Most Americans still believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, but the number who believe it should be taken literally (24 per cent) is at a 40-year low.
A May poll by Gallup found that less than one in four Americans believe the Bible to be 'the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word'. In contrast, 26 per cent view it as 'a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man'.
The poll finds the number of those who take the Bible literally at its lowest in 40 years, and is the first time that the number of biblical sceptics has exceeded the number of biblical literalists.
However, just under half (47 per cent) of Americans still believe the Bible is 'inspired by God, not all to be taken literally'. That leaves a combined 71 per cent of Americans who still believe the Bible to be in some way inspired by God.
The study comes from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs poll, conducted May 3-7, which surveyed 1,011 US adults.
From the mid-1970s through to 1984, around 40 per cent of Americans believed the Bible to be the literal word of God – a figure that has been steadily declining to this day. Meanwhile, scepticism about the Bible's divine origins has risen, a tendency most pronounced in young adults (12 per cent take the Bible literally, a fall from 32 per cent in 1976), suggesting it is likely to accelerate in coming years.
College graduates were less likely than non-college graduates to take the Bible literally. Among Christians polled, the majority of all denominations described it as 'inspired', while more Protestants took it literally (35 per cent) than Catholics (21 per cent).
However, even for those with 'no religion', seven per cent still believed the Bible to be the 'actual word of God'.
The full study can be read here.