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img_5037bible“The Bible is easy.”

“The Bible is simple for a child to understand.”

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the Bible.”

I hear these and other statements at times from well-meaning church leaders and church members. The idea is to shrink the distance from us and the biblical text, to make the Bible seem accessible.

Certainly, we have plenty of materials designed to help us out. From study Bibles to daily nuggets of biblical wisdom to devotional thoughts, you can purchase any number of options intended to help you dig into the Word every day.

The Bible is a Tough Book

But what happens when your Bible reading plan takes you into Leviticus? Many of us don’t make it out of the wilderness. What happens when your eyes glaze over as you read through the Minor Prophets? Many of us are afraid to pronounce their names.

Stress the simplicity of the Bible, and the people you are hoping will read the Bible next year may begin to wonder if they’re just too dumb to understand it. I wonder if, in our efforts to get people reading Scripture, we might be minimizing the tough parts, and unintentionally undercutting our people’s sense of joy when they grow in biblical knowledge.

If we are to lead people to grow in their knowledge in Scripture, people who not only master the Bible’s content, but who are then mastered by the God of the Bible, then we need to do a reality check: the Bible is a tough book.

Yes, I said it. It’s hard.

Sure, there are parts that are easy to read. Yes, we are thankful for the Spirit who illuminates the Scriptures as we read. Yes, the gospel message is simple enough for a child to understand and deep enough for a theologian to spend all of life plumbing its depths.

But don’t take the simplicity of the gospel message and transfer that to all of the Bible itself.

You can be a firm believer in the perspicuity of Scripture and still admit there are parts of Paul’s letters that make seasoned pastors scratch their heads. Some of the sayings of Jesus are enigmatic and difficult to interpret. And let’s not even get started on Revelation.

The Bible is a hard book. It’s difficult. It takes work to interpret it correctly. You don’t read the Bible like you would read the newspaper (skimming it for interesting tidbits of information or analysis). You don’t read the Bible like you read a novel on the beach. To understand and apply the Bible takes prayerful study, time and effort.

What Happens When We Say the Bible is “Easy”

Our tendency is to make the Bible seem more accessible than it is with the hope that more people will read it. I think this is the wrong way to go about it. It’s just not going to happen.

When we stress the Bible’s “easiness,” we lead our people into two wrong directions. Some will throw up their hands and say, “I must be really stupid because this seems very dense.” Or, even worse, we train people to only look for the easy parts, to be satisfied with daily nuggets of wisdom and never wade deep into the Bible’s waters. Either way, you wind up with people who never feel the satisfaction of studying the Bible on their own.

Instead, I suggest we be upfront about the demanding nature of the Bible.  Let your people know that it’s hard work. It’s a challenge.

Bible Study: Both Joy and Discipline

Like learning to play the piano, Bible-reading is both a joy and a discipline. Instead of making it seem like the Bible’s accessibility demands little work or time, we should tell people that it’s a hard book with great reward. It may be tough, but that’s just it. The best things in life are things we work for. They’re the tough things.

And then… after you challenge people to read the Scriptures and work hard at studying the text, you help them feel a sense of accomplishment when they are actually able to interpret and apply a difficult passage. When they are able to give a good answer regarding an obscure text, or better yet, when they sense the personal meaning coming from a text that would have once caused them to be wide-eyed, they get the satisfaction of seeing hard work pay off.

Don’t minimize the importance of diligence when it comes to Bible reading among your people. Admit that parts are tough. But then encourage them to rise to the challenge.

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11 thoughts on “How to Get People to Read the Bible Without Making Them Feel Dumb”

  1. Very good indeed.

    Perspicuity is not meant to define scripture like a Dr.Seuss book. It was written over a period of 1500 years covering deepest historical antiquity through the 1st century AD. It was written in ancient dialects of foreign languages on the other side of the world to cultures vastly different than ours. Even so, Peter was awed by Paul’s writings though they were contemporaries. Romans alone could occupy an entire lifetime of serious study.

    My beloved CONFESSION is quite helpful here:
    All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

    It takes work to get a deep meaty grasp of the soaring divine truths of holy scripture, but if people spent half as much equipping themselves in that regard as they did soaking in godless television shows, the western church would be populated with profound scholars of the word of God.

  2. Brent Hobbs says:

    Thanks Trevin, this is a good perspective. We’re starting a series next month on reading and knowing your Bible. I’m going to make some copies of this (properly attributed of course!) to hand out as part of that class.

  3. Ken Farmer says:

    Excellent article. Trevin, I would like to use this and another post in our school publication. Could you contact me about that. the TGC site said for permissions to contact the author.
    Dr. Farmer

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Thank you, Ken. You’re welcome to use the article as long as you give proper attribution and recommend the blog at the end of the print piece.

  4. Ken Farmer says:

    Thanks, Trevin. Will do. I also tried to contact you concerning your “Facebook rant” blog. That is how I first found out about your site. I assume I can also use that with proper attribution as well.

  5. Ben Hein says:

    I am all for what was said here. I firmly believe that Christianity is the “thinking man’s religion,” and people should be encouraged to wade deep into the Bible. Not told or commanded, but encouraged by showing the excitement, depths and riches of the text.

    That being said, I’d love to see a follow-up article to this on what this looks like in the church context. I understand the point of this article is to explain HOW we motivate people to read, but now what does that look like? Sermon series? Training Bible Study group leaders to do it? Holding classes?

  6. Natalie says:

    Thanks so much for this! I feel a strong conviction to not abandon or neglect my Bible in favor of books. I think reminding myself that learning God’s Word will be more of a marathon than a sprint helps a great deal. No one says it has to be overnight. Except me sometimes. There’s grace for my study, too. And He’s worth it!

  7. Rebecca says:

    I have an analogy I give new believers when we cover Bible reading and study. Like most analogies it’s not perfect, but it seems to resonate with most people.
    The Bible isn’t like a bag of McDonald’s Happy Meals, it’s like a side of venison. As you become a more skilled “chef”, you use every last bit, even the bones. When you come to church your small group leaders and pastor will serve you rich stews and even steaks. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t “cooking” to the same level on your own at first. Learning to read the Bible and study it is a skill, and you have the Author Himself to assist you in the kitchen.

  8. Hope Henchey says:

    This is so insightful! Thanks for writing. I have totally said things like that before and I didn’t realize how counterproductive it is.

  9. Peter Krol says:

    Good reminder, Trevin. Peter accused Paul of writing some things that were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16), but he was not immune to the same accusation!

  10. Eleanor says:

    Just over a year after I received Christ, I did a one year Bible survey course, with one class a week. It gave me an excellent foundation. Each week we had to read the book (or books) in the Bible to be covered in the next video-taped lecture, and we had to do an assignment from a choice of questions. This requirement was the incentive to not only read, but study an aspect of the book being covered in the next lecture, so we would know what the lecturer was talking about. The lecturer was excellent, too. I found Lawrence O. Richards’ Complete Bible Handbook very useful for providing an overview and background information (in addition to other books available from the church library). As I read through the Bible that year, it was like seeing the pieces of a jig-saw falling into place, of the historical account of God’s relationship and interaction with mankind.
    Sometimes, a structured course is a better option, rather than a new believer floundering or wading through on his/her own. Once I’d done the survey course, reading the Bible was no longer an intimidating exercise.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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