More Americans are doubting the infallibility of the Bible, treating it as a guidebook rather than the actual words of God, according to a survey released Wednesday.
The State of the Bible survey, conducted by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society, shows that 19 percent of American adults are “skeptical” about the Bible and 19 percent are “engaged” with the book.
It’s the first time in the four years of the survey that the two groups are tied, with skeptics growing by 10 percentage points since 2011. The shift is attributed in large part to the growing doubts of the millennial generation and Generation X.
“I think young people have always questioned their parents, questioned the church,” said Roy Peterson, president of the American Bible Society. “In our experience, they may not necessarily be coming back like previous generations. Young people might have said, ‘God’s word is written by God, and it’s an important book.’ Today the skeptics are saying, ‘It’s just like any other piece of literature, and it’s no different from that.’”
Millennials, generally described as those born since 1980, are less likely to own, read and respect the Bible. Survey conductors predicted this trend would continue through the next five years.
“It is a concern for us,” Mr. Peterson said. “You know how ideologic we are when we’re young, hoping the church lives out what Jesus said to do, seeing the church meeting injustice and hurts of our society. We have to help people find answers in Scripture.”
Bible skepticism is on the rise. The survey showed that 79 percent of Americans believe the Bible is sacred, down from 86 percent in 2011.
The survey found that 88 percent of Americans have a Bible in their home, but only about 37 percent of them read it on a regular basis. Forty percent of respondents said the main reason they were not reading the Bible was that they were too busy. Other reasons included significant life changes or events that created doubt in the Bible owner’s faith.
Mr. Peterson said the “too busy” excuse will be a focus for the American Bible Society in the next year.
“It’s not possible to live to the standard of the Gospel without a vibrant relationship with the Lord,” he said. “No one is too busy to stop and eat; that’s really how we have to see the Scriptures. We have to disciple people to the point where they can’t live — can’t live their life — without Scripture.”
Another trend the survey found was a change in the way people read the Bible. Among Bible readers, 84 percent said they use print editions, but the share of people who use smartphones or tablets to access Scripture has increased from 18 percent to 35 percent since 2011.
About 11 percent of survey respondents who increased their Bible reading said that watching the successful TV miniseries “The Bible” last year inspired them to read more of the book on which it was based.
Also on the topic of media, about 33 percent of respondents, — compared with 29 percent last year — blamed television, music and movies for a decline in American morals. About one-third of those surveyed in 2013 blamed a lack of Bible reading as the problem, but that number dropped this year to 26 percent.
The survey of roughly 1,000 adults was conducted via phone and online Jan. 8-20. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.
The California-based Barna Group conducts a variety of surveys and studies on faith and culture. Its work has included what sacrifices Christians make during Lent and how voters’ faith affects their decisions.