Knowledge of Bible declining, poll says

Knowledge of the Bible is declining, with many ignorant of its most significant characters and events, according to a new survey.

The National Biblical Literacy Survey 2009 found that while most people own Bibles, only five per cent could name all the Ten Commandments and 62 per cent didn’t know the parable of the prodigal son.

Researchers from Durham University polled more than 900 people, from faith and non-faith backgrounds, at various locations throughout England and Wales.

The study, which was funded by a consortium of national churches, charitable trusts and Bible agencies, found Bible knowledge declining among under-45s.

Only one in 20 people could name all Ten Commandments, while 16 per cent couldn’t name any.

Sixty per cent couldn’t say anything about the Good Samaritan, while 57 per cent knew nothing about Joseph and his brothers.

However, three quarters of respondents said they owned a Bible and 31 per cent said the Bible was significant in their lives today.

Over-45s fared best in the survey. Three quarters of over-45s were able to supply accurate information about Samson and Delilah, compared to just half of under-45s.

Similarly, while 12 per cent of over-45s knew nothing about the feeding of the 5000, for under-45s the figure was 33 per cent.

Younger interviewees told researchers that they considered the Bible old fashioned and irrelevant.

They said they associated the Bible with media caricatures like Dot Cotton – the out-of-touch church-goer in the BBC’s Eastenders soap.

Reverend Brian D Brown, a Methodist minister and Visiting Fellow in Media and Communication at St John’s College, Durham University, said: “We can no longer take it for granted that Bible stories which are part of our national heritage, and many assume are learned from the cradle, are known by the majority.

However, Revd Brown said that “all was not doom and gloom”. He pointed out that 75 per cent of respondents knew about Moses and almost 70 per cent could talk about Judas.

He added: “Many respondents said they still turn to the Bible for support and guidance at key moments.

“The Bible remains a hot topic of interest and there was an unexpected willingness of respondents to give over half-an-hour of their time to be interviewed on sensitive personal issues such as the Bible and religion.

“This counters the prevailing view that people are unwilling to talk about religion and faith.”

In February Poet Laureate Andrew Motion said during an interview that children should be taught more about the Bible because it is an “essential piece of cultural luggage”.

Mr Motion, an atheist, said too many students now arrive at university to study English Literature with scant knowledge of its deeply biblical foundations.

Commenting on his experience of teaching students, he said: “When I ask them anything about the Bible, they frankly, by and large, don’t know. I don’t particularly blame them for it.

“But I do think there is a real problem with the education system that has allowed these great stories to disappear, to fade out of the diet everyone gets at school.”