In this blog I would like to discuss illiteracy; in particular, biblical illiteracy. To begin let me first define terms. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, illiteracy, is “the state of not having knowledge about a particular subject.”
Biblical illiteracy is the state of not knowing what the Bible teaches. When I came to know Christ I did not know what the Bible taught about justification by faith and not by works. I didn’t know what it meant to be “born again,” or any of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. I was biblically illiterate.
This condition––sad though it is––is understandable in countries where the Bible is not permitted, or in cultures where the gospel has not yet penetrated. It is understandable if the Bible has not yet been translated into a particular language of a remote people group. But what about a culture where there is an average of four Bibles per household?
I’m not one who likes to quote statistics or polls, but I think that a few here will be helpful to grasp this crisis.
According to the Barna Group (the go-to research pollsters on this kind of stuff), 37% of Americans read the Bible once a week or more. That’s not quite four out of ten. It includes Christians. Of those four who do read, only 57% apply what they’ve read to their daily lives. Do the math. That’s just a little over two in ten people that make use of God’s Word in their lives.
In America, God’s revelation of Himself is mostly ignored, and is all but irrelevant, practically speaking.
Here are a couple of zingers. Another poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.
Heaven help us.
And then, according to one more poll, “82% of Americans believe that the phrase, ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ is in the Bible. Think that’s bad? 81% of those who consider themselves born-again Christians believe the same thing! That’s eight in ten Christians who really don’t know their Bibles.
I think we can all agree that biblical illiteracy in America is at an all-time high. That is to say, there are more people in America today who either do not read the Bible or consider what it teaches to be relevant to their daily lives. Sadly this is also true of those calling themselves Christians.
This is nothing new for the people of God.
There was a time in Israel’s history when its knowledge of God was woefully barren. It was a spiritually dark time during the divided kingdom of the kings. Worship of Yahweh had nearly ceased to exist. There was a spiritual vacuum in the land, one that was filled by idolatry, and by the worship of pagan deities. Sexual immorality and violence were rampant. Israel’s borders were opened to invasions by the Assyrians. This is what happens when the people of God reject His Word, and thereby reject Him.
How could it have happened?
The Israelites had had it all! They were God’s chosen people, a people whom Yahweh had brought into a special covenant relationship with Himself––a people to whom He gave the promises, and to whom He revealed His Word through the prophets. They were a people through whom, and to whom, Messiah would come. God had blessed them immeasurably.
And yet, because of their neglect of and disdain for this great privilege of knowing God through His revealed Word, the people of God created a self-imposed famine of knowledge. A drought of spiritual health.
And then came Josiah, an eight year old boy who became king of Judah, following the death of the wicked King Amon. The Bible says that Josiah
“did right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Chron 34:2).
When Josiah was twenty-six years old Hilkiah the high priest discovered the Book of the Law, hidden in some dark recess of the neglected temple.
Imagine that, prior to that discovery, neither the high priest nor any in the priesthood––Israel’s spiritual leaders––had a clue as to what God’s Word had to say. They didn’t have four Bibles per home, they had none! Talk about your biblical illiteracy. It was like an earlier time when
“every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).
When the Book of the Law was read to King Josiah (a young man no older than one of our “millennial” generation), he tore his robes and repented before God. Then he commanded that the Book of the Law be read to the entire nation. Following that, he tossed out the mediums, tore down the pagan altars, and reestablished proper temple worship (you can read about his reforms in 2 Chronicles 34 and 35).
Brothers and sisters, if you look around at our own culture and wonder why there is so much darkness in the land, why there is such violence in our schools and in our towns, why sexual promiscuity has increased to disgusting proportions, why the foundations of our Christian heritage are being challenged and removed from every area in the public arena, then learn the lesson from Israel’s history.
Let us not forsake His Word.
Our God is an awesome God. He is compassionate, He is slow to anger, He is full of grace and truth. With outstretched arms He beckons us to come and fellowship with Him. The thought of such a thing to me is mind-blowing. Imagine, God who is infinite, holy, righteous; God who is all powerful, who is all knowing, all wise; God who is without beginning or end, who is everywhere Present; God who is Sovereign over the universe, who is transcendent over His creation, and yet condescends to fellowship on an intimate level with His children, how can we neglect to read His Word that might know Him better?
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7. I wrote about this in my last blog (3 Ways to Teach Your Child the Bible), but I must speak to it again.
4 Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength. 6 These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, 7 and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up.
You and I have the power to reverse the downward spiral of biblical illiteracy and its consequences in our country by simply obeying God’s Word.
“If My people, who are called by My Name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My Face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron 7:14).
Dear ones, there is hope for us, and for our children. There is hope for this generation of millennials, if we will but guide them into the refreshing truth of God’s Word, backed by the authenticity of our lives.
Let us dust off our Bibles and commit to reading a chapter, or paragraph, or even a verse of Scripture every day. Not just read the Bible ourselves, but read it to our children––when we sit in our homes, when we walk along the road outside, when we rise in the morning and in the evening at bedtime.
And let us commit to memorizing verses, meditating upon them. For when we do we will agree with the psalmist who wrote,
“Your Word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Ps 119:11).
And we will have the light of truth to guide us through the obstacles in our paths.
For “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105).