Attempting to understand the Bible can be difficult. For many centuries, the Catholic Church taught that the Bible could only be understood by an ordained priest. In modern times, people like N.T. Wright and other well-credentialed theologians are often held up as having profound (even special or unique) insights into God’s word due to their advanced degrees and learning.

Others contend that in order to understand the Bible you need a working knowledge of the original Hebrew (Old Testament) and/or Greek (New Testament) language. Of late, the need to have an understanding of the culture of the day (1st century) has advanced…to the degree that some disregard portions of Scripture with the charge of “modern-day irrelevance.”

So what exactly is required to understand the Bible? Can any person, without a special degree or a library of “special” books, come to a knowledge of the truth revealed by God through His word?

How Scripture answers "What is required to understand the Bible?"

Understanding the Bible requires nothing more than the Bible itself1,3,6,9 and reading it11 with a diligent, open, seeking heart2,6,8,10,15. With our prayer to God for understanding4,7, He has promised that we will find (or, know) Him8,9,10. It is, in fact, the only way we can know His will for us1,7,9 and importantly, does not require any special talents or education12,15,16. God intended that the gospel message was simple14.

Of course, the word may travel by way of a teacher13 or preacher6 (false teachers beware!!13). There are some portions or topics that are more difficult5 than others, but Scripture’s promise3,10 is that we can grow in the truth9 with careful, diligent reading2,6,11.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

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.
All Scripture is spoken by God and necessary for teaching, for rebuke, for correction and training in righteousness so that a man of God would be spiritually equipped and ready for any good work.
Paul is writing to the younger Timothy and giving general advice about his work in preaching the Gospel. Paul has repeatedly contrasted those teaching false doctrine and their motives for doing so against how Timothy should conduct himself.
Scripture-block application to this question

Scripture is what is held up as the source of man’s “completeness” and equipped for any “good work”.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!

How can a young man keep his conduct pure? By understanding your [God’s] word.  I seek you [God] with an undivided heart; let me not wander from your word!

A great Psalm (119) dedicated to the merit and beauty of God’s word.

Scripture-block application to this question

Coming into an accord (e.g. understanding) of God’s word requires seeking with a whole heart.

Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. There is no end to the making of many books, and much study is exhausting to the body. Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.
Be warned, my son, of anything added to them [wise sayings of the Teacher].  There is no end to the making of books, and their study wearies the body.  Having heard everything, I have concluded that it is enough for man to only fear God and keep his commandments.

A book of wisdom from “the Preacher” (many believe to be Solomon). The very wise and wealthy “Preacher”, having done all things “under the sun”, shares his treatise on life and worldly pursuits – it is all vanity.

Scripture-block application to this question

Earthly knowledge (“many books”) is put at odds with God’s word which, it’s concluded, is independently self-sufficient for man’s “whole duty”.

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.

How can a young man keep his conduct pure? By understanding your [God’s] word.  I seek you [God] with an undivided heart; let me not wander from your word!

A great Psalm (119) dedicated to the merit and beauty of God’s word.

Scripture-block application to this question

A prayer to God that He might grant an understanding of His word. (A thought repeated several more times in the 119th Psalm.)

And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures.
Consider also the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our brother Paul wrote to you in all his letters based on the wisdom given to him. Some of his writings are hard to understand – the things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own demise – just as they do with rest of all scripture.

Peter’s final exhortation to hold a “firm grasp on the truth” (vs 17) and to “continue to grow in the grace and knowledge” of Christ (vs 18).

Scripture-block application to this question

Peter acknowledges that some of scripture, particularly what Paul wrote, is “hard to understand”. However, the very next verses confirm his audience had a “grasp of the truth” and his encouragement is to continue to grow [in the truth].

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.

The brethren quickly got Paul and Silas out of town when it was dark, heading to Berea. When they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now the Jewish Bereans were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they eagerly heard the gospel message and examined the scriptures carefully every day to see if what they were taught was from God.

Paul is on his second missionary journey with Silas. They had to flee Thessalonica for fear of being killed by those jealous (vs 5) of them preaching the gospel. These same Jews actually followed them there to disrupt their cause (vs 13).

Scripture-block application to this question

The Bereans were taught the word by the apostle Paul himself, but they still confirmed it with daily, careful examination of the scriptures.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
As a result, from the day we heard, we have continued to pray for you, asking God that you will be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  In order that you might walk in a way that’s worthy of Christ our Lord, fully pleasing him and bearing fruit in every good work while increasing in the knowledge of God.
Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae where he confronts false teaching in the form of “human philosophies and traditions”.  He goes on to reference “the word of the truth, the gospel” which came to them and “indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing” (vs 6).
Scripture-block application to this question

Paul and his companions prayed for Christians to gain an understanding of God’s word.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

If sinners draw near to God, He will near to them, and requires cleansing themselves (spiritually) and being single-minded in their focus to serve and obey God.

James practical words to Christians on how to live faithfully.  In chapter four, he focuses on humility and single-mindedness.
Scripture-block application to this question

God will draw near to those who seek him with a desire and single-mindedness of heart.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you dwell/remain in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Jesus is teaching in the temple while being challenged by the Pharisees (vss 13, 19).
Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus promises that true disciples will “know the truth” by remaining or continuing to dwell in the word.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Ask and you’ll receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened for you.  Everyone that asks receives, and he that seeks finds, and to the one that knocks it will be opened.

Jesus sermon on the mount after giving instructions about how to pray to God in heaven (6:1-14) and trusting in God to provide in this life (6:19-34).

Scripture-block application to this question

God promises us understanding if we seek Him.

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

When you [Ephesians] read this [letter], you can understand my [Paul] insights into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men beforehand but has now been revealed to His appointed apostles and prophets through the Holy Spirit.

Paul is reminding them that he had disclosed “the mystery” (vs 3) to them. Specifically, in this application, it was the mystery that the Gentiles were “fellow heirs” of God’s promise (vs 6) but he goes on to talk about the “the gospel” (vs 7) more broadly as the “the mystery” brought to everyone (vs 9).

The gospel is commonly referred to as “the mystery” in Scripture as the gospel (

Col 4:3
).
Scripture-block application to this question

Reading Scripture brings understanding.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

When I [Paul] came to you [Corinthians brethern/Christians], I plainly spoke the word of God – that Jesus Christ was crucified.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth dealing with several serious issues throughout the letter, but here dealing with divisions among them and reminding them of the uniting nature of the Gospel.

In this chapter, and really including the first four chapters of this letter, he emphasizes the need for them to rely upon the word of God that he had shared with them as the foundation to solve these issues.

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul stresses what is not required to understand God’s word. It’s not about great oratory or man’s wisdom.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Paul goes on the talk about the wisdom that is from God (vs 7) and in other places rejects his own advanced learning (Philippians 3:3-11).

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

There should not be many brethren wanting to take on the grave responsibility of teaching [God’s word], since those that teach will be judged more stringently. Everyone stumbles in various ways, and all of us stumble in speech, otherwise, you would be perfect and able to control your flesh completely.

James’ practical words to Christians on how to live faithfully.  In chapter three, he turns to address those among the brotherhood that might teach others (vs 1) and from here begins to talk about the tongue and its power, particularly for evil.  He says that “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (vs 7).
Scripture-block application to this question

Teachers of God’s word must be very careful as they “will be judged with greater strictness.”

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

I [Paul], am fearful that just as Eve was deceived by Satan’s deceitfulness in the garden, your thoughts will move away from the simplicity and perfection of being devoted to Christ alone.

Paul, while away from Corinth, is being marginalized by other men that Paul refers to as “super-apostles” (vs 5).  They are criticizing what Paul spoke when he “preached God’s gospel” to them “free of charge” (vs 7 xref
Acts 18:8-11
).  He is warning the Corinthians of these individuals’ inferiority in the knowledge of Christ and labels them as “false apostles” and “deceitful workmen” (vs 13).
Scripture-block application to this question

A Christian’s devotion to Christ is based on the simplicity of the Gospel.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

The very next verse (4) makes it clear that their “devotion to Christ” is from Paul preaching the gospel to them.

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.

When God’s word is pursued or studied (“unfolding”) it provides a lighted path and understanding for the untrained.

A great Psalm (119) dedicated to the merit and beauty of God’s word.

Scripture-block application to this question

God’s word, when studied (e.g. “the unfolding”), can be understood by the untrained.

(When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
The common people, including the tax collectors, who heard this [Jesus’ testimony that John the Baptist was “the messenger” that the prophet Malachi said would come] and had been baptized with John’s baptism declared God’s way was right. However, the “experts” among them rejected God’s way and were not baptized.
John the Baptist is in prison and soon to die at the hands of Herod (Matthew 14:3-12), and Jesus confirms that John the Baptist is “the messenger” (Malachi 3:1) that God said would come (vs 27).

Matthew 11:2-30 is a parallel account generally, but he doesn’t record this specific parenthetical offered by Luke.

Scripture-block application to this question

Luke’s parenthetical adds an unmistakable implication between those who conventionally would not be educated or regarded highly vs the educated “experts”. 

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Jesus is elevating John the Baptist, someone many regarded as a bit crazy, to be greatest “among those born of women” (vs 28) and concludes His point by the little regard many had for John (vs 33) and the “Son of Man” (vs 34). “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (vs 35)

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