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    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 assistant ..."

    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 in eternity.

    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 certain."

    Former Secretary of Education William Bennett concludes that "We have become the kind of society that civilized countries used to send missionaries to."

    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!

    Source Unknown.

    "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 O.T. 

    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 one.

    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. 

    George 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!

    Source Unknown.

    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."

    Source Unknown.