Attendees watch on during the 2019 Evangelicals for Life conference at the McLean Bible Church in McLean, Virginia on Jan. 16, 2019. | PHOTO: ERLC
A new Pew Research poll suggests that evangelical Christians are more knowledgeable about the Bible and Christianity than other American Christians, while American Jews are most knowledgeable about religion in general.
While most polls tend to present data on public opinion, a new Pew Research Center survey titled “What Americans Know About Religion” quizzed nearly 11,000 U.S. adults about their knowledge of world religions, the Bible, Christianity and Judaism.
The survey asked 32 fact-based multiple-choice questions that “span a spectrum of difficulty.”
Some of the questions were labeled as easy — for example, “Easter Sunday commemorates what?” — in order to establish a baseline indication of “what nearly all Americans know about religion.”
Other questions were more difficult — for example, “Which is one of Buddhism’s four ‘noble truths?’”— in order to determine those who are most knowledgeable about religion.
Less than half of U.S. adults surveyed answered at least 14 of the 32 questions correctly.
The survey finds that Jews, atheists, agnostics, evangelical Protestants, highly educated people and those with religiously diverse social networks seem to have higher levels of religious knowledge. Meanwhile, young adults and racial minorities seemed to have less knowledge about religion than the average respondent.
When looking specifically at questions dealing with the Bible and Christianity, the survey found that evangelical Protestants, on average, answered 9.3 out of 14 questions correctly, a higher average than respondents grouped in other categories of Christians.
On average, Christians answered 8.2 out of the 14 questions on the Bible and Christianity correctly, while mainline Protestants averaged 8.1 correct answers, historically black Protestants averaged 6.0 correct answers. Catholics averaged 7.9 correct answers and Mormons averaged 8.5 correct answers.
Jews answered an average of 8 out of 14 questions correctly related to the Bible and Christianity, while atheists averaged 8.6 correct answers and agnostics averaged 8.2 correct answers.
When trying to answer questions about other world religions (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and global religious demography), Christian respondents did not fare as well as Jews, atheists, and agnostics.
On average, Christians answered 3.9 out of 13 questions related to other world religions correctly. Meanwhile, Jews averaged 7.7 correct answers and atheists averaged 6.1 correct answers.
In whole, Jews had the highest average of 18.7 correct answers out of 32, while atheists averaged 17.9 and agnostics 17.0.
Christians averaged 14.2 correct answers out of 32, with evangelicals again finishing with the highest average of any Christian category with 15.8 correct answers.
“Among Christians, knowledge of the Bible and Christianity is closely linked both with the amount of effort respondents say they invest in learning about their faith and with their religious background,” the Pew analysis reads.
While 79% of respondents correctly identified Moses as the being biblical figure most associated with leading the Exodus from Egypt, 69% identified Abraham as being the figure most associated with the willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God.
Only 51% of respondents correctly identified Jesus as being the biblical figure who gave the Sermon on the Mount, while only 28% of respondents identified Esther as being the biblical figure most associated with saving Jews from murder by appealing to the king.
The poll finds that Christians who spend more time learning about their own religion answered more questions correctly about the Bible and Christianity than those who learn about their faith less often.
According to the survey, Christians who attend religious services at least once per week correctly answered 9.6 out of 14 questions on the Bible and Christianity, while Christians who seldom or never attend services answered 7.2 questions correctly.
Additionally, respondents who said they attended a religious private school as a child averaged 9.4 questions correct out of 14 on the Bible and Christianity. Those who attended a public or nonreligious private school averaged 8.0 correct out of 14.
The study also shows a correlation between Sunday school attendance as a child and the number of correct answers to questions on the Bible and Christianity.
Respondents who attended Sunday school or some sort of equivalent activity for seven years or more averaged 9.0 correct answers out of 14, while those who attended for four- to-six years averaged 8.2 correct answers. Those who attended for one to three years averaged 7.5 correct answers.
Respondents who indicated that they spent zero years in Sunday school as a child averaged 7.1 correct answers out of 14.
The survey found that about 22 percent of adults correctly identify the “prosperity gospel” as being the idea that those with strong faith will be blessed by God with financial success and good health. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they were not sure what the prosperity gospel is.
The survey found that 20 percent of respondents knew that Protestantism teaches salvation comes through faith alone and one-in-10 said they think Catholicism teaches that salvation comes through faith alone. Twenty-three percent of respondents said that both Protestantism and Catholicism teach that principle.
“Evangelical Protestants are more likely than other groups to know the traditional Protestant teaching, though even among evangelicals, far fewer than half (37 percent) answer the question correctly,” the Pew analysis states.