The Need for Truth
I began my senior year of college with life turning out exactly as I had always imagined: graduating, then marrying the man of my dreams. Halfway through that year, though, my world was turned upside down with my mom’s diagnosis of brain cancer. Suddenly, my perfect world wasn’t so perfect, and I turned to the only thing I knew to be sure and unchanging—God and His Word.
My mom eventually passed away, and that season of life was the hardest I’ve ever experienced. However, I still praise God for it. He used that season to grow in me a deep love of His Word and skill in studying it. I had never heard the term “biblical literacy” then, but God was showing me its importance.
Now, as an educator, it’s vital that I know what literacy truly is. At first I thought it was simply the ability to read and write. However, literacy is actually much more; it’s also comprehension. Biblical literacy is no different. It’s not just reading the Bible, but also rightly understanding it. It’s loving the Lord our God with our whole selves, including our minds, as Jesus commands in Mark 12:30.1 While this is a broad view of biblical literacy, some specifics are also foundational to what biblical literacy means.
A right view of Scripture
Before we can dive into context and application, we must firmly believe the Bible is the very word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). It’s infallible, our authority, and the main avenue He gives to know Him and His character. Since every word is God-breathed, we study its full counsel—not just the parts we like, that make us feel good, or are more easily understood.
It’s not about us
We often open our Bibles with selfish attitudes, focusing only on our benefit. We want quick answers for decisions, or to feel immediately better when life is hard. However, biblically literate women realize we aren’t the main characters of the Bible, but God is. Therefore, our primary purpose in our study is to grow in knowledge of God. Of course, the result is life-change and possibly answers, but those things are secondary. When we approach Scripture with a me-first attitude, we’re more likely to take it out of context or misapply it.
The Big Story
Growing up, I thought many Bible passages were moral stories with neat characters. Now, I know the Big Story. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture tells of creation, fall, rescue, and restoration. Every small story fits into this Big Story.
To be biblically literate, we must train our minds to understand how each piece of Scripture fits into this story. Scripture is much richer when David and Goliath isn’t a moral story about overcoming obstacles, but instead points to Christ who slays our biggest giant: sin. When we train our minds to see every page unfold another part of this beautiful story, even books like Leviticus become sweeter than honey to us (Psalm 119:103).
Rightly interpreting and applying Scripture
The Bible still means what God originally intended. We can’t change its meaning to make it easier or meet our desires. Therefore, things like original audience, historical setting, and context are very important! Thankfully, we don’t need a seminary degree to learn many of these things. Resources like study Bibles, Bible Gateway, and Blue Letter Bible are easily accessible to help us learn context.
This background information puts us on the right track to understanding correctly (remember, literacy is more than just reading!). As we rightly understand, then we can rightly apply. Of course, we apply Scripture differently now than the early church did, but the foundational meaning of the passages still remains the same.
We’ll never know it all
Even the brightest theologians will never fully understand the treasure that is God’s Word. It’s okay to be confused by a portion of Scripture. It’s okay to not have all of the answers. This leads us to approach Scripture humbly and handle it with care. The Bible is sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12) and our Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). It’s powerful. May we wield this powerful, awesome tool with care.
Be doers of the Word
It’s no good to understand God’s Word but then not obey it. This is foolish, and Jesus compares it to building our homes on sand (Matthew 7:26–27). However, to hear God’s Word and put it to practice is wise, like building our homes on rock (Matthew 7:24–25). James also exhorts us to be doers of the Word (James 1:22). True biblical literacy leads to heart transformation and Gospel-sharing. It leads to growth in our knowledge of God. To truly know God is to love Him, and to love Him is to obey Him.
Why does this matter?
Honestly, it’s hard to find words to express just how much biblical literacy matters. In Hosea 4, the Lord accused Israel of a lack of knowledge of Him and said this destroyed them (vs. 1, 6). Dear friends, may we heed this strong warning. To lack knowledge of God is to lead ourselves into much destruction. Ultimately, the worst destruction is to not know Christ as Lord and Savior.
For believers, though our destruction isn’t eternal, this lack of knowledge still brings many negative consequences. It can destroy our lives, as we won’t know how God calls us to live. This negative will spill over into our relationships. Biblical illiteracy is usually why we believe in pretty script-font sayings that actually aren’t biblical. It’s often the cause of disunity in the church and holding traditions above Scripture, like Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing in Matthew 15:1–20. To not know Scripture is to not know God—and that, my friends, is something that should matter deeply to us.
The Ultimate Priority
We aren’t alone as we grow in biblical literacy. The Spirit fully equips us as we study. Biblical literacy doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a daily commitment to be a faithful student of the fullness of God's Word.
This daily commitment became possible for me when the Lord gave me the mindset that He was the one necessary thing in my day. Seeing Christ as the ultimate priority drastically changed how I view my time. Now I read through whole books of the Bible, with a goal of reading 1–2 chapters of Scripture a day (even if my children get more screen time so I can fit it in). As I read, I write down what I learn about God. This method is simple, but it focuses me on the Main Character of Scripture and the context. The Lord has used this to make books like Numbers and Leviticus come alive to me! I also use this tool to guide my prayers.
I encourage you to consider today what practical steps you can take to dive deeper into God’s Word and make Christ your ultimate priority. Ladies, may we not be known as a generation destroyed for lacking knowledge of God. In the face of to-do lists and errands, may we persevere in our pursuit of biblical literacy.
1 This concept, and some others from this post, are inspired in part by Jen Wilkin’s advocacy for Bible literacy and her wonderful book, Women of the Word.
Meet the author:
Cassie Pattillo is a student pastor’s wife, mom to two energetic boys, and hopeful adoptive mom to their daughter growing in their hearts from India. She’s passionate about biblical literacy, and writing and teaching about Scripture. She’s also a big fan of slow mornings with a cup of coffee, a good book on the beach, and Gamecock football. She loves giving Gospel-centered encouragement through writing, which you can find on her blog, Diaries of a Daughter.