Many Christians struggle to read the Bible on their own - study

(Photo: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema)

Many Christians struggle to understand Scripture without help from others, new research has found. 

Over half (57%) of the 1,002 US Protestant churchgoers surveyed by Lifeway Research said it was challenging to make sense of the Bible when they read it on their own. 

"Churchgoers are ready to defend the Bible as true and as a faithful moral standard," said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

"But most admit they stumble on understanding the specific meaning as they read."

"Reading and studying as an individual is important, but we need others to help us think through what we discover," said Dwayne McCrary of Explore the Bible.

"Studying together also allows us to gain insights from others that move us forward in our study as well."

Despite this apparent difficulty, nine in 10 said they could usually understand how a passage of Scripture was relevant to themselves, and over three quarters (81%) were confident they could help others with doubts about the truthfulness of Scripture. 

Older Christians were more likely to struggle, with around a fifth (19%) of over-65s saying they lacked confidence in their ability to address the doubts of someone struggling with the truthfulness of Scripture, and a fifth saying they did not think they could help a neighbour if they were confused about a Bible passage. 

Nearly all churchgoers (96%) said it was important to understand the context within which the Bible was written, and believe that the meaning should be applied to today's context (93%).

But a majority (82%) also felt that the truth of God's Word could have different meanings for different people. 

McCrary suggested people need to spend more time considering the meaning and application of different Bible passages.

"If we simply jump to apply the text, we run the risk of missing the principle or truth that should direct our application of a Bible passage," he said.

"We tend to jump from what a passage says to what we do in response and forget to consider the principle or truth behind what is said.

"Doing Bible study correctly takes time and thought, but it gets us to the meaning—which does not change—so we can then look at how we encounter God today and what our response should be to those encounters."

Nearly a third (30%) said they accept some truths from the Bible but not others, while a quarter (24%) felt that some portions of Scripture are rendered obsolete as culture changes, with the proportion agreeing with this statement rising to over a third (36%) among 18- to 34-year-olds. 

"For a religion claiming a basis in God's Word, it's surprising to see this many practicing Christians giving their own word priority in their beliefs," said McConnell.

"In a world filled with constant changes, it's hard for some to accept the biblical claim of an unchanging source of truth."