While Americans watch “The Bible” miniseries in record numbers on television, what do citizens think about the written Bible itself?
A new study by the Barna Group on behalf of the American Bible Society shows increasing disbelief that Scripture is actually true.
In 2011, more than half (53 percent) of adults said the Bible “contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life.” In 2013, that percentage dipped below half of the population (47 percent). And although the 61 percent of American adults who want to read the Bible represents a majority of Americans, it’s a step down from the 67 percent of adults who said the same in 2011.
Additionally, the percentage of adults who believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life has declined substantially from 75 percent to 66 percent in the last two years.
The biggest jump of any group are those American adults who are antagonistic to the Bible, meaning they believe the Bible to just be a book of stories and teachings written by men, and they rarely or never read the Bible, the survey says. That group stood at one in ten adults (10 percent) in 2011. In 2013, their ranks have grown to 17 percent of all U.S. adults.
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“The middle ground related to the Bible seems to be disappearing,” explained David Kinnaman, president of Barna.
“The decrease of Bible-neutral and Bible-friendly people and the increase of Bible-antagonists suggest that more people are picking a side. It echoes the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans—these changes are perhaps less about the decline in belief and more about there being less cultural baggage to identifying as skeptical or disbelieving.”
Another study released earlier this year by Barna revealed an astounding 91 out of 96 U.S. cities – a whopping 95 percent – are not “Bible-minded.”
It defined “Bible-minded” people as individuals who typically read the Bible each week and who strongly assert Scripture is accurate in the principles it teaches.
The survey also found nearly nine out of ten (88 percent) Americans actually own a Bible.
Despite such a high number, that’s declined slightly since 1993, though only slightly, when 92 percent of Americans owned a Bible. On average, American Bible owners have 3.5 Bibles in their home, and one-quarter of Bible owners (24 percent) have six or more.
Eight out of ten (80 percent) Americans identify the Bible as sacred literature, without any prompting from interviewers. That proportion has also dipped from 2011, when 85 percent of respondents affirmed this perspective of the Bible. Americans’ overall belief in Scripture’s sacredness may also explain why almost two-thirds (61 percent) of American adults also say they wish they read the Bible more.
Additionally, despite a generally high number of Americans who think the Bible is sacred, there’s also a fairly high proportion of Americans who at least somewhat agree the Bible, the Quran and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths. Nearly half of Americans agree with that statement (31 percent of Americans agree somewhat, while 16 percent agree strongly), which hasn’t significantly changed since 2011.
Barna also looked at the success of “The Bible,” the TV miniseries produced by Roma Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, whose premiere episode was the highest entertainment broadcast of 2013 with 13.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings.
The research shows a majority of Americans have heard of the series and 42 percent of adults report watching at least a portion of the programming. Although active Christians are among the most likely group to watch the miniseries, the study shows that 27 percent of non-Christian adults have tuned in to some part of the series.
Overall, seven out of ten viewers (69 percent) say the miniseries gave them a “surprise or new discovery” about the Bible that they didn’t know before watching. Among those segments most likely to report such insights are young adult viewers.
“Bringing the Bible to the screen came with a huge responsibility and one we took very seriously,” Downey said on “The O’Reilly Factor March 3. “We had a great team of scholars and theologians helping us, making sure that we told these stories accurately and truthfully.”
“I’ve been a believer my whole life, and that was very, very important to us,” she added.
But when the program debuted, it was obvious there were glaring additions made to the TV show that are never mentioned in the Bible.
With the first episode focusing on the events in Genesis and Exodus, the first major non-biblical entry was the inclusion of an angel turning into a Ninja-style warrior wielding two swords and embarking on an expertly choreographed, slow-motion stabbing spree to slay the wicked men of Sodom, as can be seen in the following video clip:
According to the Old Testament, angels merely struck the citizens of Sodom with blindness before God firebombed the entire city. The TV series did include those elements as well. The show, however, did not mention the rampant homosexuality in Sodom, or that the city's men actually sought to have sex with the angels. (Genesis 19:5)
When Downey and Burnett were being interviewed by Bill O'Reilly of the Fox News Channel on Thursday, O'Reilly told Burnett, "Look, a lot of the Bible, Mr. Burnett, is allegorical, and we know that in creationism and things like that."
O'Reilly also claimed, "There are some contradictions among Matthew, Mark, Luke and John."
He defended his remarks the following evening after getting email objecting to his assertions: