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People Not Reading Bible Grows; More Prefer Christian Testament

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The number of U.S. adults who never read the Bible increased in 2019, while readers expressed a preference for the Christian Testament over the Hebrew Bible, according to two separate reports published during Holy Week (April 15-19).

Barna Group, in partnership with the American Bible Society, published its annual “State of the Bible” report on April 18, finding mixed results in U.S. Bible engagement.

While the number of “disengaged” Bible readers (infrequent users who say it has little impact on their lives) decreased six percentage points to 48% in 2019, U.S. adults who said they never read the Bible increased to 35% (up 10 percentage points since 2011).

Adults described as “Bible centered” (regular readers who say the Bible shapes their relationships and choices) declined four points to 5% in 2019.

Yet, those classified as “engaged” (regular readers who say the Bible shapes their relationships), “friendly” (occasional readers who find wisdom in the Bible) and “neutral” (sporadic readers who find little meaning in the Bible) all increased last year by 2%, 4% and 4%, respectively.

Respondents were categorized based on answers to 14 questions about Bible usage.

Daily Bible reading was reported by 71% of “centered” respondents, much higher than the other groups of adults: “engaged” (42%), “friendly” (10%) and “neutral” (1%). None of the “disengaged” respondents read the Bible daily and 73% of them never read it.

A separate YouGov.com poll, also published April 18, focused on the testament preferred by U.S. adults who read the Bible.

Results revealed that 38% of respondents preferred the Christian Testament (called the “New Testament” in the survey) and 22% the Hebrew Bible (labeled the “Old Testament” in the survey). The remaining 40% either said they didn’t know or were not familiar with the Bible.

Protestants were more likely than Catholics to express a preference for the Christian Testament by a 59% to 38% margin.

Among Protestant traditions, 65% of independent / nondenominational respondents preferred reading the Christian Testament, compared to 51% for three other traditions: Baptist, Lutheran and Methodist.

The full State of the Bible report is available here. The full YouGov report is available here.

Editor’s note: YouGov framed the difference between biblical testaments in a manner EthicsDaily.com would not affirm, saying, “God in the Old Testament is embodied by fire and brimstone while the message in the New Testament is much more focused on love and forgiveness.” It also used the terms “New Testament” and “Old Testament,” which EthicsDaily.com seeks to avoid, preferring Hebrew Bible and Christian Testament as more accurate and constructive descriptions that recognize the so-called “Old Testament” remains a lively and relevant sacred text that shapes the lives of Jews and Christians alike.