From Christians, we often get letters quoting scripture and telling us the Bible is god’s word. From atheists, we sometimes get letters asking us about how the Bible came to exist–usually because they’re in a debate with a theist online who is making claims about evidence of textual reliability.
When I was a Christian, I was swayed into accepting the religion by a set of claims put forward by professional apologist Josh McDowell. I was a naive 15-year-old living in the days before the Internet, and the claims Josh made that were impressive to me had to do with the meticulous record of Biblical texts and the reliable methods of reproduction of those texts. His foundational argument is that the Bible stories are trustworthy–in so far as accurately representing honest reports by the authors. That is, what people wrote is what they believed they saw. And we can trust the book we read today matches the original texts nearly flawlessly. His further arguments all springboard off Biblical claims. So, the resurrection then requires an explanation–because obviously the events in the gospels are accurately reported–so what did people see to make them think a resurrection had occurred?
Bear in mind most churches do not teach classes on how the Bible came to exist. And before the Internet, unless a child thought on their own to go and look for this information, they would surely be impressed by someone who is describing these events and scenarios in a way that made him sound informed and scholarly. In other words, a kid in this class would be impressed by perceived authority and accept, very likely, these claims without question–having never been told anything different.
It wasn’t until I went to college that I actually met anyone who wasn’t a theist (at least openly). Prior to that, everyone I met was some brand of Christian. And eventually, at college, I was challenged on my parroted claims from Josh McDowell’s courses. In an effort to prove my fellows wrong, I ended up spending hours and hours in the basement of the UCF library where the “religion” section was then housed. It was there I first learned I’d been hoodwinked. From church histories produced by Catholic societies, to secular scholarship, they all agreed on the relevant facts: The origins of the Bible are quite opaque until centuries after the events they record–where they then surface as quite murky for some time further. What is recorded leaves any person with a working mind with the understanding that there is no basis for taking these texts at face value.
It was still many years later until I finally became an atheist. Eventually I found Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus. I loved it because it was as though he took all the research I had done and bound it into an easy-to-read, short book–and then added even more that I hadn’t found, since, unlike him, my life’s work has not been to study these texts in their original languages in great detail.
I’ve recommended this book to many people over the years who have expressed an interest in Bible origins. But I’m always disappointed when I realize that many people simply aren’t readers. Now, however, I’ve found a way to remove all excuses and make, what took me many nights and hours in a university library basement, easy for you. On Youtube there is a 10-part lecture by Bart Ehrman on the topic of Bible origins, where he talks about the information in “Misquoting Jesus.” Even if you don’t have the stamina to sit through all 10 parts, I promise you the first two will be sufficient for you to grasp the point.
If, after viewing this, there is any doubt in your mind as to the level of (un)reliability of the Bible’s content–then you have a mighty faith, indeed!