Three in four Americans say they believe the Bible is the Word of God, according to a recently released Gallup (@Gallup) survey. But 21% consider it fables and history. These statistics mirror the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian (76%) and non-Christian (22%) in Gallup’s 2013 religion aggregate.
[See our previous blogpost, A Summary of Recent Bible Reading Surveys]
The poll shows that 28% of Americans believe the Bible is the actual Word of God and that it should be taken literally; that’s down from the 38% to 40% reported in the late 1970s. About half of Americans continue to say the Bible is the inspired word of God, not to be taken literally.
Gallup’s long-standing trend question on biblical interpretation touches on two ongoing debates in Christian theology. One is about whether the words of the Bible came directly from God — essentially using the writers as scribes — or if they are the words of men, but guided by divine inspiration. The other debate involves the meaning of the words: whether they should be taken literally, or be viewed partly — or merely — as metaphors and allegories that allow for interpretation.
To help clarify where the non-literal believers stand on God’s role in the Bible, Gallup asked half of respondents in the new poll a different question that offered a fourth choice: saying the Bible is the actual word of God, but with multiple interpretations possible.
In response to this four-part question, 22% of Americans say the Bible is the actual word of God, to be taken literally — a bit lower than when using the three-part question. Twenty-eight percent believe it is the actual word of God, but with multiple interpretations possible.
Another 28% say the Bible is the inspired word of God but should not be taken literally. Eighteen percent say it is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts written by man.
Gallup sums up its research this way, “Ultimately, the finding that nine in 10 Christians believe the Bible emanates from God indicates that US Christians are Christian in more than name only.” That sounds like a good thing to us.