Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department of Boston University, has written a new book titled Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t.  For the last two years, Prothero has administered a fifteen-question quiz he gives his undergraduate students - one which they consistently fail.

Game to give it a try?

Here’s the test (answers below):


Directions:  Tally your points and multiply by two to get your score out of 100.

1 point each:

  • Name the Four Gospels.

1 point:

  • Name a sacred text of Hinduism.

1 point:

  • What is the name of the holy book of Islam?

1 point:

  • Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?

1 point:

  • President George W. Bush spoke in his first inaugural address of the Jericho road.  What Bible story was he invoking?

1 point each:

  • What are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament?

1 point:

  • What is the Golden Rule?

2 points:

  • “God helps those who help themselves.”  Is this in the Bible?  If so, where?

2 points:

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”  Does this appear in the Bible?

10 points:

  • Name the Ten Commandments.

4 points:

  • Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

7 points:

  • What are the Seven Sacraments of Catholicism?

1 point each:

  • The First Amendment says two things about religion, each in its own “clause.”  What are its two religion clauses?

2 points:

  • What is Ramadan?  In what religion is it celebrated?

7 points:

  • Match the Bible characters with the stories in which they appear.  Some characters may be matched with more than one story or vice versa.  Characters:  Adam and Eve, Noah, Paul, Moses, Jesus, Abraham, Serpent.  Stories:  Exodus, Binding of Isaac, Olive Branch, Garden of Eden, Parting of the Red Sea, Road to Damascus, Garden of Gethsemane.


Prothero argues, and rightly so, that everyone needs to grasp Bible basics, as well as the core beliefs, stories, symbols and heroes of other faiths.  In a commentary for the Los Angeles Times, titled “We Live in the Land of Biblical Idiots,” Prothero (who grew up Episcopalian and now calls himself a spiritually “confused Christian”) maintains that biblical illiteracy is not just a religious problem.  It is a civic problem with political consequences.  “How can citizens participate in biblically inflected debates on abortion, capital punishment or the environment without knowing something about the Bible?… an entire generation of Americans is growing up almost entirely ignorant of the most influential book in world history, unable to understand the 1,300 biblical allusions in Shakespeare, [or] the scriptural oratory of President Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr..”

Such admonishments are hardly new.  In the late 1980’s, E.D. Hirsch burst onto the scene with his idea of “cultural literacy,” which detailed the importance of having a core of background knowledge for functional literacy and effective national communication, much of it including religion.  In my own A Mind for God, I argue for the importance of foundational biblical, historical, and theological literacy, and the importance of churches serving the pursuit of such literacy.