Poll: U.S. knows what John 3:16 references

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- The popular Bible verse "John 3:16" is seen often at sporting events and throughout popular culture, but do Americans even know what it's referencing?

A new survey suggests they do.

The Barna Group poll conducted for the American Bible Society asked U.S. adults: "When you hear the phrase 'John three sixteen' in reference to the Bible, what does the 'three' mean?" All total, 68 percent of adults correctly said it was a chapter in John, with 6 percent saying it was a verse, 2 percent a book, and 17 percent saying they weren't sure.

Nationwide discussion of John 3:16 has skyrocketed in recent days after Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow -- an outspoken Christian -- passed for 316 yards in a first-round playoff victory. The day after the game, "John 3:16" was the No. 1 search topic on Google. A Wikipedia search for the verse saw a huge spike the two days after the game, with 183,000 people reading about it. The next Saturday, an ad from Focus on the Family -- showing young children citing the verse -- ran during the Broncos' second-round game.

The Barna survey even found that 59 percent of people who are not Christians -- including atheists and agnostics -- understood what the "three" referenced.

"The controversy surrounding Mr. Tebow ends up affecting so many people because -- whether they have an affinity for sports or not -- most Americans have at least some knowledge of the Bible and connection to Christianity," said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. "Despite the pundits' protestations, more Americans than one would expect know exactly what Tim is Tebow-ing about in the end zone."

The 2011 survey was based on phone interviews with 1,014 adults.


Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.

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