Survey reveals people confuse Bible Nativity with traditional misconceptions

Declining Bible literacy in Britain means that up to 99% of adults fail to recognise the traditional nativity story from commonly held misconceptions about donkeys, stables and inns. Research conducted by OnePoll for Bible Society today reveals how poorly we know the story behind one of our most widely celebrated religious holidays.

How Well Do You Know The Nativity Story? Take the quiz now!

  • 90% of people said that there were three wise men that visited Jesus, with others either unsure or believing it to have been a far lower or higher number. Just 3% of adults correctly identified that the Bible doesn’t state how many there were.
  • 84% of people said Mary travelled on a donkey. A further 8% thought that she had either walked or rode a camel. Only 4% were aware that the Bible doesn’t say how Mary travelled to Bethlehem.
  • Just under one third, only 30% of adults, correctly identified that Mary and Joseph were betrothed when she found out she would give birth to Jesus, with a higher proportion (35%) stating that they were married. A further 6% thought they were either on their first date or had never met.
  • Only 20% accurately stated that Mary and Joseph travelled across the country after being told to do so by Caesar Augustus. 42% incorrectly believed it to have been King Herod that ordered them to travel, while 5% claimed them to have been moving house.  
  • 1 in 4 adults (42%) believe Jesus was born on the 25th December, when in reality there is no reference to a date in the Bible
  • One fifth (20%) of adults failed to identify that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, with Nazareth and Jerusalem the next most popular answers at 11% and 4% respectively.
  • Just 20% of adults knew that it was the Shepherds who first visited Jesus after his birth, with almost double that number under the impression that it was the Wise Men (36%) and the same proportion (36%) believing the Shepherds and Wise Men arrived together.60% of adults couldn’t identify what the angels said to the Shepherds while tending to their flock.  Just 40% correctly stated that it was “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all men”, with other responses including “Go to Nazareth now” (40%) and “Be very afraid” (4%).
  • In keeping with the findings of Bible Society’s ‘Pass it on’ report released earlier this year, the research indicates a growing decline in Bible literacy. Older generations, 55+, were once again found to know Bible stores best with the majority of correct answers being achieved by this age group.

The research forms part of Bible Society’s long-running national campaign, ‘Pass it On’ which calls on parents to help keep the Bible alive for future generations by passing on a Bible story to their children.

To coincide with the research findings, Bible Society has created an online quiz asking  people to test their knowledge of the nativity against the other people. Rachel Rounds from Bible Society said: ‘It’s a fiendishly difficult and fun quiz – not everyone at Bible Society got 10 out of 10. People think they know the Nativity from school plays and Christmas carols but we’d encourage them to delve into the Bible and look at what it really says – it might surprise them.

Commenting on these results, James Catford, Group Chief Executive of Bible Society said: “9 out of 10 people don’t engage with the Bible and they might not realise that they’re missing out on a treasure trove of brilliant and engaging stories. The Bible could be lost to future generations unless we all take action. That’s why in the week leading up to Christmas and beyond, we are encouraging parents to save a little time in their annual celebrations to help pass on one of the greatest stories ever told."

Take the quiz!

Take the quiz here yourself. To read more about the Biblical Christmas story, please here on our Bible Society websiteor look in the Bible (Luke 2.1-20 and Matthew 2.1-12).


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