How Do BAR Readers Differ? You Tell Us

From Strata in the September/October 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review

We all know that BAR readers are better educated, more literate and know more about the Bible than Americans generally. How do we know? Well, we just know.

But what about BAR readers’ attitudes toward the historical accuracy of the Bible? Do they differ from other Americans? And, if so, how? We may be able to answer those questions.

A recent Gallup poll of more than a thousand American adults offered three different attitudes toward the Bible’s historical accuracy, as follows; after the question we give the percentage of people who agreed with the particular viewpoint (totaling 96 percent; 4 percent had no opinion):


Over time, the percentage of the first category has declined somewhat from earlier Gallup polls. The second percentage has remained about the same, and the third percentage has increased somewhat.

How do BAR readers compare? We are taking a poll. Cast your ballot below. We will publish the results.

We’d also like your views about the matter. Are these three attitudes the only ones? Are they described accurately by Gallup? What do they tell us about Americans (and perhaps about Gallup)? What will the answers tell us about BAR readers? And what will a comparison tell us about ourselves?

However, the answers depend on you. Please cast your ballot.—H.S.


Update, February 10, 2015: The BAR poll was open from August 8–October 31, 2014. Click here for the results!


“Strata: How Do BAR Readers Differ? You Tell Us” was originally published in the September/October 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

The religion section of most bookstores includes an amazing array of Bibles. In our free eBook The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide, prominent Biblical scholars Leonard Greenspoon and Harvey Minkoff expertly guide you through 21 different Bible translations (or versions) and address their content, text, style and religious orientation.

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  1. Cathy says

    I voted for #1, but many people don’t understand that some of the Bible is history, part of it is laws and commandments and agreements between God and man; some is poetry, there are parables, and stories of symbolism. It is all from God. There are things that may not make sense now, but as we learn and grow and prophesies are fulfilled, more things make sense. There are mysteries that we may never understand until we see Him face to face.

  2. Jan says

    I voted for #2 because there have been so many translations that I don’t think it is possible that every word in the Bible is the actual word of God. Also, some words can’t be translated into other languages, so things are an educated guess. That doesn’t mean it’s history isn’t accurate or that the teachings aren’t meaningful. Times may change, but the word of God does not, even though some interpretations may have minor flaws.

  3. Sandra says

    My belief is somewhere between 1 and 2. I believe the Bible is the word of God, but there are many different interpretations. So I didn’t vote.

  4. Miriam says

    I chose #1. I truly believe that the Bible is the word of God and as a teacher of the Bible, I have used the research of our brilliant archaeologists as support for my classes, bringing the past back to life. I have found that the more I learn about the Bible, the greater my appreciation is for archaeology and the gifts that BAR has brought to those of us not fortunate enough to be out in the fields. Sadly though, as time goes on, I am finding that many modern-day archaeologists are using their skills to try to disprove the authenticity of the Bible, unlike the original archaeologists who were theists and wanted to enhance an understanding for the Bible. I keep wondering when and why it changed. Perhaps it can be frightening to some when they recognize that if in fact the Bible is historically accurate then the moral responsibilities included within its eternal words are accurate as well. The Bible teaches us to live a life focusing on our responsibilities as man not the rights of man. This concept is antithetical to the rights mankind sees as law and order in the 21st century. I look forward to the day when truth will prevail.

  5. Julie says

    The story is written by men and only men!

  6. Paul says

    Another option might be “The Bible is an ancient historical religious text with a solid moral foundation.”

  7. Talia says

    I tend to take the view that it’s mostly inspiried by God, but certainly filtered through (mostly, if not entirely) men who put it into written form from the oral history and stories that form much of it. I would also add that as someone who is Jewish by way of Christianity I see, and have since before my journey of faith shifted, the epistles as part of a conversation with the writer’s particular viewpoints and biases coming to the fore based on their own interpretation of the question or problem and how they were responding to that need.

  8. Timothy says

    There are numerous passages that were understood to be figurative or symbolic that modern readers often interpret as literal depictions…..and then there are the teachings that were ambiguous because it sometimes serves God’s purposes to keep things hidden even from the wise.

  9. Meghan says

    The Bible was written mostly by men, compiled in the 300s by Constantine and his Council at Nicea. It doesn’t include apocryphal books, or a lot of Jewish texts. It is a piece of history, just like the Torrah, the Qu’ran, and Buddha’s teachings. I would say “just” a piece of history, but it’s too important, historically, to discount that way. I am, however, 100% certain it is not the words of a higher power because gods were created by humans to cope with the awareness that they will someday die.

  10. C.Craig says

    Man shall live by every word that is proceeding out of the mouth of God.

  11. Marcus says

    I would put forward a fourth option in between the first two: the Bible is the actual spoken words of God, but our understanding of it is finite. Because of this, we need to be careful of our actions when basing behavior on the Bible. Education and familiarity are key.

  12. Alastair says

    I think all three are true, but recorded the answer #2. The inspiration of the text lies in which human histories and laws and wisdom were chosen, in other words in the editing as much as the words themselves. It’s a matter of divine providence. If one doesn’t believe in divinity or providence, it’s impossible to take the Bible seriously at many places.

  13. Calvin says

    my view can’t be really describe with anything from the options. It’s in between #1 and #2 of course. I view the Bible as the inspired Word of God, as God spoke through these people, hence, not only containing the Word of God, but actual Word of God. And, quoting Ken Ham, to be read naturally. It’s not a matter that everything should be taken literally word-by-word, but context-by-context, and the whole Bible is the whole context, with its pericopes.

  14. tapani says

    I have searched the Bible with many many languages, and my alternative is #2. Paul speaks from the word of the Lord and from his own opinions. Resisting the woman clergy belongs to the latter one. The Bible is written by men and speaks from our world, but also bring to us devout guidance. *It is not comparable with “common” literature. Amount of translations amazing. Without believe and turn to God the Bible does not give much to the reader.

  15. Yossef says

    I essentially disagree with the premise of this question being that the choice is between the Bible being a science text book or a collection of helpful fables and the medium point is a divinely inspired collection of fables. If we take but one example; the Creation story, we find at least 2 versions of the same story 1:1 – 2:3, 2:4. So if I like your first option (The Bible as the literal word of God) then which story is the literal word. If 2 is true (The Bible is the inspired literal word of God, not everything is to be taken literally), then how come there are these two versions. If we’re dealing with the word of God, divinely inspired or word for word, one wants a clear message here, right? Why would I think not to take things literally? What else would I have thought knowing that there are 2 versions? It can’t be that all those people answering ‘yes’ to option one don’t know about these inconsistencies. If there are already two versions then I know that I need some sort of explanation, that would detract from it being a literal ‘science textbook’ style of text. So option 2 sounds a bit redundant. Finally 3 … the Bible is a book of fables and legends, OK that question makes sense, I don’t agree with it and I say ‘no’ because I am a religious person, however because the first two options are redundant then I’d rather just not answer the poll than answer yes to this.

  16. Jeffery says

    Number 3 plain and simple.

  17. Bill says

    The Bible is inerrant Word of YHWH inspired in man through the Holy Spirit; and the Word is forever settled in Heaven.

  18. Tony says

    much of the Bible is lost in translation… take the word CHARITY what does it mean ?? It doesn’t mean give to the poor and it is not a organization. going back to the Hebrew / Latin languages it simply means LOVE … I will add the CHARITY … give to the poor is a act of love. And there are a many more words the is lost in translation. i have a Bible with English/Greek/Hebrew all of them in one bible and words are different in each one. What about Ezekiel’s wheels in the sky the to me sound a lot like flying saucers.. I am Not putting down the bible is is the word of God in any way, I am just saying some of things but, very little in the bible are a mystery.. You have to think of it this way how would you explain a cellphone to the ancient peoples or a car, a TV, you see where i am going if this? How they explained what God wanted them to write not 100% should be taken as complete fact.. But rather think outside the box.. Jesus walked on the water that is fact taken as fact. Healing the sick and old Fact. the flood fact.. i am NOT in anyway saying things didn’t happen. God did give us a mind to think too. I am a Christian

  19. Martin says

    I selected #2 simply because there is only 1 light the sun, the moon merely reflects the light from the sun:

    Genesis 1:16 New King James Version (NKJV)

    16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.

  20. mercedes says

    Even if it was divine you’d have to believe over thousands of years all who copied, translated, etc. didn’t change, detract, add, or embellish, even if some pages went lost or missing. We’ve got to stop worshipping a document.

  21. John says

    I voted #2 although in most cases I would agree with #1. On the other hand, there are such things as figures of speech and symbolic language which are used in a context where it is understood that such a genre is in use.

    There are no writings (including BAR) where we take everything with wooden literalism.

  22. Victoria says

    I voted for #2, but I believe that both #2 and #3 are correct and don’t contradict each other. The Bible is the inspired word of God that was recorded by man. The Bible is a complex ancient book with some fables/legends (which should not be taken literally) and some factual history (which should be taken literally).

  23. Jeff says

    I would be more comfortable with the questions if the word literally was replaced with the word seriously.

    As worded I don’t think it quite captures the issue. Either it is a message from God, or it is a piece of historical literature.

    In the first case it needs to be taken seriously with care to understand the message. A wooden literalness would distort some parts.

    In the second case, if it is not a message from God, it is still our best preserved example of historic literature.

  24. David says

    Events of the last couple of months have prompted me to move from #2 to #3. It’s becoming harder for me to differentiate between a God who seems to act in random, mundane ways and no God at all. And I’m not sure why I would need to worship such a God.
    Given that, the Bible does seem to be a record of an epic story of humanity which should be celebrated in its own right.

  25. Rose says

    I voted number 2. I am a catholic and I am also educated in the sciences. The two sometimes don’t always co-exist well together. That doesn’t mean that my faith in God and my church is any less. One has to remember that the bible was written by men (I still hope that it will be proven that female scribes did exist). Whether these men were directed by God directly or inspired by God is not something I think anyone can either prove or disprove. We all have to take it on faith really. The bible does indeed use fables, stories and tales to get the message across. But those fables and stories can’t be disproven either.

  26. Barbara says

    Hope the followup will give links and more information about the Gallup survey and findings. This one question is wholly inadequate to discussion of the question.

  27. G B ELDRED says

    I vote for No 1..I believe God really told each prophet what to write . I read about a Mathematician who was an atheist and was going to prove the bible wrong by mathamatics. But he found the things he was trying to prove wrong turned the other way. Every thing either added up to seven or was a multiplication of 7 . So he tried other books like Shakesphear and other great writers none of them had the same code., So he turned in to a christian and knew it had to be a Supreme Being to be able to write anything that made sense and had the code of 7 as he was finding..

  28. Michael says

    I chose #2 because of the wording of the statements but lean heavily toward #1. I do believe that the Bible is the actual inspired word of God but to take every single word literally is to ignore that some passages are clearly figurative or metaphorical.
    Any conflicts between Bible and archaeology or science can be explained as a lack of understanding of one or both. I don’t study the Bible with the aim of destroying science nor do I study science and history to disprove the Bible. On the contrary, I study all three to find the harmony in them.

  29. Janice says

    I also chose No. 2 because I believe that the actual words have to be viewed in the context of history at the time, and most of us are unaware of the situation surrounding when the words were written. Definitely the inspired word of God, though. Just as a point, this vote is open to people other than just Americans. I am from South Africa.

  30. Arlin says

    Numbers 1 and 2 do not adequately distinguish between “word inspiration” versus “thought inspiration”. I believe in “thought inspiration” rather than “word inspiration.” The Word of God can speak to us through the Bible in whatever language or translation we may read it. We don’t all have to read the Bible in its original words in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, to understand what God is saying to us. I chose #2, but I was not fully in agreement with that statement. I think the poll questions could be stated in better ways and yield more effective results. The way a poll is stated can easily bias or skew the results. I suspect this poll suffers from its lack of precision in its questions, which leaves many readers unsure how to answer.

  31. colette says

    The Bible like this poll are chained with limits. The poll is good but stops at three choices out of billions of opinions. So in a sense the poll is a question with chains. The Bible was created by minds who did not take in consideration collective knowledge. So actually they bound those scriptures that applied to their thinking. The same with Napolen and Carter. We are still finding scripture. We have questions yet to be answered. The God of the scriptures is past present and future. The Bible chains people in purgatory. Like a puzzle with just a few of the pieces.

  32. MARLAN says

    I am am avid BAR reader, but I did NOT take your survey as you had no option that represented me. There are millions of people who believe that the entire Bible is inspired (Not verbal word-for-word inspiration, but thought inspiration–thus not fitting into question #1) who would *NEVER* say it shouldn’t be taken literally. Rather they would say that it is God’s message to us that should be understood in its historical, literary and cultural context.

  33. Lon says

    This is a poorly formulated survey. To use the phrase “is to be taken literally, word-for-word” is, as others have mentioned (see Marlan #32), not exactly what even biblical inerrantists believe because, for instance, poetic sections aren’t to be taken “literally,” per se, but poetically, for instance. Or phrases like “the rising of the sun” is not expected to be taken “literally” (from a purely scientific standpoint) because it’s not a scientific account, but rather a figurative statement (and one used by us today. But neither we, nor the Bible assert that the sun is “rising.”) This suervey would have been much more interesting if the options were more precisely worded to accord with the actual views scholars take on biblical accuracy.

  34. Gary says

    This is actually tough. Every word of the Bible is inspired by God. Everything in the Bible is true. The problem has been in corruption from the event to its recording. The second problem is in the interpretation of what was said. How many of the Prophets wrote down their own testimony? God speaks through the Prophets, which speech is recorded by a scribe, who emphasizes what he feels to be the most important. Things are lost there, literally and contextually.

  35. Armand says

    We know that the Bible was written by men; people, perhaps a number of women as well. It has been written, re-written, edited, altered, added-to, deleted-from, translated countless times and, in many cases, deliberately corrupted by church fathers trying to reconcile prophecies that have passed unfulfilled. And there are many. Jesus said “This generation will not pass before all these things come to be.” Obviously when that generation had, indeed, passed, they had some reconciling to do. This happened many times, almost from the inception of the Torah.

  36. Gene says

    The words may have changed but the concepts have not in some bibles. Unfortunately the words have changed the true meaning is modern bibles.

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