A record-high percentage of Americans believe the Bible is a collection of "fables" recorded by men and a record-low percentage believe it to be the "actual word of God," according to a new Gallup survey.
The poll found that 29 percent of adults in the U.S. – the most ever – say they believe the Bible is an "ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man," while 20 percent of adults – the lowest ever – say they believe it is the "actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word." In 2017, the last time the poll was conducted, 26 percent said it was a collection of fables, and 24 percent said it was the actual word of God.
The third, middle-ground option in the poll actually saw an uptick – from 47 percent in 2017 to 49 percent this year: "the Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally."
The percentage of Americans who say the Bible is the "actual word of God" has fallen gradually in the last decade, from 30 percent in 2011 to 28 percent in 2014 to 24 percent in 2017 and 20 percent today. During that same time, the percentage of Americans who say the Bible was written by men has risen, from 17 percent to 21 percent to 26 percent and to 29 percent today.
The middle-ground option has remained largely unchanged since 2011, when it also was 49 percent.
The shift in beliefs about the Bible has come "as a number of indicators show a decline in overall religiosity in the U.S. adult population," Gallup's Frank Newport wrote.
"Americans' interpretations of the Bible are important, because the Bible is often used as the basis for policy positions on moral and values issues, including such things as abortion and gay and lesbian relations," Newport wrote. "Some more conservative Protestant groups use a literal interpretation of passages from the New Testament as the basis for their belief that women should not be in positions of religious leadership in churches. Gallup's data show that the use of a literal interpretation of the Bible as the basis or justification for social policy positions will likely resonate only with a declining minority of the overall U.S. population."
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.