculation is what leads to Gnosticism, which the early church, and even now we, constantly fight as false teaching.

Deeper meanings where Paul warns in 2 Timothy 2:14 “…not to quarrel about words, which does no good…” and wherein 2 Timothy 3:7  he cautions about those “who are always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” are worthless and dangerous.


The Bible is clear that what is written is so “the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  This happens with the intervention of the Holy Spirit so that we might understand the things freely given us by God. It is our responsibility to make every effort to study, and also to avoid quarreling about words and constantly learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.

Fortunately, the Bible can be understood by diligent believers, if this were not true, there would be no benefit in studying the Bible.


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