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”.