A list of these “tricky” words lived on my kitchen counter for six of the last seven months, read daily by my two kindergarteners who could not have been more excited to learn to read. Literacy was at the top of the learning list for their first year of “big school.” They went from learning letter sounds to stringing them together in “nonsense” words to reading sentences in the course of a school year.
They aren’t reading Shakespeare or diagramming sentences, but they are pretty competent at Dr. Seuss, so we’ll get there. Literacy is a day-by-day incremental journey.
THE WORD BREATHED OUT
Bible literacy is the ability to read and understand the Bible faithfully with an eye to its literary qualities: the overarching story and key characters, events, themes, and literary elements. God gifted His people His Word, breathed out by Him (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This language points back to God’s breathing out or speaking forth of all things in creation. God’s breath fills the lungs of Adam, giving Him life. The Hebrew ruach is the word used for breath but also for life and Spirit.
It is by God’s breath that life comes forth, and it is through His breathed-out Word that the gospel is displayed and new life is breathed into the reader or hearer through the work of the Spirit. There truly is life in His Word!
THE WORD MADE FLESH
John 1 introduces us to the Word, who is God and was with God in the beginning (1:1-2). Jesus is the Word made flesh, the revelation of the Father, a visible expression of the One who is invisible. Similarly, the Bible reveals God, His attributes and character, and the story He is writing throughout history. We don’t have the opportunity to see Jesus in the flesh as some did, but we do have the great benefit of being on this side of the cross and resurrection and the writing of all sixty-six biblical books. We read God’s Word in light of what we know is true about Jesus as the Messiah and the coming return of Christ for those who love Him.
PURSUING BIBLICAL LITERACY
If God’s Word has been breathed out by Him, then we should be completely committed to reading and understanding it rightly. The goal of biblical literacy isn’t excellence in trivia, it’s transformation. Right reading leads to right interpretation and right application, which leads to the transformation of our hearts and our lives. God’s Word is the only living book (Heb. 4:12) and in it are the words of life (John 6:63). We are people of the Book, attendants to a faith based on an ancient piece of literature that is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. Pursuing a greater understanding of God’s Word is the most beneficial endeavor of our lives—breathing life in a world of addiction to the breath of death. Often, we’re happy to waste our lives with excessive use of social media reels and binging Netflix®, systematically suffocating the moments we have that might be used to engage God and His Word. Yet time spent in God’s Word is never wasted.
WHERE DO WE START?
I’ve never walked through a season where I wanted to know God less. Seasons where I didn’t seek Him or spend time in His Word, certainly, but I still would have said I wanted a deep, flourishing relationship with Him. So, how can we pursue more biblical literacy today?
This is a lifelong journey of learning, like building blocks that build upon each other, similar to learning to read as a child. There’s much to be said here, but here’s where I’d start:
- Choose a Bible translation that you understand and will read.
If a pretty cover will inspire you to spend more time in His Word, get the pretty one. If the notes or devotionals in a particular Bible will leave you wanting to return to it again, choose that one. Multiple great translations are accurate and readable, so choose one and stick to it! Read other translations too but choose a primary reading Bible for your daily time in the Word.
- Choose a plan or strategy and read, reread, and reread again aloud.
You may want to read the Bible in a year to get a broad view of the story, or you may want to spend extended time studying a particular book. Follow a plan and read, reread, and re-read again aloud. The best thing we can do for our understanding of God’s Word is to spend as much time as possible in the text.
- Read curiously.
As you read, ask as many questions as you can. When I was in college, my college minister would assign us three to five verses each week and ask us to bring fifty questions about the passage to our next meeting. At first, this seemed impossible, but as each person in our group brought their questions, I realized that none of us had the same fifty. Ask questions and seek the answers. Think back to your fifth grade reading class and ask the same questions of the text.
If it is narrative, ask:
- Who are the main characters?
- What is the conflict?
- What is the rising action? The climax? The resolution?
If it is a letter, ask:
- What is the central argument?
- What does the author argue as support for this central idea?
- What are the conclusions?
Remember, God is the main character throughout Scripture, so read with an eye looking for what each passage is teaching you about Him.
- After you’ve read, reread, and reread again aloud, utilize resources.
Seek out study helps that might shed light on the tough passages. Consider commentaries, illustrated Bible dictionaries, concordances, and digital resources like The Bible Project videos.
Read broadly, seeking to understand the overarching narrative of Scripture and to identify the key themes and theological concepts. Don’t just read the New Testament. Do the work to read and understand it all.
Much more can be said on Bible literacy, so if you are just diving into this conversation, I’d highly recommend you begin with Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word. Happy studying!
Mary Wiley is the author of Everyday Theology, an eight-week Bible study exploring essential doctrines and why they matter in our everyday lives. She holds a BA in Christian studies and English from the University of Mobile and an MA in theological studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband, John, have two children and live in the Nashville area. She works in publishing and you can follow her on Instagram.