When You Don’t Understand the Bible

Have you ever read the Bible and thought to yourself, “wait… what?”

Oftentimes in Christian media we see what Fr. Mike dubs a “Hallmark” version of following Christ. There’s struggle and hardship, but then God’s grace comes in and cures everything, making everything nearly perfect for the characters in the story. While these types of stories make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, they’re not very realistic. And while God’s grace is essential, it’s not a magic wand that makes everything bad go away.

There are some stories in the Bible that at first glance appear dark, difficult, or just don’t make sense. Even some of the things Christ says to his followers can sound harsh or even scandalous at times. But it’s in these moments of confusion and concern that God wants to teach us something.

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This was something that St. Augustine struggled with before his conversion. It wasn’t until after he had accepted the faith and began to intentionally practice it that he realized it’s not God’s word that’s wrong, it’s our interpretation of it. He gives us 7 things to do when trying to understand a passage we’re unsure of:

1. Read the text in the original language. Or, if you’re not a scholar of Greek or Latin (more than likely), at least realize that a lot can be lost in translation, like idioms and turns of phrase, or context and foreign references.

2. Try different biblical translations and see how they compare.

3. Weigh what you’re reading with all of scripture (it’s ALL connected!)

4. Be humble and accept that you don’t know everything needed to fully understand God’s word (and that’s okay).

5. Sacred tradition always trumps our own interpretations.

6. Don’t take figurative language literally.

7. Don’t universalize a parable to be relevant for all situations in life.

The Bible wasn’t written by Hallmark. It was inspired by God. Hallmark is meant to help you escape reality. The Bible is meant to help you get back in touch with reality. There’s going to be brokenness, and sin, and unhappy endings, but there will also be real grace that transforms those hardships into strength, and it has the power to change your life.

Check out Fr. Mike’s new podcast, The Bible in a Year. Download the reading plan and read the whole Bible this upcoming year!

Meet Fr. Mike Schmitz

Fr. Mike Schmitz serves as Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and as chaplain for the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

He is a presenter in Ascension’s ChosenAltaration, and The 99 programs, and has a channel on Ascension Presents. He is also the host of the Ascension podcasts The Bible in a Year and The Catechism in a Year.