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Bible Society Influence of the Bible Survey


Is it Shakespeare, Dickens, The Beatles, Tony Blair or the Bible?

New research, published today, reveals that while people still value the Bible, they’re confused about where some familiar English phrases come from – such as ‘my brother’s keeper’ and ‘a drop in the bucket’ – was it Dickens, Blair or the Bible?

Date Published: 12 May 2011

Categories: Public and communities | Social | UK




The ComRes poll for Bible Society reveals nearly half of all people  (46%) say they think the Bible is an important book and even though they don’t read it that often, it does have valuable things to say.

The findings come as Bible Society in England and Wales and The Scottish Bible Society launch ‘The People’s Bible.’ This handwritten, online, digital Bible will visit towns and cities across the UK giving people the chance to re-engage or engage with the Bible for the first time.

Despite the high proportion of people claiming to value the Bible, the research reveals considerable confusion about its content.

In one instance, an equal proportion (more than one in ten) believe that the phrase “a drop in the bucket” originates from Tony Blair (12%), Shakespeare (14%) or Charles Dickens (12%). Only 7% correctly identify the phrase as coming from the Bible. (More details on the research below).

‘The People’s Bible’ will tour the UK between June and November.

Thousands are expected to answer a call to ‘Make Your Mark in History’ and hand-write a couple of Bible verses, using a digital pen, to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. Once written the verses will be uploaded from the pen to the internet and available on-line at

‘The People’s Bible’ tour begins at Edinburgh Castle on 19th June 2011, the anniversary of the birth of King James VI of Scotland, at the castle, in 1566.

It will feature contributions from senior public figures and celebrities and part of it will be bound and presented at a national service of celebration to mark the 400th anniversary. The service, at Westminster Abbey on 16 November 2011,
will be attended by Her Majesty The Queen.

Luke Walton, Culture Programme Manager at Bible Society, says, ‘It’s clear that people’s knowledge of the Bible is limited and they just don’t realise how significant and wide-ranging its influence has been.’

‘We hope that this project will help people, once again, value the Bible. Making a connection with the text helps us both to appreciate its role in our own culture, history and politics, and it can enrich our lives personally.’
‘The Bible remains the world’s best seller and we can’t afford to exclude it from public life.’

ComRes poll details:

People were asked how much they knew about common phrases from the King James Bible. The phrases polled and results were as follows:

• ‘My brother’s keeper’ (Genesis 4:9): 56% rightly identify the phrase as originating from the Bible. 

• ‘A drop in the bucket’ (Isaiah 40.15): Half of all people (49%) don’t know where the phrase is from, but an equal proportion say that it originates from Tony Blair (12%), Shakespeare (14%) or Charles Dickens (12%). Only 7% correctly identify the phrase as coming from the Bible.

• ‘The writing on the wall’ (Daniel 5:5-6): The same proportion of people say that the phrase originates from the Beatles (18%) as those saying it is from the Bible (19%).

• Eat, drink and be merry’ (Luke 12.19): The greatest percentage of people (41%) say that the phrase derives from Shakespeare, while just one in ten (9%) say that it originates from the Bible.

• ‘Filthy lucre’ (1Timothy 3.3): One quarter of all people think the phrase is from Shakespeare (23%) while one in ten (10%) say that it comes from the Bible.

The poll also asked how important knowledge of the Bible is for appreciating culture, history and politics. On the whole, people think it is significant, with nearly half of people believing it important for the visual arts, literature and history, but only 24% thinking it important for an appreciation of classical music.

Area of life % of people believing the Bible is important

The visual arts (e.g. painting, sculpture, architecture) 48
Classic English literature 46
The history of Britain 45
Everyday phrases 42
Politics 29
Classical music 24

People working in the public sector are far more likely than people working in the private sector to think that the Bible is important for appreciating culture, history and politics. For example, 51% of people working within the public sector say that the Bible is important for appreciating everyday phrases, compared with 39% of private sector workers.

Notes to editors:

ComRes interviewed 2,379 GB adults online between 1 and 3 April 2011. Data were weighted to be representative demographically of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules (



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