BIBLE, ignorance of
The story has been told about several famous preachers, but it actually happened to
Joseph Parker, minister of the City Temple in London. An old lady waited on Parker in his
vestry after a service to thank him for the help she received from his sermons. "You
do throw such wonderful light on the Bible, doctor," she said. "Do you know that
until this morning, I had always thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were man and wife?"
Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, Moody, 1984, p. 213.
Commentary and Devotional
Suggestions: 1) The KJV is too difficult and mentally taxing for many people. While
this is not an exhortation to drop the KJV from use, Christian leaders need to either use
translations appropriate to the audience, or facilitate people's understanding of the KJV
if they choose to use it. 2) Biblical illiteracy is at least as large a problem to the
Christian community as functional illiteracy is to the nation as a whole. 3) Make the
Scriptures more relevant and applicable to the average person. When we teach from the
Bible, we need to concentrate on practical, applicable lessons for life. In other words,
we must provide people with useful principles, rather than rigid laws. 4) Get people
involved in small group Bible studies.
Christianity Today, April 23, 1990.
Statistics and Research
Pollster George Gallup Jr. has long referred to America as a "nation of
biblical illiterates." Only four in 10 Americans know that Jesus delivered
the Sermon on the Mount. A majority of citizens cannot name the four Gospels of
the New Testament. Only three in 10 teenagers know why Easter is celebrated.
Two-thirds of Americans believe there are few, if any, absolute principles to
direct human behavior. A new poll by the Barna Research Group suggests that
religious illiteracy has increased. For example, three out of four Americans
(and nearly half of "born-again" Christians) believe the Bible teaches
that "God helps those who help themselves." George Barna argues that
self-reliance is not only not scriptural, but that it contradicts revelation.
Only God determines a person's destiny, the pollster notes. To believe otherwise
"exposes our false theological cornerstone — that we are the center of
things, that it is up to us to determine our destiny, and that God is merely our
A similar number of born-again Christians deny the existence of the Holy Spirit and Satan. One in five denies Jesus' physical resurrection
and believes he was a sinner.
Earlier surveys of mainline Protestants revealed that barely half of
Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians believe in the devil, but 56 percent of
Lutherans and 49 percent of Methodists believe in UFOs. One-third of Methodists
and Presbyterians have faith in astrology. While nearly three-fourths of all
Americans believe in hell, hardly any believe it to be their likely destination
The new Barna poll is intended to help Christian pastors and groups focus
their ministries. The sheer number of "errant theological positions"
among believers underscores "the magnitude of the challenge facing churches
today," Barna notes.
University of Wisconsin historian Thomas Reeves indicts popular religious
belief and service. "Christianity in modern America is, in large part,
innocuous," he writes. "It tends to be easy, upbeat, convenient, and
compatible. It does not require self-sacrifice, discipline, humility, an
otherworldly outlook, a zeal for souls, a fear as well as love of God. There is
little guilt and no punishment, and the payoff in heaven is virtually
Former Secretary of Education William Bennett concludes that "We have
become the kind of society that civilized countries used to send missionaries
These are harsh judgments. Perhaps we have been so busy pursuing the American
Dream of the good life that we have neglected to nurture the faith on which the
Dream is founded. If so, our only fault is inattention. If at the millennium our
common faith has faltered, or has shriveled for lack of nourishment, or has been
supplanted by sentimentality, at least we have not succumbed to cynicism. Faith
has not been lost, only misplaced. As a people, we can retrieve it together.
David Yountd, Beggaring Belief, © 2000 Scripps Howard News Service.
September 04, 2000.
Which of the following aren't in the Bible?
Cleanliness is next to godliness
God helps those who help themselves
Confession is good for the soul
We are as prone to sin as sparks fly upward
Money is the root of all evil
Honesty is the best policy
None of the are!
"Why is it that the vast majority of Christian believers remain largely unexposed
to Christian learning--to historical-critical studies of the Bible, the content and
structure of the great doctines, to two thousand years of classic works on the Christian
life, to basic disciplines of theology, biblical languages and ethics? Why do bankers,
lawyers, farmers, physicians, homemakers, scientists, salespeople, managers of all sorts,
people who carry out all kinds of complicated tasks in their work and home, remain in a
literalist, elementary school level in their religious understanding? How is it that high
school age church members move easily and quickly into the complex world of computers,
foreign languages, DNA and calculus, and cannot even make a beginning in
historical-critical interpretation of a single text of Scripture? How is it possible one
can attend or even teach Sunday School for decades and at the end of that lack the
interpretive skills of someone who has taken three or four weeks in an introductory course
in the Bible at a university or seminary?"
Edward Farley, "Can Church Education Be Theological
Education", Theology Today, July 1985.
A recent Barna Research Group survey conducted among a random probability sample of 641
adults demonstrated that many Americans have a woeful knowledge of the Bible. Among
Christians in the survey, 22% thought there actually is a Book of Thomas in the Bible, and
13% said they did not know whether Thomas is a book of the Bible or not. 65% correctly
stated that Thomas is not a book of the Bible. 61% knew that Jonah is a book of the Bible,
while 27% said it is not, and 12% had no idea. Among non-Christians, only 29% knew that
the Book of Jonah could be found in the Bible, while 27% said it could not, and 34% were
not sure. Three quarters of the Christians surveyed knew that the Book of Isaiah is
located in the O.T., while 11% thought it is in the N.T., and 13% did not know where
Isaiah could be found. Half of the non-Christians knew that Isaiah is located in the
61% of all Americans named Bethlehem as the city where Jesus Christ was born. Among
non-Christians, 55% knew Christ was born in Bethlehem. Seven out of 10 Christians answered
this question correctly, while 16% named Jerusalem as Jesus' birthplace, 8% said it was
Nazareth, and 6% did not hazard a guess.
The question that gave the most people trouble
was "Is the expression 'God helps those who help themselves' in the Bible?" Only
38% of all Christians correctly stated that that phrase cannot be found anywhere in the
Scriptures. Forty-two percent thought that this was a Biblical quotation, and 20% had no
idea. Among non-Christians surveyed, 40% said that axiom was part of the Word, 26% knew it
was not, and 34% were not sure.
Why is there so much ignorance about the Bible? Most
likely, it comes from a lack of Bible readership. Half of all Americans do not read the
Bible. The majority of all born-again Christians read the Bible once or twice a week, or
not at all. The survey found that only 18% of all Christians said they read the Word every
day, while another 18% read the Bible between three and six days a week, 37% read it once
or twice a week, and 23% said they do not read the Bible at all. Among non- Christians,
70% do not read the Bible. Is this because many people do not own a Bible? No. Our
research has shown that 93% of all American own at least one Bible, and most own more than
A majority of Americans--8 out of 10--say that they are Christians, but only half that
number know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Most Americans think the Ten
Commandments are valid rules for living, but many have a rough time recalling exactly what
those rules are. Among teenagers, 3 in 10 do not know the significance of Easter for
Christians; among teenagers who attend church regularly, 2 in 10 do not know it.
Gallup, "Religion in America", Leadership, Fall 1987.
A new survey conducted by the Barna Research Group reveals widespread ignorance of
common Christian terms. Researchers asked a sample group of 1,210 adults to define Great
Commission, evangelical, John 3:16, and gospel. In each case, only a small minority gave
accurate answers. Even "born-again Christians" had trouble answering.
Only 9 percent of the respondents accurately defined Great Commission. About 75 percent
of born-again Christians could not offer a definition.
Eighteen percent of the respondents correctly defined evangelical, with 57 percent of
born-again Christians unable to give a definition.
Twenty-five percent of the respondents gave accurate or partially accurate descriptions
of John 3:16, and half of the born-again Christians could not offer a definition.
Thirty-seven percent of the respondents correctly defined gospel, and 16 percent of
born-again Christians could not offer a definition.
These terms "clearly do not convey the intended meaning to the masses,"
concluded George Barna, president of Barna Research Group. "The fact that so few of
the insiders understand the meaning of these terms also suggests that the Christian church
in this country would be wise to invest in training people about the basic principles and
concepts of the Christian faith."
Moody, April, 1994, p. 60.
Only three out of five Christians could recall the names of the first four books of the
New Testament, and only half of the Christians interviewed correctly identified Jesus as
the person who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. A full 42 percent of the Christians
interviewed said that without the government's laws, there would be no real guidelines for
people to follow in daily life.
From a recent Gallup poll.
A candidate for church membership was asked, "What part of the Bible do you like
best?" He said: "I like the New Testament best. Then he was asked, "What
Book in the New Testament is your favorite?" He answered, the Book of the Parables,
Sir." They then asked him to relate one of the parables to the membership committee.
And a bit uncertain, he began...
"Once upon a time a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among
thieves; and the thorns grew up and choked the man. And he went on and met the Queen of
Sheba, and she gave that man, Sir, a thousand talents of silver, and a hundred changes of
raiment. And he got in his chariot and drove furiously, and as he was driving along under a
big tree, his hair got caught in a limb and left him hanging here! And he hung there many
days and many nights. The ravens brought him food to eat and water to drink. And one night
while he was hanging there asleep, his wife Delilah came along and cut off his hair, and
he fell on stoney ground. And it begin to rain, and rained forty days and forty nights.
And he hid himself in a cave. Later he went on and met a man who said, "Come in and
take supper with me." But he said, "I can't come in, for I have married a
wife." And the man went out into the highways and hedges and compelled him to come
in! He then came to Jerusalem, and saw Queen Jezebel sitting high and lifted up in a
window of the wall. When she saw him she laughed, and he said, "Throw her down out of
there," and they threw her down. And he said "Throw her down again," and
they threw her down seventy-times-seven. And the fragments which they picked up filled
twelve baskets full! NOW, whose wife will she be in the day of the Judgment?" The
membership committee agreed that this was indeed a knowledgeable candidate!
The new minister was asked to teach a boys' class in the absence of the regular
teacher. He decided to see what they knew, so he asked who knocked down the walls of
Jericho. All the boys denied having done it, and the preacher was appalled by their
ignorance. At the next deacons' meeting he told about the experience. "Not one of
them knows who knocked down the walls of Jericho," he lamented. The group was silent
until finally one seasoned veteran of disputes spoke up. "Preacher, this appears to
be bothering you a lot. But I've known all those boys since they were born and they're
good boys. If they said they didn't know, I believe them. Let's just take some money out
of the repair and maintenance fund, fix the walls, and let it go at that."