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The Bible – helpful, but not read much

“Among Americans: How much of the Bible have you personally read?” Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

(RNS) The Bible may be a source of wisdom for many Americans but most don’t read it for themselves, a new survey shows.

More than half have read little or none of it, reports LifeWay Research.

“Even among worship attendees less than half read the Bible daily,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of the evangelical research firm based in Nashville, Tenn.

“The only time most Americans hear from the Bible is when someone else is reading it.”

The survey of 1,000 people found disparate approaches to the Christian Scriptures. For instance, Northeasterners are less likely to give it a look than people in other regions. And men are less inclined than women to pick it up.

“Among Americans: Which of the following describe the Bible?” Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

One in 5 Americans have read the entire Bible at least once — including 9 percent
who’ve read it through multiple times. Just over half (53 percent) have read relatively little of it, and 1 in 10 haven’t read it at all.

Among those who read at least a few sentences of the Bible, slightly more than a fifth of Americans (22 percent) read a little Scripture each day, taking a systematic approach. About a quarter (27 percent) read parts others have suggested, and 16 percent look up portions to help others. Almost one-fifth (19 percent) reread their favorite passages.

Americans with evangelical beliefs are far more likely to read a little of the Bible each day than those without such beliefs (49 percent vs. 16 percent). Protestants are more likely to read the book each day than Catholics (36 percent and 17 percent, respectively).

Researchers found that Americans tend to view the Bible positively, with half (52 percent) saying it is a good source for morals. More than a third say it is helpful today (37 percent), true (36 percent) or life-changing (35 percent). And far fewer say it is outdated (14 percent), bigoted (8 percent) or harmful (7 percent).

So why don’t people read the Bible? They:

“Among Americans: Why have you not read the Bible more?” Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

  • Don’t prioritize it (27 percent).
  • Don’t have time (15 percent).
  • Have read it enough (13 percent).
  • Disagree with what it says (10 percent).
  • Don’t read books (9 percent).
  • Don’t see how it relates to them (9 percent).
  • Don’t have one (6 percent).

The survey of 1,000 people, drawn from a panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population, was conducted Sept. 27-Oct. 1, 2016, and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

38 Comments

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  • Psalm 19:7 The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
    The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
    8 The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
    The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
    9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
    The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
    10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
    Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
    11 Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
    In keeping them there is great reward.

    The word of the Lord.
    Thanks be to God.

  • If you are going to claim to giving your life to someone, perhaps you should spend some time getting to know Him? Just a thought. Read a Bible.

  • Certainly explains how we go such unbiblical doctrines such as the prosperity gospel, once saved, always saved, salvation without works, the “Sinner’s Prayer” etc.

  • Reading the bible in its entirety I think for the critical reader, can raise theological questions and represents a challenge to the doctrinal narrative taught by some denominations as you noted. When many people don’t read it all, it means those ‘tough’ questions don’t get asked, or if asked, can lead to the questioner being seen as an outlier.

    A question unanswered that I would have liked to have known is if there was any patterns as to what constitutes favorite passages that are re-read.

  • I’ve read it at least once a year for the last 21 years. The first year I read the King James 3 times, that year Habbakuk was my favorite (read it 14 times that year – I used to put a dot next to the TOC). Most of the time, I read a different version each year. This year I’m reading the NABRE and The Jerusalem Bible (switched to Catholic bibles a couple years ago) and my current favorite passages are the Wisdom of Sirach (for its emphasis on our responsibility to the poor, Judith (it’s a thrilling story), Matt 25:31-46 (the real explanation of how one is saved), various passages that speak to me at a particular point in time.

  • I read the bible (3 different translations) through at least 6 times in my teens accompanied by a concordance and other reference books. If you can muster objectivity, reading it through is a great way to to get cured of religion – the Old Testament is especially revealing.

  • This is news? I’ve known for decades that Christians generally don’t know what’s in the Bibles they love to say they revere and thump at everyone else. The degree of their ignorance about it is truly staggering

    For the record I’ve read it front to back and front again many times and in many versions, including in Greek (the New Testament’s original language and the Old Testament in the form of the Septuagint which is how most of the earliest Christians knew it). I’ve read it in the form of Luther’s vernacular German, in the Aramaic Peshitta, and parts in Coptic, too. Thus, this cynical, cold-hearted, godless agnostic heathen knows it far better than the average Christian who says s/he reveres it. I wonder why that should be the case? What is their excuse for such brazen ignorance of something they claim is important to them? 

  • I truly do wonder too! Here by the time I had read & reread it through in as many translations It had the opposite effect on me.

  • So… Have you read it through again since you’ve grown up?

    … Or is your objectivity still saddled by adolescence?

  • Actually I wasn’t objective when I started my bible study: I was looking to prove that it was true. It proved to be internally contradictory and full of errors and historically and scientifically inaccurate.
    At the same time the educational system and my love of science developed my critical reasoning skills. This was the overwhelming reason I am an atheist. I have re-read parts of it as an adult and feel deeply embarrass that I gave it any credence at all.

  • Careful Theophile…no artful humor is allowed here on the comment pages. Any more of it and we’ll be forced to beat you with a broom. Or worse yet – you’ll be deleted. (that was great “Or is your objectivity still saddled by adolescence?”)
    But Jim does seem to be pretty much of a stand-up kind of guy.

  • I’ve got you both beat: I’ve translated the bible from the original languages
    into Klingon. Here’s my translation of John 3:16
    yo’a’neS 3: 16
    16 “vaj qo’ neH beget puqloDDaj, ‘e’ Har molbogh whoever vaj wej perish, nob ‘e’ ‘a qeylIS ‘ach ghaj eternal yIn.

    Pretty impressive.

  • I feel the lack of interest in reading God’a Holy Word is the lack of Gratitude for it. After all, it is not an idiot box that will entertain us, nor is it a page we must check, instead it is the Inspired Word of GOD that is given for correction, doctrine, reproof, and instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect and furnished to do good works. IITim. 3:16-17.
    As Christians, we must turn off the distractions of the World, Flesh, and the Enemy of our Soul and be a Faithful soldier studying to show ourselves approved.. redeeming the time as that day draws closer.. what day? The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to gather His Bride and the wedding party home! What a glorious day!
    Be Blessed!

  • I am among those who have read “almost all of it,” I have read the entire New Testament many times over, during my walk as a Christian. I have been less diligent with the Old Testament. Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and the Prophets, yes. Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs and Song of Solomon, less so, among other books not named. I must confess I find Numbers and Deuteronomy somewhat mind numbing. That’s probably a poor confession on my part.

  • I must confess I find Numbers and Deuteronomy somewhat mind numbing. That’s probably a poor confession on my part.
    I can relate.

  • Anytime a total of 47% of the US population has read “at least half (of the Bible) to all of it several times,” we can conclude that we have a significant research finding! Saying that “the Bible is helpful, but few read it,” is sloppy reporting, and not a fair rendering of the good work done by LifeWay Research.

  • “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

    Romans 3:21-26

    The works which you are doing with the intention of earning merit before a Holy God will only serve to condemn you when you stand before Him. You are the man in Matthew 25 who cries out to Christ (even calling Him Lord) and points to his own works to justify himself. You will hear from Christ, “I never knew you.” Repent of your works-righteousness and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

  • Amen, Sister Lena.
    I Thess. 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
    17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

    I Cor. 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
    52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

    The Word of the Lord.
    Thanks be to God.

  • Ironically, in the passage you refer to, (Matt 25:31-46), those Jesus condemned were because of their lack of works: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me,you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

    His brother said it best: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

    “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

    “Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?

    “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:14-26)

    I don’t consider reading the word of God, “work,” however. I am called as seen intercessor (Amos 3:7, Ez 22:30) and love to pray, it is like breathing to me and I feel I should spend as much time in the word, listening for his answer.

  • “The Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.”
    James 2:23

    The Scripture was fulfilled… Which Scripture?

    Genesis 15:6 is the exact Scripture which James is quoting. The point in which God Himself explicitly declares Abraham to be justified (Genesis 15:6) happens 27 years before Abraham’s offering of Isaac (Genesis 22).

    So if God declares that Abraham believed God and was justified in His sight and called the friend of God 27 years before Abraham offered Isaac, then what does James mean in the passage which you are quoting?

    You misunderstand the Scriptures.

    James’ point is not that merit is earned before God by deeds, but that faith that is given by God (Eph 2:8), the only faith which saves, is a faith which evidences itself by the fruit it bears.

  • Jim,
    I just wondering that if you found the Bible contradictory, what gave you the desire to yet read it time and time again? You see because the Bible is a spiritual book, most of it is parabolic and must be understood spiritually: [ 1 Corinthians 2:13 “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”] Spiritual discernment is from God through His Spirit. I won’t give up on you yet until you get a dose of the first principles of the oracles of God: [ Hebrews 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”] The Bible is the ONLY means of salvation. If interested please look up our Facebook group “Dogs of the Gospel” I’m curious because maybe no one has shared with you the first principles, Lord willing. I believe that the reason many are atheists is because of that reason, I may be wrong but no one understands the Bible would say such. Hope all is well with you in your search.

    #DogsOfTheGospel
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/bibleforum/

  • SongBookz,
    You confuse what is false from what is true. How can that be? Let me share:

    FALSE
    – Prosperity gospel is certainly false: [ Mark 8:36 “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

    – Sinners prayer is a work and it is false because God will NOT hear the sinner : [ John 9:31 “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.”]

    TRUE
    – Once saved always saved is absolutely TRUE. Did Jesus die for us to give us temporary life or everlasting life? [ John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”]

    – We are saved by the grace of God and NOT any work that we do: [ Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.”] also
    [Titus 3:5 “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;”]
    If you need further answers, please visit our page. (Thanks for sharing)

    Facebook:/#DogsOfTheGospel

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/bibleforum/

  • Hard to understand our current cultural polarization without reading this collection of late Bronze Age myths and fables. Whenever I am able to engage a self-IDed “bible-believer” and raise one of the many abhorrent events or attitudes represented therein, inevitably that part of the bible is unknown or “not relevant” to today, though never objectionable, or an “allegory”, i.e., not to be taken literally even by literalists. To supernaturalists, any version of the bible has value for its mere existence, as a symbol of various supernaturalistic beliefs, not for its substance. Belief in a bible involves as little concern with its actual contents as belief in The Groper involves any sense of his competence or values or motives. Bibles today are wedges or hammers or excuses for bad behavior, not guides for good behavior.

  • Fulu, how about when god says, if a man rapes a maiden he can buy her from her father for 20 shekels? And god says, if a master rapes his slave he can be pardoned but the raped slave must be punished? How parabolic or spiritual for the raped woman are these sexist singular entity male god commands? Appalling actually. A violent, revengeful, cruel and deeply sexist god is what men created out of their primitive ignorant minds. There is no singular entity male god that has spoken to anyone.
    God asks Abraham to kill his own son! Egotistical or evil god. Both actually. But men make up crazy violent nonsense. Delusions of humans. sadly. For religion divides and religious texts are about men for men. Women and children are just pawns for men according to the fact that not even rape or child sex abuse was added in the ten commandments. So much fiction, it’s a joke. so stop your sexist beliefs because they are ridiculous.

  • There is no evidence that anyone spoke to this singular entity male god ever. It is a total lie and delusion of brainwashed or people who want to believe in an afterlife. Doesn’t make it true. A violent, revengeful, cruel and deeply sexist singular entity male god is not very appealing to those who prefer to choose reality and human justice

  • No thanks. Read it. Found it was fiction. Sexist, violent, revengeful and cruel singular entity male god. No thanks. Read it yourself to analyse. No one has talked or had commands from ab entity outside of human Terra nullus form

  • Ha, that’s hilarious. God says in the bible, If a man rapes a maiden he can buy her from her father for 20 shekels.
    Dirty Harry.
    And, god says, if a master rapes his slave he can be pardoned but the raped slave must be punished.
    I don’t think the victim of rape would be too happy with this singular entity male god commands. Nor when god asks Abraham to kill his own son. Egotistical or evil., yes both.
    It’s fiction. Easy to see why men’s agenda propaganda fiction for mens purposes when rape and child sex abuse was not added in the ten commandments. Big mistake buddy

  • The god of the bible says, if a man rapes a maiden he can buy her from her father for 20 shekels.
    God says If a master rapes his slave he can be pardoned but the raped slave must be punished.
    I don’t think a sexist violent revengeful cruel singular entity male god is anything but a man made concept of primitive ignorant mens agenda. No rape or child sex abuse in the ten commandments. So many men’s failings. No human has spoken with any entity other than humans or talking to themselves and thinking of ways to control people or make (sexist) rules. God asks Abraham to kill his own son. Egotistical or evil. BOTH actually. This is the type of god you pray to. Very sad that delusions dominate and people will continue to believe purely because they want to believe in an afterlife despite it being very clear the religious texts are all fictions

  • You don’t understand the term and clearly you don’t intend to either. Nice day to you.

  • Yes, another Jimmy who gets it. Sorry to the Christians, but Jesus is for sure not God. In fact, Christianity would be considered a sin for creating a false image of God and not worshipping in truth. The Old Testament truly is amazing. These fools running their mouths need to read the first 7 chapters of Matthew, and if they aren’t shocked at the content, they are blind or dumb. Now, I’m not atheist or anything, I just worship the Old Testament God, and I believe Jesus died for spiritual awakenings not this Father, son, Holy Spirit, yay Jesus stuff you hear in church.

  • The Kalam Cosmological Argument, Teleological, Ontological, as well as other scientific arguments for God’s existence, all show that nature itself points toward there being a God, not away. Dishonest scientists try to tell us that atheism is the accurate view of a scientist, when in fact if you follow the evidence where it leads without bias, it leads to God. Even how we have objective moral values and duties to uphold daily, which atheism would not be able to explain since naturalism is merely about “survival of the fittest” which can have nothing to do with morality, since “right” and “wrong” have nothing to do with survivability. Within naturalism, what helps one to thrive is the “right”. When animals kill one another we don’t think in terms of “right” and “wrong”, and neither do they. From a naturalist point of view, there’s no reason or right to condemn anyone from walking into his job and opening fire on those who are in competition with him for the new promotion he wants, because as I stated, survivability is all that can be explained through naturalism, and right and wrong are illusory ideals. You might want to check your science again, because it has a designer, it didn’t poof from out of nowhere since we know that the Universe began to exist. We know that at one point in time, through cosmology and because of the Universe’s constant expansion towards equilibrium, that the universe did not actually exist, a singularity did occur, and since “from nothing, nothing comes.” you and I are trapped to realize that just by observing modern science, there is a Designer behind it all. And if the Universe exists suddenly, then for it to exist the First Cause of the Universe must be an 1. Uncaused and Eternal 2.Timeless (to create time from nothing) 3. Spaceless (to create space from nothing) 4. Immaterial (to create matter from nothing) 5. Incredibly Powerful (in order to create an entire Universe in an instant from nothing at all) 6. Intelligent Mind.

    Indeed, if there was a “big bang” that started the Universe, that bang was God’s voice thundering everything into existence. Might want to double check your science, there was indeed a designer, and His name is YHWH, the Triune God of all things visible and invisible who has chosen to reveal Himself through His Word, The Bible.

    Turn to Christ, He loves you and has forgiven you, you just need to accept Him and receive it through turning from your sin, believing in your heart, and confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. <3 Believe in Him and you will be brought into the Kingdom!

    God bless you my friend.

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