As we begin a new year, it's likely that you have resolved to read the Bible more faithfully. Many Christians start the year with a new gusto for the disciplines, and this is commendable.
But many Christians also become discouraged fairly quickly. It can be intimidating to try to read the Bible and to understand what it has to say, especially with so many voices out there telling you that you need an interpreter, someone you can trust, someone whose voice will bring clarity and reason to what you're reading.
The bad news is...that's true.
The good news is...you already have that Interpreter.
It's the Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised to send (and then did send) to help with matters exactly such as this.
My pastor friend on Twitter, the one I follow because he grates against my every nerve and causes me to think more deeply about what I believe, started this year by claiming, "The problem isn't believing the Bible is inspired by God. The problem is believing your interpretation is." In other words, it's great if you know and understand that God inspired the authors of the Bible to write what they wrote, but it's a problem if you claim to understand any of it.
He even says that this year, he's working on a book about biblical interpretation, drawing on all kinds of expert voices to help you know what those words meant to their audience and what they should mean to you. (Hint: he's very...liberal...with his interpretations in general, so this is a book to be cautious of.)
But there are plenty of voices out there that claim this same thing. Big voices, little voices. Pastors with pulpits with thousands in the pew and sometimes, that older Christian in your own church who's just been studying faithfully on their own for a few decades. For some reason, we have come to be really condescending to one another about how we understand the Bible.
Here's the truth: there is no language without interpretation. There is no language without both a speaker and a hearer (or a writer and a reader). If I write these words and no one ever reads them, they are not language; they have not transmitted a message. And I also realize even as I write these words that you will not read them with the same voice in your head that I have while writing them. You won't. That's just how communication works. There is always some distance between transmission and receipt, between what is given and what is understood. There is no way around this.
So when someone tells you that you can read the Bible but not understand it correctly, what they are really saying is that your interpretation will be off. For whatever reason they want to claim - unskilled comprehension, diminished academic capacity, narrow perspective, whatever.
But here's what I believe - I believe that the God who inspired the writing of the Word also inspires the reading of it. I believe that the God who told Moses to write us the story of the Exodus has equipped us to read the story and understand it. I believe that we don't have to uncover seven different layers of historical information and the nuances of Hebrew or Greek to have a confident understanding of what God is trying to say to us through His Word.
Because He's already given us the authoritative interpretive voice that we require - the Holy Spirit Himself. That's what He was promised to us for, so that we can understand and can know God. And not once in the promises that Jesus makes about the Spirit that is to come does He tell us that this spirit will come so that we better understand ancient Hebrew history or the squiggles of language that are far different from our own.
No, the Spirit speaks heart-to-heart. And that means, so does the Word.
So if you're undertaking the reading of the Word this year, good for you! Soak it all in. And don't let anyone intimidate you into thinking you can't understand it. You absolutely can. You've got this. Because God Himself comes alongside you in the person of the Spirit and speaks your language, heart-to-heart.