Attitudes Toward the Historical Accuracy of the Bible: Are We Different?

From Strata in the March/April 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review

In the September/October 2014 BAR, we reported on the results of a recent Gallup poll in which more than a thousand American adults were asked to indicate which of three statements best represented their view of the Bible’s historical accuracy. These were the statements:

1. The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.
2. The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally.
3. The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.

This naturally led us to wonder how BAR readers compare with the Gallup poll reflecting the American population as a whole. Were our readers proportionally different from Americans generally? Were they more heavily literalists, believing that the Bible represented the Word of God? Or did a greater percentage of them regard the Bible as an ancient book of fables, legends and history? Did BAR attract more people with one attitude toward the Bible than another? Were BAR readers more like Americans generally, or did they differ significantly?

So we decided to ask you. We announced our own survey using the same statements that were in the Gallup poll and asked our readers to tell us which statement they most agreed with. More than 3,000 BAR readers responded, over three times the number in the Gallup poll.


The bottom line: In this respect BAR readers are much like the American population as a whole: The percentage of BAR readers who chose the first statement was virtually identical with the American population as a whole. Same for the second statement. A few more people chose the third statement in the BAR poll than in the Gallup poll, but some of this may be attributable to the fact that the Gallup numbers totaled 96 percent, and the BAR numbers totaled 99 percent.

In any event, the BAR readership is much like the population as a whole in its attitudes toward the historicity of the Bible. Both in the Gallup poll and the BAR poll approximately as many believe the Bible is the literal true word of God as believe it is a book of history and legends.

In addition to responding to the BAR poll, 134 of our readers posted comments on the poll. The most common was that the Gallup poll was poorly worded and that it should have had more than three choices. One reader suggested six.

Many readers, forced to choose one answer, complained that their views fell somewhere between 1 and 2 or between 2 and 3. Perhaps BAR readers make more subtle distinctions than the public generally.


“Strata: Are We Different?” was originally published in the March/April 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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  • S says

    Only number 1 (one) is accurate!

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