Americans’ confidence in the Bible’s veracity is at an all-time low, Gallup Inc. reported Wednesday, with just 20% professing a belief that the religious book is the literal word of God.
For the first time, more Americans are Scripture doubters than they are believers. Gallup noted that 29% of those surveyed said the Bible is comprised of “fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.”
Gallup said 49% of those responding took the view that the Bible is “inspired by God” but that not all of the book is “to be taken literally.”
The 20% figure for those who say they view the Bible as the literal expression of God’s thoughts is down four percentage points since 2017, the last time Gallup surveyed Americans on that question and is half of the high point figures reported in 1980 and 1984.
American Christians were more likely to say the Bible is God’s literal word, at 25%, and 58% of self-identified Christians said it was inspired. Only 16% of Christians told Gallup the Scriptures were just ancient fables.
The pollster said 30% of Protestants took the “literally true” view of the Bible versus 15% of Roman Catholics. “Almost two-thirds of Catholics choose the alternative that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but every word should not be taken literally,” Gallup reported.
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“The shift in attitudes about the Bible is not an isolated phenomenon,” Gallup’s Frank Newport wrote on the firm’s website. “It comes even as a number of indicators show a decline in overall religiosity in the U.S. adult population.”
Three weeks ago, Gallup revealed a new low of only 81% of Americans saying they believe in God, down 11 points from a 2011 poll.
Lack of confidence in the Bible as God’s word, the polling firm said, could have political and social implications when the Scriptures are used to formulate public policy positions on moral and social issues including abortion and gay rights.
Because “some more conservative Protestant groups” cite verses detailing the role of women in the church as restricting females from pulpit ministry, for example, Gallup asserted “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.”
The new Bible confidence numbers drew an immediate response from Scripture supporters.
“This data provides a tremendous challenge and opportunity for Christians and ministries in every community,” said Dr. Nicole Martin, a senior vice president at the American Bible Society. “Through our State of the Bible research, we know that engaging with the Bible brings hope and a life of fulfillment. At this moment when Americans are seeking truth, we must reinforce our commitment to helping our neighbors understand that it can be found in the pages of God’s Word.”
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., the pastor of New Season Church in Sacramento, California, said the decline in Bible engagement suggested by the Gallup numbers is a symptom of larger societal problems.
“I believe the diluting of God’s word in the public sphere is directly proportional not just to the biblical illiteracy rate, but also to the chaos and even the violence that we’re currently experiencing in America,” said Mr. Rodriguez, who also is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
To combat this, Mr. Rodriguez advocates people should use social media to “post Bible verses and should post more about reading the Bible, engaging the Bible, sharing the Bible and so forth.”
He also said church members should demand that their pastors “actually preach from the Word of God” — even if doing so strikes some Christians as controversial.
Gallup said the survey was conducted between May 2 and May 22 of this year via telephone interviews with a random sample of approximately 1,007 adults age 18 and over in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The firm said its margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4% at a confidence level of 95%.