Let’s Talk about Our Bible Literacy Problem

What Is Bible Literacy?

Bible literacy occurs when a person has access to a Bible in a language she understands and is steadily moving toward knowledge and understanding of the text. If it is true that the character and will of God are proclaimed in Scripture, then any serious attempt to become equipped for the work of discipleship must include a desire to build Bible literacy. Bible literacy stitches patchwork knowledge into a seamless garment of understanding.

If you are reading this, then you probably have access to a Bible in a language you understand. This is no small gift. What you need is steady movement toward knowledge and understanding. This steady movement does not occur by accident, nor does it always occur intuitively. We may have an earnest desire to build Bible literacy, but left untrained, we may develop habits of engaging the text that at best do nothing to increase literacy and at worst actually work against it. Before we can develop good habits, we must take an honest inventory of the unhelpful ones we may already practice.

Women of the Word

Jen Wilkin

This best-selling book offers practical guidance and helpful tips for women who want to go deeper in their study of the Bible and learn how to teach others to do the same.

Have you ever had an unhelpful habit that you wanted to break? In my early twenties I realized I had an unhelpful habit of completing other peoples’ sentences. I remember how surprised I was when someone lovingly pointed out to me that I shouldn’t do that. It wasn’t that I didn’t know I completed other people’s sentences—it was that I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I actually believed I was helping the conversation along by jumping in. But once I became aware that I was doing it, I realized how often it was happening and how disrespectful it was to others. I was embarrassed and ashamed, and I was filled with an immediate desire to stop. But by the time I realized the problem, I had formed a well-established pattern of communication that was difficult to break. Learning to stop my unhelpful habit required recognizing the extent of my problem and then working hard to change the pattern.

This is true of any unhelpful habit we might develop, especially if the habit has developed over the course of years. In order to break it, we must first recognize the extent of its influence and then take steps to change.

When it comes to studying the Bible, unhelpful habits abound. Within our Christian subculture we have adopted a catch-all phrase for our regular habit of interacting with Scripture: “spending time in the Word.” Church leaders urge us to do so. Authors and bloggers exhort us to value it. But what should take place during our “time in the Word” can remain a vague notion, the specific habits it represents varying widely from person to person.

The potential danger of this vagueness is that we may assume that our version of “spending time in the Word” is moving us toward Bible literacy simply because we have been obedient to practice it. Not all contact with Scripture builds Bible literacy. Learning what the Bible says and subsequently working to interpret and apply it requires quite a different practice than many of those we commonly associate with “spending time in the Word.” We cannot afford to assume that our good intentions are enough.

Are We Growing in Bible Literacy?

If Bible literacy is to be our goal, we need an honest evaluation of what we are currently doing to achieve it. Some of our existing habits may not be “bad” in the sense that they accomplish nothing to help us learn God’s Word—they may simply be limiting, in the sense that they can only take us so far in our understanding. Other habits probably need to be put aside completely. At first we may not be able to perceive that our current approaches are limiting or unhelpful, but on closer examination we begin to notice the gaps in understanding that they can leave.

Why Bible Literacy Matters

Do you believe in the importance of reclaiming Bible literacy? Let me suggest a reason why you should: Bible literacy matters because it protects us from falling into error. Both the false teacher and the secular humanist rely on biblical ignorance for their messages to take root, and the modern church has proven fertile ground for those messages. Because we do not know our Bibles, we crumble at the most basic challenges to our worldview. Disillusionment and apathy eat away at our ranks. Women, in particular, are leaving the church in unprecedented numbers.1

Bible literacy stitches patchwork knowledge into a seamless garment of understanding.

When women grow increasingly lax in their pursuit of Bible literacy, everyone in their circle of influence is affected. Rather than acting as salt and light, we become bland contributions to the environments we inhabit and shape, indistinguishable from those who have never been changed by the gospel. Home, church, community, and country desperately need the influence of women who know why they believe what they believe, grounded in the Word of God. They desperately need the influence of women who love deeply and actively the God proclaimed in the Bible.

Maybe you have felt your own interest in the Bible waning and have wondered why. You may have even questioned your love of God in light of your lack of desire to know his Word. I believe that a woman who loses interest in her Bible has not been equipped to love it as she should. The God of the Bible is too lovely to abandon for lesser pursuits.


  1. Vorjack, “Women Leaving the Church,” Patheos, August 5, 2011, http:// www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2011/08/women-leaving -the-church/.

This article is adapted from Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin.

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