In this special year of celebration (the quatercentenary of the Authorized or King James Version), a slim majority (54%) of Britons think the Bible is an important book, even though nearly seven in eight of them freely admit that they do not read it that often.
This is one of the principal findings from an opinion poll released on 13 May and carried out by ComRes for the Bible Society. Fieldwork was conducted online on 1-3 April 2011, among a representative sample of 2,379 adults aged 18 and over throughout Great Britain.
Asked how significant the Bible was to them personally, 8% said that it is a very important book, which they claimed to read often and which enriched their lives. The proportion was highest with 18-34s (14%), Londoners (17%), and those from the public sector (15%, virtually twice the figure for the private sector).
46% described it as an important book, which they read infrequently but which had some valuable things to say. The percentage rose steadily with age, from 29% among the 18-24s to 61% for the over-65s.
42% considered the Bible to be unimportant, not really affecting their lives, with a regional high of 55% in Wales and a low of 32% in London, albeit the over-65s (29%) recorded the smallest figure for any demographic sub-group.
4% branded the Bible a dangerous book which should be ignored, the 18-24s (12%) particularly taking this line.
Rather fewer than the 54% acknowledging the significance of the Bible felt that knowledge of it was important in appreciating specific aspects of daily life. 48% judged it relevant to an understanding of the visual arts, 46% to classic English literature, 45% to British history, 42% to everyday phrases, 29% to politics, and 24% to classical music. In other words, majorities of varying sizes consistently said that the Bible was not relevant in these contexts.
Actual knowledge of the Bible was measured by asking respondents to identify the source of five quotations, all of which came from the Bible. While 56% knew that ‘my brother’s keeper’ (Genesis 4:9) derived from the Bible, only 19% could identify it as the source of ‘the writing on the wall’ (Daniel 5:5-6), 10% ‘filthy lucre’ (1 Timothy 3:3), 9% ‘eat, drink and be merry’ (Luke 12:19), and 7% ‘a drop in the bucket’ (Isaiah 40:15).
Between one-fifth and one-half could not even guess the origin of each quotation, but others happily plumped for the offered options of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, The Beatles or Tony Blair. Biblical literacy was especially low among the under-34s and manual workers, and high among the over-65s and AB social group.
The full data tables from the poll, disaggregated by gender, age, social grade, region and employment sector, are available at:
These results come as Bible Society in England and Wales and the Scottish Bible Society prepare to launch The People’s Bible. This will be touring the UK between June and November, providing the opportunity to re-engage or engage with the Bible for the first time. See: