Twenty-Eight Percent Believe Bible Is Actual Word of God

by Frank Newport

Ten-point decline over last three decades

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- There has been a gradual decline over the past 30 years in the percentage of Americans who believe that the Bible is literally true and the actual word of God. About 3 out of 10 Americans continue to profess belief in a literal Bible today, about 10 percentage points lower than was the case three decades ago.

The issue of belief in a literal Bible is an important one in specific religious circles in America today. A number of religious groups have made such a belief a central part of their belief structures. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, is the largest Protestant denomination in America and the largest religious group of any kind other than the Roman Catholic Church. The Southern Baptists adopted a statement of "Faith and Message" in 2000, which states in part: "The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy." Many other religious groups are less stringent and advocate a view that the Bible is divinely inspired, but that every word is not scientifically or logically true.

The Gallup Poll has used the following measure of belief in a literal Bible since 1976:

Which of the following statements comes closest to describing your views about the Bible -- the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word, the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, or the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man]?

Actual
word of
God

Inspired,
but not
everything
to be taken
literally

Book of
fables,
history,
moral
precepts

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 May 8-11

28

49

19

3

2005 May 2-5

32

47

18

3

2004 Nov 7-10

34

48

15

3

2002 Dec 9-10

30

52

15

3

2001 Feb 19-21

27

49

20

4

1998 Jun 22-23

33

47

17

3

1993 Jun 18-21

35

48

14

3

1991 Nov 21-23

32

49

16

3

1984 Nov

40

41

12

7

1984 Sep

37

46

12

5

1983 May

37

43

11

9

1981 Dec 11-14

37

42

11

--

1980 Jul 29-Aug 2

40

45

10

6

1978 Apr 18-May 1

38

45

13

6

1976 Aug 24-27

38

45

13

5

Gallup Polls conducted from 1976 to 1984 showed that between 37% and 40% of Americans chose the "actual word of God" alternative. By 1991, that percentage had dropped to 32%, and fluctuated between 27% and 35% from that point forward. The latest Gallup Poll data, collected May 8-11, show that 28% believe in a literal Bible. Forty-nine percent say the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, leaving 19% who agree with the "ancient book of fables" alternative.

Religion, Education Major Predictors

The following table displays the responses to the question for various subgroups of the American population:

Which of the following statements comes closest to describing your views about the Bible?


Gallup Poll, May 8-11, 2006


Actual
word of
God

Inspired,
but not
everything
to be taken
literally

Book of
fables,
history,
moral
precepts

%

%

%

18-29

23

58

17

30-64

27

51

19

50-64

27

46

25

65+

36

42

14

East

24

45

25

Midwest

27

61

11

South

39

44

15

West

18

51

28

Postgraduate

10

58

31

College grad

22

56

21

Some college

28

48

22

High school or less

39

45

10

Republican

33

55

11

Independent

24

49

23

Democrat

26

47

22

Protestant/Other Christian

37

51

10

Catholic

17

63

17

Non-Christian

10

26

59

These data show significant differences by subgroup. In general, belief in a literal Bible is highest among:

  • older Americans

  • those with the lowest levels of education

  • those living in the South

  • Republicans

  • Protestants and other non-Catholic Christians

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,002 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 8-11, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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