Unskilled in the Word

“For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child” (Heb. 5:13).

- Hebrews 5:13

Two thousand years ago, the author of the epistle of the Hebrews found himself in an unenviable position. He had to admonish a group of readers who were in danger of abandoning Christ in favor of the old covenant even though they had been instructed by those who served Christ during His earthly ministry. And as if this were not hard enough, his task was complicated by the fact that his audience had to be taught the elementary truths of the Christian faith even though they should have been well versed in them (5:12).

In 5:13, the author tells us about the abilities of those who feed on the milk of the Christian faith. He writes that those who live on milk are unskilled in the word of righteousness because they are children. In this context, milk refers to the elementary truths of the Christian faith (6:2). The elementary truths start our growth into Christian maturity because they are the foundation for many other doctrines. Like milk, these things are easily digestible and provide a basic diet for new believers just as milk is the basic diet for newborns. But the basics of the faith should not have to be laid again and again. Just as children outgrow their primary dependence on milk, so too should maturing Christians move on to more solid food. In Hebrews 5:10–12, it is made clear that the solid food of the Christian faith includes the doctrine of the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ and its attendant details. The audience is unskilled in these details because they still require milk; they still need to learn the basics of the faith.

One important question remains. Since this epistle bemoans the fact that some of its original audience were still children in the faith, does it not cast doubt on Jesus’ teaching that we must become like children in order to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:14)? The answer is no. When Jesus speaks of us becoming like children in order to enter the kingdom, He is not speaking of a level of doctrinal knowledge but rather an attitude of childlike trust and wonder. This attitude is something that can be, and must be, maintained no matter how much we know about the Christian faith. Jesus desires for us to progress in our understanding of doctrine (2 Peter 3:18). But as we progress, we must never lose the trust and wonder that characterize a child’s submission to his or her parent.

Coram Deo

As we study and understand the Bible more rightly, the basic truths of the Gospel become more rich and full to us. This can only happen however, if we are firmly grounded in the essential truths of the Christian faith. Take some time to review the essential truths of the Christian faith, some of which are listed in Hebrews 6:1–2.

Passages for Further Study

Prov. 20:11
Isa. 49:1
1 Cor. 13:11
1 Peter 2:1–3

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.