The data for a new poll on the Bible is up on the Gallup website. I am slightly confused by what the poll was attempting to measure, as it seems to confuse "literal interpretation" of the Bible with belief in the Bible as the "actual word of God. Here is an excerpt from the accompanying description of the poll:
Three in 10 Americans interpret the Bible literally, saying it is the actual word of God. That is similar to what Gallup has measured over the last two decades, but down from the 1970s and 1980s. A 49% plurality of Americans say the Bible is the inspired word of God but that it should not be taken literally, consistently the most common view in Gallup's nearly 40-year history of this question. Another 17% consider the Bible an ancient book of stories recorded by man.
The phrase that I found confusing was in the first sentence: "three in 10 Americans interpret the Bible literally, saying it is the actual word of God." I interpret the Bible "literally" when I understand the words of a text to signify the things they describe. That is, I believe that Mary was "literally" the mother of Jesus. "Literal" could also describe this sense of the Bible in general, that is, the foundational sense from which all other senses, spiritual, moral, and other, emerge.
Yet, how one understands the Bible as "the actual word of God" is an interesting question also. I suspect the pollsters mean that the Bible as "the actual word of God" indicates that God has directly "spoken" these words as opposed to a view of the Bible as written by human beings, somehow under the inspired direction of God, or inspired by God, yet that is not clear. I do, for instance, think the Bible is the word of God, inspired by God and written by people. The three views available to choose are as follows: the Bible is the actual word of God, the Bible is the inspired word of God, or the Bible is a book of fables, legends history and moral precepts recorded by people.
Gallup has consistently found strong differences in views of the Bible as the "actual word of God" by religiosity and education. The current poll also finds significant income differences, with 50% of lower-income respondents believing the Bible is the actual word of God, compared with 27% of middle-income and 15% of high-income respondents. These income differences are larger than what Gallup has measured in the past, with a higher percentage of low-income Americans believing the Bible is literally true.
Apart from educational differences, Catholics also score lower than Protestants on thinking that the Bible is the "actual word of God" (21% to 41%), but higher on believing that the Bible is the "inspired word of God" (65% to 46%). Now, I am certain that your view of the Bible is not dependent upon polls or poll questions, but if you were given these three options, even with some confusion regarding "literal" and "actual word of God," what would you choose?
John W. Martens
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