The ABCs of Biblical Literacy

 In Prayer and Scripture, Resources

Twenty years ago, we had an “Aha!” moment. We discovered that Catholic young people don’t know how to navigate the Bible, they weren’t familiar with its important people and events, and they did not know how to discover it’s spiritual truths.

Because of this lack of basic biblical literacy, they were unable to truly know and love the Word of God. The Bible became a big, intimidating book that sat on the shelf.

So in 1999, compelled by our mission to touch the hearts and minds of young people with the Good News, we hatched a two-pronged plan. First, we created The Catholic Youth Bible®, then followed that with Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics and The Catholic Children’s Bible. Together, these Bibles answer the need to make the Bible approachable for every young person, no matter their age.

Secondly, to structure and guide our efforts to build biblical literacy in youth, we described three goals for all our biblical products.We call this scaffold the ABCs of biblical literacy:

Access: becoming knowledgeable and comfortable in using the Bible.

Big Picture: knowing and understanding the biblical story of salvation history.

Context: understanding how to interpret Bible books and passages in their proper context.


Many young people don’t know how to use their Bible. They may have heard Bible stories, and maybe they were given a Bible as a gift. But they might not know how to discover the depth and richness it contains.

The most critical step for achieving the access goalis simply having young people use the Bible.

So, the first tip is to have age-appropriate, complete Bibles in every classroom and to have the young people use them regularly! “Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful” (Dei Verbum, no. 22).

Access isn’t just having Bibles in your classroom, it is also which Bibles you have. Our testing confirms that a visually rich Bible, designed for a young person’s reading level, draws them in the best.

Big Picture

There’s a reason the Catecism essentially begins with an overview of salvation history (nos. 290–682). Much of Catholic theology is rooted in this overarching story of God’s saving work. Understanding how each biblical story fits into this bigger history is the mark of true biblical literacy.

You can help young people develop this knowledge by regularly exposing them to people and events in Scripture. 

So, our second tip is to have an intentional plan for reading about these key people and events, starting in elementary school and all the way through the middle and high school years. Young people’s understanding of salvation history will deepen as they discover these people and grow to love their stories.


While it is not always appropriate to introduce young people to the nuances of biblical interpretation, we can help them explore the principles.

The most basic of those principles comes from the Vatican II document Dei Verbum (The Word of God). It says, “the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, … should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words” (no. 12).

So, our third tip is to raise two simple questions to get at this process of interpretation:

  1. Who and what is this Bible story about?
  2. What is God teaching us through this story?

Asking these questions plants the seed that a human author wrote the Bible’s stories and that God is speaking to us through their words.

Experience the ease of building biblical literacy!

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