Record Few Americans Believe Bible Is Literal Word of God
- 24% believe Bible is literal word of God, the lowest in Gallup’s 40-year trend
- View of Bible as secular stories and history at 26%, up from 21% in 2014
- The largest segment, 47%, still think Bible is inspired word of God
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fewer than one in four Americans (24%) now believe the Bible is “the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word,” similar to the 26% who view it as “a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.” This is the first time in Gallup’s four-decade trend that biblical literalism has not surpassed biblical skepticism. Meanwhile, about half of Americans — a proportion largely unchanged over the years — fall in the middle, saying the Bible is the inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally.
From the mid-1970s through 1984, close to 40% of Americans considered the Bible the literal word of God, but this has been declining ever since, along with a shrinking percentage of self-identified Christians in the U.S. Meanwhile, the percentage defining the Bible as mere stories has doubled, with much of that change occurring in the past three years.
Still, while biblical literalism has waned, the vast majority of Americans — 71% — continue to view the Bible as a holy document, believing it is at least God-inspired if not God’s own words.
The latest results are based on Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs poll, conducted May 3-7.
Literalists Still Outnumber Skeptics Among Certain Groups
Although biblical literalism now ties with biblical skepticism nationally, these views vary somewhat across different segments of the U.S. population.
Nonwhites, adults aged 50 and older, and adults with no college education all lean toward believing the Bible is the actual word of God rather than stories and history recorded by man.
Men, whites, adults aged 18 to 29 as well as those aged 30 to 49, and college graduates lean in the other direction, with more being skeptics than literalists. Still, in all of these groups, the largest segment takes the middle position, believing the Bible reflects the inspired word of God.
Naturally, there are also strong differences in Americans’ perspectives on the Bible by religious preference. As a whole, more Christians take the Bible literally than say it is a book of stories and history recorded by man. However, within the broad group of Christians, Protestants (including those who generically refer to themselves as “Christian”) lean toward the literalist view, while Catholics divide evenly between seeing the Bible as the literal word of God and saying it is a book of stories. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those with no religious affiliation fall into the skeptics’ camp.