Lewis Bayles Paton was professor of Old Testament Criticism at Hartford Theological Seminary.
In 1915, he complained,
There is not one church member in a hundred who can give an intelligent answer to the question: What are the main doctrines of the Christian religion? Since this is so, it behooves us to inquire: What is the matter with the teaching that produces such poor results? [From “Religious Education,” The Biblical World 45, no. 2 (February 1915): 67–68.]
Paton also made a comment that sounds so familiar by now. Just like the observations made by Gary M. Burge and Kenneth Berding, Paton said he
“has been teaching for twenty years in a theological seminary, and has observed a progressive deterioration in knowledge of the Bible in the students that enter each year.”
Are we there yet?
No. Not quite.
When I set out to understand biblical illiteracy, I kept looking for the time and place it all began. When did Bible literacy start declining?
It was frustrating research. And fascinating too.
Paton was not the first to express concern over this issue. Nearly 30 years before he complained about the situation, there was a statement from the editor of the journal, The Old Testament Student (January 1886).
The editor wrote:
The ignorance of the Bible characteristic of the average applicant for entrance to the first year of the theological seminary is at once amazing and lamentable.The Old Testament Student (January 1886)
Just think about that for a moment.
The lack of Bible knowledge that we are concerned about today in the 21st century was also a concern in 1886.
And the historical evidence does not stop there. Some historians say the roots of biblical illiteracy are much, much older.
A Serious Look at Biblical Literacy
1. The problem with the problem of biblical illiteracy
2. Biblical illiteracy in 2019
3. Biblical illiteracy in 2014
4. Biblical illiteracy in the 1990s and 2000s
5. Biblical illiteracy in the 1980s
6. Biblical illiteracy in the 1960s
7. Biblical illiteracy in the 1950s?
8. Biblical illiteracy in the 1940s and 1930s
9. Biblical illiteracy in 1915
10. Biblical illiteracy and the Second Great Awakening