Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians

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Christ resurrectedImage source, Avalon Studio
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Just 17% of the general public believe word-for-word the Bible account of the Resurrection

A quarter of people who describe themselves as Christians in Great Britain do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, a survey commissioned by the BBC suggests.

However, almost one in 10 people of no religion say they do believe the Easter story, but it has "some content that should not be taken literally".

A fifth of non-religious people believe in life after death, the poll suggests.

The Church of England said it showed many people held religious beliefs.

ComRes surveyed 2,010 British adults by telephone, between 2 and 12 February 2017. The research was commissioned by BBC local radio for Palm Sunday.

The survey suggested:

  • 17% of all people believe the Bible version word-for-word
  • 31% of Christians believe word-for-word the Bible version, rising to 57% among "active" Christians (those who go to a religious service at least once a month)
  • Exactly half of all people surveyed did not believe in the resurrection at all
  • 46% of people say they believe in some form of life after death and 46% do not
  • 20% of non-religious people say they believe in some form of life after death
  • 9% of non-religious people believe in the Resurrection, 1% of whom say they believe it literally

Reverend Dr Lorraine Cavanagh is the acting general secretary for Modern Church, which promotes liberal Christian theology.

She said: "I think [people answering the survey] are being asked to believe in the way they might have been asked to believe when they were at Sunday school.

"You're talking about adults here. And an adult faith requires that it be constantly questioned, constantly re-interpreted, which incidentally is very much what Modern Church is actually about.

"Science, but also intellectual and philosophical thought has progressed. It has a trickle-down effect on just about everybody's lives.

"So to ask an adult to believe in the resurrection the way they did when they were at Sunday school simply won't do and that's true of much of the key elements of the Christian faith."

Respondents were split evenly on the issue of life after death. While the majority of Christians say they do believe, just 46% of the general public do and 46% do not. The remaining 8% say they do not know.

Examples of life after death given in the survey included heaven, hell and reincarnation.

Three in ten Christians surveyed (31%) said they did not believe in life after death.

However, a fifth of non-religious people surveyed said they did (21%).

Commenting for the Church of England, the Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend David Walker, said: "This important and welcome survey proves that many British people, despite not being regular churchgoers, hold core Christian beliefs.

"Alongside them it finds surprisingly high levels of religious belief among those who follow no specific religion, often erroneously referred to as secularists or atheists.

"This demonstrates how important beliefs remain across our society and hence the importance both of religious literacy and of religion having a prominent place in public discourse."

The survey found women were more likely to believe in life after death than men, around 56% of women surveyed compared with 36% of men.

Of those who did believe in life after death, two thirds of those surveyed (65%) said they thought their souls would go to "another life" such as heaven or hell while a third thought they would be reincarnated (32%).

Professor Linda Woodhead, of the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University, said: "This polling confirms that Britain is now split down the middle between those who call themselves Christian and those who say no religion, but this is not a simple division between religious and secular.

"A significant proportion of Christians don't believe in life after death and a significant number of the non-religious do.

"Belief in a soul and an afterlife persists, including amongst young people, even though belief in the resurrection of Christ and the authority of the Church and the Bible are in decline."

How often people go to church

Almost two in five Christians surveyed say that they never attend religious services (37%).

Just one fifth say they attend every week (20%).

However, younger Christians were more likely than older Christians to say they regularly attend religious services.

Two in five 18-24 year old Christians (41%) surveyed and 25-34 year old Christians (42%) say they attend a service at least once a month, compared with about a quarter of 45-54 year olds (22%) and 55-64 year olds (26%).

In the survey, people were asked to choose whether they believed in the resurrection of Jesus "word-for-word" as described in the Bible, whether they believed it happened but that some of the Bible content should "not be taken literally", whether they did not believe in the resurrection or whether they did not know.

Full data tables are available at