By Bible literacy I simply mean having a good working knowledge of what is in the Bible and feeling comfortable reading and studying the Bible. Bible literacy in our country is at a low according to recent surveys. How do you buck this trend in your own life? First, make a commitment to read the Bible. Here are a few tips for improving your Bible literacy by improving your reading.
Get an Overview of the Bible Story. The Bible is a library of books divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament. We need to become familiar with this library. The first step is to become familiar with the historical narrative of the Bible: the overall story of the Bible I would recommend beginning with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and Acts. They provide the story overview of the New Testament. Reading Genesis through Esther provides the story overview of the Old Testament. With this historical framework, you are better prepared to explore the whole library.
Look Up Words in a Dictionary. The Bible has unfamiliar words: apostles, disciples, redemption, justification, propitiation, and the list could go on. Look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary. I would start with a Bible dictionary, but a regular English dictionary is helpful too. Every good reader I know uses a dictionary frequently.
Ask a Reporter’s Questions. The Bible is understood in the same way we understand any other book. Yes, I value the Bible as inspired by God, but because God has chosen to communicate in written language, we use the normal tools for understanding something written. We ask the same questions a reporter asks. In “The Elephant’s Child,” Rudyard Kippling made the questions memorable:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
There names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
Asking and answering these questions is an important part of reading for understanding.
Context, Context, Context. Sentences mean something in context. Lifted out of their context, they may appear to mean something they do not. That’s why we need to read books of the Bible and not just proof texts here and there. Examine the context of the passage, the broader context in a given book, and the context of the Bible as a whole. We also attempt to learn what we can about the historical context. All these are important strategies for reading and understanding.
Construct a Timeline. The Bible covers a lengthy period of history. It can help your understanding to look at a timeline or construct a timeline with major events and people on it. The NIV Study Bible has a very nice timeline in it. The ESV Study Bible also provides a timeline via tables with dates and events.
Look Up Places on a Map. The Bible has unfamiliar places. Looking them up in a Bible atlas aids in understanding. Journeys and battles may make more sense once we see things on the map.