The dilemma of biblical literacy is not a new phenomenon to the people of faith. Historically, it has been a recurring issue that has continued to plague the people of God. In fact, the prophet Hosea directly attributes the spiritual demise of Israel to their lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6 KJV). Interestingly, biblical literacy – the knowledge of God – was not due to a lack of reading, but a lack of hearing (Zech. 7:11). While it is inarguable that studious reading (2 Tim. 2:15) is a critical component of biblical literacy, reading alone does not ensure that the reader will become any more literate. Scripturally, it is “hearing” that comes to the forefront as the most crucial component of biblical literacy. Indeed, the Scriptures repeatedly admonish the people of God to “hear the Word of the Lord” (Jer. 7:2).

The phrase “hear the Word of the Lord” occurs 26 times in the KJV and 35 times in the ESV. “Hear O Israel” occurs nine times in both the KJV and ESV. The point is, we should not think “that biblical literacy is exclusively about people reading the Bible.”[1] Instead, along with reading, literacy includes “the mediation of the |sacred text|.”[2] In other words, the spoken word plays a critical role in educating the Apostolic community. Indeed, when one considers the history of the Apostolic tradition, the biblical education of the church has centered on orality. While Bible reading has always been encouraged, for Apostolics, the spoken word has been the primary mode of advancing biblical literacy.

Apostolic Literacy

If biblical literacy includes the spoken word, then what does it really mean to be biblically literate? Is biblical literacy merely the accumulation of biblical information, or the ability to recall biblical facts? Undoubtedly, accumulation and recollection of Scriptural data aid in the development of biblical literacy, but does knowing facts about the Bible mean that one is biblically literate? I would argue that for Apostolics literacy takes on a deeper and more meaningful definition. Firstly, literacy is a matter of how we view the Bible. We understand the Bible to be a transformative device that is meant to be experienced. When Apostolics interact with the Word, whether it is by hearing or reading, we expect it to produce deep personal meaning. Consequently, biblical literacy involves the ability to both experience and find meaning in the divine text.

The primary role of the Apostolic pulpit has been to call the hearer to come experience biblical events in a new, modern context.

Daniel Bracamonte

Finding experiential meaning in the Scriptures means that as a whole, Apostolics tend to move beyond the plain meaning of the text. This does not mean that Apostolics ignore the historical-grammatical context of Scripture; instead, when Apostolics engage the text, we believe that the Spirit is imparting spiritual knowledge. Simply put, when we read and hear the Word, we expect to re-experience the biblical narrative anew. Apostolics have always believed that the “same word that was spoken in its original location can speak |prophetically| in a new location.”[3] Actually, the primary role of the Apostolic pulpit has been to call the hearer to come experience biblical events in a new, modern context.

For Apostolics, the classic approach to Scripture has been to view it as a life-generating force that is meant to be proclaimed and heard (Rom. 10:14). In this way it can be asserted that the Apostolic approach to both reading and hearing is pneumalogical.”[4] Engagement with the Scriptures means hearing the voice of God through the power of the Spirit. Consequently, the spoken word provides a means for the community to experience the prophetic power of the Bible. Biblical literacy not only involves the ability to acquire and recall textual data; more importantly, it involves the ability to actualize the data that has been accumulated. This could not be more clear than when James admonishes the community of faith to be doers of the Word (James 1:22-25). It can be argued that the single best metric for measuring biblical literacy is not the accumulation of facts, but a transformed lifestyle.

The Role of the Pulpit

The central praxis of the mediated Word in the Apostolic tradition has always been the pulpit. The “sacred desk” stands as the place where the church comes to hear the spoken word with the conviction that it is the Spirit mediating transformative truth through the man of God. When Apostolics hear the preaching of God’s Word, they believe that the Spirit is imparting spiritual knowledge. Much like the ancient community, the church has always relied on the mediated Word as means of acquiring biblical knowledge. Jesus was more concerned with hearing than he was with reading (Matt. 11:15). The point is, “To be oral in orientation is not to be illiterate but refers instead to how knowledge and truth…are acquired and processed.”[5]

It is a dangerous proposition to assume that community can educate itself without the aid of the mediated Word.

Daniel Bracamonte

If the spoken word, as I propose, is the primary method of biblical education for the community, then to a certain degree the current crisis in biblical literacy can be attributed to the pulpit. Much of the decline in literacy may be due to the decline in biblical preaching. Biblically, the interpretation and proclamation of Scripture is the primary responsibility of the pulpit. If the pulpit is illiterate how can we expect the church community to be literate? Furthermore, it was the pulpit that incited a passion in the church for knowing the God they were experiencing. Literacy is stimulated by the intellect, passion and power of the pulpit. Literacy has been and should continue to be a reaction to the spoken word. Reading, memorizing, and studying are in one sense a product of a passionate and educated pulpit. It is a dangerous proposition to assume that community can educate itself without the aid of the mediated Word. A biblical approach to literacy demands that the spoken word precede the written word, albeit, that the word spoken is the voicing of the written word.

Metrics and Method

Most of us are well aware of the annual surveys and statistics that remind us of the historic decline in biblical literacy. Although the surveys are beneficial, in that they serve as an alarm, they are limited in the data that they can produce. Partly, this is because most surveys “tend to utilize a logocentric metric when tracking literacy.”[6] Surveys usually involve the participant identifying common facts about the Bible. Depending on the number of facts that are recognized, the survey will score the participant as either being literate, somewhat literate or illiterate. What surveys fail to measure is familiarity with the larger narratives and the participant’s ability to produce meaning from the Scriptures. Additionally, surveys cannot measure to what extent the scriptures have transformed the participant.

In essence, surveys do only one thing; they tell us how much biblical data can be recalled. Surveys do not account for the other methods in which the Word is mediated. Biblical literacy involves not only reading, and recalling, but it includes hearing and experiencing the Word. Furthermore, surveys do not provide the answer to why people read the Bible less, and or why the church is less literate. It is also worth noting that in some sense, at least in the Evangelical movement, the academy has defined what it means to understand the Bible. Dr. Chris Marshall suggests, “that the Bible has been hijacked by the academic community which insists on an allegedly disinterested employment of critical methodology as the only legitimate method for understanding the text.”[7] What does this mean for the biblical community? It means that in one sense the university is more interested in academic readers than devotional readers. Instead of producing people who love reading the Word, it produces people who see reading the Bible as an academic undertaking.

Questions and the Pulpit

The questions that the surveys are trying to answer are, “how do we educate the spiritual community,” and in particular “how do we provoke the spiritual community to engage with the text?” The answer to these questions remains the same; the pulpit is the catalyst to biblical literacy. “It is not method, nor scholarship, nor cutting-edge |technology|…that will renew biblical study.”[8] There is direct correlation between the pulpit and the biblical literacy of the community. In regards to the pulpit, D.M. Lloyd-Jones argues that the role of the preacher is “to bring the Word directly to people…we are the channels and the vehicles through which the Word is to pass to the people.”[9] Undoubtedly, when it comes to literacy, the pulpit bears the weight of responsibility. It must be re-emphasized that an illiterate pulpit cannot expect to produce a biblically literate community.

The Power of the Pulpit

Many in the modern church are employing new methods and technology to counteract the decline in biblical illiteracy. And while method and technology are worthwhile avenues to make reading more accessible, and even sometimes more enjoyable, they are not a cure for illiteracy. The mediated Word serves as the primary method for educating the community. It is the pulpit that has been endowed with the power to help the church understand and find spiritual meaning in the sacred text. Indeed, the attraction of the Pentecostal pulpit has always been its ability to make Scripture come alive. The pulpit incites within the community a passion for reading the Word devoutly. Lastly, it was never God’s intent to leave the community alone to interpret the text. The preaching and teaching ministries were given the responsibility to teach and guide the community as it participated with the holy writ.

Daniel Bracamonte is the Founder and Editor of the Apostolic Review. He holds a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies at Regent University and is currently completing an MTS at Regent School of Divinity. He is also the Pastor at Word of Life Apostolic Church in Missoula, MT.


[1] Peter Phillips. “The Pixelated Text: Reading the Bible within the Digital Culture.” Theology 121, no. 6 (November 2018): 403–12.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Recontextualization

[4] Andrew Davies. “What does it Mean to Read the Bible as A Pentecostal?” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 18 (2009) 216-299.

[5] Vondey, Wolfgang. The Routledge Handbook of Pentecostal Theology. New York, NY: Routledge, 2020. 68.

[6] Peter Phillips. “The Pixelated Text: Reading the Bible within the Digital Culture.” Theology 121, no. 6 (November 2018): 403–12.

[7] Chris Marshall. “Re-engaging with the Bible in a Postmodern World.” Stimulus Vol 15 No 1( Feb 2007).

[8] Andrew Davies. “What does it Mean to Read the Bible as A Pentecostal?” Journal of Pentecostal Theology, 18 (2009), 216-299.

[9] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. 78.