Lead data journalist

YouGov Profiles takes a look at the difference between those who prefer each book of the Bible

America is a uniquely religious nation within the developed world. The Bible underpins the Christian faith, but it is split into two very different sections: God in the Old Testament is embodied by fire and brimstone while the message in the New Testament is much more focused on love and forgiveness.

With Easter approaching and Christians nationwide preparing to commemorate one of the key events laid out in the New Testament, we decided to take a look at whether people’s Testament preferences revealed anything about them.

YouGov Profiles data of more than 30,000 Americans finds that 21% say they favor the Old Testament while 38% prefer the New Testament. The rest said either that they didn’t know (19%) or that they weren’t familiar with the Bible (21%).

The level of preference for the Old Testament is consistent across the generations, at between 19% and 23%. There was much more variation when it came to the New Testament, with 31% of 18 to 24-year-olds saying it was their preferred book compared to 46% of those aged 65 and over. This will in part be because younger Americans are less likely to be familiar with the Bible in the first place – 31% of 18 to 24-year-olds say they are not familiar with the Good Book, compared to 14% of those aged 65 and over.

New Testament America is more religious than Old Testament America

While Roman Catholics and Protestants are about as likely as one another to say that the Old Testament is their preferred book of the Bible (26% versus 21%), Protestants are substantially more likely to prefer the New Testament (59%, compared to 38% of Catholics).

There is variation between Protestants, however. For instance, 28% of Baptists prefer the Old Testament, compared to 18% of Lutherans. And 65% of those who attend independent or nondenominational churches like the New Testament the most, compared to 51% for Baptists, Methodists, and Lutherans.

New Testament America seems to be more devout than Old Testament America. While one in five Old Testament Americans (21%) consider themselves “very” religious, this figure rises to one third (36%) of New Testament Americans.

Similarly, while 60% of New Testament Americans pray at least once a day and 44% go to church at least once a week, these figures fall to 47% and 28% respectively among those who prefer the Old Testament.            

New Testament Americans are also noticeably more likely to believe in various Christian religious entities and concepts. For instance, while 83% of New Testament Americans definitely believe in a Creator, only 67% of Old Testament Americans say the same. A similar divide exists for all the other Christian tenants. Only when we asked about Darwinian evolution do we find the two groups with similar views: 28% of Old Testament Americans say they definitely believe in Darwinian evolution, as do 24% of New Testament Americans.

New Testament Americans are more likely to say “there is only one true religion” compared to their Old Testament counterparts, at 53% vs 41%.

Old Testament Americans, by contrast, are more likely to believe that “across history, religion has done more bad than good” (42% vs 32%).

There is only one biblical attitudinal statement in Profiles, and it is fittingly one of the single most divisive factors between the two Americas. Asked whether or not they agreed with the principle “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, 64% of Old Testament Americans said yes, compared to 48% of New Testament Americans – a difference of 16 percentage points.

Abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage most divide the two Americas

When it comes to public policy issues, the two groups are most divided on abortion, assisted suicide and gay marriage.

The two groups take opposing views on the abortion debate: 56% of New Testament Americans are pro-life, compared to only 39% of Old Testament Americans.

While both groups tend to support assisted suicide, a higher number of New Testamenters think it should always or mostly be illegal (37%) than Old Testamenters (23%).

New Testament America is also more opposed to gay marriage – the majority (55%) oppose it, compared to 43% of Old Testament America.

Photo: Getty

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