And Now Belief in the Bible Plunges

And Now Belief in the Bible Plunges July 19, 2022

As we blogged about, the percentage of Americans who believe in God is way down, dropping to 81% from a high of 98% in the 1960s.  So it is not surprised that the percentage of Americans who believe in the Bible has also dropped.  Today, only one out of five Americans believe the Bible is the literal Word of God.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 20% of Americans believe that the Bible is the “actual word of God, to be taken literally.”  That’s down from 24% in 2017, and half what it was in 1984.

Conversely, 29% believe that the Bible is a collection of “fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.”  That’s a new high and the first time in the history of Gallup polling that more people don’t believe the Bible is divinely inspired than believe it literally.

The largest segment of Americans take a middle view, with 49% saying that the Bible is inspired by God, not all to be taken literally.”  We might wonder what that means, exactly.  Those who affirm the inerrancy of Scripture believe that the Bible is true in what it says, taking account of its occasional metaphorical and poetic language (“the trees shall clap their hands”).  The meaning of the figures of speech is true (that creation itself will be redeemed), but language is never completely “literal.”  Some people with a high view of Scripture might make this kind of distinction, but I suspect most of the surveyed did not.

All of those numbers record the answers of all Americans surveyed, including adherents of other religions and no religion.  The numbers for professing Christians are telling.

Among those who identify as Christian, only 25% believe the Bible is the “actual word of God, to be taken literally.”  That’s not that much higher than for the public as a whole.

Among those who go to a worship service every week, 44% take that high view of Scripture.

Among those who “identify as evangelical or born again,” 40% take that view.

Though such numbers are an improvement over the national averages, they are also concerning.  Fewer than half of “evangelicals” believe the Bible is the “actual Word of God, to be taken literally”?  Only 40%?  Three out of five evangelicals do not believe that?  So what is an evangelical, if not a Bible-believing Christian?

Among Catholics, only 15% believe the Bible is the actual Word of  God to be taken literally.  That’s less than for the general public.  Twice as many Protestants, 30%, do.

I’d like to see this broken down for us confessional Lutherans, although maybe I wouldn’t like to see those results after all.  And, of course, the study doesn’t get at all into our conviction that the Word of God is not just a collection of information to believe in but a means of grace, through which the Holy Spirit creates faith.

It appears, though, that “thus sayeth the Lord,” quoting Scripture, carries little weight, not only for Americans as a whole but for Christians, including evangelical Christians.  We have an authority problem, both in our society as a whole–so that there is no consensus or commonly-recognized criteria for what is right and wrong–but in the church itself.


Photo:  Old Bible, 1875, by Loren Biser via, Public Domain.

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