May 25, 2007
High inverse correlation between education and belief in a literal Bible
by Frank Newport
GALLUP NEWS SERVICE
PRINCETON, NJ -- About one-third of the American adult population believes the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word. This percentage is slightly lower than several decades ago. The majority of those Americans who don't believe that the Bible is literally true believe that it is the inspired word of God but that not everything it in should be taken literally. About one in five Americans believe the Bible is an ancient book of "fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man."
Educated people should understand that it is nearly meaningless to modify “true” with “literally” in this way. The real question is: are all the statements of the Bible true? It is pointless to insert “literally” here.
Of course we can debate what kinds of language are being used at various points in the Bible. There are many ways to express truth, many of which are some kind of figure of speech. But even figures of speech must, in some sense, be taken “word for word.” Every word of a figure of speech is important.
Notice the categories in this poll:
When you try to understand these categories, you run into a conceptual brick wall. (That last phrase, by the way, is a figure of speech. But it is one that rather clearly expresses a truth.)
I imagine now these three options presented to me in a poll. I have to try to answer a poll that presents a false trichotomy. I believe the Bible to be the “actual word of God” in the sense that God superintended its production so that all that it claims is truth. But if I am forced to add “to be taken literally” I must quickly add that if you take the many figures of speech in the Bible literally, you will most certainly misunderstand many parts of the Bible!
As for the second choice, I don’t even know what to make of saying that the Bible is “inspired by word of God.” I could affirm that the Bible “is the inspired word of God” but that is very different.
The third option is also problematic. I don’t think the Bible is fable or legend as those words are normally used. I do think that some of it is history as recorded by some men, men whose recording activity was overseen by God.
So, in the end, this Gallup Poll is nearly meaningless. We don’t learn what people believe about the Bible here because the responses are too limited, and very vague. It might be difficult to learn what people think about the Bible in a poll, because many people, even Christian people, have not thought very much about what they do, in fact, think about the Bible.
I know a wonderful church lady who insists that the Bible must be everywhere and always taken “literally.” But I doubt that she believes we should rip out our eyeballs when we have a problem with a sin that involves seeing things – as you might have to conclude if you really took Matt. 18:9 “literally.”