The Bible Says What?!: Many Americans scramble their Scripture

The Bible encourages the “repression of women,” and it’s silent on such fraught topics as war or slavery.

As least, that’s what about one in five U.S. adults believe. But they’re wrong.


The American Bible Society’s annual “State of the Bible” survey reveals “the people of the book are not people of this book,” said Geof Morin, chief communication officer for the society.

“We know 88 percent of people say they have a Bible. They think: ‘I have a Bible. I have had one for a long time. I must know what’s in it.’ But people overestimate their knowledge,” Morin said.

The ABS survey of 1,012 U.S. adults, conducted by Barna Research, found that 82 percent of U.S. adults consider themselves at least somewhat knowledgeable about the Bible.

However, he said, “43 percent can’t even name the first five books of the Bible.”

When it came to assessing what the Bible says on several critical social issues, many showed fuzzy knowledge of the attitudes and behaviors addressed in Scripture.

Most Christians correctly say the Bible discourages prostitution, gambling and pornography; that it encourages generosity, forgiveness and patience; and that it is most certainly not silent on issues such as slavery, war and homosexuality.

However, there were distinct divides between “practicing Christians” — those who consider their faith important, attend church regularly and believe they are born again — and “notional” Christians who wear the label but disengage from practice.

The “notionals” roughly aligned with people who said they had no religious identity on several questions, including what the Bible says about war or on women.

Morin acknowledged that “repression is strong language. But we wanted to address that within every religious denomination there’s some sense of male headship. That can be framed positively, as a view that all are called to serve one another. Or it can be seen negatively, as (setting up) first- or second-class citizenship.”

While 91 percent of evangelicals say the Bible discourages “repression of women,” that figure drops to 61 percent for other practicing Christians, such as mainline Protestants.

“Notional” Christians — nearly half of all participants in the survey — have a grimmer picture of the Bible’s view on women. Nearly three in 10 (27 percent) say the Bible either encourages repression or is silent on women’s status (28 percent).

Among those who claim no religious identity (nones), 46 percent see the Bible advocating repression of women and 22 percent say it’s silent on the matter.

Questions about same-sex relationships and about war show similar divisiveness. Strong majorities in every category say the Bible discourages homosexuality. But 24 percent of “notional” Christians, and 33 percent of nones, say the Bible is silent on this topic.

About two in 10 (18 percent overall) also said the Bible is silent about war. However, this time the responses divided very differently: Only 11 percent of non-evangelical practicing Christians saw nothing in the Bible on this subject.

The American Bible Society’s survey differs from a 2010 national survey by the Pew Research Center on overall religious knowledge. That survey focused on core teachings, history and leading figures in five major world religions. It found the most knowledgeable were atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons, who outperformed Protestants and Catholics on most questions.

The ABS survey, meanwhile, was specifically focused on the Bible. Its purpose, said Morin, is to give the Bible society ideas for areas where it can work to strengthen biblical literacy and help make Scripture the foundation in believers’ lives.

“The American Bible Society wants to track what is happening in the culture and why people are less and less connecting the moral and political issues of the day with their Bibles,” he said.

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Alan Mitchell
4 years 8 months ago
This excellent article shows why more people need to attend The Reverend Joseph A. Fitzmyer, SJ Institute on Sacred Scripture at Georgetown University rom June 10-12: Registration information here:
William Atkinson
4 years 8 months ago
This article points to exactly why some so called biblical experts miss the point on what the bible's place in the church is, even when at daily weekly annual liturgies pull and fragment the message of scripture. Jews should know the five books of the Old Testament, Christians should know the five or six gospels of the New Testament, especially the Jesus sayings even these are no longer emphasized to the utilization of fragmented scripture. When Christians answer the questions of Who Is God?, What does Jesus require of Man to join Him in the Kingdom? They deviate to their own mind, heart, and spirit instead of the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was right on the point that many can not stomach His ways, and the crowds went away because they could not in their lives, live out the demands of Jesus. Especially in countries of the West, lead by the Roman (Italian) church, which through the ages has used the church to it political and financial empirical domination. The examples are everywhere, in the tolerance of evil (abortion, war, horrors of sex deprivation, slavery, maleness superiority over women, and especial demands of unnatural celibacy over marriage in ministry). The church will fix itself in time or destroy itself, but the Words of Jesus, will survive in history and the writings of the Word will be what humanity carries into history despite the fragmentation and misinterpretation of the message of Jesus. Christians have the New Testament, Jews have the Old Testament, Muslims have the Koran, Mormons have The Book, history will bring them all together under one in time.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 8 months ago
"Christians should know the five or six gospels of the New Testament." What? We only know about Jesus because the Church compiled the New Testament and decided what was canonical and what what not. The Church has also not at all discarded the Old Testament (the Marcion heresy) but has followed Jesus in its reinterpretation in light of the Son of God's mission. No Christian can fully know Jesus without the Old Testament.
Beth Cioffoletti
4 years 8 months ago
I find the readings of the Bible to be confusing and contradictory. I have read the Bible on my own, been to Bible study groups, and listened to interpretations from preachers at church. I took a course in the New Testament way back in college. I am still confused. Last week I was at the Vatican and there was a "free" exhibit: The Word of the World". It was a beautifully displayed depiction of the spread of Scripture (both the Old and New Testament) around the world. I loved seeing a replica of the Rosetta stone, fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the old books. But what was lacking, for me, was any sense of what the heart of this message of Scripture is. Only the mission of spreading the Word, whether it be through books or digital media. NO idea of what this message is or how it is to be LIVED. I find myself wondering who was sponsoring this "free" exhibit at the Vatican, and why it left me confused. The whole trip through the ruins of Rome and her history has me pondering just what, exactly, Christianity is all about. I am not looking for a simple, easy answer - just hoping to keep my head free from propaganda. This article, itself, seems to be yet another example of that propaganda. Skirting the real issue. Talking ABOUT scripture (the Bible) and various polls, but not a hint of what it is to be a LIVING WORD - a truth that can reach deep into our awareness and change us. Are these things just too mysterious to be talked about?
Charles McNamee
4 years 8 months ago
Memorize every passage in both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and what does it gain you if you fail to get the most important revelation, THE "good news". In the earliest of the four Gospels, written in 65-75 AD, the author puts on to Jesus' lips HIS "good news" as it has been received. " Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God and saying, 'The present moment is the right time, change the way you think, the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you; believe this good news!'"(Mk. 1:15-16) In Paul's letter to the Colossians, written even earlier, he writes, 'God, gave me this task to perform for your good. It is the task of fully proclaiming his message, which is the secret he hid through all past ages from all mankind but has now revealed to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is IN you.'" (Col. 1: 25-27) If this is all you preach, it is enough.


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