Reading the Whole Bible

Who Reads the Bible?

Considerable research has been done regarding Bible reading.  Most research focuses on the percentages of people who read it and how often they engage in that behavior.  In What Americans Really Believe, Rodney Stark reports that 28% of Americans (24% of women and 32% of men) read the Bible at least once a week (p.64).

Very little research has been done regarding those who have read the entire Bible.  Earlier this week, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight wrote that he suspects, “no more than 25% of church attenders/members have read the Bible from cover to cover.”  Since this is not a topic included in recurring national surveys, he asked his readers for their thoughts on the topic and for information from any surveys done in local churches.   One reader posted that a survey in his congregation showed that 30% had read the entire Bible, but quickly added that they belong to a denomination that emphasizes Bible reading.

In my own searching on the topic I found many who are discouraged by biblical illiteracy, but almost no one claiming to have done research into how many people claim to have read the entire Bible.  William Proctor, editor of the Light Speed Bible, claims that his informal research finds that around 10% have read the Bible from cover to cover, which is far less than most other surveys, which suggest 20-25% have done so.  According to Rasmussen Reports31% have read the entire Bible.

So What?

It is reasonable to assume that  between 10 and 31% of Americans who follow Christ have read the entire Bible.

  • Is it acceptable to you that 3 in 10 (or less) American Christians have ever read every word of the Bible? How do you think this number compares to the percentage who claimed to have done so in the 1980s? 60s? 30s?
  • What percentage of the active members and friends of your congregation do you think have read the entire Bible at least once in their lives?  Are you satisfied with this number?  For those who may be intimidated by the idea, what classes or resources does your church provide?
  • Have you read the entire Bible?
    • If so, how did the experience enrich your view of the Bible and expand your faith? Did you use a read the Bible in a year program or Bible designed specifically for this purpose?
    • If not, what are the main reasons you have never done so?  What do you think you would gain from the experience if you read the Bible from cover to cover?

Comments

  1. With 64 years of life in the church (growing up in a strongly evangelical congregation), 12 years of para-church Christian education career which overlapped with 35 years of pastoral ministry, I would think that 10% of active church members having actually read the entire Bible is amazingly, generously high. I’d be surprised if 10% of active church members have read the entire New Testament, much less waded through Leviticus.

    One of my concerns from my years of Christian education (para-church and congregational) is how little attempt is made to connect the narrative and themes of the Bible. Most of it has a decidedly devotional and/or moralistic slant. Even those who would most vociferously complain about what they see as works righteousness in others (modernists, fundamentalists, Catholics) teach the Bible as though it is an instruction manual about doing the things that keep God from punishing you. Plenty of explanation about how Jesus died so we could be forgiven but precious little about how to live as people of grace.

    So people know disconnected stories,snatches of exhortation and a few favorite verses, but actual knowledge of the Bible is sorely missing. Part of the reason for this is how Christian education has been done for generations. Part of that has been to in effect teach that children learn and when you become an adult you stop learning. Even if adults do participate in Bible studies, they tend to continue the fragmented approach that reinforces rather than challenging previously held concepts. Another reason for this is that this moralistic version of Christianity has been equated with being good (American) citizens, moral members of the community rather than the radical challenge of living the Kingdom of God (we’ve even developed clever theologies to let us off the Kingdom of God hook). I’m sure we pastors share some of the responsibility as well, by preaching inspiration for the next week rather than letting the Bible confront us with the presence of God.

    Having written all of this, I don’t want to degenerate into playing “ain’t it awful” and simply bemoan biblical illiteracy. Nor do I want to defend my efforts to remedy this, as they have been no more effective than anyone else’s. I have written curriculum for children, youth and adults. I have taught the Bethel Series and Kerygma. I first read the Bible through in high school and have repeated (though not in a front to back – Genesis to Revelation) fashion several time since. I don’t think the first time through when I was about 15 did much for my faith, except that I could say I did it. My repeat journeys, however, were prompted by a hunger to learn, explore, open to being encountered by God.

    Perhaps the most meaningful have been the times of spiritual dryness (desolation per Ignatius, dark night per John of the Cross) when I kept at it without much satisfaction, only to find that as I emerged again into the light, I had absorbed and been shaped by what I had read with such urgency.

    I don’t have a solution to offer, except to suggest that churches need to encourage small communities and relationships of spiritual authenticity in which we push each other back into the Bible to listen for the voice of God (that is not a theological denial that the Bible is the Word of God).

  2. The greatest opposers in the mainstream of Biblical values are “good Christians”.
    They have morals and some money but never read the entire Bible to see
    for themselves what the Bible days about the controversial topics. They help perpetuate
    ungodly laws and sometimes hateful ones against true believers. As Jesus said, a man’s
    enemies are they of his own household. Genuine Christian values are trashed first by
    Biblically illiterate ‘good Christians’ before they are trashed by the general public.
    This coming Sunday, just look at your pulpit and your church folk and see res ipsa loquitor!
    Matthew 10:36

  3. Lawrence Sterling III says:

    I finished today. Cover to cover.

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  5. Gilbert Bracke says:

    I read the bible every year starting with Genesis at the beginning of the year and finishing with the end of Revelation at the end of the year. Thank goodness for Calvary Church. I read their study bible. Their late founding pastor, Chuck Smith, said when he started the church, it didn’t grow. Not in size but in maturity. The only way to mature in the growth with Jesus is the Word. They teach the entire Bible every year. Once born again, you need to mature with your walk with Christ.

  6. The LORD has blessed me with a rich hunger for His word. I have been saved for 7 years and have read the bible 7 times not including thousands of personal study hours & time spent in prayer. If my hunger for His word wanes then I pray and ask God for a deeper hunger for His word and He is always faithful in granting that request. Blessings!

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  9. A. Razborsek says:

    I have read the bible, cover to cover new and Old Testaments 40 times in the last 10 yrs. I am retired and have disciplined myself to read 20 pages a day in order to accomplish that. Additionally, i research via the internet commentaries and I listen to sermons daily.

    I have been a believer for 35 years now. The Lord has blessed me with the ability and the drive to read His word. God bless you all, shalom. r.

Trackbacks

  1. […] on where one gets one’s statistics, somewhere between 1 in 10 and 3 in 10 Americans has ever read the entire Bible.  A much smaller percentage has achieved a significant degree of […]

  2. […] like average Christians wouldn't know because they haven't even read the Bible. And it's true. http://sowhatfaith.com/2010/11/13/re…e-whole-bible/ Earlier this week, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight wrote that he suspects, “no more […]

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