When it comes to the role of the Bible in their lives, Hispanics show a distinct gap between how they view the Bible and how they use the Bible. While they hold a very high view of Scripture, there seems to be a lack of clarity or desire for how to apply the Bible in everyday life.
In Barna Group’s work with the American Bible Society, we have developed a four-part engagement typology, ranging from the most to the least Bible engaged. Only 8% of Hispanics qualify as Bible Engaged (believe the Bible is the actual word of God or inspired with no errors and read the Bible at least four times weekly), which compares to 21% of adults nationally. Yet, this gap is more than made up by the fact that 53% of Hispanics qualify as Friendly toward the Bible (have a similar “high” of the Bible but read the Bible less than four times a week), which is significantly higher than the national norm. Hispanics are equally likely with the U.S. average (28% versus 31%) to be Neutral toward the Bible (see the Bible as inspired with errors or not inspired and rarely or never read it, and are less likely (11% versus 16%) to be Antagonistic toward the Bible (believe the Bible is just another book of advice written by men and rarely to never read it).
In general, Hispanics have a high opinion of the Bible—seven in 10 (70%) say that it is the inspired word of God, and more than half (59%) believe it is true in all it teaches. In fact, on both counts Hispanics actually have a “higher” view of Scripture than is true of non-Hispanic Americans (65% and 51%, respectively). The non-Christian Hispanic audience maintains more respect toward the origin and authority of the Bible than is true among other non-Christians in the U.S.
Bible Ownership and Readership
The vast majority of Hispanic households own a Bible (87%). Almost three-quarters (73%) own more than one. The picture is mixed when it comes to integrating the Bible into Hispanics’ lives. While Hispanics value the Bible, most are not reading it very often. More than four in 10 (42%) read it less than once per year. On the other side, more than a quarter of Hispanics are reading their Bibles once a week or more (28%), but this percentage is about the same as those who never read it (26%). Protestants are more likely than Catholics and non-Christians to read their Bibles more than once per week. Millennials were more likely than other generations to say they never read the Bible. The youngest generation is also less likely than other generations to own a Bible.
Some common barriers prevent Hispanics from reading the Bible: One-third say they do not have enough time to read it (31%), and one-fifth (20%) indicate they find the language difficult to relate to. Another 12% say they simply don’t experience any excitement about reading the Bible. About one-fifth (22%) say they do not have any frustrations that prevent them from reading the Bible more.
For Hispanics who read the Bible regularly, this happens in the context of personal reading rather than family Bible reading. Of regular Bible readers with children still at home, half (50%) read it as a family less than once per month, and only 14% read it as a family daily. However, after accounting for the 27% who read it daily as a family, about four in 10 (41%) of these households—regular Bible readers with children in the home—read the Bible together as a family at least once per week.
Applying the Bible to Life
Hispanics who are reading the Bible say they take it seriously. Of those who read the Bible once a week or more, more than half (52%) report giving “a lot of thought” to how it applies to their lives, and an additional 40% give it “some thought.” Protestants were more likely than Catholics or non-Christians to give what they read a lot of thought. This means very few Hispanics are reading the Bible regularly just out of habit or ritual.
Those who read the Bible at least once per month were also asked about how the Bible impacts the decisions they make in various areas. The top two areas for biblical influence were marriage and parenting, with 46% and 42% of Hispanics saying the Bible has “a lot” of influence over their decision-making in these areas. Unfortunately, these were the only two areas where more than two-fifths of Hispanics say the Bible has more than a little influence over their decisions. The next-highest life area was sexuality, for which 24% of Hispanics say the Bible influences them a lot. After that are education (23%), work (18%), and social issues (16%). The areas where the fewest Hispanics say the Bible has a lot of influence are financial decisions (14%) and media choices (13%).
Millions of Hispanics own Bibles and respect biblical values. Overall, Hispanics show willingness for the Bible to play a greater role in their lives, but also an apparent lack of clarity on how it might do so. This pattern is indicative of a community that has developed a cultural experience with the Bible rather than a personal one.
In some ways, the Hispanic community’s latent comfort with Christianity shows up in their high regard for the Bible. Hispanics don’t just see the Bible as a book of valuable teachings (which is becoming more common among the general population); they see it as the very Word of God. If anything, Hispanics’ high regard for Scripture suggests they could be more easily “tipped” toward Bible engagement than is true among non-Hispanics. The foundation is there—what’s missing is a clear understanding of how and why the Bible can generate personal and community transformation.
To read more about Hispanic Americans and Bible engagement, order a copy of the Hispanic America: Faith, Values & Priorities study.
Find out more about the survey and methodology.