The Bible Does Not Exist

April 20, 2011

Denying that Jesus really existed is too easy. Not only wasn't Jesus divine, he wasn't even real. You have to be quite skeptical that one single human being was behind all those stories about this "Jesus" in the Bible.

Going further, I've become skeptical about the Bible itself. Who will join me in denying that The Bible exists?

Let's look at the reasoning behind such extreme but legitimate skepticism.

Plenty of religions all claim that their holy books somehow came from God or are approved by God. They all are delusional and mythical, sure. But the Bible is a particularly poor work if you are looking for more than entertainment or intriguing literature. The Bible must be a terribly poor source for any reliable information about God. Even if you are tempted to take it seriously, all the contradictions and confusions are embarrassing, even by religious standards. Christianity couldn't help but remain disorganized for all these centuries, with every denomination and church trying to force the poor Bible to fit some creed or another. No wonder Christianity can conjure up a unified faith only towards an utterly mysterious God. I've long been skeptical about whether "Christianity" exists, but that's a story for another time. 

It's the Bible that's at fault here. The Old Testament is bad enough, but at least that Yahweh character has a fairly clear agenda and the Jewish people figured out that it shouldn't be taken too literally. The New Testament is just a disaster no matter how you try to read it. "The Bible" that Christians refer to, that crudely assembled stew of hardly compatible gospels and letters called the New Testament, just doesn't pass any rational test. It's time to get really, really, skeptical. 

Let me ask everyone this question: What "Bible" could Christians be talking about? No original New Testament texts exist now. Only shards and segments of some books are older than the third century. Christians want to believe that these fragments are somehow identical duplicates of originals from three centuries earlier. Sorry, Christians. Not only does that convenient theory utterly violate rationality, the actual fragments and early Bibles contradict that theory. The oldest fragments of the same gospel don't quite agree, and its nearly impossible to figure out which one might be "closer" to some imaginary original. The oldest complete Gospels from the fourth and fifth centuries already show how copyists were adding their own errors and interpretations while trying to "correct" what they thought were mistakes in older copies. By the time that entire complete Bibles become available to us, in copies from the fifth and sixth centuries (read the Codex Sinaiticus, for example), different Bibles contain somewhat different sets of books, and the texts of the books disagree in many crucial respects having theological significance.

Naturally, Christians want to believe in miracles all over again, that somehow genuine eyewitness accounts got perfectly passed down by word of mouth for 50 years before getting written down, and then those writings were perfectly preserved for another 250 years. But the earliest texts themselves reveal a long tale of invention, compilation, borrowing, forgery, and endless revision. All the evidence points the other way: human hands, not divine hands, composed the New Testament for utterly human purposes. 

Since these early texts and complete Bibles read a little differently in many significant places (and contain minor variations adding up into the thousands), it is impossible to accurately decide which variations correctly duplicate the lost originals, if any ever existed. The Roman Catholic Church had to put a tremendous effort into deciding on one final version of the Bible after examining all the various available texts in Greek, and then transforming that production for one authoritative translation into Latin. That Latin Vulgate Bible was the collective work of thousands of scholars. Then Protestants came along and promptly rejected that Latin Bible, producing their own Bibles by the hundreds since the 1500s.

There is no original Bible to look at, and not even any early single Bible for reading. When the difficulties of translating the original Greek into Latin or English are added to the situation, it is impossible to avoid the judgment that human transcription and interpretation thoroughly pervade the many different Bibles that Christians read today. Christians have forever disagreed about their Bibles – many denominations have split over and over again because of arguments over the exact text and best translation of the Bible. If Christians can't even agree on what the Bible really is, nonbelievers have every right to be skeptical that we are even talking about something real.

If a Christian declares confidence that the scriptural Word of God is correct, the immediate response should be: which Bible? A Bible that no one can read? One of the early manuscripts? Which one? Which later edition and translation? Christianity does not seem to have “A Bible.” If Christianity cannot even identify its Bible, how could anyone else?

We can see how there are many, many books called the Bible in print today, but I have stopped assuming that anything like "The Bible" is real. There is no such thing as “The Bible”.

 

Comments:

#1 Sean PJ (Guest) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 at 12:59pm

You can blame Constantine for a lot of the bullshit in the New Testament.

#2 Alan (Guest) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 at 6:20pm

“A lot of the bullshit”?
It’s ALL bullshit!

#3 Gary Berg-Cross (Guest) on Thursday April 21, 2011 at 8:43am

See my post at Secular Perspectives on some of the editing that went into the King James Version  

#4 Herb Van Fleet (Guest) on Thursday April 21, 2011 at 9:12am

Some time ago I proposed that it should be a legal requirement to emblazon the following in large print on the front cover of each and every bible:

WARNING:
The contents of this book should be considered more as myth than history, more as wishful thinking than reason, more as escapism than inspiration, more as immoral than moral, and more as fantasy than science. The reader should take note likewise that there are numerous errors, contradictions, inconsistencies, and fallacies throughout this book.

Due to the graphic descriptions of atrocities, violence, torture, rape, child abuse, cruelty, misogyny, barbarism, murder, infanticide, genocide, and crimes against humanity, and due to the portrayal of the God character herein as a cruel, vindictive, paranoid, narcissistic, irrational, controlling, bigoted, irresponsible, and dictatorial tyrant, parental guidance is highly recommended.

#5 garybc on Thursday April 21, 2011 at 9:24am

my post on some of the editing that went into the King James Version is at   http://t.co/FudGwWN I also include snippets from Citizen Grayling’s Secular Bible.

BTW, I doubt that the assembly of the Old Testament from fragments is any better than what went on with the New Testament. There is the issue of what is “authentic” in the text and what is a “later redaction.” Wikipedia has this on three broad approaches to the question the date and method of the Old Testament’s composition.

The documentary hypothesis holds that the Torah was composed by interweaving four originally separate and complete narratives, each dealing with the same material. This, it is claimed, accounts for many of the puzzling features of the five books, notably the appearance of multiple names for God and doubled incidents. The documentary hypothesis held a near-monopoly on scholarly approaches to the date and composition of the Torah until the last quarter of the 20th century, when scholars have advanced alternative theories which can be grouped into two broad models.

1 is the “fragmentary model” holding that the Torah grew gradually from a host of fragments. 2 is the “supplementary model"holding that it is largely the work of an editor, or editor group working on (“supplementing”) a mass of existing material.

#6 L.Long (Guest) on Thursday April 21, 2011 at 11:47am

I am by no means a ‘buyBull scholar’ but even my poor efforts at understanding its history clearly saw that at the very least it was a deliberate attempt to bring together various books that supported the political aims of the various cults.  Historically and politically this is something David Barton would write.
Archeologically, historically, morally this is a made up piece of -well-  Bull!

#7 David (Guest) on Thursday April 21, 2011 at 9:40pm

This glosses over some very key points in the history of the Bible.  Saying that The Bible “doesn’t exist” is hyperbole at best - with the emphasis on the article and not the noun - or ludicrous at worst - like saying “there are so many variations on the radial tire now that there is no such thing as the radial tire.” 

The history is that the Old Testament texts did exists before the time of the alleged birth of Jesus.  There is no evidence that any of the New Testament gospels were written until late in the first century C.E. and as late as the mid third century. This means that none of the texts can rationally be attributed to the majority of the apostles although Paul did live into the late first century (his life and death are not in doubt as he shows up in two independent histories - primarily Josephus.)  However, forensic language examination of the canonical texts indicate multiple multiple authors of gospels ascribed to the same apostle.  The most dramatic example is obvious in the language and imagery in the book of John and the book of Revelations.

There was no uniform canon of texts extant among the early Christian sects although there was overlap.  When Constantine had his “vision” and ‘converted’ he ordered that one single and uniform set of texts(his true revelation was the political power of imposing a uniform religion upon the subjects of his empire.)  This task was assigned to a group of Bishops drawn from across the Roman Empire, one from each region.  They were to gather all of the texts being used in the various sects in their regions.  These texts then were brought by the Bishops to the ancient city of Nicea (Issa, Turkey) for a council charged with determining one “true and faithful Christian texts.”  The council did more than just determine the canon.  They deemed certain of the rejected texts were not “bad” but they just didn’t fit with the flow of the story that this murder of editors found satisfactory.  Others were banned outright, being defined as heretical.  This did not preclude many local congregation still had copies of a subset of these texts and continued to refer to them away from the church walls.  The other major outcome of the council was the establishment of the Nicene Creed.  It was differences over this Creed that lead to The Great Schism and had nothing to do with the use of alternate texts, etc.  Similarly, the Protestant Reformation was the result of acts being committed by Roman Catholic clergy (selling Dispensations.)  However, there was no ‘new’ Bible created as a result.  It did lead to the introduction of the Vulgate translations that the Catholic Church was slow to recognize.

Since the creation of the Christian Bible at Nicea it has only been the process of translation that has occurred to the book.  So, no, there is no such thing as a monolithic book with respect to the language.  The argument about information being lost or changed in translation applies to the entire history of the book.  This just serves as an argument that a lot of the original meaning gets lost or really scrambled in the process.  (See a history of the creation of the Jewish text known as the Septuagint.)  I contend that there are even further discrepancies in the Old Testament, too, despite - or because of - their tradition of making sure that every recitation of the text be performed by someone who has studied to do so verbatim.  This was when it was still being passed along as oral tradition (although by the time that the Hebrew alphabet was developed the same pain-staking care in faithful duplication of the text by the scribes in keeping with the spirit of the tradition.)  Because there was a significant period of time between Abraham having his schizophrenic fit with his son until the creation of that alphabet, time that includes enslavement by two different empires, the language had evolved so that the faithful reproduction of the old words gave a slightly to significantly different meaning to this written text.  I think that this is most obvious in the ages/lifespans of many of these early characters.  The Babylonians were excellent astronomers and mathematicians but they had a sexidecimal (base 60) numering sytem and divinding most of these ages by 60 yields more appropriate ages.  I hypothesize that the word that is interpreted as years was originally based on 60 day periods.  This digression is really just to emphasize that the veracity of the text is not in doubt: it is not a historical recollection by any but the loosest standards and gets less believable (and more contradictory) as it progresses.

So, Bibles exist - you can find one in almost any American hotel room - but exists as what?  There is no agreement among the Christian community, despite the assertions of the more ignorant of the faithful, so which one “came from God”?  None of them.  The Bible, in abstract, is a collection of ancient fairy tales and epic fables written by the hand of ordinary people that was assembled by a bureaucracy and serves to divide the faithful and to provide inane responses to rational questions or concerns.

#8 M. Werner (Guest) on Friday April 22, 2011 at 8:47am

Biblical Scholar Bart Ehrman goes into considerable detail on all this in his books; particularly interestint are “lost Christianities”, showing the extreme diversity of early-Christian sects, and “Jesus, Interupted”, which goes into the massive contradictions in the NT and the reasons for them.

It’s always appropriate to ask, when confronted with “Well, the Bible says..”, to ask “which one?”

#9 SocraticGadfly (Guest) on Friday April 22, 2011 at 10:29am

Small critical thinking bone to pick, John. There’s nothing in the world of LOGIC, or “rationality,” that prevents copies centuries later being 100 percent faithful to the original.

Now, per textual criticism, you’re right, in that empirical evidence plus deductive reasoning (also “rationality”) shows this isn’t actually the case.

#10 JohnnyRotten (Guest) on Friday April 22, 2011 at 11:31am

As a fundie neighbor once explained to me - “If god can create the universe, the earth, and man, don’t you think he could find a good publisher?”

#11 Brent (Guest) on Friday April 22, 2011 at 3:01pm

This article is incredibly ignorant of textual criticism… I’m not even sure to begin. Anyone who has actually engaged the study knows that it is certainly not an ‘impossible’ task to reconstruct new testament texts based on fragments. Moreover there is no evidence of intentional tampering in any of the (very numerous) NT fragments - most of the discrepancies are clerical errors, the only problematic errors are in the lower end of the first percentile. This article is just typical modern western arrogance, not to mention recency bias.

#12 Gordon Burns (Guest) on Friday April 22, 2011 at 3:43pm

I note a comment that All of the new testament is bullshit! Why stop there? After all, there’s far more chance that the old testament is bullshit, than the new testament.

They are BOTH complete and utter, unadultarated bullshit of the first order! A fairy-story, written by stupid men (note - men, even the book of Ruth) who travelled no more than about 5 miles from their place of birth, and who felt the need to have control over their fellow man, and for the men to have control over their fellow women!

And the cretins who believe in this load of shit refer to themselves as intelligent beings! My dog is more intelligent - he accepts what is real, logical and understandable (the real world) and dismisses everything else! What a brilliant mind he has!

Hey! My dog is more intelligent than bible-believers! Awesome! Simply awesome!

Get a REAL life, mankind, and don’t go with the shit! Be true to yourself, in your own terms… then, and only then, you will be approaching atheism. Follow the idiotic scrawlings of tent-dwellers in the desert, and you are worth 50% of the square root of nothing!

Think about it - Oh, sorry, I momentarily forgot that you have voluntarily deprived yourself of the empowerment of ‘thought’.

#13 Phil Gervaix (Guest) on Friday April 22, 2011 at 3:52pm

When rationalism borders utter stupidity: it’s a long time since I read such primitive argumentation.
Not only does your text reflect a total lack of knowledge in the historical and religious sciences, but it baffles basic philosophical reasoning: criticism in no excuse for poor rhetoric and scienticism
Probably just as basic a the fundamentalists you so much want to discredit!

#14 Ernie Whiteside (Guest) on Friday April 22, 2011 at 8:25pm

The Old Testament may not exist either. The oldest known texts of the Old Testament were written in Greek ... ooops! The theory is that they were translated from Hebrew. But who is to say that the Hebrew text wasn’t translated from Greek?

#15 hATE-eR (Guest) on Saturday April 23, 2011 at 11:16am

That Christianity’s formal writ is merely a fitting edit of the pagan Jewish Torah is about as much evidence one needs to know “The Bible” is simply a book of paper – with words in it. (Biblos)

I believe it is factual the New Testament was written as a fitting novel for new religious conventions by Christian hysterics. As in the earlier years in American history when denominations began springing up and segregating like variant lilies, versions of how to worship and believe in God, with the help of powerful overlords in Rome, the bigger picture in religious veneration molded to fit those who held the upper hand – as in later Crusades and Autos da Fe.

#16 SocraticGadfly (Guest) on Saturday April 23, 2011 at 9:19pm

@10 Oh, yes there is tampering. I John 5-7:8, the “Trinitarian” addition was in deliberate response to Erasmus, for example, when he said a clear statement of Trinitarianism didn’t exist in the Bible.

Mark 1, where Jesus proclaims the man w/leprosy clean, the original Greek verb says he was “angry” with the man; that was later changed to he “felt sorry for” the man.

Paul’s comments in I Corinthians about women and head covering show numerous variants; some of these were likely done for polemical reasons.

Off the top of my head, I’d say a full 10 percent of NT textual variants are NOT scribal errors of some sort but are deliberate, conscious modifications.

Many of them are in the Passion accounts, attempts to reconcile differences among the four canonical gosples.

#17 gray1 on Sunday April 24, 2011 at 10:31am

A series of non-existent events portray the brief life of a non-existent person for which several hundred years later the ruler of the known world feels compelled to gather the most important religious leaders from the four corners of his vast empire bringing with them their respective collections of books related to that fictional person in order to codify the collection of fictional stories, rejecting some as necessary with the end result presumably to make such fiction story quite useful to the reigning powers that be for thousands of years to come.

I suspect any respectable publisher would reject such a story out of hand and yet it has managed to be a best seller since long before the invention of the printing press.  It always pays to have kings and emperors on your side.  I guess it was the “divine right of kings” thing that ultimately sold it which is specifically implied by the following:
http://bible.cc/romans/13-1.htm

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