(RNS4-MAY23) The frontispiece to the original 1611 King James Bible shows the Twelve Apostles at the top, with Moses and Aaron flanking the central text. In the four corners are evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. For use with RNS-KJV-UNITE, transmitted May 23, 2011. RNS file photo

Bible survey: Many Americans scramble their Scripture

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

The frontispiece to the original 1611 King James Bible shows the Twelve Apostles at the top, with Moses and Aaron flanking the central text. In the four corners are evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. RNS file photo

The frontispiece to the original 1611 King James Bible shows the Twelve Apostles at the top, with Moses and Aaron flanking the central text. In the four corners are evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. RNS file photo

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.

Holy Bible on a wooden church bench.

Holy Bible on a wooden church bench

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.



  1. “[The earlier survey] found the most knowledgeable were atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons…”

    Ha! So much for the popular canard that atheists criticize religion from a position of ignorance.

  2. “The Bible encourages the ‘repression of women’….But they’re wrong.”

    I’m surprised to read that. Am I missing a grammatical edit?
    The Bible famously encourages repression of all kinds – especially of women.
    Every time I look I find more examples.

    GOD COMMANDS IT – A Woman Must Marry Her Rapist:
    “If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.” (Deut. 22:28)

    If that does not encourage repression of women
    I don’t know what would.

    But the Bible is so full of hatred toward women, I can’t count them all.
    There are new ones every time I look…

    2:22 Eve created from Adam’s rib.
    3:16 Eve cursed with painful childbirth and domination by husband.
    4:19 Man marries two wives.
    12:13-19 Abraham prostitutes wife.
    19:1-8 Rape virgin daughters instead of male angels.
    19:26 Lot’s wife turned into pillar of salt for disobeying god.
    19:30-38 Lot impregnates his two daughters while drunk.
    20:2-12 Abraham prostitutes wife – again.
    25:1-6 Keeping many concubines is OK.
    20:17 Wife as property.
    21:4 Wife and children belong to master.
    21:7-11 OK to sell daughters. Female slaves can be used for sex. Polygamy permitted. Unwanted female slaves can be set “free” without payment of money.
    22:18 Kill witches.

    12:1-8 Childbirth unclean, Women need to make atonement after childbirth.
    15:19-32 Menstruating women are unclean.
    20:10-16 Death penalty for homosexuality and various sexual transgressions.
    21:7 Priests must not marry prostitutes or divorcees.
    21:9 Burn daughters.
    21:13-14 Priest must marry virgin, not “used” woman.

    1:2 Census lists only men – women do not count.
    5:11-31 Fidelity test for women only.
    30:1-16 Woman’s vow invalid unless approved by her father or husband.
    31:17-18 Kill all except virgins. Keep virgins for yourselves.
    12 Miriam punished for rebuking Moses.

    20:14 Take women, livestock as plunder.
    22:13-21 Stone non-virgin bride.
    22:23-24 Stone rapist and rape victim.
    22:28 Rape victim must marry rapist; rape victim’s father compensated for depreciation of his property.
    25:11-12 Cut woman’s hand for touching foe’s penis.
    24:1-5 Man can “send” wife from HIS house. Man must not marry “used” woman.
    28:18 The FRUIT of your womb will be cursed – eclectic “pro-life” verse!

    5:30 Women are spoils of war.
    14:20 Samson gives wife to another man.
    16:1 Samson visits prostitute.
    CH 19 Concubine pack-raped and butchered.
    21:10-12 Slaughtered all inc. women and children. Saved virgins for wives.
    21:21 Abducted girls for wives.

    1 SAMUEL
    15:2-3 Attack Amalekites, kill men, women, children and livestock.
    22:19 Kill all inc. infants and livestock.
    21:4-5 Men avoid defilement with women.
    2 SAMUEL
    5:13 David took many wives and concubines.
    CH 13 Ammon rapes his own sister.
    16:21-22 Absalom sleeps with his father’s concubines.
    6:20-23 Mischal punished with bareness.

    1 KINGS
    11:3 Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

    2 KINGS
    9:30-37 Brutal murder of Jezebel.

    15:13 Put to death unbelievers.
    11:21 Hoards of wives and concubines.

    CH 1-2 Queen Vashti dethroned for disobedience; setting “bad” example to all other women.

    51:5 Sinful since conception.
    127:3 Sons are heritage from god.
    137:9 Seizes infants and dashes them against rocks.

    CH 5 Beware of wicked women!
    CH 7 More of the above.
    6:24 As above.
    31:3 Do not waste strength on women.

    3:16-26 Lord punishes haughty women.
    4:4 Filthy women.
    13:16 Ravish wives, dash infants.
    19:16 Will be like women! (insult to Egyptians)

    9:6-7 Slaughter all including children.
    CH 16 Prostitutes, stoning, promiscuity…
    CH 23 Tale of two adulterous sisters – reads like the script of a pornographic film. I bet you weren’t told this story at Sunday school!

    13:16 Rip pregnant women, dash little ones. (Another “pro-life” verse!)

    3:4… wanton lust of a harlot… prostitution… witchcraft.
    3:5 I will lift your skirts over your face!
    3:13… Your troops are all women. (insult to Nineveh)

    5:32 Husband can divorce wife for adultery. Can wife divorce husband for the same?
    CH 25 Sexist tale of ten virgins.

    2:22 Mary must be purified after birth of Jesus.
    2:49 Jesus rebukes his mother.

    11:2-10… Woman created for man.
    14:34 Women must be silent in churches.

    5:22-24 Wives must submit to husbands in everything.

    3:18 Wives submit to husbands.
    3:22 Slaves must obey masters in everything.

    2:11-15 Woman must not have authority – she must be silent. Women can be saved with childbearing.
    5:9-10 Widows should be faithful to husband and must wash saints’ feet.

    1 PETER
    2:18 Slaves submit to masters, even masters who are harsh.
    3:1 Wives submit.
    3:5-6 Sarah calls husband master.

    CH 17 Destroy great prostitute.
    14:4…they did not DEFILE themselves with women but kept themselves pure

  3. “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”
    – Isaac Asimov

  4. It is never a waste of time to talk with religious people.
    They need so much help it is hard to know where to begin.

  5. To the Author, Cathy:

    I’m wondering why you wrote “but they’re wrong.” – stating that the Bibles don’t advocate the repression of women. I’ve read both the main Protestant Bible and the Catholic Bible cover to cover, and the repression is clear and unambiguous in both the old and new testaments in both of those Bibles. Were you just uncritically repeating what the American Bible Society or Barna (both Christian biased organizations) said? Or is that your view? Perhaps that should be stated either way?

    Also – it seems to be another case of Christian Privilege that the various scriptures of the various Christian groups are refered to as “the Bible”. After all, there are many different Bibles, with different sections of text, different whole passages, and even different whole books. Some have 66 books, or 73, or over 100, or other content. Of course Christian prosyletizing groups, like the ABS will use their biased term, but the media, including RNS as well? I think I’ll live to see a day when that is not so.

  6. Oh, since you insist on only one accepted canon, that must be be the 73 books of the Roman Catholic church, since that’s the only one used by the majority of Christians. The others are heretical, right?

  7. Too much is made of the difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles. The Catholic Bible’s OT includes Jewish writings that were included in the Greek Septuagint but never in the Hebrew Bible. And the NT canon was virtually set by the middle of the 2nd century, only minus a couple of minor epistles.

  8. Consider that devout Christians such as William Lloyd Garrison were strident abolitionist leaders in the north and equally devout Christians in the south quoted scripture to defend the abhorrent practice of slavery. Such a silly book and an equally silly religion. The endless enigma.

  9. Another example of showing that many of us, Christian or not, already realize that the Bibles are not the word of God is the fact that some Christians don’t seem to care much if someone just changes it, as the different Bibles have. If I really thought a given Bible was really the word of a real God, I’d be up in arms if even a word were changed, much more book after book removed or book after after book added. Like Frank. It looks like Frank really believes that his Bible is the Word of God.

    Of course, the canon isn’t settled today, and has never been settled. You can see that in all the gyrations in the old testament, such as the addition of Enoch by the Dead Sea Scroll community, the different versions used by the early Christian church and so on. Even just mentioning most of all the versions and changes would take whole books to describe. The new testament too has been quite fluid, with the early church doubting Hebrews, Revelation, Jude, and more, and even much more recently, Martin Luther himself taking some books out of the New testament (later Protestants put them back in), and calling Revelations the “ravings of a madman”. We could go into more detail if you like, showing added new testament books like 3rd Corinthians, removed books, and other canons in other Christian churches, in both the old and new testaments.

  10. One can look in the Bible and see one’s best self
    or one’s worst self. Yet a mirror would suffice.

    The Bible is ancient silliness meant to shift your own responsibility off of you
    and repackage it as God’s.

  11. You’ve pointed out the bad stuff. Agreed.

    But there’s still lots of warm and fuzzy stuff, especially from the NT, which is what most folks remember and what primarily drives the enthusiasm for the Christian faith.

  12. @Billysees,

    The good stuff (what there is of it) has some allure:
    “love your neighbor” and “behold the lilies of the field.”

    But to see any true love in Jesus is delusional:

    “bring to me those enemies of mine, and execute them in front of me.”
    – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

    “…If you judge them unworthy, REMOVE YOUR BLESSING of peace.”
    – Jesus (Matt 10:14)

    “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But….what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on Earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
    – Jesus (Luke 12:49-51)

  13. You don’t seem to understand the bible at all. The canon was set long ago. The fact that some recommend terribly minor changes, or that some people disagree with the canon as it exists is a different question. Of course it is settled today.
    Typical non-thinking – the fact that something is 99% settled and has been for hundreds of years. Ooooooh! 1% gets disagreed with. So someone thinks the canon is not settled?

  14. OK, please list this canon that was settled back then, over 1500 years ago, and in still in use today 99% the same, by practically all Christians. Or at least say how many books.

  15. The Muratonian Fragment, ca. 150-170 AD, lists all of the NT books we know today except for Hebrews, James, and I and II Peter. All other Christian writings, it states, came after the time of the apostles and therefore could not be accepted as scripture.

  16. Right. So let’s see….the claim by fda;d was that it was “99% settled”. Let’s check. Missing four books out of 27 is 23/27, or 88.88%. That’s certainly not “99%”. Plus, you didn’t mention that the Muratorian fragment also *includes* the Apocalyse of Peter. So how do we count that? Maybe take another book off, making it 22/27, or 81%, again, a far cry from 99%”? This is a good example to show again how most of us already realize that the Bibles are simply writings by regular people – not by some sky deity. If I really did think that our 27 book canon was actually authored by the ruler of the Universe, then how could I tolerate taking four books of that divine and perfect text out? I couldn’t. Yet, above, we see you not much bothered at all that they are gone – and that the writings of a regular human (the Apocalypse of Peter) are added as if it doesn’t matter if a regular person or the ruler of the Universe wrote them.

  17. Jesus did not say what you attribute to him in Luke 19:27…the words are those of the corrupt ruler he is talking about in the parable.

    Quit the cut and paste, Iggy. You need to rework your material.

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