Poll: How little Americans read the Bible

bible-distribution-evangelismA new poll is out about the Bible in the US. These stats are disturbing, if not surprising. Only half of Americans read, at least once a year, some religious text at all, 95% of those reading the Bible. So the majority of the American population is totally and completely ignorant of Scripture.

Then here’s the kicker: Only 9% claim to read the Bible daily. Fewer than one in 10 Americans are daily Bible readers. Since most people tend to overstate their positive religious practice in such polls, it’s probably closer to one in 15 or 20. So much for the claim that the denominations make about following the Bible.

If the numbers were broken down, they might vary some by region and denomination, but probably not by much. Are the Baptists better Bible readers than Episcopalians? One would think so, to some degree.

Then there is information from the poll about Bible versions.

Fifty-five percent of Bible readers cite the KJV as their preferred translation, with the New International Version second at 19 percent, and “other translations” at 8 percent. … Non-KJV readers are more likely to read the Bible at least weekly.

The first part is surprising. The second not at all. My conclusion: If you want people reading the Bible regularly, put a version in their hands they can actually understand.

One hopes and prays that the church of God fares far better in its daily Bible reading than Americans in general. For how can a saint or a congregation hope for heaven that refuses to hear and obey the word of God?

J. Randal Matheny

6 thoughts on “Poll: How little Americans read the Bible

  1. Perhaps Bible readers choose the KJV because it is so delightful to read. I have tried reading other versions, and I usually find them OK, at first, as far as it goes. They may sound alright for a quick reading for someone with a short attention span,, but after a while they start sounding bland. There is something rich and enduring about the simple elegance of the KJV that keeps drawing me back. The people that say it is hard to understand do not read it very much, and from the data you quote it looks like they are not reading any version very much. You have to read the KJV thoughtfully (After all, it is the Bible. If you are not reading the Bible thoughtfully in any version you are not getting much out of it anyway.) So you must read thoughtfully, but it is not hard to understand. The words are simple straightforward words; the grammar is basic subject/predicate construction. (Granted the sentences seem to “run on” at times, but most of that is the artful employment of punctuation and conjunctions draw you into the text and keep you reading.) Shakespeare? Now that is hard; but KJV? It is the book for the common man. Our grandparents with elementary education read it; children in Sunday School read it; When I was a school boy more interested in looking out the window than paying attention to my teacher I memorized from it. We recently had over 200 teenagers in our Bible Bowl reading it, studying it, memorizing it, and scoring high on their test (many with 100%!) Here is a thought: If you are having trouble getting into “daily Bible reading” try the KJV. Like most of us who make it a habit to read the Bible, you might just get hooked! And remember, the slower you read it, the better it gets.

  2. If the poll is accurate, does that mean that only half attend a religious service at least each year? Maybe we’d better be thankful for the holidays that bring people in once or twice a year!
    Regarding the KJV vs. other versions. . .is it possible that people are not reading because the variations in the texts and the arguments over which version is correct have convinced them that no one really know which text is reliable?

    1. I understood it to refer to reading practices and not attendance, so did I miss something?

      Nah, most people don’t hear much about manuscripts and texts; mainly church folk who attend, I’d say.

  3. Some joke that Jesus authored the KJV. Well, the KJV has enduring quality (400 years as a standard qualifies as enduring, I’d think) as a literary work as well as being an excellent translation. For reading and memorization, and even for capturing some nuances of the original here and there, the KJV seems to take superiority. I have found that, among modern versions, only the NASB to be anywhere near as readable for daily meditation.
    As for people reading the Book in general, it has to be among the most tragic and ironic of statisticsin history, that Americans, a society whose cornerstone was this Book, and which has done more to promote its distribution than any nation in history, would become biblically illiterate.

    1. The KJV was indeed an excellent translation for its day, though it’s no longer so. Understanding of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages has grown by leaps and bounds. The Dead Sea Scrolls, to mention one discovery, changed the whole direction of linguistic biblical studies.

      It is a tragic statistic, for a country whose first major dictionary, as I understand it, was based on the Bible, and whose school curriculum was also drawn in great part from Scripture. Not to mention that its very form of government drew from many biblical principles.

What do you think?