NASHVILLE, Tenn. Four hundred years after it debuted as the first widely distributed Bible for the English-speaking world, the King James Version of the Bible still holds a place of distinction among Americans, according to a new survey.
The Lifeway Research poll, conducted to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Version (KJV), found that more than half of all American adults (62 percent) own a KJV Bible.
Among those who read the Bible regularly the percentage of KJV owners is even higher. A full 82 percent of Americans who read the Bible at least once a month own a KJV. Sixty-seven percent of American adults who own a Bible have a KJV.
Published in 1611 under the direction of England's King James I, the KJV has wielded significant influence over both religion and language among English speakers, generating now-common phrases such as "fight the good fight," "reap the whirlwind" and "feet of clay."
"Christians believe that God's Word is truth and that truth is conveyed through language -- thus translations have always been integral to the spread of Christianity," said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. "It is hard to overstate the influence of the KJV not just on language and idioms, but because it brought the Word of God to English-speaking peoples in the first widely available format."
When asked to indicate whether five specific statements had been their experience with the KJV, many Americans respond positively to: "I have found the language to be beautiful" (31 percent) and "I have found the language to be easy to remember" (23 percent).
The experience of some is less complimentary, responding, "I have found the language to be hard to understand" (27 percent) and "I have found the language to be outdated" (16 percent).
More than a quarter of adult Americans (27 percent) indicate they have never read the KJV for themselves. An additional 4 percent did not feel any of the statements matched their experience and 4 percent "don't know."
Women are more likely than men to own a KJV, with 72 percent of women who own a Bible having a KJV copy compared with 62 percent of men.
Age is also a significant factor related to KJV ownership. While 76 percent of Americans 55 years and older who own a Bible have a KJV, 67 percent of those ages 35 to 54 own a copy. For those under 35 years old, the percentage owning a copy drops to 56 percent.
Younger Americans also have less experience reading the KJV. Thirty-five percent of those under 35 have never read a KJV. Twenty-nine percent of those between 35 and 54 have never read a KJV along with 19 percent of those 55 and older.
However, the lower readership among young Americans does not seem to indicate that they have more difficulty understanding the language than their older counterparts. Only 21 percent of those under 35 say they find the language "hard to understand," compared with 31 percent ages 35 to 54 who say the same and 28 percent 55 and older.
Readers of all generations find the KJV's language beautiful. However, Americans in the South are more likely to say they "have found the language to be beautiful" (44 percent).
Owning and reading the Bible
When all translations are included, 89 percent of American households own at least one Bible, with the average household owning 4.1 Bibles.
Yet there is a significant gap in Bible ownership between those who read the Scriptures regularly and those who do not. Americans who read the Bible at least once a month own an average of 5.8 Bibles while those who read it less than once a month own an average of 2.2.
Women own an average of 4.7 Bibles compared with 3.6 for men.
Approximately half of all adult Americans (53 percent) indicate they personally read the Bible once a month or more. There are fewer non-Bible readers ages 55 and older than in any other age group. Eighteen percent of those age 55 and older never read the Bible, whereas 26 percent of Americans 35 to 54 and 28 percent of those under 35 never read it.
Women are more likely than men to be Bible readers, with 60 percent of women and 46 percent of men reading the Bible once a month or more.
"The power and inherent truth of Scripture comes from having God as its author," McConnell said. "One's willingness to engage the Bible determines its effect upon a life. Numerically, Bible ownership is similar to the percentage of Americans who indicate they are Christian. But owning a Bible and reading it are two different things."
The survey was based on 1,004 telephone interviews conducted March 2-6.