Not Understanding Is Not a Sin

“I really want to study the Bible; I do. It’s just that every time I pick it up, I start reading and come across something that doesn’t make any sense to me. I try to understand it, but I eventually lose interest and go and do something else. Then I feel guilty because I’ve given up.”
I’m convinced that the above words represent the story of a lot of people and their relationship with the Bible. If these words resemble anything that you’ve said or felt and if you still feel this way, I want you to know something: you are not alone! In fact, I want to share with you a story that I hope will both give you encouragement and get you back on the journey of understanding.

A long time ago, there was a man who somehow heard about the God of the Bible. Though he knew about God, he evidently didn’t know about Jesus Christ or His church. He does seem to have known something about the Old Testament and enough to determine that he needed to go to Jerusalem to find out more about this God and the people to whom He had revealed Himself known as the Israelites.

This man made a journey from his home in Ethiopia all the way to Jerusalem, over 1500 miles as the bird flies and probably between two and three thousand miles using his mode of transportation, a chariot. The journey would have taken a great deal of time, a commodity that this man couldn’t possibly have had much of to spare. Though he had reached a high standing in the royal court of his country, he was a eunuch, which meant that he had been physically mutilated and was possibly a slave. Like the Old Testament character Nehemiah, he evidently had a gracious monarch (master?) who granted him a leave of absence.

What this eunuch found when he reached Jerusalem must have been quite disheartening. As both a gentile and a eunuch, he was twice excluded from participating in the innermost festivities of the temple. However, it appears that he wanted to know more about God so badly that he managed to find, and, at what was likely a great cost to him, obtain a copy of a book from the Bible, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.1 What he couldn’t find or even buy unfortunately was someone to tell him what it meant.

If this story is ringing a bell at all, it’s because it’s actually found in the Bible in Acts 8. When Acts picks up the Eunuch’s story, he’s returning from his visit to Jerusalem, doing his best to read the Isaiah scroll that he’d purchased as his chariot bounced down a long desert road. He’s approached on the road by a Christian preacher named Phillip who asks him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30). Please take note of his response: “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31). He’d clearly put in a lot of effort, but he didn’t understand the Bible.

Self-reliance is a value that many of us are taught from a young age. If something isn’t working out for us, we’re told or we feel, it’s because we haven’t worked hard enough or for long enough. No amount of hard work though would have resulted in the Ethiopian eunuch understanding what Isaiah was writing about. God didn’t intend for him to slave over the text until it became clear; he intended for him to be taught the truth by another Christian. Might I suggest that His intentions for us are not all that different?

I know that some portions of the Bible can be read and understood (Ephesians 3:4). I know that understanding sometimes is about my choice and my effort (Ephesians 5:17). I also know though that some things are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). I know further that the call of Christianity is not only for the scholarly; in fact, as Paul remarked on the membership of the Corinthian church, he said, “Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position” (1 Corinthians 1:26 NET).

Some, perhaps most of the early Christians couldn’t read. Copies of the Bible came book by book and at a high price, so few would have had a Bible to read. I’m going to suggest that understanding for these early Christians wasn’t about toiling away with personal copies of the Bible. A more historically accurate picture of the often-cited Acts 17:11 would see the “fair-minded” Bereans who “searched the Scriptures” doing so in “the synagogue of the Jews” (Acts 17:10) instead of their individual homes. There, using communal copies of Old Testament instead of personal copies, the literate would have read aloud, and all would have helped each other in the shared journey of seeking understanding.

Jesus didn’t send out His disciples to become scribes or publishers. Instead, He sent them out to become teachers and disciple makers. It was always His plan that people would help each other to understand.

Let me say again: if you’re struggling to understand the Bible, you’re not alone. And let me add this: God doesn’t want you to stay alone! Don’t be afraid to say to a preacher, teacher, elder, or mature fellow-Christian, “How can I understand this passage if someone doesn’t guide me?” I’m sure you’ll find what the Ethiopian found: a Christian happy to help.
-Patrick Swayne
1 Extrapolating from the well-substantiated figures provided for the cost of producing New Testament epistles by E. Randolf Richards in his work, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, one can safely assume Isaiah would have cost the eunuch about as much as the entire salary a working man earned in one month for skilled labor and in two months for unskilled labor.






1 Corinthians 12 1 Corinthians 14:15 1 Corinthians 14 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 1 Corinthians 7 1 Peter 1:3-5 1 Peter 1:6-12 1 Peter 2:9 1 Peter 3 1 Peter 5:6-7 1 Peter 1 Samuel 4 1 Thessalonians 5:18 1 Timothy 4:1-3 2 Corinthians 6 2 John 1:9 2 John 9 2 Kings 2 Peter 2 2 Peter 3 2 Peter 2 Samuel Abel Abraham Absalom Acts 17 Acts 19 Acts 2 Acts 8 Acts Alcohol Alleged Contradictions Apostles Ark of the Covenant Attitude Authority Autonomy Autumn Balance Baptismal Regeneration Baptism Barnabas Benevolence Bible Contradictions Bible Questions and Answers Bible Study Bible Biblical Interpretation Bishop Body of Christ Borrowing Broad Way Cain and Abel Cain Calvinism Catholicism Catholic Celibacy Challenges Children Christian Living Christmas Church Funds Church Leadership Church Membership Church of Christ Church Circumspection Citations Citizenship Colossians 3:16 Communication Communion Community Confidence Congregations Contend for the Faith Contentment Covetousness Creation Credit Current Events Dating David Debt Forgivness Deconstruction Degrees of Punishment Deity Deliverance Denominationalism Devil Difference Different Discipleship Divine Nature Doctrine Dragon Drinking Easter Ecclesiastes 7:10 Ecclesia Eldership Elders Elder Elijah Elisha Encouragement Enoch Ephesians 2:8-9 Ephesians 5:15 Ephesians 5:16 Ephesians 5:18 Ephesians 5:19 Ephesians 5:5 Ephesians 5 Esther 4:14 Evangelism Ezekiel 36 Ezekiel 6 Faith Alone Faith Only Faithfulness Faith Fall False Teachers False Teaching Fathers Fear Feeding of the 5000 Fornication Free Will Fundamentals Galatians 4:9-10 Gender Roles Generosity Genesis 22 Genesis 4 Genesis Gift of Tongues Gifts Giving Godhead Godhood God Gospel Meeting Gospel Grace Gratitude Greater Sin Greed Grief Grieving Hallelujah Praise Jehovah Hallelujah Hebrews 13:4 Help Hermeneutics Holidays Holy Spirit's Deity Husbands Hymns Hypotheticals Idolatry Immutability Imperatives Influence Insomnia Instrumental Music Instruments in Worship Intertextuality Isaac Isaiah 2 Isaiah 6 James 1:16: James 1:19 James 1:27 James 1 James Jehovah Witnesses Jehovah Jerome Jesus Temptation Jesus' Deity Jesus\' Deity Jesus Job John 11 John 19:11 John 4:24 John Calvin John the Baptist Jude 1:11 Jude 3 Jude Judgement Judging Judgment Kindness Lamb of God Lamech Lazarus Leadership Leaven Lemuel Lending Levites Life Lessons Limited Atonement Living Sacrifice Local Church Lord's Supper Luke 1:28 Luke 5:1-11 Mariolatry Mark 1:12-13 Mark Marriage Martin Luther Mary Matthew 5:13-16 Matthew 5:3-12 Matthew 5 Matthew 6:19-20 Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:1 Melchizedek Men's Business Meeting Men\'s Business Meeting Men\\\'s Business Meeting Men Metaphors Minor Prophets Miracles Miraculous Gifts Money Mormonism Mothers Mount of Olives Mountain of the Lord's House Mountains of Israel Mountains Murder Music Mutual Submission Narrow Gate Narrow Way No Elders Non-Denominational Olive Trees Olives Olivet Olive Once Saved Always Saved Parenting Pastor Patience Patriarchs Pattern Paul Peace Pentecostalism Persecution Perseverence Perspective Philippians 3:20 Philippians 4:6 Plagiarism Poetic Language Politics Prayer Praying to Saints Praying Pray Preacher Preaching Priesthood Priests Proverbs 31:6 Proverbs Providence Psalm 148 Quotations Reader Response Redeeming the Time Relationships Relationship Religion Religious Pluralism Religious Syncretism Remission of Sins Restoration Movement Restoration Revelation 12:9 Riches Roman Catholic Church Romans 12:1-8 Romans 12:10 Romans 12:15 Romans 12:1 Romans 12 Sacrifice Saints Only Salvation Satan Scarecrows Sermon on the Mount Serving Others Sexual Sin Silence of the Scriptures Singing Sin Sleep Sobriety Song Studies Sons Sovereignty of God Spending Spirit and Truth Spiritual Death Spiritual Gifts Spiritual Leadership Steal Stephen Stolen Straight Gate Stress Student Debt Submission Suffering Temptations Thankfulness The Beatitudes The Problem of Evil The Problem of Pain and Suffering The Problem of Suffering The Way of Cain The Way Thievery Thieves Tongue Speaking Total Hereditary Depravity Tradition Trials Trinity Types and Antitypes Unchanging Nature Uncleanness Unconditional Election Understanding Unity Unknown Tongue Vulgate Wealth Wide Gate Will of God William Kirkpatrick Wives Women in the Church Women's Roles Word Study Work Worship Zechariah clergy death sickness