Yes I know.
The Bible is the Word of God.
It is unlike any other book - religious or otherwise.
There are no contradictions in it.
It is truth. It is light.
But how do I read it?
How do I begin to understand what it means, especially when there are so many different Christian denominations with so many different interpretations?
Here's where to start. The Bible. What does Christ Himself teach us about the way to understand His Word?
Luke 24:45-47 - Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."
Principle #1) All the Scriptures are about Christ. This is what is written Jesus says. The first thing you should be looking for in any verse you read should be Jesus and Him preached.
He says this in other places too. John 5:39 - "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but it is they that bear witness about Me."
Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. That is what you are looking to see in the words of the Bible.
Ok, what else does God say about how to understand His Word?
Ex. 34:6-7 - The LORD passed before Moses and proclaimed, "The LORD, The LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love... for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."
Principle #2) Law and Gospel. God works in two ways. Two basic teachings. You may also call them the commands and promises. But regardless of their name - God speaks a Word of Command (Law) and He speaks a Word of Promise (Gospel). And unless you properly distinguish between them, you will get very mixed up reading the Bible.
A Word of Command (Law) is one that concerns your actions, thoughts or words. It is something man does, thinks or says. I.E. You shall not commit adultery. In this word, God expresses the way things ought to be - His justice.
A Word of Promise (Gospel) is one that concerns God's actions - those done for you. It is something God does, promises or reveals for you. I.E. At Jesus' baptism, heaven was opened. In this word, God expresses the way things are on account of what He has done - His justification - something that benefits those with that believe Him.
Immediately you can see that the way of the Law is a matter of works, while the way of the Gospel is a matter of faith. The Law condemns. The Gospel frees. The Law kills. The Gospel gives life. The problem is that when we read the Bible we are more inclined to be reading it to find out what we should do. We are more likely to look for the Law. In fact, we tend to try and see if we are doing the Law - if we are righteous on our own.
This is actually the reason WHY there is the Gospel. To free us from our sin which would have us only look at ourselves and what we need to tell ourselves "I'm good". God uses His Law and Gospel to kill our self-righteousness and bring us to life again in Christ. Death and Resurrection. We are not good. Christ is. This is God's salvation, and the only reason He speaks. We are declared to be good in Christ alone through faith in what He has done - through faith in His Gospel.
Why does God work this way?
St. Paul tells us. "It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom. 3:26)
Just and the Justifier. God alone is Just - yet He has by sheer grace and mercy determined to Justify those who have faith in Jesus and all that He has done for us on the cross.
When you read the Bible look for Christ (#1), and be sure to distinguish what you ought to do (Law) which you have failed, and what Christ did/does (Gospel) which forgives and saves you from your failure (#2). You'll want to see Christ in both Law and Gospel.
This is a good start in learning how to read the Bible. This is the revelation. God says you are a sinner worthy of punishment and death. But God also says you are righteous for the sake of Christ, and that by trusting in His declaration of innocence, you are free from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Thanks be to God. May His Word be ever opened to us.