Three wise men visit new born baby in Bethlehem stable.

Or did they?

We discovered an online survey by Bible Society testing Nativity knowledge. The results suggest most people think the details in the headline are all true, even though these do not come from the Biblical narrative. Maybe teachers and vicars have exercised too much artistic license over the years when directing Nativity plays! Our belief is that crossteach work improves the Nativity knowledge of students.

We believe in our work and are convinced we add significant value to the religious education and spiritual development of students in the schools where we work. It is always encouraging to have some evidence that supports this claim. Our assertion comes from using the Bible Society quiz to test the Nativity knowledge of the students who come to our clubs and seeing the results.

We were very pleasantly surprised to discover that members of our clubs buck this trend and significantly outperformed the average results of the online test. In all but one question they did better than the national average. In three of the questions the proportion of correct answers was more than double the national average.

One conclusion from the original survey was;

“In keeping with the findings of Bible Society’s ‘Pass it on’ report released earlier this year, the research indicates a growing decline in Bible literacy. Older generations, 55+, were once again found to know Bible stories best with the majority of correct answers being achieved by this age group.”

However, it is clear that these students are as influenced by traditional Nativity plays as everyone else. For example;

  • 90% of students said Mary travelled to Bethlehem on a donkey when, in fact, the Bible narrative does not tell us how she got there.

  • 87% of students said Jesus was born in a stable. Again, the Bible does not give us this information.

  • 89% of students said there were three wise men who visited Jesus. The Bible does not tell us how many there were.

  • 38% of students said the wise men visited Jesus immediately after his birth. The Bible narrative puts their visit around one to two years after the birth.

It is easy to see why this is the case, but our concern is to make sure students have a better understanding of the Christian faith. Rather than trying to make educated guesses about these peripheral issues, we want the students to know the key elements of what the Bible teaches.

The Christmas season is one of our busiest times in the academic year. The activities we deliver during this period include;

  • Lessons – Advent, Christmas and Christingle.

  • Church Services – carol services and Christingle services.

  • Assemblies – Advent and Christmas.

  • Christmas Experience – an interactive session exploring the original Biblical account of the birth of Jesus.

As Christians, we put Jesus at the centre of our Christmas celebrations and endeavour to make sure he is at the centre of the Christmas activities we deliver in schools. We also work hard to make sure our activities are as Biblically accurate as possible. If we are teaching about the Christian faith, it makes sense to use the Bible as our main source: the key religious text for Christians. And so we focus less on the building where Jesus was born, the date he was born on (we don’t know and it is unlikely to have been 25th December) and the other peripheral elements of many nativity plays. Instead we focus on the identity of the baby and the significance of his birth. It is remarkable, whatever you believe about Jesus, that we still celebrate his birthday so many centuries after the event. For most of us, no one will be celebrating our birthdays for very long after our death, let alone a couple of millennia later. When you read the Bible narratives of Jesus’ birth, you discover that there are no peripheral details. Every name and title used of the baby is loaded with meaning. Every person included in the story, the things they say and do and the gifts they give are all clues about who this baby is and why he was born. It is this narrative, and these names and clues, that we use in our activities as we teach the students why Christmas is a time of joy and celebration for the billions of Christians across the world. We also have lots of fun, do some dressing up and give the students treats too. It is a birthday party after all.

Reassuringly, it seems that our efforts and teaching actually make a difference. While there are still some misconceptions, the students we teach regularly have a much higher level of knowledge about what the Bible tells us about the birth of Jesus.

At a time when it seems general religious literacy is in decline and Biblical literacy is in sharp decline, organisations such as crossteach are needed more than ever. Our work of teaching about the Christian faith in schools supplements and enhances the work schools do themselves. By providing a free additional resource of skilled and knowledgeable staff we can assist schools in ensuring students have an excellent understanding of Christianity and plenty of opportunities for spiritual development.

Read more about our work here:

Donate to our work here:

crossteach is an educational charity which has been teaching about the Christian faith in schools since 2001. We visit lots of different types of schools – primary and secondary, community and Church of England, private and state-funded, academy and maintained.

Our mission: To teach about the Christian faith in schools

Our vision: For pupils to develop spiritually through understanding, engaging with and responding to the Christian faith

Our aims:

  • To provide direct encounters with Christians speaking about their faith which are enjoyable, memorable and challenging.
  • To teach informed RE lessons that provoke critical enquiry and thoughtful reflection.
  • To lead inspiring, stimulating Collective Worship.
  • To run extracurricular activities that allow pupils to explore fundamental questions about human life, religion and belief.

Our approach:

  • Professional: engaging, trained, organised, experienced and working within national and local requirements and guidelines
  • Reputable: working in schools with integrity and transparency since 2001
  • Distinctively Christian: knowledgeable, authentic and passionate about the Christian faith
  • Collegiate: working in partnership with schools at their invitation and under their direction, and alongside local churches and other school visitors

Our survey questions, with results:

  • Q1. When Mary found out she would give birth to Jesus, she and Joseph were…?

    Married [22%]

    Betrothed (engaged) [64%]

    On their first date [1%]

    They had never met [5%]

    The Bible doesn’t say [6%]

  • Q2. Why did Mary and Joseph travel across the country?

    They were told to by King Herod [39%]

    They were told to by Caesar Augustus [46%]

    They were moving house at the time [2%]

    They were visiting with family [4%]

    The Bible doesn’t say [7%]

  • Q3. How does Mary travel across the country?

    Donkey [90%]

    Camel [0]

    Walk [2%]

    The Bible doesn’t say [6%]

  • Q4. Where was Jesus born?

    Nazareth [4%]

    Bethlehem [91%]

    Jerusalem [2%]

    The Bible doesn’t say [1%]

  • Q5. The angels told the Shepherds who were looking after their flock…?

    ‘”Be very afraid” [3%]

    ‘”Go to Nazareth now to see this baby Jesus” [44%]

    ‘”Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” [50%]

    The Bible doesn’t say [1%]

  • Q6. Was Jesus born in…?

    A stable [76%]

    An inn [3%]

    A relative’s home [0]

    A barn [9%]

    The Bible doesn’t say [10%]

  • Q7. Who visited baby Jesus immediately after his birth?

    The shepherds [52%]

    The Wise Men [19%]

    Both the shepherds and Wise Men [19%]

    The Bible doesn’t say [8%]

  • Q8. How many Wise Men visited Jesus?

    One [0]

    Three [70%]

    Twelve [1%]

    The Bible doesn’t say [27%]

  • Q9. Jesus was born on the 25th of December?

    True [32%]

    False [20%]

    The Bible doesn’t say [46%]