A close-up photograph of a worn-out bible, with highlighted verses speaking about understanding, symbolizing the importance of comprehending and interpreting biblical teachings for spiritual growth.

What Is Understanding In The Bible?

The Bible has a lot to say about understanding. As people search for meaning and truth in life, many wonder – what does the Bible teach about understanding? This comprehensive guide will walk through the major aspects of understanding discussed in the Bible.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Bible presents understanding as an important virtue and gift from God that enables people to gain wisdom, knowledge, and insight through applying God’s truth properly.

In this article, we will explore the key themes around understanding in the Bible. We’ll look at the attributes of those with understanding, how to gain understanding, the links between understanding and wisdom, faulty understanding, and more.

With dozens of verses and passages cited, you’ll get a thorough overview of the biblical meaning of understanding.

The Attributes of One with Understanding

They Have Insight and Discernment

Those with understanding as described in the Bible have the ability to see deep truths and grasp concepts that others may miss. As Proverbs 2:6 states, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

This God-given discernment allows them to separate truth from falsehood and recognize what is most important.

In addition, their insight gives them foresight – an ability to anticipate consequences and outcomes that those without wisdom would not expect.

As the book of Daniel shows when Daniel interprets the king’s dream, true understanding comes from the Lord and surpasses human wisdom.

They Apply Knowledge Wisely

A hallmark of biblical understanding is the prudent application of knowledge. Rather than merely accumulating facts and concepts, the wise actively utilize what they know to make sound decisions and provide effective counsel.

For example, in Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro recognizes areas where applying additional administrative insight would benefit Moses and the Israelites.

This small yet wise organizational adjustment allowed better delegation and prevented Moses from wearing himself out.

Jethro’s advice illustrates how practical wisdom greatly increases efficiency.

They Often Become Teachers and Leaders

Those with understanding tend to emerge as teachers and leaders among God’s people. As keepers of knowledge and dispensers of wisdom, they guide others towards truth and discipline.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul stands out as a prominent teacher and church planter whose writings continue instructing believers today.

His mastery of Old Testament law combined with revelation of Christ’s gospel shows how a firm grasp of God’s full truth equips one to teach and lead effectively.

As Paul notes in 2 Timothy 2:7, “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

Reviewing examples of biblical wisdom such as Daniel, Paul and Timothy demonstrates how applying God-centered insight instills within a person discernment, sound judgement and an ability to guide others in righteousness.

While true understanding originates from the Lord, He grants it liberally to those who earnestly seek Him.

How to Gain Understanding

Ask God for Understanding

One of the most important ways to gain spiritual understanding is through prayer. We can ask God directly to give us wisdom and reveal truth to us (James 1:5).

Humility is key – recognizing that true understanding comes from God alone.

We should pray with an open and receptive heart, willing to let go of our own faulty assumptions. Persistent prayer demonstrates our reliance on God rather than our own intellect.

As we pray, we can trust that God will impart understanding according to His perfect timing and will.

Study God’s Word

Immersing ourselves in Scripture exposes us to God’s perspective and opens our minds to His truth (Psalm 119:130). Studying the Bible with an open and hungry spirit positions us to receive fresh revelation and insight.

God’s Word brings understanding that transcends human wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). We should approach the Bible with humility and expectancy, willing for it to challenge and transform us.

The more we know God’s Word, the more He is able to renew our thinking and correct our misunderstandings.

Also crucial is applying what we learn – only through obedience can we fully grasp God’s truth.

Listen to Wise Teachers

Godly mentors who have walked with God for many years can impart invaluable wisdom and perspective (Proverbs 13:20). Their experience and spiritual maturity enable them to guide others into deeper understanding of biblical truths.

We do well to humbly seek out and learn from older believers who have proved faithful and fruitful over time. Their teachings and counsel provide an indispensable source of understanding.

Of course, we must test their words against Scripture, since God’s Word is the ultimate authority.

But wisdom from reliable teachers is a precious gift not to be overlooked.

Reject Foolishness

Lastly, gaining true understanding requires renouncing foolish ways of thinking that are at odds with God’s truth (Proverbs 9:6).

We must turn away from speculative philosophy and secular wisdom that ignore or contradict the Bible.

Empty chatter and debates only breed quarrels and distract from living wisely (2 Timothy 2:23). God calls us to take our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

This means rejecting intellectual pride and actively resisting cultural messages that promote false ideas.

As we reject foolishness, we become more receptive to biblical wisdom and understanding.

Understanding and Wisdom

Definitions of Wisdom and Understanding

Wisdom and understanding are closely related concepts in the Bible. Understanding refers to comprehension or the ability to grasp the meaning of something.

It is the faculty of the mind that allows people to apprehend truths. Wisdom is the right application of knowledge and understanding.

It is the practical side of insight and knowledge. Wisdom is the prudent use of understanding to make wise choices and decisions.

The book of Proverbs states that “wisdom is the principal thing” and encourages people to “get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7).

Wisdom begins with reverence and respect for God, which leads to understanding and knowledge of His ways.

As people gain understanding of God’s truth through His Word, the Holy Spirit guides them into wisdom by applying that knowledge rightly.

Understanding Builds Wisdom

Gaining understanding is foundational to operating in wisdom. The book of Proverbs repeatedly links understanding and wisdom together, saying “apply your heart to understanding” and “happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding” (Proverbs 2:2, 3:13).

As these verses indicate, understanding precedes wisdom. Comprehension of spiritual truths must come first, then wisdom follows as those truths are applied.

In one sense, understanding can be thought of as the theory or intellectual framework, while wisdom is the practical living out of that knowledge.

For example, someone may understand the biblical principles about finances without living them out by being generous, avoiding debt, and wise spending.

Application of knowledge is essential for wisdom.

Acting Wisely Requires Understanding

The book of Proverbs makes it clear that folly and foolish choices stem from a lack of understanding. It says “fools despise wisdom” because they have no comprehension of what is right and true (Proverbs 1:7).

In contrast, those who have insight into God’s ways are able to make prudent decisions.

Wise choices require discerning between right and wrong, good and better. This kind of understanding comes from studying God’s Word.

The apostle Paul prayed that believers would have spiritual wisdom and understanding in order to live wisely.

He asked God to give them “the spirit of wisdom and revelation” that they may know God better and have “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (Ephesians 1:17-18).

With comprehension of God’s truth comes the ability to practically apply it to life in a manner that honors Him.

Faulty and Limited Understanding

Leaning on Our Own Understanding

Relying solely on our own limited human understanding often leads us astray. Proverbs 3:5 warns us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Our understanding is imperfect and flawed.

We may think we know best, but God’s wisdom far surpasses our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). When we try to make sense of life and navigate decisions without God’s guidance, we will falter.

For example, our human instincts tell us to respond to evil with more evil. But Jesus turned this thinking upside down, commanding us to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

Without God’s higher perspective, we cannot grasp how sacrificial love can defeat evil.

We must humble ourselves and submit to God’s righteous ways, rather than stubbornly insisting on our own. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Whose advice will we heed – our own or God’s?

Those Without Understanding are Foolish

The book of Proverbs repeatedly warns about those who lack spiritual understanding. “Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).

They are complacent and headstrong rather than humble and teachable. A simpleton believes anything, but “the prudent gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15).

Fools “give full vent to their rage” (Proverbs 29:11), but “he who is slow to anger has great understanding” (Proverbs 14:29). Spiritual understanding leads to self-control, discernment, and right relationships.

Tragically, those who lack understanding are complacent about their need for God. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). They have an inflated view of their own wisdom and do not seek after God’s higher wisdom.

Jesus lamented Jerusalem for this very reason: “How often I have longed to gather your children together…but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).

We must humbly acknowledge our lack of understanding and seek the Lord rather than persisting in foolishness.

Human Understanding is Limited

No matter how intelligent and educated we are, our human understanding will always be limited and imperfect. But God’s understanding surpasses ours infinitely! Isaiah 40:28 tells us, “His understanding no one can fathom.”

God needs no counselor or teacher because He possesses all wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33-34).

The psalmist proclaimed, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6).

Human understanding is constrained by our finite perspective. We cannot see the future or know all the factors influencing a situation. But God declares, “I make known the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10).

Though we cannot grasp it, His understanding perfectly accounts for everything – past, present, and future. Our understanding will always fall short of His.

We must walk in humility rather than pride, acknowledging the limits of our understanding and seeking the Lord for His perfect wisdom.

Gaining Greater Understanding

Renew Your Mind

Renewing our minds is key to gaining greater understanding according to the Bible. As Romans 12:2 states, we should “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

This means examining our thought patterns, beliefs, and assumptions in light of Biblical principles.

As our thinking aligns more with God’s truth, we gain wisdom and discernment. Here are some practical tips:

  • Read the Bible daily – immersing ourselves in God’s Word renews our minds.
  • Memorize Scripture – hiding God’s Word in our hearts guards against wrong thinking.
  • Question messages from media/culture – compare them to Biblical truths instead of absorbing them unconsciously.
  • Pray for understanding in all matters – God promises wisdom to those who ask in faith (James 1:5).

As Dallas Willard wrote, “The renewal of the mind is a lifelong process by which we become integrated persons, personalities in which all the capabilities of body and soul are blended under the gentle governance of Christ’s spirit.”

This brings greater understanding of God’s truth and will.

Detach from Worldly Thinking

Many ideas in our secular culture can distort Biblical understanding if we absorb them uncritically. 1 John 2:15 warns, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.”

So examining and detaching from worldly thinking patterns enables us to gain God’s perspective.

For example, society often glorifies individualism, consumerism, permissive morality and relativistic truth claims. However, Scripture calls us to community, simplicity, virtue and standing for absolute truth.

As we detach from ungodly cultural paradigms, our minds become more receptive to Biblical wisdom.

Additionally, practices like solitude, fasting and sacrifice can discipline our minds to focus less on earthly things. As Paul wrote, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2).

Detaching from worldly distractions and desires frees us to concentrate on understanding God’s higher ways.

Draw Near to God

As James 4:8 declares, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Actively pursuing an intimate relationship with God is key to gaining spiritual understanding.

Practices like prayer, worship, serving others and fellowship with believers keep us connected to God’s heart and mind.

Scripture reminds us that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Additionally, obeying Jesus’ commands positions us to continue learning from Him (John 14:21). As Dallas Willard explained, “Discipleship to Jesus is always based on an inward, living companionship with him.”

Remaining in close communion with God allows Him to enlighten our understanding about His truth on an ongoing basis through the Spirit’s guidance (John 16:13, 1 Corinthians 2:12).


As we have explored, the Bible speaks extensively about understanding and its critical role in the spiritual life. While human understanding is finite, God offers endless understanding to those who earnestly seek him and his truth.

By wholeheartedly pursuing understanding from the Lord, we can gain the wisdom and discernment needed to walk in his ways.

Understanding is a gift from God to be stewarded well. We must rely fully on divine understanding rather than our own. As the Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). God blesses those who look to him for true understanding.

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