According to a recent report from the folks at Gallup, nearly a third of Americans believe that “the Bible is the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word.”
Another 40% assert that “the Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally.” Only 17% held that “the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man.”
Leaving aside the non-inclusive language in the latter formation, I suspect that this set of questions is problematic for any number of reasons. Which version/translation of the Bible is the actual word of God, or do we need to turn to the (no longer existent) “original autographs”? What if I believe that the Bible includes fables, legends, and history, and is still in some sense “inspired”? Can I mark down more than one answer?
What is interesting to note is that, while the proportions of each group have remained fairly steady over the past 35 years, those leaning to the “actual word of God” have declined somewhat, while the other two groups have shown a slight increase. I find myself wondering if some folks have come to allow for just a little ambiguity in their interpretation or whether they have held to a black and white view of the world and decided that if the Bible isn’t literally true, it isn’t valid at all.
Just what does “word of God” mean? And how does my understanding of “word of God” influence how I read the Bible? And how does my reading of the Bible affect my relationships and the world around me?