7 Keys to Understanding the Bible

We can help you study the Bible so you can find freedom, healing and hope in Jesus.

teenage girl sitting outdoors trying to understand her Bible

No matter who you are or what you do, this imperfect world will eventually fail you.

Who has time for more empty promises of success, wealth, true happiness…etc.?

You’re looking for lasting solutions to life’s challenges…for meaning underneath all the madness.

You’ve made a smart decision to take stock of your life and seek out deeper truths—and what better place for you to look than the #1 best-selling, most widely-distributed book of all time: the Holy Bible.

But what kind of book is the Bible? It can be daunting to figure out how or where to start.

How Often Do We Blindly Read Scripture?

It’s true, the Bible is a rich, diverse, but admittedly complex collection of 66 books, written over thousands of years, by all sorts of different authors. It’s an important book that has shaped major parts of history—and it can help you find meaning, guidance, and insight as you get to know more about God, the Creator of the Universe, and His plan for you.

And you don’t have to go it alone!

We, too, sought after those answers.

Answers solely based on the Bible. Answers that shed new light on the struggles we encounter. Answers that provide hope that yes, someday everything really will be all right!   (see Revelation 21:4) 

Because we have this hope, we can’t help but want to share it!   

When it comes to studying the Bible, all of its complexity doesn’t have to deter you from diving right in. In fact, it can be downright exciting!

The very roots of the Seventh-day Adventist Church grew from the desire for a deeper look at Scripture, regardless of what the culture or traditions of the time dictate. Our pioneers wanted the truth—they wanted to find the real meaning beneath the pettiness and the mundane, beneath the turmoil and the randomness of life. They wanted to understand how to properly apply the Bible to their daily lives.

And just as that motivated group of Christians was searching for answers way back then, people like you are still diligently searching today. Beginning a Bible study can be daunting, but you can do it! If you need guidance, we’re here for you.     

After all, the Bible was written by both commoners and kings. It was written by prophets in the thick of the action… as well as curious bystanders, both rich and poor, all eager to document any details they possibly could.

God’s Word is for anyone and everyone—not only for clergy or elite scholars! You can understand the Bible and benefit from the powerful principles within it.

Whether you’ve read the Bible before, tried to read it before…or even if you’ve never actually opened it, take comfort in the fact that you’re asking the right questions. You’re in the right place.

We’re here to help you establish a meaningful and manageable process of discovery into what the Bible can tell you about God and how He can deeply affect your life.

To prepare you for informed, intentional Bible-reading, here are 7 things to keep in mind as you begin your study through Scripture.

Bible open with pages blowing in the wind

Point #1: The Bible reads differently than other books

You’ve probably heard you can’t just pick up the Bible and read it through like a novel. Each book doesn’t necessarily pick up where the last one left off. However, as a whole, the Bible tells one powerful, complete story. In a big picture view, it is chronological since it starts with the creation of humankind and ends with Earth’s re-creation into a perfect New Earth. 

Each book of the Bible tells an important part of this grand story. Some books go through events in present tense, while others take a moment to go back into history and look at what happened beforehand, in another place, from another point of view. And in the New Testament, like in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, those four books are all about the same time period. They are just written by different types of people, at different times, from different perspectives. They each draw out different emphases that make up the multifaceted story of Jesus’ time on earth.

During your study, rather than thinking of the Bible as one type of book, it helps to consider it a collection of memoirs, poems, songs, letters, eyewitness accounts, prophecies, parables, allegories, historical records and more. All of these are harmoniously woven together to reveal the big picture of who God is, how much He loves us, and His plan to ultimately conquer evil for good.

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Young man sitting against stone wall thinking about deep life questions

Point #2: The Bible provides a new perspective on what it means to be human…and it can get messy.

As you continue reading the Bible, you’ll encounter some disturbing stories. 

But aren’t we reading about an ever-loving God who seeks to save the human race? So what’s going on here?

Remember, you’re reading the whole story. How people were created with free choice, how they chose to find out what both good and evil were like, and how this turbulent process of learning, growing, and redemption is playing itself out on Earth—and beyond.

It’s not only Genesis, the first book of the Bible, that tells about God’s creation of the human race and how sin entered the world. The history of humanity involves the whole universe, and different parts of the Bible expound upon different pieces of the puzzle.

You’ll read about several different types of people and their struggles with temptation, sin, repentance, and finally victory as they learn to let God lead. And you’ll notice that many of their stories still relate to the challenges we encounter today.

You’ll learn about the utmost importance of free will—how this distinguishing trait of humanity exemplifies God’s unconditional love. You’ll read about the origin of evil through a once-angelic being, and how his influence became part of our history through Adam and Eve, the first humans.

And most importantly, you’ll read about prophecies yet to be fulfilled—ones that involve Jesus Christ coming back to earth to ultimately save us from this corrupted world (see Acts 1:4-11). Now that’s something to look forward to!

Have you always wondered what all these Bible prophecies really mean?

Now’s your chance to dig into Scripture, history, and theology armed with helpful tools for study!  Sign up for Bible study lessons now!

woman sitting with open bible at wooden table

Point #3: You may encounter perplexing passages—verses that seem contradictory, cryptic, culture-specific, or outright weird. What should you do?

If you’ve read the Bible before, or even if you’ve just heard certain Bible verses quoted, have you ever thought some of them sounded a bit strange? Maybe you’ve even heard a Bible verse you just plain didn’t like!

(I mean, “If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse” ?? {Proverbs 27:14, NIV} What?)

You’re not the only one. Especially when people quote Scripture as commands or stand-alone thoughts…or when they print a single verse onto signs or bumper stickers, sometimes the underlying meanings can get twisted around or even misused. 

But this is why we study the Bible as a whole book. It was not written to be chopped into chunks and used to suit people’s own agendas. 

But even as you read, you’ll probably encounter a verse or ten that sounds bizarre or radical. That’s why it’s crucial to consider: 

  • Context—What is happening at the time of the writing, who is writing it, what is the purpose of it, what was the culture like at that time, what style of writing it is, etc.
  • Translation—Different versions of the Bible may use different words or descriptions, or varying sentence structures.
  • Underlying principles—Many passages of Scripture contain metaphors, stories, symbolism, or heavy reference to the culture of the time—though the overall principle can be made clear through study.

During your study it can also be helpful to consult biblical commentaries, history books, or other materials to help describe what the setting was like when that part of the Bible was written. 

We can save you time and help you find useful supplementary material for your personal Bible study. It can be exciting to discover just how profoundly the Bible influenced history…which we’ll look at more in the next section.  

Want to enrich your journey through the Bible by learning about the culture and context of the times?

woman standing in field wearing a white dress holding a black bible

Point #4: Prophecy is an Essential Part of the Bible

Some of the seemingly bizarre verses we just talked about have to do with prophecy. Which is why they can seem perplexing. 

God has historically selected certain individuals to reveal divine details to their people group. Sometimes it’s to warn them about potential enemies or about behavior that will ultimately lead to destruction. Sometimes God’s prophets would provide healing, or acknowledge a radical act of faith. 

And in many places you’ll find extensive prophecies about the future.

Some prophecies are fulfilled later in the Bible, such as the prophecy that Jesus Christ would come to Earth as a baby, born in a stable. Some prophecies were fulfilled after the Bible was written…and some are yet to be completed. 

The symbolism used by the authors to describe these prophecies is vibrant, dramatic, and can often be unsettling. Keep in mind that there was—and is—a purpose to each prophecy. Diving into their meanings can be absolutely fascinating. 

Would you like additional guidance as you study prophecy in the Bible?

Get the most out of your study by signing up for Bible study lessons!

man with open arms happy to discover bible answers

Point #5: Scripture Often Relies on Symbolism

The Holy Scriptures exist to describe an infinite God to finite minds. Often the only way to do that is through various forms of symbolism, such as metaphors, similes, parables, allegory, and more.

In the same way symbolism is used in countless other works of literature, in the Bible it’s used to describe something to the reader they have never seen before. It makes sense to compare this new concept to something readers are already familiar with.

You’ll notice this colorful symbolism throughout the whole Bible, regardless of the author or type of writing—though you’ll see a lot of it in those prophecies of the distant future. 

While it can feel overwhelming at first, take it slow. Some of the imagery might make you feel like you’re reading a fantasy novel, but it’s meant to ultimately make things clearer. Even the most complicated symbolism can be broken down into its fundamentals to be studied in-depth.

What’s more, you’ll soon find that even the wildest and weirdest of the Bible’s symbolism ultimately illustrates that no matter how mixed up and evil things can get, God will always prevail. You can always have hope in Him.

When encountering parts of the Bible heavy with symbolism, this is where taking notes, sketching a picture of what is being described, or referencing history books or Bible commentaries can also be helpful.

Start studying the Bible with Bible study lessons TODAY!

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woman sitting at table with closed brown leather bible

Point #6: It’s OK to Say “I Don’t Know”

Throughout your study, you will come across things that don’t yet make sense. That’s OK. 

The Bible is a huge book about…everything. Reading something like this will naturally be a lot to take in.

If you come across a passage you’re not sure how to process, or even a whole book you don’t know what to do with, don’t let it stop you. Take notes. Write down what you found confusing and why. 

Remember, the Bible isn’t compiled chronologically. To keep your study moving forward, it’s all right to save things for later. 

You may find clarification later on, as you continue reading. 

You may also want to share your notes with someone you study with. 

Get Started with Helpful Bible Study Lessons!

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young girl with bible on lap sitting on steps praying

Point #7: Prayer goes hand in hand with Bible study.

While it’s absolutely true that the Bible’s words were written for everyone, studying them still requires care, respect, and guidance. And the best guide you could ever hope for is God Himself, who sends us his Holy Spirit to help us understand His profound, infinite truths (see John 14:26, Acts 2:39, 2 Timothy 1:14).

Rest assured that even if you’ve never prayed before, God hears you. He wants you to get to know Him, and the best way to begin that relationship is through His Word—the Holy Bible.

Before you begin your study each day, a quiet moment in prayer helps to get your head in the game. We recommend finding a quiet, solitary place where you’re least likely to encounter distractions. By intentionally turning your mind toward God, you’re inviting His Holy Spirit to guide your study of the Scriptures. Simply acknowledge that you want to get to know Him, and you’re asking for His guidance as you do.

Your prayer can be as simple and straightforward as this:

Dear God, I want to believe in You. I want to get to know Who You are. I pray for Your guidance as I start studying the Bible. Amen.

Yes, that’s all it takes to begin a relationship with God. He recognizes your decision to get into the nitty gritty of the Bible and learn more about Him. Even if it feels awkward or unfamiliar at first, remember that trying anything new can feel strange until it becomes a habit.

As far as habits go, putting these two things together is indeed the healthiest habit you can ever develop.

And as you move forward in faith, remember we are here to help you along the way. As you encounter puzzling verses, strange symbolism, questions about ancient cultures described in the Bible, or how to interpret the underlying meaning of a passage, you can be confident you have the right tools and support to help you get the most out of your study. 

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