There can be no question that there are various levels of biblical understanding. A child can understand it, or at least parts of it, and yet it is a book that more than repays decades—or even a lifetime—of study. It’s sort of like the movie Inception that came out a few years ago—as you go deeper into biblical understanding, it seems you are always compelled to go just one level deeper.
Now, let me be clear that I’m not talking about some kind of gnostic, secret, deeper understanding, but a clearer understanding that is based on a broader knowledge of the Bible’s historical and literary context.
For example, if you start with Jesus—which is a great place to start—you can easily grasp the outline and something of the meaning of his life. But soon you’ll realize it’s helpful to know something about the ancient Roman empire under Caesar and his regional governors. And even more, it helps to have an understanding of first century Judaism in all of its different varieties. Jesus lived and moved in a world full of Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, chief priests, scribes, teachers of the law, kings, and governors as well as many people who had no power or authority. And each person or group of people Jesus interacted with had their own perspective on what it meant to be a part of God’s people. The more you know about his context the better you’ll understand what Jesus said and did.
Very quickly, you’ll begin to understand that Judaism didn’t suddenly spring into existence in the first century. Judaism itself had a history that spanned centuries before the time of Christ. And in order to get what Jesus was doing, you have to know something of the history of his people.
There are levels upon levels. And each one adds to your understanding of who Jesus is and what his life, death, and resurrection means.