The Bible: What Americans Think

the Bible

What do Americans actually think about the Bible? Do they believe it to be sacred, authoritative or merely nonsense? Do they try to follow its exhortations, or do they regard the Bible as antiquated literature? Does the Bible still matter?

Bible Remains a Cultural Force

A recent survey from the Barna Group, commissioned by the American Bible Society, provides some insight into these questions. From the results, it’s easy to see why the Bible remains a cultural force in the United States. Yet, its future role looks very different than its past.

In their news release, the Barna Group said nearly nine out of ten (88%) Americans actually own a Bible. Despite such a high number, that’s declined,slightly, since 1993, though only slightly, when 92% of Americans owned a Bible.

Barna said, in terms of demographic breakdowns, about eight out of ten (79%) Mosaics (people aged 18-28) own a Bible. This is compared with nearly all (95%) Elders (who are ages 65-plus). And while it might not be surprising that religiously devoted Christians own Bibles. The study finds that six out of ten Americans (59%) who have no faith or who identify as atheists own a Bible. Despite many aspects of society that are secularizing, penetration of Scripture remains high in 2013.

Eight out of ten (80%) Americans identify the Bible as sacred literature, without any prompting from interviewers. That proportion has also dipped from 2011, when 85% of respondents affirmed this perspective of the Bible. Americans’ overall belief in Scripture’s sacredness may also explain why almost two-thirds (61%) of American adults also say they wish they read their Bible more, Barna reported.

In contrast, the Barna poll revealed that fewer than one out of ten Americans (8%) said they thought the Koran is sacred. Only half that many (4%) identified the Torah as holy literature. Perhaps connected to the swelling ranks of the religiously unaffiliated; one out of eight adults (12%) do not regard any book to be sacred text. This percentage has nearly doubled in two years, when the proportion was 7%.

Scripture hasn’t impacted youth

Interestingly, the Barna poll determined that despite the perception that Scripture hasn’t impacted the nation’s young people; Mosaics (ages 18-28) actually tend to show more interest in what the Bible has to say. This is on certain issues than do older adults. Four out of ten Mosaics (40%) say they are interested in the Bible’s wisdom on dealing with illness and death; compared with about one-quarter of all adults (28%) who say the same. More than one-third of Mosaics (35%) are interested in the Bible’s perspective on dating and relationships. Four out of ten (42%) want to know what Scripture says about parenting; both of those percentages are much higher than the norms.

Everything is not rosy, however. Barna reported, that despite a clear cultural interest and awareness of the Bible, the research also shows that neutral or negative attitudes toward the Bible are becoming more commonplace. In 2011, more than half (53%) of adults said the Bible “contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life.” In 2013, that percentage dipped below half of the population (47%).

American adults who want to read a Bible (61%) represents a majority of Americans. But this is a step down from the 67% of adults who said the same in 2011. Furthermore, the percentage of adults who believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life has declined substantially from 75% to 66% in the last two years.

The number of American adults who don’t read a Bible as often–has gone down (from 45% to 39%). This group believes the Bible is inspired and infallible.

The number of American adults who don’t read the Bible as often–has gone down (from 45% to 39%). This group believes the Bible is inspired and infallible.

Donald L. Hughes

Donald L. Hughes is the editor of ChristianWritingToday.com. He is author of the book, Capturing Faith: How to Research & Write a Local Church History. It is available at Amazon.com.

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Donald L. Hughes

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Donald L. Hughes

Donald L. Hughes is the editor of ChristianWritingToday.com. He is author of the book, Capturing Faith: How to Research & Write a Local Church History. It is available at Amazon.com.ChristianWritingToday

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1 Response

  1. Joe J. says:

    This is a very interesting article. I’ll be using the statistics in my morning message next Sunday.

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