According to the findings of a Gallup poll released on Wednesday, 28 percent of Americans believe that the Bible was "the actual word of God" and that it should be "taken literally, word for word." Forty percent of Americans agreed with that statement in 1979 — a record high — though the number has since declined every year with the exception of 2012.
Nearly 50 percent of Americans agree that the Bible is the "inspired word of God" and that not all of its content should be taken literally. The 47 percent of respondents who believe this perspective is 2 percent higher than when Gallup began asking the question in 1976, and five points short of the 52 percent who agreed with it in 2003.
Those who claimed that the Bible is an "ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man" reached its record high this year with 21 percent. In 1976, only 13 percent of Americans agreed with the statement.
Gallup's study also sought to clarify what it identified as "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," its report stated. "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."
Consequently, Gallup offered half of respondents the opportunity to select multiple interpretations of what the Bible being the "actual word of God" meant to them. According to these results, just over 20 percent of Americans asserted that the Bible had to be taken literally; 28 percent affirmed that it was the word of God but with "multiple interpretations possible."
Nearly 20 percent of those who identified the Bible as the "inspired word of God" agreed that it was "an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts written by man." Twenty-eight percent called it "inspired" but did not believe its words should be taken literally.
Gallup also noted that "by 58 percent to 34 percent, Christians are significantly more likely to indicate they believe the Bible is the actual word of God when given the additional option of saying 'the Bible is the actual word of God, but multiple interpretations are possible' than when only having the option of saying 'the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word," suggesting that this could be one helpful indicator in measuring how seriously American Christians took the Bible.
Gallup asked these questions as part of its annual Values and Beliefs poll from May 8-11 of this year. The results are from telephone interviews of a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.