Christian Neglect of the Bible

In an October 2000 Gallup Poll it was determined that, out of those polled, only 37% read the Bible on a daily or weekly basis. In my own personal experience, less than half of the professing Christians I know have ever read the entire Bible from cover to cover and don’t ever intend on doing so.

These statistics are not new to me though. This information bugged me deeply when I was a Christian and even more-so now. In this post I intend to show you why.

Christians, by and large, believe that the Bible is “The Word of God”…or at least most of them will make that claim. In fact it is considered by most Christian denominations to be a cardinal doctrine of their faith, that the Bible is the infallible ‘Word of God’ and is without error. It absolutely amazes me that many people that identify as Christians who have not read the full text of the Bible or even spent a large amount of time in study of it often make this same claim. Why is that a problem? Shouldn’t this news make me, as an atheist, very happy?

It doesn’t make me happy at all for a number of reasons:

For one, it tells me that Christians are believing things without even knowing what those things are. One might believe that the Bible is 100% authoritative in all things, yet may not understand that this belief entails justifications of god’s prophets sending bears to slaughter children (2 Kings 2:23–24), mass racial genocides (Joshua 6:20–21, Deuteronomy 2:32–35, Deuteronomy 3:3–7, Numbers 31:7–18, 1 Samuel15:1–9), condoning of rape (Judges 21:1–23), and child sacrifice (Judges 11:30–39). I know that the majority of Christians have never heard of most of these stories from the Bible, yet they still hold to the idea that it is perfection and breathed from god’s lips — would knowledge of these stories and supposed “Truths” change their view of the Bible?  For some it would have to.

Keep reading:

My second reason actually has a lot more to do with how I felt as a Christian who was frustrated by his peers and their complacency in their faith. IF you claim to believe that a book is the direct word of God, it seems to me that you would want to absorb as much of it as possible. I know that I certainly felt that way, I couldn’t get enough of the Bible — even the most gruesome parts — and I studied it for hours a day for quite a few years because I believed it was God’s uncompromisable word. I learned to cherish every word of it because of that belief. If a person calls themselves a Christian and claims to believe such grandiose things about the Bible, one would think that the evidence of such a conviction would be a nearly constant study or love for it — yet this is far from the case! One must wonder if these folks truly believe in this god or his book!

In retrospect, the third reason is in reference to the first, but it has to do with the fact that a faith that requires no knowledge or understanding of what that faith entails can’t really qualify as a faith at all. Perhaps I focused on correct doctrine a bit too much as a Christian, but it seems to me that understanding the rudiments and then the more advanced intricacies of one’s faith should be a defining aspect of a faith. Instead, we often see folks that only believe that Jesus died for them on the cross, yet couldn’t for the life of them explain or discuss even the cardinal doctrines upon which the church was built on. If you don’t know whether or not you believe that Christ was deified or not, or if there is or is not a trinity, or even why there was a need for perfect human sacrifice in the first place, then I have to question whether or not you can actually count yourself among the believers. It’s one thing to blindly place one’s faith in the Bible, it’s all together another to actually KNOW what things it says and still believe in it!

My purpose for writing this was two-fold. For one, I fully believe that every Christian (or other believer) has a responsibility to themselves and to their god to seek out the Truth…if you believe that something is true then you should lather yourself up in it, soak it in, live it, study it, understand it to the best of your ability. If you refuse to do so then you should be asking yourself whether or not you truly believe in it.  Secondly, I also know just how powerful the words of the Bible are and I know very well how the Bible is the number one tool used in helping believers become skeptics and atheists. I don’t believe I would have ever let go of my god had I not had such an unquenchable thirst for the Bible, so much so that I began to recognize the inconsistencies of it and later became able to reject it and it’s god.

I’d like some feedback from both Christians (devout and non) and atheists regarding this subject, so please leave comments and share this with your friends.

  • Jessica W.

    Totally agree. Every single time I discuss the bible with professed christians, I SHOCK them with stories and verses that they’ve never heard. It seems like all they know is Adam and Eve, Noah, Jonah, etc. The good thing is, if they are at all open, they start to understand your POV and lack of belief.
    I think that I am a lot more frustrated by the ones that DO know the bible, yet ignore the inconsistencies, justify the evils, and support the prejudice/bigotry!!! The people that no matter if truth and reality hit them in the face, will still believe every word and refuse empathy and openmindedness, because even considering the fallibility of scripture is TABOO.

    • I guess I put the two types into different categories of faithful, both frustrate me greatly – but the ignorant have always been especially irritating to me.

  • Jessica W.

    But good post. About it being the number 1 tool, that is definitely me. Long before I rejected that life and finally sorted out my feelings-which you and your blog helped a lot with!- I just never could reconcile MY beliefs, MY morals, or approve of much of what I read. Sanctioned evil? Still evil. Of course, the idea that we can be more loving and gracious than god is dreadfully sacrilegious… That is what it comes down to for me. Good and evil. I couldn’t care less for arguing about ID/evolution/young earth creationism, or bananas, etc. haha. Aaaall moot to me!
    🙂

  • furious ennui

    I have read the bible. Several different versions, as it happens. I’m an atheist, in large part, because I have read the bible. It just doesn’t add up on so many levels, does it? I think more athiests have read the bible than supposed christians. I have out quoted Catholic Bishops in discussions. I’ve forced fundies to admit that some parts may be metaphor (which begs the question, how do you tell what is literal, what is metaphor, and what are just stories, songs and poems?). In the final analysis, know thine enemy really works a treat on Sunday mornings when the door knockers call.

    • Rev George Abraham

      You might have read the bible many a times in different versions as you claim but surely you might not have read it as it should have been read. It is not just a story book which you can understand while reading. It gives you the clear vision about the eternity if you want to know it. It is the only book which no power could destroy and remove from the face of the earth. It tells you about the beginning of the universe and the end too. No science could find or prove any error in it. It is the book of prophecies which are being fulfilled even today. Just an example for the correctness of the bible is ISRAEL. There was no Israel after AD 70 till 1948. But the word of God clearly said that it is has to be formed again. It happened. Then it said that the enemies of Israel will come together to wipe out Israel from the face of the earth. You can see it in Psalms 83. It happened in my life time. Egyptian President Nasser tried to wipe out Israel but Israel remains more powerful than before and Nasser perished. It prophesied about the birth, life and death on the cross of Jesus Christ. It happened. It says about the second coming of Jesus Christ and it is going to happen too. You may believe it or reject it. It is your own freedom. Many who were the enemies of Christ and the cross are the witnesses of it now. I personally know a few who were staunch communists and RSS who hated cross and they became witnesses for Christ. Remember your life on earth is only for once and then you will have to leave the earth. There is an eternity which has to be selected by you alone during your life time on earth. Whether you like it or not, you will have to stand in front of the judgement throne of Jesus Christ. It will be followed by heaven where you can be happy at eternity or hell where you can remain in never ending fire. Choice is purely yours. If you want to be safe, accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and accept you are a sinner. Be saved today. Will you?

  • The Rev Russ

    Good post, Matt. I appreciated your tone in this and I did not see it as confrontational.

    I get what you’re saying and my challenge to you is only this: for you, reading and studying the Bible is what you claim led you away from the faith as if to almost suggest that anyone who does the same would come to the same point. Tell me, then, why are there so many who have also studied the Bible in depth (including the original languages), written commentaries on it, etc. and are coming to a completely opposite conclusion? In other words, I know many Christians who have done in-depth study of the Bible, read it many times over (including all the “ugly” parts), and yet are stronger in their faith and more convinced that it is truth?

    Just some food for thought.

    • I'm positive that not everyone that studies the Bible will come to the same point that I did. Many don't, but some do…and I'd rather you be educated regarding your faith than completely ignorant of it.
      \\
      One thing you and I both have in common, Russ, is that I'd love to see more dedicated Christians shewing the fruits of their faith. The Bible has a few things to say about this as well, if you'll recall the verses about the cold, luke warm, and hot believers and god's preference regarding them.

  • Good post, Matt. I think you will find many Christians agreeing with you on many points. I’ve read and studied the whole Bible on my own, studied the Bible and theology in college, and spent many years in deep group studies where we would take 10 or so verses a week and really dig into them so we could understand them. The angry God portrayed in mostly the OT is what I struggled with, but always managed to find something to make me feel better about it. I mean if you convince yourself that everyone on the planet in the time of Noah was were evil beyond redemption then the flood makes sense. It wasn’t until I started doubting that it dawned on me that it was every man, woman, child, infant, fetus, and not to mention all but two of each animal. Animals in the Bible have the ability to suffer just as humans do, but no eternal reward, yet there are verses that encourage believers to treat animals well. That was a little harder to rationalize away.

    I know Christians who are well versed in the Bible and some take it literally and some see it more symbolically, but each comes up with some rational for what they choose to believe about it.

  • ” I fully believe that every Christian (or other believer) has a responsibility to themselves and to their god to seek out the Truth”

    I fully believe that this is the responsibility of every HUMAN, regardless of religion. And the major failing of the religious.

  • Jason

    Dear Sir

    I don’t like replying in online forums such as this because it becomes quite difficult to carry on a real conversation. However, you seem to be very sincere, and I will try to do the same. As a Christian, I can tell you that the claims you make regarding a Christian’s need to read and understand the bible are very true. We are to imitate the example given in Joshua 1:8 to consider the scriptures daily.

    Although regular and through bible reading is good and beneficial, please suspend your disbelief and allow me to at least explain things from a believer’s point of view. From the bible’s point of view, many of the things it says are in fact hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). In fact, the bible says that much of what it contains will be impossible to understand without a special help. Again according to 2 Corinthians 2:3 much of what the bible says is “veiled”. Imagine a lay person trying to understand truths about the universe by reading Einstein’s equations on relativity. They may feel as the Ethiopian eunuch who said he could not understand what he was reading, unless someone guided him (Acts 8:31). So who can be a guide, and what is the special help that is needed to really understand the bible (as more than just an academic or historical or literary work). The bible says that the holy spirit is the helper (John 14:26). In fact without such spirit, no one can interpret God’s word (2 Peter 1:20-21).

    Holy spirit (if there is such a thing, which obviously for a believer there is such a thing) allows us to see the scriptures as they are. For example, look at your citation of the story of Jephthah’s daughter. Really isn’t this is the type of misquote many atheist’s (often rightly) accuse some “creationists” of making against many scientist’s and their work. Judge’s 11:40 speaks of how the daughter’s the land would regularly go to Israel each year to commend Jephthah’s daughter for keeping her father’s vow; instead of getting married and having her own life, she was a “sacrifice” to God by living a life devoted to his service. Child sacrifice was appalling to God, but it was a feature in the pagan worship of some of the neighbors of Israel. When some Israelite’s started adopting this custom of child sacrifice, God punished and condemned them, and expressed his own feelings of disgust, saying that an action so awful never came into his heart (Jeremiah 7:31). I could also refute your other claims, but if you are as sincere as I think you are, maybe you will give me the befit of the doubt by taking pause.

    Let me conclude by saying that your original thesis (or some of it) is correct. It you really want to know the truth about God. Seek out a people who do read the bible as a central component of their worship. If God is real, you are sincere, and I am not a liar, then this will be no problem for you.

  • Jason, I’m having a hard time understanding what you see as a refutation. Are you saying that Jephthah did not fulfill his vow and offer his daughter as a burnt offering?

  • Here is a question for Matt:

    Show me where in the 66 book canon that any member of the “trinity” is the direct “author of evil”.

    Remember… “Author of evil”. And if you need it defined, evil as in contrary to righteousness/holiness/sinlessness. Actions that correct evil, and restore/preserve… righteousness/holiness/sinlessness are not evil.

    Removal of the spoiled apple saves the barrel.

  • Jon

    37% read the Bible but 100% believe they are capable of telling the rest of us what the Bible means.

  • Good post. Sad to say, I am for the first time going through the Bible as a whole this year. Ive been through the new testament several times, and a good majority of the old testament in the past but this is really the first time Im reading both testaments side by side, all the way through. And I must say this time around I am shocked at many of the things in it, some of which you described and reading the constant gruesome things in the OT is one of the reasons that while I do believe the Bible does contain alot of God inspired truth, it is not without error and human assumptions.

  • Jason

    Mike AKA MonolithTMA,

    The scriptures including Judges 11:40 make it clear the the daughters of Israel would go “from year to year” to commend her( the Hebrew word here, tanah’ can also mean “converse with” or even lament ) . If she was dead, how could they be doing this from year to year? (Remember, the bible never mentions, and the Israelites did not believe that the dead had any consciousness (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and “inquiring of the dead” was a was regarded as a pagan and prohibited false belief (Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (which also again says child sacrifice is wrong)

    In fact the preceding scriptures say that she went with her friends for two months to “weep over her virginity.” She was understandably upset because she would be never become married as she was now commended to sacred service (Likely as a Nethinim
    , one give to temple service) . Most women of the time saw marriage and childbearing as very important. Judges 11:39 comments that she never had relations with a man, this likely referring to not her status as a virgin before the vow, but after, which is why the daughters of Israel kept coming to her year after year, she was to be commended for her faithfulness to her father and to God.

  • Well put, Matt. This is something I think many “Christians” need to hear. Though, of course, biblical prophecy predicts that many who claim to love the Lord will fall into apostasy, worshipping their own image of God instead of God Himself. In fact, I see the poor state of the church as reflecting biblical prophecy quite thoroughly–ignorance being just one of many problems. And while some may lose faith after reading the Bible as a whole, there are also some who have the opposite reaction and I consider myself in the latter group. I love how the Bible fits together as a whole, despite humanity’s rough beginning and even rougher end.

  • Daniel

    Ezekiel 14:4 …Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;

    The man that has an idol in his heart looks at the world through the lens of self or some other man's ideology. If you believe in a naturalist philosophy, a false god, or believe in yourself more than God, and then seek truth when your heart will not take it, God will let you see what you want to see: error, contradiction, and discrimination. He answers you in your delusion. This is what happens when a skeptic tries to interpret the word of God. This is the condemnation of the world, that men love darkness rather than light. The serious student comes to God honestly seeking without a pretense in his heart. God gives his light to the latter man.

  • Rev George Abraham

    The Holy Bible is the word of God It is the only book in the world which gives a true account of what is visible and what is invisible to mankind. It gives the clear picture about the beginning as well as the end of the universe A great number of prophecies have been fulfilled already and the rest are being fulfilled even today. For example, Israel was no more a nation after AD. 70 and it scattered to the corners of the world. In around AD. 30, Jesuss Christ prophesied about the destruction of the Jewish nation and the temple there in. In less than four decades it happened too. It is stiill not rebuilt It is going to be rebuilt soon. All the preparations have been made for the construction of the temple at the very spot where it existed earlier. The only hindrance for it now is the existance of the third most holy mosque after that of Macca and Medina named Al Aqsa. It will have to be removed from there . It may be by the divine intervention or act of man is unknown now. But it will happen. The generation which saw the formation of Israel (1948) will see the construction of jewish temple too. The Bible (Psalms 83:4) says about a conspiracy against Israel. It occure in our life time. President Abul Gamal Nazer of Egypt was the key person who caused a war between Israel and Arab nations in 1965. Jerusalem was with the arabs then. But a war which lasted less than a week ended in the utter failure of the arabs who encircled the tiny Israel. Jerusalem was captured by Israel. It was the end of President Nazer too.It is just an example of the divinity of Holy Bible. Many proofs are there but it is just a sample dose. It is divine because it is not the handiwork of any human being. It has been authored by Holy God through his servants numbering about forty who lived in a period of about 1600 years and written part by part in three different languages viz. Hebrew, Greek and Syriac. Yet there is no contradiction between the books toalling 66 and all are supporting each other. The good and evil are mentioned in the Bible because it is true. Nothing is hidden The very essence of the holy Bible is salavation of mankind through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It was not forced one but voluntary one. The Holy God himself became a sacrificial lamb to save mankind from eternal death. Believe it. It is true.

    God bless you.

  • Non Sense

    Funny topic! The entire reason that i am no longer an believer is actually because i read up and did some research on it. Its also funny how some people like to say that the reason the Jews dont believe in Jesus is because they didnt believe the messiah would be betrayed by his own. Wrong it is proven through reading of the bible that the true reason is because he failed to complete the prophecy in his own lifetime contrary to the jewish belief that he would.

  • Non Sense

    Make that also the jewish belief that predates Jesus's own existence.

  • Evening!

    I’ve been a Christian missionary for 37+ years and have read (and listened to) the Bible many times ‘From cover to cover,’ so to speak, and continue to do so on an ongoing basis. I don’t subscribe to the one-hour-a-day nonsense that some people advocate. Sometimes I’ll read for hours, even days, and other times I won’t read for a week because I’m busy contemplating a point that I don’t quite ‘get’ yet, so I spend those days talking it over with God and asking for discernment. After all, ‘Does not interpretation belong to God’? (Yes!)

    It’s amazing to me how many people, Christians and non Christians alike, fail to notice that God admits in several places that He hasn’t told us nearly everything. (Check out Job.) In fact, God tells us that we cannot imagine what He has in store for us. ‘Eye has not seen and ear has not heard…’ and in 1 Corinthians 13 we read ‘For now we see through a dark glass dimly,’ as in, we don’t have a clear understanding of everything yet, but we will one day soon, and some are granted greater ‘Interpretation’ than others. Personally, I’ve found that God tends to feed us in keeping with the level of our hunger – along the same lines as ‘When the student is ready then the teacher will appear.’

    The Bible was never meant to be taken literally. Even Christ spoke in parables, and the Bible is *full* of symbolism, metaphorical language, allegories, imagery and so on. In ancient Hebrew, every letter in the alphabet had both a numerical value and a pictorial meaning, it’s fascinating stuff, but do we learn everything God has to tell us from the Bible? Certainly not! The Holy Spirit instructs on a moment to moment (and individual) basis, teaching us what we need to know when we need to know it. Then we have our prayer life, and other personal Interactions with God (visions, dreams, miracles of various kinds), all of which instruct us and enrich our spiritual understanding. And let’s not overlook the fact that God has written His Laws on the hearts of all of humankind – some of you here may think of that implanted compass as your conscience, and you would be correct, but there are trained consciences and untrained ones, again, in keeping with individual requirements at any given time. (God doesn’t waste a lot of time on the belligerant and arrogant, I’ve noticed.)

    So, by all means read your Bible; it’s an historical and prophetic account, a letter from The Almighty, and an excellent guide to ‘walk’ us through our lives, but it won’t tell you everything, it was never meant to. It will, however, tell you all you need to know.

    Yours, surrendering to, and trusting in Christ – Jesse.

  • Evening!

    PART ONE

    I've been a Christian missionary for 37+ years and have read (and listened to) the Bible many times 'From cover to cover,' so to speak, and continue to do so on an ongoing basis. I don't subscribe to the one-hour-a-day nonsense that some people advocate. Sometimes I'll read for hours, even days, and other times I won't read for a week because I'm busy contemplating a point that I don't quite 'get' yet, so I spend those days talking it over with God and asking for discernment. After all, 'Does not interpretation belong to God'? (Yes!)

    '

  • PART TWO

    It's amazing to me how many people, Christians and non Christians alike, fail to notice that God admits in several places that He hasn't told us nearly everything. (Check out Job.) In fact, God tells us that we cannot imagine what He has in store for us. 'Eye has not seen and ear has not heard…' and in 1 Corinthians 13 we read 'For now we see through a dark glass dimly,' as in, we don't have a clear understanding of everything yet, but we will one day soon, and some are granted greater 'Interpretation' than others. Personally, I've found that God tends to feed us in keeping with the level of our hunger – along the same lines as 'When the student is ready then the teacher will appear.

  • PART THREE

    The Bible was never meant to be taken literally. Even Christ spoke in parables, and the Bible is *full* of symbolism, metaphorical language, allegories, imagery and so on. In ancient Hebrew, every letter in the alphabet had both a numerical value and a pictorial meaning, it's fascinating stuff, but do we learn everything God has to tell us from the Bible? Certainly not! The Holy Spirit instructs on a moment to moment (and individual) basis, teaching us what we need to know when we need to know it. Then we have our prayer life, and other personal Interactions with God (visions, dreams, miracles of various kinds), all of which instruct us and enrich our spiritual understanding.

  • PART FOUR

    And let's not overlook the fact that God has written His Laws on the hearts of all of humankind – some of you here may think of that implanted compass as your conscience, and you would be correct, but there are trained consciences and untrained ones, again, in keeping with individual requirements at any given time. (God doesn't waste a lot of time on the belligerent and arrogant, I've noticed.)

    So, by all means read your Bible; it's an historical and prophetic account, a letter from The Almighty, and an excellent guide to 'walk' us through our lives, but it won't tell you everything, it was never meant to. It will, however, tell you all you need to know.

    May God bless and keep you all.

    Yours, surrendering to, and trusting in Christ – Jesse.

  • Caprise

    Didn't read other people's comments, but I agree. It's funny that when these complacent Christians get challenged, for example one of their children comes out as gay, well then all the sudden they're fanatics about Christ. When they get pushed, they come out full force, even if they haven't been to church in years, or haven't ever read the bible. It's sad, because all they need is to believe in Jesus and the bible (even if they don't read it) and they're safe from hell. Like you said, is that really believing? If someone pointed a gun to my head and said they'd shoot if I didn't tell them I loved them, guess what I would do.

  • Jessica

    you have an amazing point there. I never thought of it that way really. It was the bible that led me away from that faith in large part because I didn't agree with being gay was a sin, I'm not gay but I don't think it's a sin either. I don't believe that if a child molester repents that he will be able to go into a glorious place, that's just not right and then they condemn you for being a pagan or atheist and you will go to hell yet a child molester is heaven bound? Yea somethings messed up.