In the previous blog (available here), I gave some dreadful examples that illustrate why biblical literacy is a fundamental need in the Church. An important idea emerged that to ignore the past is to repeat its mistakes. History has proven that charismatic personas heisting the Bible with promises of utopias on earth end in disappointment, even destruction. History has also demonstrated that it takes just one gullible follower to allow attractive heresies into the fold before that aberrant teaching takes over the fold. Highlighting the danger, Paul, in his very first pastoral charge to his protégé Timothy, wrote with fervency to “stop men from teaching strange doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3). The compound Paul used is heterodidaskaleō (“heterodox teaching”), in other words, different or false doctrine. [1] Contrary to Scripture, strange, even bizarre, teaching was beginning to captivate this local church in Ephesus. The apostle knew it was only a matter of time before the wolves devoured the sheep with it. Something had to be done. Something can be done. 




A church that is biblically literate is a church that safeguards God’s Word from being distorted. Christians who have a solid grasp of biblical theology will recognize something is off if a polished speaker should step into a pulpit or lead a small group with doctrine that seems contrary to that of “the faith” (cf. Jude 3). But what does it mean to be “biblically literate”? This second installment will answer that question by explaining the what of biblical literacy along with what is required of the Christian to be genuinely literate in Scripture. But first, a few “problems” must be addressed. 


The Problem of Definition


It is precisely at this first stage where a problem emerges. There is no agreed upon definition for ”biblical literacy.” While there exists some popular works that discuss biblical literacy in helpful ways, [2] there is no general consensus or recognized standard definition for the phrase. Rather, biblical literacy is something mostly assumed. The problem is exemplified by Cecil Murphey’s reference work actually called The Dictionary of Biblical Literacy which defines just about every term and concept in Scripture except “biblical literacy.” [3]


The Problem of Familiarity


Recent polls indicate that while over 80% of American Christians claim to believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, half can’t name even one of the four Gospels. [4] In light of this trend, Howard Hendricks offered six reasons why people don’t study their Bibles. [5] These can be summed up as: (1) irrelevance—they don’t think “it works”; (2) technique—they don’t know how; (3) insecurity—they think one must be a pastor or professionally trained; (4) busyness—they simply don’t have the time; (5) critical—they don’t believe the Bible is reliable; (6) uninterested—they view the Bible as boring. It is telling that none of these six reasons suggests a lack of accessibly to Scripture. Everyone in twenty-first century America can obtain a Bible in some format. 


The problem is not that we don’t have enough Bibles. The problem is we’ve become too familiar with its existence. Ninety-one million Bibles are printed globally each year, and America boasts an embarrassing number of translations. [6] Ironically, a case can be made that the lack of biblical literacy is a result from the overabundance of Bible products in America. Instead of promoting communion with the living God through His living Word, we’ve turned the Bible into an industry of merchandise. There is no longer fear or love for Scripture’s metanarrative of God’s glory displayed throughout its sixty-six books. It has become a charm to keep in the house for good luck and prosperity; it’s there “just in case.” We all know there’s a Bible. They’re everywhere. But that’s about it. The adage rings true: familiarity breeds contempt.


If 81 percent of American Christians believe that "God helps those who help themselves," is a Bible verse, and 12 percent believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, clearly something is wrong. [7] In a country that from its origin till now has been relentlessly influenced by Scripture and the Church, such biblical illiteracy is not the government’s problem—it’s our problem. It’s an evangelical problem. We’ve allowed celebrity pastors to run wild with building their own platforms. Churches now rival the most secular practices in marketing and branding. Tragically, the Bible has taken a back seat through all of it. 


It is certainly our problem, but it’s fixable. Churches need to get vintage. They need to ensure their top priority is old fashioned—to train their people in Bible. Such is the impetus for growing in love for Christ because biblical literacy results in more love for the God of the Bible. But to achieve biblical literacy depends on knowing what it means to be biblically literate and what the goal is to achieve a level of biblical literacy. 


Biblical Literacy is Awareness and Proficiency


Being “biblically literate” does not mean that every Christian reader of Scripture has gained expert mastery over all of its contents. The goal is more modest than that. Biblical literacy centers on two key ideas: awareness and proficiency. Awareness and proficiency are always attainable, technical expertise is not. Therefore, biblical literacy is achievable for every Christian. 


The biblically literate Christian is one who progressively develops in their awareness of the God of the universe by reading through the Scriptures, while gaining proficiency in their understanding of Scripture’s meaning. In other words, biblical literacy is achieved when the Christian is able to recognize Scripture’s various historical contexts and literary genres that God used to reveal Himself, and from there, discern the Scripture’s meaning expressed through those contexts. Increased awareness and proficiency is the goal of biblical literacy as well as guiderails for responsible application. 


The biblically aware Christian no longer views the Bible as a single book, but an entire library of distinct literary forms spread across thousands of years of world history. Particularly, awareness develops as recognition of literary genres increase. This means one who is biblically literate understands there is an obvious difference in form and expression between Scripture’s historical narratives, like Genesis or Acts, and poetic books, like Psalms or Song of Solomon. With an increased awareness of the Bible’s array of literary genres, no longer will the Gospels be read in the same manner as Paul’s letters or even Revelation. Their distinct forms of biography, epistle, and prophecy will be respected, as well as their historical contexts—such as Jesus’s prime audience being Israel and Paul’s the Church. Distinctions (often called “discontinuity”) between the OT and NT become cherished, not feared or fought, as does Scripture’s continuity shown brilliantly in God’s glory and grace tying up all of world history with Christ as the center piece. 


With proficiency comes knowledge of key themes, characters, stories, and order of events in the Bible. John’s emphasis on glory, Paul’s emphasis on faith, and Peter’s emphasis on hope become pivots in the New Testament as do themes of exodus, law, and covenant in the Old Testament. The biblically proficient Christian comes to view the Bible’s meticulous details as “scaffolding” that supports an overarching framework. [8] Basic background matters for individual books of Scripture—like their author, possible dates of composition, their purpose, and the writing’s original destination—helps reorient the twenty-first century reader from any cultural blind spots to the ancient times of the Bible. Repeating this process for every book of the Bible secures its scaffolding, and a narrative arc becomes apparent: God’s glory expressed from creation to fall to redemption and finally to consummation. As a result, the biblically proficient Christian understand that the Bible is far from disjointed or fragmented. What becomes clear is the Bible’s plumbline of God’s glory connecting Genesis to Revelation through Jesus Christ. 


The Correct Posture for Biblical Literacy


If increasing in awareness of the Bible’s literary genres and gaining proficiency in Scripture’s teaching is the skill of biblical literacy, is there an underlying posture or attitude that allows such literacy to be achieved? Yes, there is—and it’s crucial. Too often pride inflicts the astute Bible reader into thinking they know all there is to know about Scripture. Familiarity with beloved stories like Jonah and the great fish, David and Goliath, or Jesus and the raising of Lazarus can trick people into thinking they can’t learn anything new. But, as Daniel Doriani contends, “To profit from Scripture, one must take the right posture.” [9] In adopting the right posture to achieve biblical literacy, two extremes will be avoided. 


The first is approaching the Bible with such skepticism that virtually everything in its pages is judged, critiqued, or must be “proven” to the reader’s satisfaction. The other extreme is to approach the Bible with overconfidence, so convinced by their favorite preacher or theological system’s use of a passage, they choose to ignore any other understanding that may challenge their preconceived theology. Both instances trifle with the Bible and need to be avoided. Rather, a different attitude should envelope the committed Christian who sincerely desires to be biblically literate: A healthy dose of fear for the living God, who at times has appeared as a consuming fire, and by His great mercy, has breathed-out His living word for us to know Him.


The Requirements of Biblical Literacy


Biblical literacy is important, not only to safeguard Scripture from being hijacked by cultists and false teachers (as discussed in part 1), but also for the believer to grow closer to God. A Christian’s relationship with God is directly proportionate to their relationship with God’s Word. Examples abound in Scripture that to love God is to “keep” His Word, and that to “hear” His Word means to obey it. For the Christian to become biblically literate, therefore, certain essentials must be in place first—and they are all existential. Here, I will discuss five character-focused requirements for biblical literacy. These include being regenerate, prayerful, humble, obedient, and diligent. 


First and foremost, true biblical literacy can only be achieved by someone who is a genuine believer in Jesus Christ. They are “Christian,” not in name only, but by their relationship to God through personal faith in Christ. In NT terms, this person is regenerated or “born again” (John 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:3, 23). This means the Holy Spirit indwells them, leads them, unites them to other believers, and helps them in their understanding of all spiritual matters—including Scripture itself (John 16:12–14; 1 Cor 2:12–16; cf. 1 John 2:27). All other requirements are based on this one essential precondition. Second, a prayerful attitude is necessary. As the psalmist prayed, “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works” (Psalm 119:27, emphasis added). The Christian should always “look up” to God for understanding before they “look down” to read His Word. Ultimately, it is God in Christ who opens minds to understand the Scriptures, making biblical literacy dependent on Him (cf. Luke 24:45). Third, along with prayer, the Christian is to demonstrate humility (James 1:19). They should genuinely desire to learn from the Bible and be willing to readjust any preconceived beliefs that may conflict with Scripture’s clear teaching. Fourth, the Christian should obey Scripture’s teaching where applicable. This is what James calls being a “doer” of the Word and echoes Jesus’s penetrating remarks about those calling Him Lord while not actually “doing” what He says (Luke 6:46; James 1:22). Intellectual apprehension of the Bible can be attained by anyone, but only the Christian can submit to its divine authority. Finallydiligence is the fifth necessary step in becoming biblically literate (2 Tim 2:15). The Christian is to make every effort before God to rightly handle His word and gain His approval. Such diligence assumes integrity and reverence. As Solomon declared thousands of years prior, a healthy fear of God is the very foundation of knowledge and wisdom (Prov 1:7; 9:10). 


Taken together, the necessary requirements of biblical literacy are being born-again, maintaining a prayerful attitude, expressing genuine humility, demonstrating joyful obedience, and zealously striving for diligence. These are all very personal. There is also another vital element to consider which widens the focus past self to include others. It is often a missing factor in discussions on biblical literacy, but it is crucial, nevertheless. 


The Crucial X-Factor for Biblical Literacy


Biblical literacy leads, not to fat heads or egos, but to transformed lives that mature in their understanding of God and joyfully submit to the authority of Christ. This was the apostle Paul’s main goal for the Colossian church (Col 1:28–29), and it should be the same for the evangelical church today. Moreover, Paul was clear that the goal or telos of Christian instruction codified in Scripture is agapē—“love” (1 Tim 1:5). This means the Christian will grow in their love for God, for mankind, and for overall learning as they become more literate in the Scriptures. So, there is reciprocity. The more biblically literate the Christian becomes, the more spiritually mature they become since “spiritual maturity requires a high degree of biblical literacy.” [10] Yet, there is an important link between the two that often goes unnoticed: spiritual maturity and biblical literacy are connected by fellowship. In other words, the premier locale for the Christian to develop both biblical literacy and spiritual maturity is in fellowship with other Christians. This is the crucial X-factor. 


Micah Watson has rightly argued that the home and local church are the most important training grounds for biblical literacy, even over Christian schools. Generational discipleship centered on Scripture must begin in the family or church, which then forms the next generation of Christians. [11] The New Testament knows nothing of lone ranger Christians. Never is one of Jesus’s disciples portrayed as alone or isolated from one another. [12] They always learned and ministered together as group under Jesus, or at least in in triads or pairs. Likewise, Paul traveled with companions on each of his mission trips, and as a new believer followed Barnabas’s lead. Aquila is never seen without Pricilla, and the two discipled Apollos. The list goes on. From this we can infer that Christians, especially newer believers, develop their awareness and proficiency of Scripture in community with other Christians who are more seasoned in the Faith (see Heb 10:24–25). 

It is in contexts of personal discipleship and regular gathering among the saints that Christians most aptly learn the Bible’s major connecting points and content. Assembling on the first day each week for worship and the faithful preaching of Scripture has been a premier avenue for learning the Bible ever since the birth of the Church (Acts 2:42; cf. 20:7; 20:27). As Paul stated, it is “through the Church that the manifold wisdom of God is made known” (Eph 3:10, emphasis added). For two millennia, discipleship and fellowship have proven to be essential resources for Christians to understand their own Christian faith. Believers encouraging other believers in the Scriptures, motivated by their shared reverence for the Lord and love for His saints. Learning together, they begin to “own” their faith in God as Christianity moves from being conceptual or merely doctrinal to becoming radically personal. No longer are the Scriptures the dusty old family Bible or the unreachable resource reserved for professional theologians. Like a pleasing aroma to the Lord, the level of biblical literacy rises in a church when members maintain consistent fellowship under the expositional preaching of the Word—and grow to love and defend the Scriptures with their very lives. 


The Need for Consistent Biblical Literacy   


The apostles were aware of how easy wolves dressed as sheep can arise in a local church. It happens through the infatuation of undiscerning Christians (cf. Acts 20:29; 2 Peter 2:1). An invitation becomes open for doctrine deviant to Scripture when churches don’t really allow Scripture to permeate all that they do—from the pulpit to the parking lot. Instead, they settle for an entertaining speaker. The music gets louder, the stage gets bigger, and the Bible gets smaller. Soon, general discernment becomes a relic of the past. “As shocking as it may sound,” contends Richard Bargas, “some of those that are devoted to strong biblical doctrine on paper are not teaching and preaching the same from their pulpits and their Sunday schools. This spiritual anemia is yielding a weak church that is susceptible to many varieties of theological error.” [13] Bargas’s diagnoses highlights the need for a consistent biblical literacy, not merely for the average Christian, but for leaders in churches who claim to be Bible-centered and expository. Once again, we are reminded of the need for all Christians—overseers, deacons, and saints—to sharpen one another in the Scriptures. Indeed, biblical literacy for the local church is an essential goal. 


Awareness and proficiency. All Christians can—and are expected to—achieve biblical literacy. The next and final installment will focus on the ”how” of biblical literacy by discussing correct interpretative method or “hermeneutics.” 


[1] Cf. BDAG, 399; MGS, 833. 


[2] Some recent, helpful examples are Dave Jenkins, The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy & What to Do about It (Peterborough: House to House, 2021); and, Celina Durgin, “Are You Bible-Literate? How about Bible-Fluent? These Terms, Explained,” The Biblical Mind, February 18, 2021,


[3] Cecil B. Murphey, The Dictionary of Biblical Literacy: Essential Information on the Bible, Biblical Culture, and the Church: Its History, Ideas, and Major Personalities (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989). 


[4] For more penetrating statistics, see Ed Stetzer, “The Epidemic of Biblical Illiteracy in our Churches,” Christianity Today, March 13, 2017.


[5] Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks, Living By the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible (Chicago: Moody, 2007), 14–18. 


[6] See Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, eds. World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed November 12, 2021),


[7] See R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It's Our Problem,” Albert Mohler, January 20, 2016,


[8] I borrow this metaphor from George H. Guthrie, “The Study of Holy Scripture and the Work of Christian Higher Education,” in Christian Higher Education: Faith, Teaching, and Learning in the Evangelical Tradition, eds. David S. Dockery and Christopher W. Morgan (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 92–94. 

[9] Daniel Doriani, “Interpreting the Bible: An Introduction,” in Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning, eds. Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Thomas R. Schreiner (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 12.

[10] Christopher Cone, Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning (Ft. Worth, TX: Exegetica, 2015), 42. 


[11] Micah J. Watson, “Faith, Ethics, and Culture” in Christian Higher Education, 474.


[12] A clear exception is the apostle John who was banished to Patmos where he received his revelation of Jesus Christ. Him being isolated from his church or other Christians was not a personal choice, but due to persecution on “account of the word of God” (Rev 1:9). Though, nothing in the text precludes the possibility that John enjoyed fellowship with other Christians on the island. 

[13] Richard Bargas, “When Truth is Silent,” Voice (Nov/Dec 2021), 7.