A new study by Barna Research for the American Bible Society finds skepticism is on the rise. Graphic courtesy of American Bible Society

Bible study: More people say the Good Book isn't a God book

(RNS) Bible films may be raking it in at the box office, but fewer people are reading the original and taking it seriously.

The American Bible Society’s latest State of the Bible survey documents steep skepticism that the Good Book is a God book.

"We are seeing an incredible change in just a few years time,” said Roy Peterson, president of the society.

A new study by Barna Research for the American Bible Society finds skepticism is on the rise. Graphic by American Bible Society

A new study by Barna Research for the American Bible Society finds skepticism is on the rise. Graphic courtesy of American Bible Society

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The study, conducted annually by Barna Research, finds:

  • The most “engaged” readers -- who read the Bible almost daily and see it as sacred -- are now matched by “skeptics” who say it’s just a book of stories and advice. Both groups measured 19 percent.
  • While the engaged stayed steady since 2011, skeptics grew by 10 percentage points -- since the same survey was conducted in 2011.
  • Skeptics cut into the number of folks Barna calls “Bible friendly,” those who read the Bible occasionally and see it as inspired by God. The "friendly" demographic fell to 37 percent, down from 45 percent in 2011.
  • The percentage of people who view the Bible as sacred has dropped to 79 percent, down from 86 percent in 2011.

The study is based on 2,036 interviews with U.S. adults in January and February.

Peterson told RNS on Wednesday (April 9) that the statistics are “sobering but not discouraging.”

The key, he said, is "adjusting our outreach" to reel in the next generation. Millennials, ages 18 to 29, lead the skeptics tally:

  • 64 percent say the Bible is sacred literature, compared with 79 percent of all adults.
  • 35 percent say the Bible offers “everything a person needs to know to lead a meaningful life,” compared with half of all adults.
  • 39 percent of millennials admit they never read the Bible, compared with 26 percent of adults as a whole.

“We have to find where they are hurting, what questions millennials are asking," he said.

The society has already started down that road by creating Bible-reading “journeys” to meet people’s needs, he said. On its website, people can key in a word such as “hope,”  "parenting," "job loss" or "loneliness" and be steered to a seven- or 10- or 40-day journey of Scripture selections designed to address that concern.

There are already more than 90 topics listed, he said, and “we are adding more strategic journeys every day. We’re being invited to youth conferences as a Scripture partner. So we take it as a very urgent mission."

The data confirms, Peterson said, that "we just can’t hand them a Bible and expect them to find the answers. We have to get out the word to give God’s word a chance. It’s urgent.”



  1. And it’s not even a “good” book – yes, I’ve read it, cover to cover – quite horrific, imo, and full of errors, contradictions, and atrocities. I think everyone should read it, like the Koran, to be familiar with it. But it certainly is not a “word of God” (if so, that god is a horrible creature).

  2. “he said, is ‘adjusting our outreach’ to reel in the next generation.”

    “We have to find where they are hurting…”

    When the religious use terms like “reel in…” to describe what they have to do to make someone believe, I think that is what someone has to do to sell mythology to the masses. If it were really true, you would not have to real people in.

    What makes you assume they are “hurting”? I’m a very happy, secure atheist and most of us are free of fear and ignorance. When you realize it’s all a myth, if makes life livable.

  3. Thank you Cathy for an informative and provocative article.
    Looks like many churches have their work cut out for them by taking the Bible and the message of Jesus Christ into the communities around them. How many church people in their neighborhood streets can summarize the historical process on how we got the Bible? How many church people in their neighborhood streets can summarize the historical accuracy of the Bible? How many church people in their neighborhood streets can explain how Jesus Christ can save a person from their sins? How many church people in their neighborhood streets can attempt to answer difficult questions about Bible difficulties? How many church people in their neighborhood streets are willing to speak out publicly in their neighborhoods about Jesus to friends, neighbors, and public groups of people? Some long-time church people have been studying their Bibles for years! How about explaining some of that to people on the streets. Looks like many church people have their work cut out for them!

  4. Exactly. And much of the “hurting” many young people feel is a direct result of a religious upbringing and the undue respect that their culture affords to the bible. Its opinion on sexuality, women, people of other faiths, nonbelievers, etc. We’ve had more than enough biblical “help” and holy “answers”.

  5. “Looks like many church people have their work cut out for them!”

    You say this as if this is a necessary or worthy task. — “to reel in the next generation” and convince them that the Bible is a holy book. A spiritual life with God and belief in the usefulness of the Bible are two different things. We don’t have to have the Bible to have God. As we know more through science, it becomes pretty obvious that the Bible is an interesting historical document, created by man, but not very relevant to modern life. Let it go and concentrate on God instead.

  6. So, you can find God on your own? And you will know it when you do?

  7. “So, you can find God on your own? And you will know it when you do?”

    That’s a pretty meaningless question. He doesn’t need to be found. He is just there. And you can choose to have a relationship with him or not. What is pretty obvious, is that you can’t trust the Bible to be the guide for that relationship. We know that it’s simply wrong in places and contradictory in others. So why would we still think that it’s the definitive guide to life? There are numerous holy books. They are all creations of man, so why would we choose this one over the others? God is the God of everyone. He probably laughs at all the energy put into the question of whose holy book is the best.

  8. With that kind of answer we can all make up any God we want with any kind of personality, demands, ethics, etc,. Come on, you know this and get the point of my question. You are obviously operating from some assumptions about the kind of God you are in a relationship with, so what is your basis for understanding and relating to that God? Are we all to just make up what works for us and call it valid and good?

  9. Of course I get the point of your question. You are talking to one of “those millennials” and I just don’t buy the rigid and obsolete arguments that the Bible has. Obviously many of my contemporaries don’t buy it either.

    “Are we all to just make up what works for us and call it valid and good?” Yes. Get used to it and face reality. My relation to God is mine to define and it doesn’t have to be the same as yours.

  10. “With that kind of answer we can all make up any God we want with any kind of personality, demands, ethics, etc,.”

    “Are we all to just make up what works for us and call it valid and good?”

    That is what people do anyway.

    They chose the religious belief which suits their temperment. God provides justification or excuses for behavior one already wants to do.

    If one has a tremendous ego and likes to act superior to others with vague pronouncements of their piety, fundamentalism appeals to them. If one wants to consider a world that is fair, humane and beneficent, the more progressive faiths hold sway.

    Your response gives the impression that your religious belief is framed by the idea of wanting to be considered special for following a certain set of rules and customs. That you have little patience for people who do not follow such things as you do. It is entirely informed by what works for you.

  11. I’m really surprised that nobody in Hollywood hasn’t tried to make the Bible into a high budget western film with six guns and stagecoaches. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was far off.
    I could just imagine some preacher walking into town with a Bible in one hand and a revolver in the other hand saying, “Repent or I will blast you all to smithereens.”
    That would be portray God in a terrible fashion much like many skeptics claim He is portrayed in the Old Testament. And yet I bet it would have pretty high box office sales.
    Actually for any body who thinks the God of the Old Testament is too judgemental ought to read the little book of Jonah. In it God is described as gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. A God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 4:2.

  12. When entire church bodies teach that use a sacred book claim their sacred book is not true for all time and take freedom to change its teachings to fit contemporary frameworks and morality there should be no surprise when people are influenced and follow secularized authorities on these issues. This change could have been predicted in the 1940s or 1950s based on the trend of American and European Christian religious bodies to doubt their own sacred documents and traditions. I suspect in the future the real news story will be the rare bird who actually believe that a sacred text is still sacred and true for all times.

  13. Your message sounds very similar to a certain snake like character in one of the first stories in the Bible. I find that very curious and amusing. Maybe the passage that there is nothing new under the sun has something to it after all. LOL

  14. Buckely,
    I pray that you will come to the realization that there is a God who created you, loves you, and cares for you. Psalm 14:1 tells us “the fool hath said in his heart there is no God.”

  15. Here is the crux of the modern “conservative” church’s problem. God, Loves you, God is compassionate and cares for you but the only thing I can come up with is to call you a “fool.” Who wouldn’t walk away from that attitude?

  16. “rare bird who actually believe that a sacred text is still sacred and true for all times“

    John, why would this be a problem? I still periodically read the Bible. It has some good stories and good advice, but so do many other books. Regarding it as sacred implies it holds God’s commands about how we should live. So why would God write such an inconsistent book with obvious falsehoods and expect us to believe it? I don’t buy that. Our current KJB dates from the 1600s and hasn’t been updated since. Society has changed since then, but there remain things in the Bible that are simply immoral in the 21st century. Like slavery and bigotry against gays. What is this “true for all times”? Why would you expect that? And why would you value this in the face of reality?

  17. The central tenet of Christianity and the Bible centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Was he who he claimed he was and that to which the entire Old Testament pointed to as The Messiah? Now, as then, many will say no. But I do believe that you overlook the implications of Jesus life, death and resurrection to your own peril. If he was The One, then everything rests on a response to him. Since the Bible is the text that provides the context and interpretation of who Jesus is and why he matters, then it becomes vital to set it in its proper place as divine word. If you say you believe in Jesus or the God of the Christian scriptures but then discount what that scripture is, then you will ultimately find yourself and your faith in an indefensible position with no basis for authority or reason to your beliefs. Too many people today just have faith in faith, and that is an empty claim.

  18. “The central tenet of Christianity and the Bible centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Was he who he claimed he was and that to which the entire Old Testament pointed to as The Messiah? Now, as then, many will say no.”

    I didn’t say that I was a Christian, although I was raised as one. If I still were, and looked at all of your arguments from inside the Christian bubble, then that’s all self-consistent. Some subset of the world’s 2 billion Christians buy that. But the 1.4 billion Muslims do not, nor do the other 3.5 billion people on Earth. So what makes the Christian world view the right one? Just because the Bible cites itself as its own authority? So does the Koran. Maybe you should consider that you ignore their strictures at your peril and you’re following the wrong branch of religion? Hardly … I find it all to be non-sensical human squabbling. God is the God of all of us. He’s not Christian, nor Muslim, nor Hindu. As I said earlier, He is probably laughing at our squabbles over whose holy book or whose Messiah is the best one. But He’s most likely sad that we’ve let religion divide up our beliefs in Him and cause so much strife. All on the basis of conflicting, unprovable assertions by men, not God.

  19. Sorry Jason your “belief” is exactly what is wrong with today society. I feel sorry for you that you have an empty faith with no real connection to God. How do you plan on guiding your own faith, by what feels right? Well getting drunk everyday feels good, so should that be ok? There hundreds of topics that feel good and can be justified by anyone to themselves. Now are all these things ok with God, if not how do you know? Your faith is an endless circle that can only end up immoral. Also please cite some specific examples of Biblical contradictions you mention.

  20. Ok, I understand your perspective Jason. Religious exclusivism is a big topic. If one does not adhere to any specific religion, then you are free to worship God any way you wish, as would any other person. I would appreciate hearing your view of eternity, ethics, sin, redemption, etc. My position is that these issues require a foundation in order for faith (and society) to function, otherwise it would seem that anything goes. Do you require a basis for these in your life or do you see them as being either intuitive or a natural part of our existence?

  21. “I feel sorry for you that you have an empty faith with no real connection to God.”

    Rich, That is an offensive, arrogant statement and represents one reason why millennials increasingly reject rigid Christianity. You feel sorry for me? Where does your authority to define a “real connection to God” come from? My connection to God is just fine.

    “Sorry Jason your “belief” is exactly what is wrong with today society. “

    No, This is exactly what is right with today’s society and it begins to move us away from some of the divisive teachings of current religions. When conservative Christianity starts to get this, it might not lose us at the rate that is now happening.

    “Your faith is an endless circle that can only end up immoral“

    Immoral? And you predict that I will end up immoral? Hardly … When the KJB has things like slavery and discrimination against gays it’s not a very reliable source. I’m as moral as I sense you perceive yourself to be and it’s in spite of the Bible.

    “cite some specific examples of Biblical contradictions you mention“

    Where do I start? Arbitrarily picking two:
    There are hundreds (thousands) of inconsistencies here, but what really pushes us away are outmoded teachings on moral issues. The Bible and the churches that browbeat us with it, have not kept up with society.

  22. and what would you call all the people who built homes destined for the path of hurricane Sandy–building houses on sand–geniuses?

  23. Not relevant to modern life?!! I would think the parable of Building Houses on Sand, or rather, to *not* build a house upon sand–could have come in handy to /all/ the participants of Hurricane Sandy.

  24. yes, please cite the inconsistencies or contradictions so that I may crush your dreams.

  25. Been there, done that.

    Django Kill (1967), has its gunslinger as a Christ figure who even gets crucified.
    [Definitely not for the faint of heart. Spaghetti Westerns had a gory streak]

    There is also Greaser’s Palace (1972) which is a Christian “acid western”.
    [That one requires one to see it for themselves. Or at least google it. Its a doozy]

    Then you have jokes about a Jesus Western being filmed in the Fellini segment of “Spirits of the Dead” (1968) called “Toby Dammit”.
    [aka General Zod has a major hangover.]

  26. lets take for example the reign of Jeconiah: all the dates are there in a Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeconiah

    furthermore to have one account say “three months” vs. three months & ten days is *NOT* a contradiction; in language people round things off all the time.


    If I have 93cents in my pocket and you ask me how much change i’ve got, I might say I’ve got about 90 cents… and both accounts whether if I had said I’ve got “93” or “about 90” are correct.

    and by the way, yes, you’re an idiot.

  27. Anon, That’s a nice emotional outburst. How about some constructive content?

    Philip, Way too short, because I have to run, but
    eternity: yes, it certainly exists, but I’m not certain that we individually exist and go someplace other than into the ground.
    ethics: morality? morality comes from 100,000 years of human civilization. What works and what doesn’t has been pretty well worked out over eons. The Bible and the other holy books have their own frozen snapshots corresponding to when they were written. As for saying that we need to Bible to define absolute true morality … that’s non-sense. As is the statement that we will decay morally because we don’t have the Bible. Morality is pretty much the same through the ages. Don’t kill, don’t steal. Do onto others …. etc. But some things change slowly and we must adapt. It’s not absolute, but pretty close to it. Accepted norms are not up to the individual. they’re defined by society and aberrations eventually get weeded out. It’s non-sense to think that morality will fall apart without the Bible. If one must have a book to tell you this, then the moral compass is lacking.
    Sin: If that’s the word to use for an action that runs counter to morality, then fine. Society has many ways of dealing with transgressions.
    Redemption: not applicable. redemption from what?

  28. well whaddaya expect when you post a link trying to debunk history tied to an Islamic-oriented website bent on distorting the truth?

    by the way, for point #6 in the contradicitions “list” is answered clearly on the wiki page for Jeconiah:

    Masoretic Text versions of 2 Chronicles 36:9 say that Jeconiah’s rule began at the age of eight.

    However, the Septuagint and Syriac versions of 2 Chronicles 36:9, state that his reign started at the age of eighteen.

    Of the Vulgate, Challenor’s note in the Douay-Rheims Bible, reconciles this discrepancy: “He was associated by his father to the kingdom, when he was but eight years old; but after his father’s death, when he reigned alone, he was eighteen years old.”[6]

    please, I’d like to contradict all the “contradictions” on the list url but I’ve not got all the time in the world, ya know; do us a favor and check wikipedia–its only a click away.

    Geeze i guess someone has to hold your hand when you go potty, too, huh?

  29. I know this will sound like fundamentalist twaddle to the skeptic, and unsophisticated naivete’ to the well read philosopher, but (using biblical prophecy as my guide) I suspect if the current trend towards skepticism and ungodliness continues apace, then we may experience the lifting of God’s protection on this nation, consistent with the pattern He has used will all nations that defy Him. Then, in our suffering, perhaps some us who doubt will cry out to Him and He will hear our prayer and a few eyes at least will be opened. Please spare me the vituperative responses declaiming my ignorance, superstition, and self righteousness. I’ve heard them plenty on this site; If you want I will plead my imperfection, pride, and other assorted character flaws, I’ve never denied them; but I do hold firm to this, Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, Sole Advocate and Judge of Humanity, Present and Future King of all Eternity. Hear Ye Him. Please do me the small courtesy of ignoring me, rather than assaulting me, I’m sad and a little weary…’Nuff said.

  30. @ Jason, so you have no ideas of your own? You only parrot the works of others, Also all those arguments those websites mentioned have been refuted countless times. Try Google it may help you since you fail to listen to others

    As for my ” I feel sorry for you” statement I am sorry that truth stings..

    Sorry the bible does not have to change to suit the “morals” of society. Again you fail to see how you little faith will only end up immoral with a guide.

    Again you bring up homosexuality. Well what is the issue? In both convents homosexuality is deemed a sin, what part of that is hard to understand for you? Do you even understand what a convent it and what laws still apply now? Just because “society ” has deemed it acceptable does not make it right in the eyes of the lord. But your “faith” allows for any and all moral changes. again how cna you “faith” end up anywhere right,

    Again I hope you find your way ” Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat”

  31. @Jason

    Your positions sound just as bigotted, self-justified, and narrow minded as the positions you criticize.

  32. There is that fundamentalist egotism raising its head yet again. That somehow the people who disagree with their self-referential authority must be ignorant, unsophisticated or naive.

    You also felt the need to aggrandize yourself by throwing in some admonishment that if you are are not taken seriously God will do very bad things to them. Its not you wishing others misfortune, its just God. How lovely.

    I can see why it appeals to people. It satisfies a certain narcissistic need to treat others arrogantly with claims that they are more righteous than the people being addressed. To claim authority without ever having the need to support it with anything resembling intelligent discussion.

    If you wish to be spared the vituperative responses declaiming your ignorance, superstition, and self righteousness, maybe you should show a little more humility. Not proclaim your righteousness to others as Matthew 6 warns of. Try not to set yourself up above all others.

  33. God will be vindicated as the provider of truth found in his Word, the Holy Bible, when the remainder of his promises concerning mankind foretold therein take place (Psalms 37:10,11; Isaiah 11:1-9; Daniel 2:44; Revelation 21:1-4). Unfortunately, false religion has so misrepresented God that many have lost their interest in Him and his Word. The best is yet to come to mankind on earth from a loving, compassionate and merciful God.

  34. I am at least entitled to a theological point of view… if nothing else; the references to naivete’ and unsophistication were meant to reflect how others might view me, not how I might view others. The statement was intended to be a Mea Culpa. I’ve long ago given up on trying to “prove” anything to anybody, my above statement was speculative in nature, not intended as a declamation from on high. I will continue to watch and wait, as we all must, for the unfolding of God’s plan for humanity. That I favor my own perspective is not so unusual is it? You certainly do the same. I’m not convinced that any of us can be wholly objective in our views, that really would be the height of pride and arrogance. But I will continue to hold to the traditional, historical, received view of scripture as propagated by the classical theologians of the western world. That there are disagreements between Calvinists, Arminians, Baptists, Catholics, the Orthodox, and progressives merely confirms that none of us has perfect vision; but I like to think, for the most part, that the essentials remain. Please do not think that I fail to take your criticisms seriously, but even my expressions of humility seem to be sneered at by you as false and hypocritical. Though Jesus taught us not to be falsely humble in our prayers, or overtly public in our good works, He did enjoin us to confess freely to one another; this I do and am called false. I don’t think there is any genuine expression of faith or contrition that you would not call into question; but even Jesus did not command us to grovel before our accusers.

  35. Yep, but its not like you or Eddie want to hear it.

    @Edward Borges-Silva
    Its amazing how completely tone deaf your response was. When questioned on the personal motivations and lack of humility expressed by your declarations of faith, you continue to do more of the same. It is clear you try to set yourself as the sole arbitor of God’s will and scriptural interpretation through nothing more than begging the questions. Just declare your view the “orthodox” or “traditional” of something and it is meant to be taken automatically at face value. All other views are somehow less informed, unsophisticated or less knowledgeable than all knowing Edward. Not an ounce of humility in such expressions or sincerity.

  36. Wow. Whoever disagrees with you must be the devil? How does that line of thinking differ from those who burned, crushed or drowned their neighbors as “witches”?

  37. Bible: King James Version. Is first all read from. Other type versions have been done acordently to region. If it the bible you don’t trust, Then trust what’s in mind and heart, if the two agree then the living spirit that’s in you will talk to God for you. As all living spirits (People) are always talking to there Creator (God). He knew you before you were birth.

  38. Change is coming. Repenting is the fastest way of letting sin go. Ask of Jesus to be part of your remaining life. And there be a chance your spirit name will appear in the book of life. Its a choice and its only you who can make that discipline of choice.

  39. if the good book is not the bible why is they trying to say it is the bible don’t they know they could be making God mad at us the whole world mrs. queen tonya bieber 11/16/2014!

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