How People Read Bible Stories

Over the last few months (October 21 and December 17), the Barna Research Group has surveyed folks about their belief in several well know Bible stories. In the survey they conducted belief about the following stories were quarried.

Survey respondents were asked if they thought a specific story in the Bible was “literally true, meaning it happened exactly as described in the Bible” or whether they thought the story was “meant to illustrate a principle but is not to be taken literally.” Six renowned Bible stories were then offered to adults for their consideration.

October 21, 2007

  • The resurrection of Jesus. About 75 percent (75%) of those surveyed believed this story to be literal.
  • Daniel in the lion’s den. Almost two-thirds (65%) thought this story to be literally true.
  • The parting of the Red Sea. Just a shade less that the Daniel group, sixty-four percent (64%) believed this story actually happening.
  • David and Goliath. Sixty-three percent (63%) found this story to be literal.
  • Peter walking on water. The percentage of folks who took this to be literal was sixty percent (60%).
  • The six days of Creation in Genesis. Those who accept this as literal was also 60%, but the breakdown was interesting. Seventy-three percent (73%) of the sixty percent who believed this story had not attended college, while only thirty-eight percent (38%) who attended college believed the story was literal.

December 17, 2007

  • The Virgin Birth. Three our of every four people survived (75%) believed this story to be literally true.
  • Turning water into wine. About seventy percent (70%) accepted this story about the event at Cana as having actually occurred.
  • The feeding of the 5,000. Two out of three people, sixty-eight percent, (68%) view this story as factually accurate.
  • Noah and the flood. The percentage was sixty-four percent.
  • Eve and the Serpent. The survey results reads, “In total, 56% of adults believe that the story of the devil, disguised as a serpent and tempting Eve to sin by eating the forbidden fruit, is literally true.” I always find this interesting in that the text of the story nowhere identifies the serpent as Satan. So, it seems in this case, that the fifty-six percent who believed this story, believe it in a way that the story itself does not present. I often ponder how many things we believe about the stories are not really in the stories.
  • The Strength of Sampson. Less than fifty percent (50%) believe this to be factually true.

How People Live Stories
Barna concludes from these statistics that Americans struggle with “the concept of truth, the nature of God, and the value of the Bible in personal decision-making.” He also notes that there is a “significant disconnect between faith and practice” and that the Bible has become “a respected but impersonal religious history lesson that stays removed from…life.”

Within modernity, we have presented the Bible in such a fragmented way that it is amazing that anyone believes any of these stories. As Barna points out, believing the stories and applying them is two different things. Maybe the problem is with the process. Usually the text of Scripture is presented and then a suggested “one-size-fits-all” application is given by the presenter. This supposedly is to keep the text from just becoming something one only believes to become something one actually does. The problem is the fragmentation of such an approach. Both a fragmented presentation of isolated verses used in a prooftexting fashion and a presentation of stories independent from their context or shuffled within the context of the books they come from produce a fragmented or quilted follower of Jesus.

What if we tried another approach. What if we stopped trying to apply parts of Scripture to our lives and discovered the Story of Scripture and how as an actor/actress within that story we are to play out our part in his EPIC adventure. How would that change the way in which we present the Story/stories of Scripture?

Reading the text is important. To that end I am preparing a reading program called Reading the Bible Without Additives in 100 Days, using Today’s New International Version’s presentation of the text in The Books of the Bible™ as the text to read.

Go to Reading the Bible Without Additives in 100 Days for more information.


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