Why Biblical Literacy Matters

Biblical literacy refers to a deeper awareness of the content and the meaning of Scripture—how God’s story holds together from beginning to end. And understanding the meaning leads naturally to application because doctrinal competency can never stand alone. Doctrinal competency without Christlikeness is head knowledge without a heart connection. Without a heart connection, we fail to comprehend Scripture fully. Biblical literacy is a vital part of personal development as we take steps to partner with God in our calling. It’s also a key part of discipleship. It’s also necessary to avoid burnout as you pursue a calling in ministry.

Connecting Our Heart Knowledge with our Head Knowledge

“Religion today is not transforming people; rather it is being transformed by the people. It is not raising the moral level of society; it is descending to society’s own level, and congratulating itself that it has scored a victory because society is smilingly accepting its surrender.”

A. W. Tozer

While this is by no means a comprehensive guide to biblical literacy. Consider this more of a post with a few points to ponder that aren’t commonly discussed on a Sunday morning.

Have you ever heard the analogy, “They teach bankers to recognize counterfeits by showing them REAL bills?” Christians frequently offer the statement as a reason against exposing children to non-Christian texts. The reasoning asserts that if we are to raise children to know the truth, why expose them to untruths?

Here’s the reality: Even when we start with the Bible, we aren’t always starting with the same text. This is because there are so many different Bible translations, and the English language is complex. For example, consider the difference in Psalms 1:6 these three translations are read back to back:

Psalms comparison

The comprehension of various texts and possible responses could differ depending on the selected translation. For example, suppose someone prefers a translation that aims for a literal transcription rather than a paraphrase. In that case, the impact of death on the ungodly is much more significant than simply understanding that those who follow God are not wandering aimlessly. There are many translations to choose from, and even these have changed through the centuries.

Free Bible Translation Chart Available to Download from Zondervan Here

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 in a remote site in the West Bank, known as Qumran. They comprise more than 800 documents made of animal skin, papyrus, and even forged copper. These texts have deepened our understanding of the Bible and helped Scholars further understand the histories of Judaism and Christianity. 

The Smithsonian writes, “Among the texts are parts of every book of the Hebrew canon—what Christians call the Old Testament—except the book of Esther. The scrolls also contain a collection of previously unknown hymns, prayers, commentaries, mystical formulas and the earliest version of the Ten Commandments. Most were written between 200 B.C. and the period prior to the failed Jewish revolt to gain political and religious independence from Rome that lasted from A.D. 66 to 70—predating by 8 to 11 centuries the oldest previously known Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible.”

Since translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls have helped clarify English contextual translations of Scripture, scholars have considered the DSS when working on some Bible translations. Some versions include the CSB, ESV, and NiRV Bibles. Where you see DSS in the translation list this will indicate the Dead Sea Scrolls were considered. Note: The NIV has not included the DSS.

If the Bible Can Reference Outside Texts We Can Too

Part of Biblical literacy is developing a holistic understanding of the context of the content. This requires us to read a wide and diverse range from different centuries and multiple authors. Additionally, the Bible itself references outside texts identified as non-canonical books. Two examples are The Book of the Wars of the LORD in Numbers 21:14-15 NRSV and The “Book of Jasher,” or the “Scroll of the Upright One” which is mentioned as recording Joshua’s long day in Joshua 10:13 NET. If the Bible can reference outside texts why can’t we?

Counterfeit Money is a Poor Analogy for Bible Comparison

Tobin Duby writes:

But a treasury agent’s function of detecting counterfeits is not exactly analogous to the task of a Christian knowing the appearance and smell of truth. Here, I will argue that the ‘counterfeit money’ analogy is a poor one based on three reasons:

– Discerning real money from counterfeit is an act of recognition and knowing the truth requires not just recognition but also understanding.

– Even if we assume that secular writings contain no truth—that they are absolutely counterfeit—a Christian is not called to simply detect falsehood but to respond to it.

– Secular writing does, in fact, carry value in a way a counterfeit dollar bill does not.

A treasury agent engages in a fundamentally different process than a Christian does: Truth and the Bible are made up of ideas, while paper currency is made up of facts—shapes, colors, and patterns. Therefore, what a treasury agent is doing when he is looking for counterfeits is a fundamentally different activity than what a Christian is doing when he is learning about truth. 

Counterfeit Bills

Biblical Literacy Brings Freedom

As a ministry leader, you will find yourself faced with conflicting expectations from donors. When you have an accurate understanding of the Bible, you can comfortably converse with people who disagree with you as well as each other, just like Jesus did throughout the Gospels. It’s unnecessary to speak on every subject, even when you have an opinion.

However, there are times when you may find that silence is not an option. Again, as you look to Scripture as your first guide, you will find that there were times the leaders spoke up even though they believed they risked their lives. The important thing is to align your choices with the Bible accurately, winsomely, and with epistemic humility.

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