A Gallup pole released last Friday (June 8) says that in the US, 3 in 10 people say they believe the bible is the “actual word of God” to be taken literally. I’m not sure whether to be frightened or comforted by this news. 5 in 10 say that the Bible is inspired, but not to be taken literally. The last 2 say that it is only fables and legends.
The number who take the Bible as the literally is down from 4 in 10 back in the 1980s. So it would appear that the nation is making progress.
This is one of those questions, though, that I would probably answer in the “none of the above” category, were my phone to ring at dinnertime this week. Some of it’s based on actual events. Parts of the Bible are inspiring. Some of it is fable and legend. But there is more to it than that.
I’d want to ask the pollster, “What about the Psalms? They’re poetry, not fable and legend. And they’re not really dictates. They’re inspiring, mostly. But what do you do with Psalm 137:8-9, which are absolutely barbaric? And what about all the other passages that aren’t propositional. Like Job, which is more questions than answers?
“What about the parables? They’re not fables or legends exactly. They’re stories Jesus made up to make people think. Jesus never said about any of them, “This really happened.” Are they inspired? Some more than others. Are they literally true? No. Do they lead us to understanding? Well, they might.
“And what about Paul’s letters? They never claim any inspiration for themselves. But they’re not fables or legends either. They’re somebody’s correspondence.”
The trouble with asking a question about the Bible that has to be answered in one of three categories is that the Bible’s made up of a lot of different stuff. People put a leather binding on it and paint gold around the edges, and suddenly it looks like its monolithic. Put the word “Holy” on the cover and all of a sudden it’s divine and infallible. But it’s not. Never has been.
Here’s the question I’d like Gallup to ask: How many Americans have really, actually read the Bible from cover to cover? I know I could answer that one.