BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

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.
bar-bible-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.


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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56 Responses

  1. S Moore says:

    Only number 1 (one) is accurate!

  2. 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.

  3. hephzibahb 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?

  4. Gene Peterson 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.

  5. Gene Peterson says:

    The teachings of the Bible should be accepted as truths. As for word for word I don’t know. I do know many people I’ve talked with do accept the biblical teaching of (Be careful how you treat strangers, you may be entertaining an angle unawares) may not be word for word but several I know have experienced what they believe is they have this experience. Also many believe God has spoken to them; and/or answered their needs and prayers. Bible Archeology sheds new light on bible verses to help us understand some that seem contradicting. The Star over Bethlehem… Could be God appearing as a flame like the burning bush Moses found or the column of fire God used to lead the Israels out of Egypt. Spiritual experiences and study helps us see the truth of the bible.

  6. February 21-22, 2014 Weekend Newsletter Collection | Truth2Freedom's Blog says:

    […] heavens, what a foolishly and impossibly-worded poll. How would you even answer? Like, “I think children should always be spanked; I think […]

  7. JohnH says:

    There is no definition of terms. I’ve always understood “literal”, in terms of hermeneutics, to mean to interpret as literature- including poetry, metaphors, hyperbole, etc. My yes to literal would not mean trees grew arms and clapped (Isa 55)! The same problem applies to “actual word of God”, “inspired” and so on. Yes, you can over-think a question in a poll, but you can under-think things that deserve more clarity.

  8. Kurt says:

    The English word “chronology” comes from the Greek khro·no·lo·gi′a (from khro′nos, time, and le′go, say or tell), that is, “the computation of time.” Chronology makes possible the placing of events in their orderly sequence or association and the assigning of proper dates to particular events.
    Jehovah is “the Ancient of Days” and the God of Eternity. (Da 7:9; Ps 90:2; 93:2) That he is an accurate Timekeeper is evident not only from the superb precision manifest in the movements of the stellar bodies but also from the divine record of his acts. In fulfillment of his promises or prophecies, he caused events to occur at the exact time foretold, whether the intervening time was of only a day (Ex 9:5, 6), a year (Ge 17:21; 18:14; 21:1, 2; 2Ki 4:16, 17), decades (Nu 14:34; 2Ch 36:20-23; Da 9:2), centuries (Ge 12:4, 7; 15:13-16; Ex 12:40, 41; Ga 3:17), or millenniums (Lu 21:24; see APPOINTED TIMES OF THE NATIONS). We are assured that his purposes for the future are certain of execution at the predetermined time, right down to the day and hour designated.—Hab 2:3; Mt 24:36.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200271219

  9. R. Robert Palmer . . . says:

    I have gone over materials in both the Old and the New Testaments. I am to be found in group two of the survey. However, I do know that there are some places in the Old Testament in the historical works where the information is not accurate and this may be cause for chronology errors. The New Testament despite what the popular teachings in college are about it and the beginnings of the Christian church, are pretty much covered to be factual and true. I like the the chronology that Israel lists on it’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs site, where Jesus’ misinstry starts around 21 CE an dends in 33 CE. This is very close to be accurate. The problem that most people have is not so much what is in the Bible, but what they believe is in there, or not there. On the question his there any archaeological evidence or other historicall records showing something in the Bible false, the answer is no, but evidence does show the time line is different.

  10. Alan Kmiecik says:

    and to those who believe the Bible is to be take literally, word for word: what is a day?

  11. Alan Kmiecik says:

    Has there ever been and archeological find that proved something in the Bible was false?

  12. Gary says:

    In response to #17 (Robin), the answer is most definitely YES.

  13. eero piirto says:

    Do the same here in Finland.I would very much like to see the results. Are we so different or the same – cultural differencies. Russia behind our back, but the churchis the same – in theory – no pope etc.

  14. Dennis Studd says:

    I agree with those who say that the word ‘literal’ is problematic. As I live in the UK, the poll was not appropriate for me, but those who speak of Jesus as the true vine are correct about it not being literal. We have a teacher in the UK who says that if Genesis 1is not true, how can the rest of the Bible be true? Yet Genesis 1speaks of a [bronze] dome that covers the Earth; it also speaks of 24 hour days that are only true at the Equator, light without the Sun, and a flat geocentric location for the Earth. The Earth is a planet that orbits the Sun and is not even truly spherical, something that has only recently been discovered.
    After over forty-five years as what is commonly called “a Christian”, I can read science and theology without it affecting my faith because I am beginning recognise the cultural implications of what the Bible says that prevent it from being taken literally. The Messiah often spoke in parables; this implies that many of the Bible’s stories can legitimately be thought of as parables.
    Denn

  15. Jericho Documentary. Archeology Agrees With The Bible - Fileflee.com says:

    […] from several ancient cities and compare them to Biblical accounts. (Biblical Mysteries EP20) Biblical archaeology involves […]

  16. Ethan says:

    All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16

  17. Chris62008 says:

    When I hear the term “literal I’m kind of assuming a generalization of the literal Biblical worldview. That is things like Adam and Eve being first man and woman, that the Biblical Exodus truly happened, Joshua indeed conquered Jericho, Etc. I think the finer details like dates etc are left up to interpretation but do not deter from the literal interpretation of the texts. My opinion.

  18. Chris62008 says:

    Funny because I am member of BAR and was not included in the polling. Interesting poll, results were as expected. Myself, I take a literal interpretation of the Bible as it is meant to be. But I respect others opinion as well. To each their own. Grateful there are resources such as BAR to give us open minded insight on Biblical topics and discoveries.

  19. Kirsty says:

    Definitely could do with some rewording. What do the responders mean by ‘taken literally’ for example?
    Surely no-one at all believes that Jesus is a plant with grapes growing on him, for example 🙂 But it then depends on where you draw the line what is meant to be figurative and what is meant to be literal.

  20. pearlman says:

    See Maimonides for the basic 13 principals of Jewish faith.
    Those who hold otherwise may be Jewish, but are not practicing Judaism.

  21. pearlman says:

    #11 Kevin, good question,
    Judaism defines what to take literally (six day creation) and when not (an eye for an eye) based on the oral revelation to Moses that came hand in hand w/ the written.
    We have an unbroken chain of that in Talmud.
    Another way to take the written word in full context is w/ Rabbi Ismael’s 13 laws of logical deduction, for consistent accurate understanding.
    As far as how does a 6 day creation 5775 years ago jive with factual science see the RCCF Torah and science reconciliation framework.

  22. Jeff says:

    My question is there ANY proof that what is found in the Bible been PROVEN False. I mean the Archaeological Proof is there to support The Bible. I have seen no evidence that suggest it is incorrect. And any time there has been question again Archaeology has proven it correct.

  23. Kurt says:

    Why Should the Bible Interest You?

    The Bible is by far the world’s most popular book. Why? For one thing, it is easy to identify with. It contains true-life accounts of real people and their interactions with one another and with God. These accounts teach practical lessons using simple and straightforward words that can be translated into hundreds of languages and understood by people living in any place or time period. And the Bible’s principles always work.
    Most important, the Bible claims to be not just a book about God but also a book from God. It reveals God’s name, his personality, and his unchangeable purpose in creating the earth and humans. The Bible also relates the historic struggle of good versus evil: a fascinating, universal drama with a happy ending. Reading the Bible with an open mind thus lays a basis for faith and hope.
    In the Bible, we find information available nowhere else. For example, the Bible tells us the truth about such topics as these:
    ▪ Where we come from and why we suffer
    ▪ God’s arrangement to redeem humankind
    ▪ What Jesus has done for us
    ▪ The future of the earth and humans.
    Research Guide—2014 The Bible:
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1203222

  24. Gary Luce says:

    The second question is incomplete. If everything has to be taken literally, then Jesus’ statement that He is the bread of life cannot be taken literally. He was God in the form of a man of flesh and blood. So it might be better to ask if the TRUTH of the Bible is to be taken literally considering that the Bible speaks in symbols and Jesus Himself said that His teaching was in parables. So I would ask, “Given that the Bible makes use of metaphor, symbol and parable, is the message of the Bible to be taken as literal truth to live our lives”?

  25. MRS CAROL L HILL says:

    I AM GLAD THAT THERE ARE MANY WHO CAN EXPRESS THEIR BELIEFS AS EXPRESSED IN THE ABOVE COMMENTS. I AM A BELIEVER IN BOTH THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT AND I HAVE ARRIVED AT THE CONCLUSION THAT WHAT WE HAVE IN MOST MODERN BIBLES IS THE VERY WORD OF GOD AS THE HOLY ONE HAS PRESERVED IT TO US AND OUR PROGENY. IT IS AMAZING TO READ HOW THE TEXT WAS DEVELOPED, PUT IN WORDS AND WAS SAVED THROUGH THE CENTURIES – ESPECIALLY THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS. I HAVE DONE SOME STUDIES IN BIBLICAL GREEK. AND BIBLICAL HEBREW. STILL LEARNING. BUT TO BE ABLE TO TRANSLATE SOME GREEK TEXTS AS IN JOHN AND MARK, ETC. , IT WAS BEAUTIFUL TO UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS SAID IN THE GREEK AS COMPARED TO THE ENGLISH BIBLES I WAS READING. AND THAT EXPERIENCE REALLY IMPACTED MY MIND AND DESIRE TO CONTINUE STUDYING GREEK AND HEBREW AND BE ABLE TO EVENTUALLY READ MORE OF THE ANCIENT TEXTS. BUT I DO BELIEVE THAT GOD PRESERVES HIS WORD OF TRUTH FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.

  26. KiwiChristian says:

    “literal” is a dangerous word. to say every single word of the Bible actually happened is not right. Jesus himself taught in parables, so those parts are to be taken as teaching illustrations surely rather than being a true account of someone’s life?
    However, God promised he would preserve his word ‘from this generation forever’. There have been enough ancient writings found to prove that the word we have today is the same as they had of old. Jesus Christ is called the Word, so Hebrews 13:8 must mean God’s inspired word also is the same yesterday, today and forever?

    In 2,000 years (5,00 for the older parts) nobody has ever proved it wrong. Yet many have tried. Christ said the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church, surely hell has even less chance against his word?

  27. Jim D. says:

    The swine are munching on pearls again,

  28. Alan Kirkbride says:

    God is quite big enough to prepare and preserve a divinely accurate message to us, one that astonishingly survives translation and time. Receiving it as such blesses the receiver with a plethora of promises. The sceptic has none of them. I’ll take Him at His word.

  29. Gene R. Conradi says:

    Although no original Bible manuscripts have yet been found, thousands of handwritten copies of the whole Bible or portions of it have survived to our day. Some of them are very old. Did the message contained in the original texts change as it was copied? Scholar W. H. Green stated concerning the Hebrew Scriptures: “It may be safely said that no other work of antiquity has been so accurately transmitted.” Concerning the Christian Greek Scriptures, a leading authority on Bible manuscripts, Sir Frederic Kenyon, wrote: “The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.” He also stated: “It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain. . . . This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.”

    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/102007409#h=9:408-9:1086

  30. Gershon Steinberg-Caudill says:

    I think the question is somewhat unnecessary and even strange. The Bible is for Jews (or should be, in my opinion) to be thought of in a similar vein as the Native American Indian Creation and Identity stories are to the Native American people. Who asks Native Americans whether they believe their stories are historical and accurate, as we define “historical” and “accurate” today? Yet, the stories, like those of the Bible, are revered and faithfully transmitted on to the next generation. The TRUTH of the story is to be dug out of the story like a gold nugget from a mountain.

  31. Adrian Durlester says:

    I have to second the critique of the editorial choice of the colors used in this article to represent the three poll options. Intentional or not, it was a poor editorial choice, and BAR should own up to that.

  32. David says:

    Sorry, that should have read 2000 years ago… fat finger syndrome!

  33. David says:

    Interesting comments for the most part. Like others, i have been involved in assessing the Jewish Scriptures and the writings of the Early “Christian” communities for the better part of my life in formal academic settings and personal reading choices.. What far to many fail to realize is that the material that is provided in the “canonical New Testament” material is that it represents only the approved writings of the early councils, many of which were politically driven. There are many other options to be appraised for content sake than just the “approved / canonical” material that are quite different from that with which we are so familiar, because that is all we have been used to reading. For example, consider the Didache material which represents an early Jewish based Christian community that sets out an interesting “Community Rule”. This faith community, which might actually have the closest connections to The Way – that is Jesus group of followers, was declared heretical and heavily persecuted by “Orthodox Christians” because their Eucharistic practices and theology did not represent that of the majority of the assembled Bishops etc. No mention of whether it might have been closest to the truth, it did not provide the leverage for the church rulers to require adherence of the believers to the rulers dictum’s.

    There are a number of other parallels (see Bart Erhman’s work on Lost Scriptures and Lost Christianities, as well as the work of many others in this field).that provide one with the opportunities to critically asses the actions of the Early Christian Church and bring some heavy questions to bear on its activities.

    I heartily agree with Richard that one must critically approach the whole situation with a mufti-faceted approach that assesses not only the text and the theology, but also the cultural settings of 20000 years ago with fresh lenses that do not read back our current situation into the problem.

  34. R. Robert Palmer . . . says:

    The Bible contains accurate narratives for the most part dealing with ancient histories, it is like a Readers Digest of Jewish history, as it doesn’t contain all the histories and there are some years that are purposely unaccounted for. It is set up for inspiration of faith, and a guide to the relationship of God and man from the beginnings, that help explain traditions and beliefs of the Jewish people. The current teachings in the colleges are interesting as they are off base in the folktale type of analaysis of both the Old and New Testaments and if people did look at the evidence in both internal and external sources, you will be able to find the real time that is mentioned in the Bible texts.

  35. Jim Henry says:

    Jim says
    Great is the mystery of Godliness

  36. Alex Altorfer says:

    Considering that inspiration is not the same as authorship, one can easily believe both positions 2 and 3 at the same time. They are not contradictory.

  37. Richard Liebl says:

    Clearly the Bible is a critical book in the history of Western civilization. It is also contains important content for living a Spirit centered life. Approaching it uncritically is, to me, a grave error. I doubt many people today would find the genocide described in the Old Testament to be a model to be followed. The clear retrenchment from Paul’s view of women as equals in Christ in the authentic epistles to one of shut up and listen in the pastoral epistles is evidence to me of something other than Divine inspiration. And setting the age of the earth at 6000 years as Biblical literalists do is equal parts of ridiculous and sad. Important book, absolutely. Literally true, absolutely not.

  38. Robin says:

    Not too surprised by the survey results. We do live in a confused and secular culture. Many know what they have “heard” about the Bible — and do not know much beyond that.

    I came back to religion after a long hiatus in other directions. Before I signed on the dotted line, I decided that I wanted to study issues like copyists’ errors, transmission of historical info in an oral culture, etc. If the pharoahs of Egypt and the rulers of the Hittites had scribes at their sides taking notes on their battles, and then used those notes in compiling their annals — it seems not unlikely that a people group like the Hebrews — who came from Egypt — might have learned some similar habits.

    There is more to that story of course. And there are issues about the biblical text — is there a preTribulational Rapture? is the Universe young or old? — that are fraught with emotion. But overall the Bible contains a theological perspective on early Israeli history, the need for atonement for sins, the need for a messianic figure, the coming of the Messiah, His life and teachings and sacrifice, etc. — these themes are well developed and pretty well understood.

    So the Bible is a text worth studying and reading. Luther said you need more than one lifetime for it, and I bet he was right. I do appreciate BAR and all that it offers.

  39. Andrew says:

    I’m surprised by these results.

    I’ve enjoyed studying Biblical history and Biblical archaeology – as well as history and archaeology in general – for many years. However, I’ve always accepted that the Bible is a collection of Bronze Age and Iron Age writings (and possibly earlier material too) that were amassed from many diverse sources over many centuries. Those writings were then edited repeatedly on many different occasions and by many people to reflect the dogma, beliefs and politics of various times. The lost gospels are a good example as are the changes made here in England by the Tudors during the Reformation and the later changes made by King James I (which is the version of the Bible that many Protestants adhere to today).

    I’m just surprised that so many people in the US obviously feel the Bible has a different source.

  40. Robin says:

    does this work?

  41. Gary says:

    A major distinction is missing from the statements. Are we talking about the original texts in the original languages or are we talking about a specific translation? It is clear that most translations are based on the theological bias of the translators. To truly understand the Bible, it is very important to take into account the culture, context, grammar, linguistics and type of writing that is being read and studied. How can we know what the text means to us if we don’t know what it meant to the original readers? Idioms are a classic example. The English language is laced with idioms and we don’t take them literally. Hebrew actually uses more idioms than English and some say we should read the Bible literally word for word…. No wonder we have so many wacky English translations!

  42. Stanley Smith says:

    I’ve been reading and studying the Bible since I was about 12 years old. Today I am 82. I have
    faith that the New Testament teaches us much from the life of Jesus Christ, the letters of
    St. Paul to several communities, and believe events that are historically accurate as Christianity grew in the first century after Christ. I have faith that my God is real, that Jesus is his son, and both are an equal part of the Trinity. I also love the Old Testament, the original Jewish scriptures that eventually became the basis of the Jewish and Hebrew religion. But do I believe all the stories in the OT are totally truthful? Do I believe that every event in the New Testament is absolutely accurate? I cannot, and it doesn’t affect my faith in the least

  43. Earl Eccles says:

    I have been studying and teaching the Bible from child hood.While there are some symbolic statements especially in prophecy, the Bible is the revealed word of God and our job is to study so that we can teach truth ( II Tim 2:15).
    Earl

  44. Richard says:

    Believing something does not make it so. Faith is belief when proof is absent. Having faith in something does not make it so.

  45. Andy says:

    2 Peter 1 :16 Complementary to Paul to Tomothy and Titus, Peter states ‘for we were not making up clever stories ‘ NLT

  46. Kevin says:

    I wonder how the people in the ‘not everything literal’ category decide what to take literally? With forty thousand different christian groupings it may be that nothing is taken literally by everyone.

  47. Christoph Jungen says:

    Thanks, Carl, that’s exactly what I believe, think and feell to be true to the Bible. But the poll leaves no room for this. To take it “literally” in this sense is to take the texts for what they really are: Some poetry, some mythological, some narrative, some history, some song, some prayer …
    But I fear that in the minds of most “literal” means universally “historical” – and whoever does this does not take it literally, but historically and to project such a view onto the Bible is not to take it serious in whatever form and shape it comes. Who says that God cannot communicate through non-historical stories, even fables and myths?

  48. Carl Barrington says:

    The first two questions are improperly worded. You can believe in the truth of the entire Bible without taking it all “literally”. Some is poetry. Some is written in the apocalyptic genre. It can all be completely true without being “literal”.

  49. John Hicks says:

    The issue is the word Literal. The Bible uses every literary technique available and very effectively. Not all of Scripture is intended to be literal. I asked a friend if he thought that standing on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, did he expect to see an actual 10 horned beast emerge from the waves. Because of the word ‘literal’, he said yes. The Bible is true and accurate in every aspect. Historical events happened exactly as described. Truths are directly from the mind and mouth of God. Visions and symbols are just that. Jesus is exactly who he says He is. Prophetic events will unfold exactly as God has planned. The Bible contains no error.

  50. Dave says:

    Another option should be what we call “the Bible” is a collection of Jewish writings which the Christian Church recognizes as important and the writings of the Apostles on the life and work of Jesus and letters to churches dealing with various issues.

  51. Adria says:

    Were the options in the poll presented in the same colours as these results? I think it’s not trivial nor incidental that a particular option is marked in green, while its contrary is in red…

  52. Arie Uittenbogaard (Abarim Publications) says:

    I’m missing the option: The Bible is a biased translation of something we’ve studied for centuries and still haven’t even scratched the surface of.

  53. Michael O'Byrne says:

    I have no doubt that the Bible is the actual word of God and we must take all of it literally!

  54. Rod says:

    The path is narrow.

  55. Al in Bama says:

    You may be surprised that so many Americans recognize a theistic source for the Bible, but that is simply because you have been fooled by a common narrative; this information has maintained to what has been available over the last two decades.

  56. Christopher says:

    I’m actually surprised that nearly 80% of Americans recognize some theistic source for the Bible. The atheist and naturalist might not be impressed but overwhelming judgments of the hive mind should not be casually dismissed I think.

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56 Responses

  1. S Moore says:

    Only number 1 (one) is accurate!

  2. 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.

  3. hephzibahb 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?

  4. Gene Peterson 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.

  5. Gene Peterson says:

    The teachings of the Bible should be accepted as truths. As for word for word I don’t know. I do know many people I’ve talked with do accept the biblical teaching of (Be careful how you treat strangers, you may be entertaining an angle unawares) may not be word for word but several I know have experienced what they believe is they have this experience. Also many believe God has spoken to them; and/or answered their needs and prayers. Bible Archeology sheds new light on bible verses to help us understand some that seem contradicting. The Star over Bethlehem… Could be God appearing as a flame like the burning bush Moses found or the column of fire God used to lead the Israels out of Egypt. Spiritual experiences and study helps us see the truth of the bible.

  6. February 21-22, 2014 Weekend Newsletter Collection | Truth2Freedom's Blog says:

    […] heavens, what a foolishly and impossibly-worded poll. How would you even answer? Like, “I think children should always be spanked; I think […]

  7. JohnH says:

    There is no definition of terms. I’ve always understood “literal”, in terms of hermeneutics, to mean to interpret as literature- including poetry, metaphors, hyperbole, etc. My yes to literal would not mean trees grew arms and clapped (Isa 55)! The same problem applies to “actual word of God”, “inspired” and so on. Yes, you can over-think a question in a poll, but you can under-think things that deserve more clarity.

  8. Kurt says:

    The English word “chronology” comes from the Greek khro·no·lo·gi′a (from khro′nos, time, and le′go, say or tell), that is, “the computation of time.” Chronology makes possible the placing of events in their orderly sequence or association and the assigning of proper dates to particular events.
    Jehovah is “the Ancient of Days” and the God of Eternity. (Da 7:9; Ps 90:2; 93:2) That he is an accurate Timekeeper is evident not only from the superb precision manifest in the movements of the stellar bodies but also from the divine record of his acts. In fulfillment of his promises or prophecies, he caused events to occur at the exact time foretold, whether the intervening time was of only a day (Ex 9:5, 6), a year (Ge 17:21; 18:14; 21:1, 2; 2Ki 4:16, 17), decades (Nu 14:34; 2Ch 36:20-23; Da 9:2), centuries (Ge 12:4, 7; 15:13-16; Ex 12:40, 41; Ga 3:17), or millenniums (Lu 21:24; see APPOINTED TIMES OF THE NATIONS). We are assured that his purposes for the future are certain of execution at the predetermined time, right down to the day and hour designated.—Hab 2:3; Mt 24:36.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200271219

  9. R. Robert Palmer . . . says:

    I have gone over materials in both the Old and the New Testaments. I am to be found in group two of the survey. However, I do know that there are some places in the Old Testament in the historical works where the information is not accurate and this may be cause for chronology errors. The New Testament despite what the popular teachings in college are about it and the beginnings of the Christian church, are pretty much covered to be factual and true. I like the the chronology that Israel lists on it’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs site, where Jesus’ misinstry starts around 21 CE an dends in 33 CE. This is very close to be accurate. The problem that most people have is not so much what is in the Bible, but what they believe is in there, or not there. On the question his there any archaeological evidence or other historicall records showing something in the Bible false, the answer is no, but evidence does show the time line is different.

  10. Alan Kmiecik says:

    and to those who believe the Bible is to be take literally, word for word: what is a day?

  11. Alan Kmiecik says:

    Has there ever been and archeological find that proved something in the Bible was false?

  12. Gary says:

    In response to #17 (Robin), the answer is most definitely YES.

  13. eero piirto says:

    Do the same here in Finland.I would very much like to see the results. Are we so different or the same – cultural differencies. Russia behind our back, but the churchis the same – in theory – no pope etc.

  14. Dennis Studd says:

    I agree with those who say that the word ‘literal’ is problematic. As I live in the UK, the poll was not appropriate for me, but those who speak of Jesus as the true vine are correct about it not being literal. We have a teacher in the UK who says that if Genesis 1is not true, how can the rest of the Bible be true? Yet Genesis 1speaks of a [bronze] dome that covers the Earth; it also speaks of 24 hour days that are only true at the Equator, light without the Sun, and a flat geocentric location for the Earth. The Earth is a planet that orbits the Sun and is not even truly spherical, something that has only recently been discovered.
    After over forty-five years as what is commonly called “a Christian”, I can read science and theology without it affecting my faith because I am beginning recognise the cultural implications of what the Bible says that prevent it from being taken literally. The Messiah often spoke in parables; this implies that many of the Bible’s stories can legitimately be thought of as parables.
    Denn

  15. Jericho Documentary. Archeology Agrees With The Bible - Fileflee.com says:

    […] from several ancient cities and compare them to Biblical accounts. (Biblical Mysteries EP20) Biblical archaeology involves […]

  16. Ethan says:

    All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16

  17. Chris62008 says:

    When I hear the term “literal I’m kind of assuming a generalization of the literal Biblical worldview. That is things like Adam and Eve being first man and woman, that the Biblical Exodus truly happened, Joshua indeed conquered Jericho, Etc. I think the finer details like dates etc are left up to interpretation but do not deter from the literal interpretation of the texts. My opinion.

  18. Chris62008 says:

    Funny because I am member of BAR and was not included in the polling. Interesting poll, results were as expected. Myself, I take a literal interpretation of the Bible as it is meant to be. But I respect others opinion as well. To each their own. Grateful there are resources such as BAR to give us open minded insight on Biblical topics and discoveries.

  19. Kirsty says:

    Definitely could do with some rewording. What do the responders mean by ‘taken literally’ for example?
    Surely no-one at all believes that Jesus is a plant with grapes growing on him, for example 🙂 But it then depends on where you draw the line what is meant to be figurative and what is meant to be literal.

  20. pearlman says:

    See Maimonides for the basic 13 principals of Jewish faith.
    Those who hold otherwise may be Jewish, but are not practicing Judaism.

  21. pearlman says:

    #11 Kevin, good question,
    Judaism defines what to take literally (six day creation) and when not (an eye for an eye) based on the oral revelation to Moses that came hand in hand w/ the written.
    We have an unbroken chain of that in Talmud.
    Another way to take the written word in full context is w/ Rabbi Ismael’s 13 laws of logical deduction, for consistent accurate understanding.
    As far as how does a 6 day creation 5775 years ago jive with factual science see the RCCF Torah and science reconciliation framework.

  22. Jeff says:

    My question is there ANY proof that what is found in the Bible been PROVEN False. I mean the Archaeological Proof is there to support The Bible. I have seen no evidence that suggest it is incorrect. And any time there has been question again Archaeology has proven it correct.

  23. Kurt says:

    Why Should the Bible Interest You?

    The Bible is by far the world’s most popular book. Why? For one thing, it is easy to identify with. It contains true-life accounts of real people and their interactions with one another and with God. These accounts teach practical lessons using simple and straightforward words that can be translated into hundreds of languages and understood by people living in any place or time period. And the Bible’s principles always work.
    Most important, the Bible claims to be not just a book about God but also a book from God. It reveals God’s name, his personality, and his unchangeable purpose in creating the earth and humans. The Bible also relates the historic struggle of good versus evil: a fascinating, universal drama with a happy ending. Reading the Bible with an open mind thus lays a basis for faith and hope.
    In the Bible, we find information available nowhere else. For example, the Bible tells us the truth about such topics as these:
    ▪ Where we come from and why we suffer
    ▪ God’s arrangement to redeem humankind
    ▪ What Jesus has done for us
    ▪ The future of the earth and humans.
    Research Guide—2014 The Bible:
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1203222

  24. Gary Luce says:

    The second question is incomplete. If everything has to be taken literally, then Jesus’ statement that He is the bread of life cannot be taken literally. He was God in the form of a man of flesh and blood. So it might be better to ask if the TRUTH of the Bible is to be taken literally considering that the Bible speaks in symbols and Jesus Himself said that His teaching was in parables. So I would ask, “Given that the Bible makes use of metaphor, symbol and parable, is the message of the Bible to be taken as literal truth to live our lives”?

  25. MRS CAROL L HILL says:

    I AM GLAD THAT THERE ARE MANY WHO CAN EXPRESS THEIR BELIEFS AS EXPRESSED IN THE ABOVE COMMENTS. I AM A BELIEVER IN BOTH THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT AND I HAVE ARRIVED AT THE CONCLUSION THAT WHAT WE HAVE IN MOST MODERN BIBLES IS THE VERY WORD OF GOD AS THE HOLY ONE HAS PRESERVED IT TO US AND OUR PROGENY. IT IS AMAZING TO READ HOW THE TEXT WAS DEVELOPED, PUT IN WORDS AND WAS SAVED THROUGH THE CENTURIES – ESPECIALLY THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS. I HAVE DONE SOME STUDIES IN BIBLICAL GREEK. AND BIBLICAL HEBREW. STILL LEARNING. BUT TO BE ABLE TO TRANSLATE SOME GREEK TEXTS AS IN JOHN AND MARK, ETC. , IT WAS BEAUTIFUL TO UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS SAID IN THE GREEK AS COMPARED TO THE ENGLISH BIBLES I WAS READING. AND THAT EXPERIENCE REALLY IMPACTED MY MIND AND DESIRE TO CONTINUE STUDYING GREEK AND HEBREW AND BE ABLE TO EVENTUALLY READ MORE OF THE ANCIENT TEXTS. BUT I DO BELIEVE THAT GOD PRESERVES HIS WORD OF TRUTH FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.

  26. KiwiChristian says:

    “literal” is a dangerous word. to say every single word of the Bible actually happened is not right. Jesus himself taught in parables, so those parts are to be taken as teaching illustrations surely rather than being a true account of someone’s life?
    However, God promised he would preserve his word ‘from this generation forever’. There have been enough ancient writings found to prove that the word we have today is the same as they had of old. Jesus Christ is called the Word, so Hebrews 13:8 must mean God’s inspired word also is the same yesterday, today and forever?

    In 2,000 years (5,00 for the older parts) nobody has ever proved it wrong. Yet many have tried. Christ said the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church, surely hell has even less chance against his word?

  27. Jim D. says:

    The swine are munching on pearls again,

  28. Alan Kirkbride says:

    God is quite big enough to prepare and preserve a divinely accurate message to us, one that astonishingly survives translation and time. Receiving it as such blesses the receiver with a plethora of promises. The sceptic has none of them. I’ll take Him at His word.

  29. Gene R. Conradi says:

    Although no original Bible manuscripts have yet been found, thousands of handwritten copies of the whole Bible or portions of it have survived to our day. Some of them are very old. Did the message contained in the original texts change as it was copied? Scholar W. H. Green stated concerning the Hebrew Scriptures: “It may be safely said that no other work of antiquity has been so accurately transmitted.” Concerning the Christian Greek Scriptures, a leading authority on Bible manuscripts, Sir Frederic Kenyon, wrote: “The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.” He also stated: “It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain. . . . This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.”

    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/102007409#h=9:408-9:1086

  30. Gershon Steinberg-Caudill says:

    I think the question is somewhat unnecessary and even strange. The Bible is for Jews (or should be, in my opinion) to be thought of in a similar vein as the Native American Indian Creation and Identity stories are to the Native American people. Who asks Native Americans whether they believe their stories are historical and accurate, as we define “historical” and “accurate” today? Yet, the stories, like those of the Bible, are revered and faithfully transmitted on to the next generation. The TRUTH of the story is to be dug out of the story like a gold nugget from a mountain.

  31. Adrian Durlester says:

    I have to second the critique of the editorial choice of the colors used in this article to represent the three poll options. Intentional or not, it was a poor editorial choice, and BAR should own up to that.

  32. David says:

    Sorry, that should have read 2000 years ago… fat finger syndrome!

  33. David says:

    Interesting comments for the most part. Like others, i have been involved in assessing the Jewish Scriptures and the writings of the Early “Christian” communities for the better part of my life in formal academic settings and personal reading choices.. What far to many fail to realize is that the material that is provided in the “canonical New Testament” material is that it represents only the approved writings of the early councils, many of which were politically driven. There are many other options to be appraised for content sake than just the “approved / canonical” material that are quite different from that with which we are so familiar, because that is all we have been used to reading. For example, consider the Didache material which represents an early Jewish based Christian community that sets out an interesting “Community Rule”. This faith community, which might actually have the closest connections to The Way – that is Jesus group of followers, was declared heretical and heavily persecuted by “Orthodox Christians” because their Eucharistic practices and theology did not represent that of the majority of the assembled Bishops etc. No mention of whether it might have been closest to the truth, it did not provide the leverage for the church rulers to require adherence of the believers to the rulers dictum’s.

    There are a number of other parallels (see Bart Erhman’s work on Lost Scriptures and Lost Christianities, as well as the work of many others in this field).that provide one with the opportunities to critically asses the actions of the Early Christian Church and bring some heavy questions to bear on its activities.

    I heartily agree with Richard that one must critically approach the whole situation with a mufti-faceted approach that assesses not only the text and the theology, but also the cultural settings of 20000 years ago with fresh lenses that do not read back our current situation into the problem.

  34. R. Robert Palmer . . . says:

    The Bible contains accurate narratives for the most part dealing with ancient histories, it is like a Readers Digest of Jewish history, as it doesn’t contain all the histories and there are some years that are purposely unaccounted for. It is set up for inspiration of faith, and a guide to the relationship of God and man from the beginnings, that help explain traditions and beliefs of the Jewish people. The current teachings in the colleges are interesting as they are off base in the folktale type of analaysis of both the Old and New Testaments and if people did look at the evidence in both internal and external sources, you will be able to find the real time that is mentioned in the Bible texts.

  35. Jim Henry says:

    Jim says
    Great is the mystery of Godliness

  36. Alex Altorfer says:

    Considering that inspiration is not the same as authorship, one can easily believe both positions 2 and 3 at the same time. They are not contradictory.

  37. Richard Liebl says:

    Clearly the Bible is a critical book in the history of Western civilization. It is also contains important content for living a Spirit centered life. Approaching it uncritically is, to me, a grave error. I doubt many people today would find the genocide described in the Old Testament to be a model to be followed. The clear retrenchment from Paul’s view of women as equals in Christ in the authentic epistles to one of shut up and listen in the pastoral epistles is evidence to me of something other than Divine inspiration. And setting the age of the earth at 6000 years as Biblical literalists do is equal parts of ridiculous and sad. Important book, absolutely. Literally true, absolutely not.

  38. Robin says:

    Not too surprised by the survey results. We do live in a confused and secular culture. Many know what they have “heard” about the Bible — and do not know much beyond that.

    I came back to religion after a long hiatus in other directions. Before I signed on the dotted line, I decided that I wanted to study issues like copyists’ errors, transmission of historical info in an oral culture, etc. If the pharoahs of Egypt and the rulers of the Hittites had scribes at their sides taking notes on their battles, and then used those notes in compiling their annals — it seems not unlikely that a people group like the Hebrews — who came from Egypt — might have learned some similar habits.

    There is more to that story of course. And there are issues about the biblical text — is there a preTribulational Rapture? is the Universe young or old? — that are fraught with emotion. But overall the Bible contains a theological perspective on early Israeli history, the need for atonement for sins, the need for a messianic figure, the coming of the Messiah, His life and teachings and sacrifice, etc. — these themes are well developed and pretty well understood.

    So the Bible is a text worth studying and reading. Luther said you need more than one lifetime for it, and I bet he was right. I do appreciate BAR and all that it offers.

  39. Andrew says:

    I’m surprised by these results.

    I’ve enjoyed studying Biblical history and Biblical archaeology – as well as history and archaeology in general – for many years. However, I’ve always accepted that the Bible is a collection of Bronze Age and Iron Age writings (and possibly earlier material too) that were amassed from many diverse sources over many centuries. Those writings were then edited repeatedly on many different occasions and by many people to reflect the dogma, beliefs and politics of various times. The lost gospels are a good example as are the changes made here in England by the Tudors during the Reformation and the later changes made by King James I (which is the version of the Bible that many Protestants adhere to today).

    I’m just surprised that so many people in the US obviously feel the Bible has a different source.

  40. Robin says:

    does this work?

  41. Gary says:

    A major distinction is missing from the statements. Are we talking about the original texts in the original languages or are we talking about a specific translation? It is clear that most translations are based on the theological bias of the translators. To truly understand the Bible, it is very important to take into account the culture, context, grammar, linguistics and type of writing that is being read and studied. How can we know what the text means to us if we don’t know what it meant to the original readers? Idioms are a classic example. The English language is laced with idioms and we don’t take them literally. Hebrew actually uses more idioms than English and some say we should read the Bible literally word for word…. No wonder we have so many wacky English translations!

  42. Stanley Smith says:

    I’ve been reading and studying the Bible since I was about 12 years old. Today I am 82. I have
    faith that the New Testament teaches us much from the life of Jesus Christ, the letters of
    St. Paul to several communities, and believe events that are historically accurate as Christianity grew in the first century after Christ. I have faith that my God is real, that Jesus is his son, and both are an equal part of the Trinity. I also love the Old Testament, the original Jewish scriptures that eventually became the basis of the Jewish and Hebrew religion. But do I believe all the stories in the OT are totally truthful? Do I believe that every event in the New Testament is absolutely accurate? I cannot, and it doesn’t affect my faith in the least

  43. Earl Eccles says:

    I have been studying and teaching the Bible from child hood.While there are some symbolic statements especially in prophecy, the Bible is the revealed word of God and our job is to study so that we can teach truth ( II Tim 2:15).
    Earl

  44. Richard says:

    Believing something does not make it so. Faith is belief when proof is absent. Having faith in something does not make it so.

  45. Andy says:

    2 Peter 1 :16 Complementary to Paul to Tomothy and Titus, Peter states ‘for we were not making up clever stories ‘ NLT

  46. Kevin says:

    I wonder how the people in the ‘not everything literal’ category decide what to take literally? With forty thousand different christian groupings it may be that nothing is taken literally by everyone.

  47. Christoph Jungen says:

    Thanks, Carl, that’s exactly what I believe, think and feell to be true to the Bible. But the poll leaves no room for this. To take it “literally” in this sense is to take the texts for what they really are: Some poetry, some mythological, some narrative, some history, some song, some prayer …
    But I fear that in the minds of most “literal” means universally “historical” – and whoever does this does not take it literally, but historically and to project such a view onto the Bible is not to take it serious in whatever form and shape it comes. Who says that God cannot communicate through non-historical stories, even fables and myths?

  48. Carl Barrington says:

    The first two questions are improperly worded. You can believe in the truth of the entire Bible without taking it all “literally”. Some is poetry. Some is written in the apocalyptic genre. It can all be completely true without being “literal”.

  49. John Hicks says:

    The issue is the word Literal. The Bible uses every literary technique available and very effectively. Not all of Scripture is intended to be literal. I asked a friend if he thought that standing on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, did he expect to see an actual 10 horned beast emerge from the waves. Because of the word ‘literal’, he said yes. The Bible is true and accurate in every aspect. Historical events happened exactly as described. Truths are directly from the mind and mouth of God. Visions and symbols are just that. Jesus is exactly who he says He is. Prophetic events will unfold exactly as God has planned. The Bible contains no error.

  50. Dave says:

    Another option should be what we call “the Bible” is a collection of Jewish writings which the Christian Church recognizes as important and the writings of the Apostles on the life and work of Jesus and letters to churches dealing with various issues.

  51. Adria says:

    Were the options in the poll presented in the same colours as these results? I think it’s not trivial nor incidental that a particular option is marked in green, while its contrary is in red…

  52. Arie Uittenbogaard (Abarim Publications) says:

    I’m missing the option: The Bible is a biased translation of something we’ve studied for centuries and still haven’t even scratched the surface of.

  53. Michael O'Byrne says:

    I have no doubt that the Bible is the actual word of God and we must take all of it literally!

  54. Rod says:

    The path is narrow.

  55. Al in Bama says:

    You may be surprised that so many Americans recognize a theistic source for the Bible, but that is simply because you have been fooled by a common narrative; this information has maintained to what has been available over the last two decades.

  56. Christopher says:

    I’m actually surprised that nearly 80% of Americans recognize some theistic source for the Bible. The atheist and naturalist might not be impressed but overwhelming judgments of the hive mind should not be casually dismissed I think.

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