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!

  • Andrew says

    I have a problem with these questions. The Bible itself says that it is the inspired word of God, not the literal actual words of God. However, even though it is the inspired word of God, and not the actual words of God (Islam claims the latter), it can still be 100% accurate, which Bible-believers ought to think. Secondly, when asking whether people take the Bible “literally,” what does this question mean when referring to metaphors in the Bible, such as the beasts of Daniel and Revelation? There are other examples, too. Not everything is meant to be taken as literal, yet still meant to be believed 100%, and are indeed 100% correct. Every situation must be studied to determine what is literal (7 days of creation) or as metaphor (prophecies). So I, personally, could not comfortably choose any of the three options, because they indicate or imply something I don’t agree with.

  • June says

    There are many testimonies to extreme torture having been enacted upon children. Would this be a pardonable sin in some circumstances, all circumstances or not at all? This I do know parents have an obligation to the Almighty Creator to teach children especially by example. I have witnessed parents beating their children for copying adult behaviour. This is unacceptable parenting. If you consider it necessary to punish a child you must ask yourself whether you have taught and been a good example to your child. This is my opinion is it biblical it does makes sense to me?

  • Gene says

    I don’t think children should always be spanked but I wonder how many children would be alive or not in prison if they had a good swat on the butt now and then when they refused to obey. When they learn they do not need to obey at home – they learn the hard way, society – the law- is a lot more painful then a swat now and then.

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