Biblical Salvation Depends on Literacy

To further complicate the matter, even if all people could have a copy of the original manuscripts written by so-called “holy prophets” and “apostles,” could people in the first ten centuries after the N.T. was written actually read it so that they could know for sure what to do to be saved from eternal hell?  In the 21st century United States, the vast majority of people can read.  We’re blessed with enough leisure time that all children receive a free public education.  Not only is it free, it’s mandatory.  So in our time and culture it is considered odd to meet a person above the age of eight who doesn’t have some basic reading skills.  But has this always been the case in all places?  Not even close!

Many Bible believing Christians take it for granted that every one has not only had free access to the Bible, but that they could even read the Bible.  How could they read the Bible if they don’t know how to read?  According to the World Literacy Foundation, one in five adults cannot read and write.[1]  And this is in the 21st century!  How much poorer must the literacy rate have been in the first few centuries after the New Testament was written?  It’s been suggested that in the best of times in the first century maybe one in ten people could read, and in Roman Palestine it could have even been as low as 3 percent.[2]  Michael Shermer notes, “Consider the fact that in medieval times 80 to 90 percent of the people were illiterate. Most could not even read the Bible, particularly since it was written in Latin, guaranteeing that it would remain the exclusive intellectual property of an elite few.”[3] Are we to believe salvation from hell is based upon our being able to read and understand the writings of a group of men, when only 10% of the people could even read the writings?  Sounds real reasonable, doesn’t?  Not hardly.  Yet that is exactly what we’re being asked to believe when it comes to the Bible.  If you can’t read, then you’re at the mercy of the reader helping you to hear it and understand it correctly.  Is salvation from Hell really dependent on such a thing?  If it seems unreasonable to you, it’s because it is unreasonable.


[2] Ehrman, Bart D. (2012-03-20). Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Locations 702-712).  Harper Collins, In.. Kindle Edition.

[3] Shermer, Michael.  How We Believe, The Search for God in an Age of Science, W.H. Freeman and Company, New York. 2000.  Pg. 43


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