May 16 (UPI) -- Fewer than one in four Americans believe the Bible is "the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word" -- a record low in 40 years of surveys conducted by Gallup.
The 24 percent of literal believers is a 4 percentage point drop from the last Gallup survey in 2014.
Among respondents, 26 percent believe the Bible is "a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man" -- the first time that the biblical literalism view is not greater than biblical skepticism. In 2014, 21 percent were non-literal believers.
Forty-seven percent of Americans have a view in the middle -- the Bible is the inspired words of God but not to be taken literally -- the same percentage as in 2014.
The survey was conducted May 3-7 with a random sample of 1,011 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.
The literal view has decreased from 1976 when 38 percent of U.S. adults thought so. In every age group the percentage has decreased.
A vast majority of Americans still believe the Bible is a holy document -- 71 percent.
Broken down by demographics, the biggest group of believers that the Bible is the actual word are non-whites (29 percent), adults aged 50 and older (31 percent) and adults with no college education (31 percent). The fewest believers in the literal word are those 18 to 29 years old (12 percent), 30 to 49 (24 percent) and college graduates (13 percent).
Among total Christians, those taking the Bible literally represent 30 percent compared with 36 percent as fables and 54 percent the inspired word of God.
"Americans in all age groups still largely accept the Bible as a holy document, but most of these downplay God's direct role in it," Gallup's Lydia Saad wrote. "That could mean people are more willing than in the past to believe it is open to interpretation -- if man, not God, wrote the Bible, more can be questioned.
"And that, in turn, may have consequences for where Americans come down on a number of morally tinged issues. The country may already be seeing this in growing public acceptance of a variety of behaviors that were once largely frowned on from a Christian perspective -- ranging from gay marriage and premarital sex to out-of-wedlock births and physician-assisted suicide."