A record low percentage of Americans believe that the Bible is "actual word of God," with more calling it a "book of fables," similar to Aesop's, according to a new survey.

Gallup reports that just 24 percent believe the Bible should be taken "literally, word for word."

"This is the first time in Gallup's four-decade trend that biblical literalism has not surpassed biblical skepticism," said the pollster.

By comparison 26 percent view the Bible as "a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man."

And the largest group, at 47 percent, believe it is the "inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally."

Among Christians, 30 percent believe the Bible is the word of God, and Protestants more than Catholics agree.

Gallup said that the long decline in the authority of the Bible could have significant moral impacts.

"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. 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."

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com