400 Years Later, Most Quoted Book in History Is Still a Mystery to Most Americans

Seven Out of 10 Americans Don't Know Why the King James Bible Is Significant, Though 57% of Americans Own a Copy

Though many quote the King James Bible every day, few know much about it. While everyday phrases such as "turned the world upside down" and "in the twinkling of an eye" owe their origins to the King James Bible, a survey released today found that 71 percent of Americans do not know it is the most-printed Bible in history and 76 percent of Americans do not know the timeframe in which it was published.

The survey1 found that two out of five Americans (39 percent) mistakenly believe the King James Bible is the first English Bible, the only Bible translated by a king or the first Protestant Bible. Among those surveyed, one in three (33 percent) admitted that they had no idea why the King James Bible was significant.

The survey—commissioned by American Bible Society to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible this year—also found that:

  • Seventeen percent of those surveyed believe the King James Bible was first released shortly after the time of Christ.
  • Younger Americans (age 18 to 26), often categorized as considerably less religious than older Americans (age 65 and older), are equally likely to be unsure of why the King James Bible was significant (34 percent vs. 33 percent respectively).
  • Non-Christians or those with no faith are approximately twice as likely to know when the King James Bible was published (32 percent), than are non-practicing Christians (17 percent).
  • Approximately half (45 percent) of all Bible readers use the King James Bible; far fewer say they read the New International Version (10 percent).
  • Approximately six out of 10 adults who own a Bible own a King James Bible (57 percent) whereas only one out of eight Bible owners have a New International Version (12 percent).

While many believe the use of the King James Bible has waxed and waned, 45 percent of Bible readers say it is the Bible version they read most often.

Although now 400 years old, the influence of the King James Bible continues to reverberate across the English-speaking world and has permeated nearly every corner of culture. From literature to law, praise to politics, the King James Version of the Bible has shaped the way the world speaks and writes.

"While many may mistakenly think the now 400-year-old King James Bible is dusty and outdated, for me its lasting impact has been on the lives of those who have for centuries read its truths and discovered its life-changing message," said Lamar Vest, president of American Bible Society.

Interview Opportunity: 
Lamar Vest, president of American Bible Society & trustee of the King James Bible Trust, can discuss:

  • Survey findings released today
  • The impact of the King James Bible in language, art, politics and society
  • The creation of the King James Bible and why it matters 400 years after its publication
  • Was the King James Bible an accurate translation? If so, why are there so many new English translations?

About American Bible Society:
Headquartered in Manhattan, the 195-year-old American Bible Society exists to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford, so all people may experience its life-changing message. One of the nation’s oldest nonprofit organizations, today's American Bible Society provides interactive, high- and low-tech resources enabling first-time readers and seasoned theologians alike to engage with the best-selling book of all time.


1The survey was conducted for American Bible Society by Barna Research (a division of Barna Group) in April 2011 among U.S. adults (ages 18+) consisting of 1,011 telephone interviews. The sampling error for the study is +/- 3 percent within a 95 percent confidence interval. For complete methodology, contact Amy Anderson or Christine Cape.