Christopher Smith wonders how he would fare in the Home Office asylum-seeker Bible Quiz


As this is the bumper summer edition, I thought I might try out something found in many a publication at this time of year by offering a quiz for you to attempt while you lie on the beach or wait at the railway station. Those who are responsible for the questions maintain that this is ‘basic knowledge’ about the Christian faith. But be warned: the stakes are quite high.


  1. Name the Ten Commandments. Go on – all of them.
  2. How many disciples did Jesus have, and what were their names?
  3. How many books are there in the Bible? Yes, the whole Bible.
  4. How many chapters are there in St John’s Gospel?
  5. What colour is the Bible?
  6. What is the date of Pentecost?
  7. What were the names of Jesus’ earthly parents? (This is your chance to get technical.)
  8. What is the meaning of Lent?
  9. What happened during the Last Supper?
  10. Whom did Jesus raise from the dead, and in what book is that miracle told?


Had enough yet? I could go on, for all these questions are reported as having been asked of Christians – and especially Christian converts from Islam – to determine whether they are genuinely Christians, and therefore genuine asylum-seekers. Islam, after all, requires the putting-to-death of apostates, so if you, a Muslim, seek baptism, you know very well that you are putting your life at risk. But the Home Office, not unreasonably, needs to know that you’re not just making it up for the benefit of an easier life in Croydon. Hence the quiz – or ‘credibility assessment’, as it is officially known. Here’s the obvious question: how would you fare, if you were sat in that charmless neon-lit office in Lunar House?

`On the Ten Commandments, you’ve heard them all before, but could you remember them all at once? And don’t start raising technicalities like ‘it depends whether you use the Catholic numbering system or the Protestant one’. It’s a bit like naming the Sacraments, or the days of obligation: you know them all, but there’s no guarantee of your being able to name them all at once. In any case, you won’t be asked Catholic questions: this is a Protestant quiz.

On the ‘disciples’, clearly they mean ‘apostles’: but could you challenge that in a language that isn’t your own? That’s to say nothing of the fact that Bartholomew is called Nathaniel in St John’s Gospel; and don’t try and be smart and include Mary Magdalen – haven’t you read Fr Kirk’s book?

The Protestant answer to ‘How many books are there in the Bible?’ is a consistent 66, and is a schoolboy fact in this country. I think all Christians agree on the 27 books in the New Testament, but the number of books that make it into the Old Testament varies from a Protestant 39 through a Catholic 46 to an Orthodox 51. And, even then, it depends on how you count them. Your asylum application might depend on what denomination you are.

Of course, the question about the number of chapters in John’s Gospel is not a piece of information that most Christians would generally reckon to carry in our heads, and the question about the colour of the Bible (referring to its cover) is, as far as I can tell, genuine, but – let us hope and pray – not common.

The date of Pentecost, of course, depends on the date of Easter – but how many new converts would know that? How would you know it if you were meeting in somebody’s house under constant fear of arrest, with no access to the sacraments, no parish priest, and nothing to guide you through the seasons of the Church’s year?

Question 7 falls on a technicality, but I suppose converts could be expected to know the name of Jesus’ foster-father. Questions 8 and 9 seem to me to allow a broad range of acceptable answers, and question 10 presumably refers to Lazarus; although Jesus also raised Jairus’ daughter, and the son of the widow of Nain. Would you have remembered that Lazarus is only in John’s Gospel? Or that the widow of Nain is only in Luke? Or that Jairus’ daughter appears in all three Synoptic Gospels, but not in John? Well done if you did!

This business has made the news recently because of a report of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion called Freedom Declared. It makes the important point that Christian converts are being granted or denied asylum in this country on the basis of their knowledge of ‘Bible trivia’. Many of these questions have answers that anyone might or might not know; and the more you know about Christianity from the inside, the more you want to take issue with the questions. Equally, asking ‘general knowledge’ questions about the Bible could be playing into the hands of chancers who can just learn the stuff to play the system. To add to the craziness of it all, imagine being a terrified convert trying to communicate through an interpreter: one Iranian applicant had his claim rejected because his interpreter didn’t know the English word for the last book of the Bible, which he gave according to the Farsi name which the applicant had used.

How can we break this Kafkaesque loop in which it seems a number of genuine Christian asylum-seekers are finding themselves? We must pray, undoubtedly – but perhaps the time has come for some of us to offer some help. Any suggestions?