by Rev. Travis Berg

When I was a vicar, there was an intelligent, well-spoken orthodontist who came to Bible Study every week. Once, he confided in me, “Vicar, the Bible is just too hard for me to understand. How can I read it on my own?”

This man is not alone in feeling this way. In fact, a prominent scholar of Luther’s day, Erasmus of Rotterdam, called the Bible a “Corycian Cavern.”[1] This is a dark cave; without artificial light you can’t see more than 100 meters into the chilly, forbidding cavern.[2] So how does one traverse this dark cave? Erasmus’ solution was the light of authority, like tradition and the church fathers. Sadly, many of our Roman Catholic friends fall into the same problem. Pope Leo XIII condemned all those who “relying on private judgment and repudiating the divine traditions and teaching office of the Church, held the Scriptures to be the one source of revelation and the final appeal in matters of Faith.”[3]

But this isn’t what the Bible teaches about itself. The Scriptures are not a dark cave which needs illumination. The Bible is light: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”[4] Everywhere, the Bible takes it for granted that it is the absolute truth.[5] Jesus Himself, when quoting Psalm 82:6, stopped every argument by saying: “The Scripture cannot be broken.”[6] And again, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”[7] If the Bible, the Word of God, is illumination, if it is absolute truth, and if it can never be broken or torn down, then there is no need for any other source of theology. In the Scriptures, we have a standard which pours out Christ’s light in our minds and in our hearts so that we no longer walk in the darkness of ignorance and sin. In the Scriptures, we have a standard which can never err. The truth of the Bible does not change because God cannot change. And finally, the Bible will endure forever. Therefore, there is no appeal beyond the Bible.

Because this is what the Bible teaches about itself, Martin Luther also taught these truths. In his book, “The Bondage of the Will,” Luther writes, “The profoundest mysteries of the supreme Majesty are no more hidden away, but are now brought out of doors and displayed to public view. Christ has opened our understanding, that we might understand the Scriptures, and the Gospel is preached to every creature.”[8] Because God has revealed these things clearly to men, Luther can, with the greatest confidence, say: “I certainly grant that many passages in the Scriptures are obscure and hard to elucidate, but that is due, not to the exalted nature of their subject, but to our own linguistic and grammatical ignorance, and it does not in any way prevent our knowing all the content of Scripture.”[9]

The writers of the Book of Concord also attest to Scripture alone as our source for faith and life. They write: “First, then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged.”[10] The Bible is a pure, clear fountain. The Bible gives life, not death. The Bible gives clarity, not confusion. The Bible is clear, it is not muddy or obscure. Because the Bible is life-giving, pure and clear, it is the only standard by which all teachers and teaching is judged. To go beyond the Bible is to muddy and contaminate the living water of Christ.

Don’t be afraid to read the Bible. God has set forth His Law and His Gospel in the plainest terms. Sure, there may be things you don’t understand, but that’s not the Bible’s fault. Talk to your pastor about these things. Find good, orthodox commentaries which shed light on the grammar and on history. You could even learn Greek and Hebrew, if you have the time and the desire. But don’t be afraid of God’s Word. It is written for your learning. It is written to create and strengthen faith and to equip the Christian for every good work. May God bless you as you continue to read His Word, the Bible.

The Rev. Travis Berg is pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Latimer, IA.

[1] The cave was on Mt. Parnassus in Greece, three miles north of Delphi.

[2] Read more:


[4] Psalm 119:115.

[5] Psalm 12:6; Psalm 119:160; John 17:17.

[6] John 10:34-35.

[7] Matthew 24:35.

[8] Luther, Bondage of the Will, Trans. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, pg. 72.

[9] Luther, Bondage of the Will, Trans. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, pg. 71.