Can you identify the following?
"In the beginning."
"Let there be light."
"The promised land."
"Eye for an eye."
"A time to be born and a time to die."
"Root of all evil."
"Cast the first stone."
"Love thy neighbor."
"Do unto others."
"Render unto Caesar."
These notable Bible phrases were among 72 items that every student
needs to know, as chosen by 41 high school English teachers. The
panel also listed events (e.g., crossing the Red Sea, the Last
Supper), people (Goliath, Solomon), places (Sodom, Babel), concepts
(original sin) and festivals (Passover).
The teachers said biblical knowledge gives students a distinct
academic advantage in understanding literature, a point others have
made regarding history.
They were interviewed for a comprehensive "Bible Literacy
Report," issued by the Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax,
Va., an organization that wants U.S. high schools to offer courses
and course segments on the Scriptures.
But wait - isn't that illegal, at least in public schools?
That was one concern when the Odessa, Texas, school board approved a
Bible elective in April, following requests from 6,000 citizens.
Despite what many think, coursework is perfectly legal if handled
properly. The U.S. Supreme Court encouraged such study in the 1963
cases where atheist Madalyn Murray and others won a ban on
devotional Bible recitations in public schools.
The nonpartisan First Amendment Center and Bible Literacy Project
brokered a 1999 accord, "The Bible in Public Schools," which -
remarkably - is endorsed by the National Association of Secondary
School Principals, six other secular education organizations, the
National Council of Churches, major Jewish and evangelical
Protestant groups and advocates of church-state separation.
The accord says Bible courses are acceptable if taught in "an
objective, academic manner" that doesn't promote or discourage
religious faith and avoids "a particular sectarian point of view" or
The "Bible Literacy Report" underscored the educational need with a
Gallup poll of scriptural knowledge among 1,002 U.S. teens (margin
of error: plus or minus 3 percentage points). Only 8 percent of the
public school pupils said their schools offer Bible courses, which
seemed obvious from these results:
- 17 percent thought "the road to Damascus" was where
Jesus was crucified.
- 22 percent thought Moses was either one of Jesus' 12
apostles, Egypt's pharaoh or an angel, rather than the man who
led Israel out of bondage.
- 68 percent couldn't identify who asked "am I my
brother's keeper?" (Cain, after he murdered Abel).
- 28 percent didn't realize that "do not divorce" isn't
among the Ten Commandments.
- 53 percent couldn't say what biblical event occurred
at Cana (Jesus turned water into wine).
Besides fears of legal trouble, lack of qualified teachers and
crowded curriculums, many schools hesitate to offer Bible courses
because adequate textbooks acceptable to various religious groups
That's the Bible Literacy Project's next phase. In the Fall
it will release a textbook, "The Bible and Its Influence," currently being tested in schoolrooms. The
organization says it's the first such textbook in 35 years to
benefit from thorough scholarly review.
The biggest challenge will be handling different denominational
interpretations and debates about the historical events and miracles
in the Bible.
Advisers on this significant effort include Harvard Law School's
Mary Ann Glendon (Roman Catholic), pollster George Gallup Jr.
(Episcopalian), University of Chicago ethics professor Jean Bethke
Elshtain (Lutheran), Reform Rabbi Marc Gellman ("the God Squad"),
Jewish Publication Society chief editor Ellen Frankel and
evangelical activist John Perkins.
A competing textbook, "The Bible in History and Literature," is
published by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public
Schools, based in Greensboro, N.C., which reports it's used by 236
school districts in 33 states. However, critics say it presents a
narrow, conservative Protestant viewpoint.