Fact Tank - Our Lives in Numbers
5 facts on how Americans view the Bible and other religious texts
By Abigail Geiger
This year, the Jewish festival of Passover – April 10 to 18 – coincides with the Christian celebration of Easter. And Easter, somewhat unusually, falls on April 16 in both the Orthodox and Western calendars.
Both Passover and Easter are based on biblical accounts. Passover commemorates the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, as described in the Hebrew Scriptures. Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus, as described in the Christian Gospels. In this important season for both traditions, here are five key facts about Americans and their holy texts.
About a third of Americans (35%) say they read scripture at least once a week, while 45% seldom or never read scripture, according to 2014 data from our Religious Landscape Study. Frequency of reading scripture differs widely among religious groups. Majorities of Jehovah’s Witnesses (88%), Mormons (77%), evangelical Protestants (63%) and members of historically black Protestant churches (61%) say they read scripture at least once a week. By contrast, 65% of Jews say they seldom or never read scripture.
Three-quarters of Christians say they believe the Bible is the word of God. Eight-in-ten Muslims (83%) say the Quran is the word of God, according to the 2014 survey. Far fewer Jews (37%) say they view the Torah as the word of God.
Christians, who make up a majority of U.S. adults (71%), are divided over how to interpret the Bible. While about four-in-ten Christians (39%) say the Bible’s text is the word of God and should be taken literally, 36% say it should not be interpreted literally or express another or no opinion. A separate 18% of Christians view the Bible as a book written by men, not God.
In 2014, about four-in-ten Christians (42%) said reading the Bible or other religious materials is an essential part of what being Christian means to them personally. An additional 37% say reading the Bible is important but not essential to being a Christian, and 21% say reading the Bible is not an important part of their Christian identity.
Seven-in-ten Americans (71%) know the Bible teaches that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. A similar share know that Moses was the biblical figure who led the Exodus from Egypt, and 63% could identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible, according to our 2010 religious knowledge survey. But fewer than half of adults (45%) could name all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and only four-in-ten (39%) identified Job as the biblical figure known for remaining obedient to God despite extraordinary suffering.
Regarding other religious texts, four-in-ten Americans knew that Jesus appeared to followers in the Americas according to the Book of Mormon, and 54% correctly name the Quran as the holy book of Islam.