The Role of the Heart in Understanding the Bible

by Derek Brown

God has revealed himself in a book. Have you ever reflected on that stunning reality? The Creator has spoken to his people through words on a page. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16), the apostle Paul reminded Timothy. The word for “Scripture” in this passage is the Greek word graphe, which means that Paul is referring specifically to the God’s written word. It is the text of Scripture that has been breathed out by God. That book on your nightstand or in your backpack or in the console of your car is the very word of God.   

Historically, the church has maintained that God’s Word and its primary message is clear, not obscure or opaque. Theologians have classified this truth as the doctrine of perspicuity (an ironic choice of words since most people don’t know what perspicuity means). 

Merriam-Webster defines perspicuous as “plain to the understanding especially because of clarity and precision of presentation.” That’s a helpful definition. God has made his revelation in Scripture clear so that it is easy to understand. The Bible is not full of technical jargon or convoluted statements that only the philosophically elite and scientifically savvy can grasp. No, the Bible is written in plain language for the common person. 

Does this mean that every verse or passage in the Bible is easy to understand? No. Clarity doesn’t imply ease of understanding in every case. Some of the Bible’s teachings take some time and mental effort to comprehend. That’s why the Psalmist asked God to help him understand the Scripture (Psalm 119:27, 34, 73) and why Paul told Timothy that the bridge between reading and understanding is thinking: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7; see also Eph 3:4-5). We must train ourselves to think carefully and thoroughly over Scripture and biblical doctrine, for only then will we be able to mine the riches of God’s Word. 

But the task of understanding isn’t merely intellectual; the heart is essential in the work of grasping the true meaning of Scripture. Charles Spurgeon addresses this connection between the heart and the intellect when he notes that our troubles with understanding the Bible often come from the state of our heart. 

We are often in the dark, and puzzled about difficulties but do you know half the difficulties in the Bible spring from a cold state of mind: but when the heart gets right, the heard seems to get right too, in great measure.

Spurgeon v. Hyper Calvinism, 95  

Spurgeon is right: the intellectual troubles we encounter in the Bible are often inflamed or mitigated by the condition of our heart. This isn’t always the case, of course: the Bible contains teaching that even some of the apostles found difficult to understand (see 2 Peter 3:16). But it may be happening more often then we realize. How quickly and often do we drift from heartfelt worship of Christ and get caught up in theology for theology’s sake? The most important work in a Christians’ life, therefore, is to keep his or heart heart in child-like, close communion with Christ, loving him, enjoying him, constantly going to him as a kind and gracious Savior. When our hearts remain here, we will find that the task of understanding God’s Word won’t always be easy, but it will proceed with much less friction.  

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