Not the Impossible Faith Now an Audio Book!

Cover of AudioBook Not the Impossible FaithMy 2009 book Not the Impossible Faith is now available as an audio book. As I did for Sense and Goodness without God and Why I Am Not a Christian, I voiced the text for Pitchstone Publishing. You can buy NIF now through or and also iTunes.

As usual, this is a somewhat “abridged” version, in the sense that it contains none of the chapter endnotes (and thus the sources are not there, nor any of the note anchors in the text itself). So for the visually impaired I have assembled those as a single PDF which you can run through a text-to-speech reader if needed (although you’ll have to guess where the notes refer to in the main text; the PDF only segregates them by chapter): see NIFaudiobookNotes.pdf.

There is also a PDF edition of the whole book for under three dollars [here] or an eBook edition for under six dollars [here] or kindle edition for about the same [here]. A voice-to-text on any of those will presumably include the note anchors as well as the notes, but alas it won’t be a human-voiced main text.


  1. DrVanNostrand says

    NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! I just finished a 40 hr road trip over the July 4th weekend, and that book has been on my reading list for close to a year now. At least I was able to cross off two other books ahead of it in my queue.

  2. mr c says

    Greetings mr carrier
    If there are no 1st/ 2nd century gospel manuscripts and there is a massive blind spot, how are scholars guessing what words actually go back to jesus? What is the argument against memorising and then passing information on in a chain of narration?

    • says

      I’m not sure what you are asking. There are two things there: oral transmission issues and scribal transmission issues.

      The problem with having no complete manuscript of any NT book until the end of the 2nd / start of the 3rd century is that standard rates of scribal error and alteration, known from the subsequent centuries, entail the text we have will not agree with what was originally written in several places, and we cannot know what was originally written since those manuscript traditions have become lost. It’s worse since usually rates of distortion in scribal transmission are higher in the first decades or century of a text (due to there being fewer mss. and thus the success rate of distortion is higher and correction rate lower). I discussed this whole problem in detail in my debate with J.P. Holding on the textual reliability of the NT (see here for links).

      The other question pertains to the material before anyone wrote it down. All historical precedents demonstrate that errors and distortions and alterations occur at a vastly greater rate orally than scribally (that was in fact the reason humankind started relying on books to record texts in the first place), unless there is an extreme system in place to prevent that (basically you need an institutionalized and policed school system in charge of it or an assisting technology like meter and rhyme…and even then you can’t prevent distortion; a number of scholars don’t even trust the Mishnah–which was orally transmitted until around the same time the Gospels were written–to be completely reliable record of what was taught in Jewish law schools in the early first century, and that had one of the most effective and policed school systems for memorizing a text then known), and there is not only no evidence of any such system in early Christianity, all the evidence we have tells us there wasn’t one (e.g. the Gospels are wildly contradictory, proving no policed tradition existed, and are contradictory precisely on points reflecting doctrinal disagreement and lack of policed control over innovation and speculation; the Epistles show no awareness of any memorizable tradition in the Gospels or indeed any interest in the kinds of stories that are in the Gospels, even the quoted words of Jesus there do not agree with the Gospels; and the Epistles explicitly attest to a lack of any control over the gospel at all, as numerous competing churches and sects diverged from each other beyond any centralized control; and where one would expect references in the Epistles to systems maintained to ensure memorization of an agreed dogma tradition, like funded schools or the constructing of ballads in meter and rhyme, we find none).

  3. Niklas Bergström says


    I have a question that may sound stupid, but I really need some clarification.

    You say in your book NTIF, page 297, that:

    “To begin with, not only were the Gospels written long after Paul’s day (hence after Christianity was already spread across the Empire), but in the first hundred years (as far as we can tell) they were only available to mature converts. In that period there is no evidence anyone else heard of them or was able to read them, or that any specific content from them was used to convert anyone, beyond what is said by Paul in his letters, and the Christian missionaries in Acts, none of whom ever mention women in their sermons. “

    By this, do you mean that there is no evidence from first century, that anybody had heard the Gospels or were able to read them? That sound incredible, since they were written in the first century. And what do you mean by “mature converts”?

    My native language is not english, and so that part seems to be really hard to understand correctly.

    • says

      By this, do you mean that there is no evidence from first century, that anybody had heard the Gospels or were able to read them?

      There is no evidence they were available to the public in that century, since no one talks about them. There are no commentaries, no letters mentioning or quoting them, nothing. So assuming they were written then (and that is actually conjecture…we don’t actually have any evidence they were written then, either: see Ignatian Vexation for discussion of this problem), we should as soon conclude they were restricted documents for teaching initiates and not evangelizing instruments. (The Gospel of John is a notable exception, although everyone pretty much agrees that was not written in the first century, and even then its evangelizing features may have only been meant to retain membership rather than gain it.)

      And what do you mean by “mature converts”?

      A distinction was made in the church as early as Paul between “babes” who can only handle “milk” and “mature converts” (the “perfected,” same word) who can handle the “meat,” meaning the more advanced teachings of the church that were kept secret from everyone else (see 1 Corinthians 2 and 2 Corinthians 12 for examples). For a discussion of this, see my analysis of the discussion of the 3rd century Christian leader Origen here.

  4. Niklas Bergström says

    How would you answer a claim that Gospels lack any legendary material, like the Gospel of Peter has (for example, talking cross, huge Jesus, and packs of angels). I don’t recall that you had that covered in NTIF.

    • says

      That’s absurd. The Gospels are chock full of legendary material. Suns going out for hours, hoards of undead descending on Jerusalem, flying angels shooting invisible paralysis rays, a crucifixion in Judea during a high holy day. And that’s just for the passion. Don’t get me started on magically withering trees, conjuring unlimited food, walking on water, conversations with demons, drowning two thousand pigs…

    • Niklas Bergström says

      Thank you for your response. You actually had answered that “legendary” argument in the John Loftus’ book The Christian delusion. But I have another question:

      In the NTIF, page 115 you say

      “Other sources confirm there were many Jews, even within the Rabbinic tradition, who expected the resurrection to take place in stages, not all at once. There were many different opinions as to how many stages and in what order they would rise. But in one scheme there would be four stages: first Adam, then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then those buried in Palestine, then everyone else. Some Jews also thought their martyrs would rise before everyone else, too”

      You list as a source Hermann Starck’s book, which is in German language. Since I don’t read German, would you happen to know any english source that would basically tell the same thing?

    • says

      I don’t know. I only read the German (and it’s Strack, not Starck).

      I just checked and some of the pages from that are now available online (here). But alas, still in German.

  5. Robocop Two says

    greetings mr carrier

    you may not understand this post because english is not my first language.

    i will quote a passage from lukes gospel :

    36and as they are speaking these things, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith to them, ‘peace — to you;’ 37and being amazed, and becoming affrighted, they were thinking themselves to see a spirit. 39see my hands and my feet, that I am he; handle me and see, because a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me having…. 41and while they are not believing from the joy, and wondering, he said to them, ‘Have ye anything here to eat?’ 42and they gave to him part of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb, 43and having taken, he did eat before them,

    when we look in the writings of paul, mark and matthew, we find nothing like what is mentioned in luke. the question is, was there absolutely nothing in paul’s, matthews’s and mark’s community which did not ask questions about what type of ressurection was jesus’ ressurection? when matthew wrote his account did he have in his mind lukes post ressurected jesus? same question for paul and marks writings. it doesn’t seem so. apologists will say that mark’s , matthew’s and pauls community would already know about lukes post ressurected jesus, how would you answer this question?

    if they knew, did they know about every small detail? if they did, then matthew wastes space informing them about small details like “some doubted” without repeating himself on how the doubt was answered.
    how do they know that matthews jesus , in matthews mind, required fish to prove his ressurection?
    why did a demi god need fish when he was in a brand new body?

    it seems to me that luke is writing for a community which is having disagreement on what type of ressurection jesus’ ressurection was.

    how would you reply to apologists who say that lukes version was already known the the 3 writers mentioned above?

    thank you.

    • says

      We don’t know the answers to your questions. We can only infer what’s most likely from circumstantial and tangential evidence. And that’s a complicated matter. I discuss it in “Spiritual Body of Christ,” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (which you can get in kindle and possibly other e-formats, as well as of course as a physical book).

      The shortest answer is that, most likely, Luke is making his story up, in order to sell a particular view of the resurrection that did not even exist among Christians back when Paul was writing. Matthew’s “some doubted” remark may have more to do with the fact that the risen Jesus did was not recognizably Jesus (a feature found in separate legends in both Luke and John).

  6. Niklas Bergström says


    Could you recommend some books that address the issue of reliability of the Gospels?

  7. Mikael Smith says

    I have couple of questions about your book, Not The Impossible Faith. At the Chapter 11 you argue that the testimonium of women would not be a problem. Christian that I debate made these claims:

    1) You say (p. 300) that “it’s already improper to argue from courtroom decorum to everyday credibility”. But aren’t the “attitudes towards women” usually parts of the big picture of how people thought about women? So if we find evidence about attitude towards women, we don’t have to find evidence about how they were trusted if they made historical claim. If women were considered easily misled, simple and lower than men, then it’s strange that this would not reflect to their historical claims.

    2) How do you conclude that Celsus dismisses the tesimony of men (Thomas and Peter)? I tried to look Contra Celsum 2.59-60, but I can find that kind of evidence there. I’m not sure if I have a right passage. What does it read? Can you provide me a direct link.

    3) Despising the word of a woman are not lacking (. M. Yeb. 15:1, 8-10; 16:7, Ketub. 1:6-9, T. Yeb. 14.10. BAUMGARTEN (1957: 267-268): “In the Mishna, too, the disqualification of women was not specifically codified, but referred to indirectly as a matter of common knowledge (cf. Rosh 47 ha-Shanah 1.8)

    Christian: “There is no evidence, so far as I know, of women acting as witnesses in criminal
    cases in any ancient Jewish source”

    You had the Rosh 47 ha-Shanah 1.8 in the NTIF, so you don’t have to answer to that, but I would like to know what do you think of rest of the statement and claims. I guess that your argument would be, that not all rabbis thought that women’s testimony are not enough.

    Am I correct, that it doesn’t matter if there isn’t any evidence “of women acting as witnesses in criminal cases”, since the claim made about empty tomb isn’t about any criminal case, but a historical claim?

    • says

      But aren’t the “attitudes towards women” usually parts of the big picture of how people thought about women?

      We have no evidence of them not being trusted (even in court). So the question is moot.

      But assuming the hypothetical (even though I prove it false in NIF, with tons of examples of women being trusted in court), we have evidence of them being trusted outside of court (I gave the example of Josephus). So the argument here is not just moot, it’s falsified.

      As to Celsus, Origen tells us (in the very place I cite):

      And because she is not the only one who is recorded to have seen the Savior after His resurrection, but others also are mentioned, this Jew of Celsus calumniates these statements also in adding, “And some one else of those engaged in the same system of deception!” In the next place, as if this were possible, viz., that the image of a man who was dead could appear to another as if he were still living, he adopts this opinion as an Epicurean, and says, “That some one having so dreamed owing to a peculiar state of mind, or having, under the influence of a perverted imagination, formed such an appearance as he himself desired, reported that such had been seen; and this,” he continues, “has been the case with numberless individuals.”

      Thus, Celsus dismisses the testimony of the men on the same grounds: they were crazy and unreliable.

      On the Talmud, you have been misled. I discuss all the relevant passages in NIF (claims that something is “alluded to” elsewhere are bias: when you look, you won’t find what they claim, but allusions to the very distinctions I point out, from clear statements in the Talmud and Mishnah–e.g. the Rosh Hoshannah passage has nothing whatever to do with criminal case testimony but is about new moon reporting, which is a technical matter involving skills and ritual tasks women couldn’t be expected to have or carry out, as I explain in NIF).

      In NIF I thoroughly refute what you have been told. I even give examples of women testifying in criminal cases, and Rabbis explicitly saying they can and will be trusted when they do. And I’m not alone. I cite actual scholars agreeing with me. So don’t be snowed by a Christian apologist. Look at what actual experts are saying, and the evidence.

  8. Mikael Smith says

    And another one. I argued that most of the miracles in the New Testament is actually from the Old Testament. I used for an example the story about feeding the multitudes and I argued basicly the same way that Randel Helms argues in the pages 75-76 of the Gospel Fictions.

    The answer was this:

    “Just structural similarities are not enough to prove that some story is made up. Sometime thing just go in the same way in nature. For example, almost every miracle we see the same pattern: 1) there is a situation before the miracle that demands action (no food), 2) Making the miracle (feeding the people with miraculaus way), 3) Effects of the miracle (praising the lord). When we look this pattern, the fact that some of the OT’s miracle structures are similar to NT’s miracle structure, is not so trivial. Noticing the situation (“there is no food”) and multiplying the food are not so relevant to solving the structural similarities.

    To show that some story is made from the another story there has to be shown that this case is more plausable than the case that Jesus actually made those things. Even if its possible to build a theory on this (NT miracles are basicly from OT), we have to ask why it would be more plausable that stories would be made up about Jesus like this? What is the evidence for this? It is possible to make theories for what was the backround situation in some story, but it is different to show that some story is made in some particular way.

    What comes to John and Septuaginta, it does not prove anything that John uses (or is familiar with) LXX as source for his sentences. Paul also uses Spetuaginta and quotes it from memory, or he quotes from the translation we don’t have anymore. And it is very trivial that John even uses Septuaginta as a source and edit the story from it: Mark’s five loaves and two fish (in another story Mark has seven loaves) ; John has five loaves. Does this prove that John has edited the story from Septuaginta and left the fish away? Why it wouldn’t be true in Mark 8:8, where it makes the same thing? Why doesn’t John loan this story instead? In Septuaginta Elisha has 20 loaves, but this is not even enough to show the correlation or even that John would have been editing the story. When we remember all this and other differend elements (for example, there is different man holding the loaves), it is almost impossible to see to connection.

    If we claim that Mark took the stories from OT and but them under Jesus, we have to ask why there is so little referances to the Old Testament in Mark’s Gospel? He never says that this and this action by Jesus fulfilled this and this prophecy. Only in the beginning there is an obscure statement. For example in the resurrection stories there is not a single referance to the OT. If these stories would have been made from OT’s stories, it would be believable to have more clear referances (allusions or explicit).”

    Your thoughts?

    • says

      “Just structural similarities are not enough to prove that some story is made up. Sometime thing just go in the same way in nature. For example, almost every miracle we see the same pattern: 1) there is a situation before the miracle that demands action (no food), 2) Making the miracle (feeding the people with miraculaus way), 3) Effects of the miracle (praising the lord). When we look this pattern, the fact that some of the OT’s miracle structures are similar to NT’s miracle structure, is not so trivial. Noticing the situation (“there is no food”) and multiplying the food are not so relevant to solving the structural similarities.

      I assume what they are clumsily trying to say is that any feeding miracle would look like this even if it were true. That’s simply not the case. There are unusual and peculiar features in these tales that would not be expected to obtain, unless they were being borrowed from previous stories. That’s what flags these stories as fabricated.

      The probability of those odd details by chance is low (as being unusual means being infrequent which means improbable). The probability of those odd details by fabrication is 100%. The math prevails. (I explain why in Proving History. In fact, I address there exactly the kind of argument you are talking about on pp. 192ff.; see also “smell test” in the index and read everything indexed there.)

      On John, I don’t know what passages were being discussed, so I can’t speak to that.

      But the general points raised are not correct. Differences do not negate borrowing–differences are precisely what a borrower adds to change the story and make it new. What is improbable are the similarities. No matter what differences there are, they make no difference to that probability. So they do not affect the conclusion. Likewise, to think they would make the borrowing “explicit” misses the whole point of doing it in the first place–and simply isn’t verified anywhere else in ancient literature where this was a standard practice (called “mimesis”). For example, when Virgil borrows and changes stories from Homer, he does not make this explicit. He just does it. Exactly like we see in the Gospels. In fact, as MacDonald and Brodie show extensively in their books on the subject, this was exactly how schools taught students to compose (schools which the authors of the Gospels necessarily had to have attended and been taught by, since they show skilled composition that one could only learn that way).

  9. Mikael Smith says

    You said:

    “There are unusual and peculiar features in these tales that would not be expected to obtain, unless they were being borrowed from previous stories. That’s what flags these stories as fabricated.”

    You wrote at Proving History, that “if we allow any comparison to any text, odds are we’ll always find some similarities simply by chance – this simply won’t be unlikely at all” (p. 196).

    So what kind of peculiar and unusual features are you talking about and why are they so unsual that it would not be accident that they were there?

    • Mikael Smith says

      Yes I have read it. Daniel’s story is interesting and worth mentioning in the future. But what I meant was that what kind of unusual features you mean that are in the story of Feeding the multitutes. I have read Randel Helms’ Gospel Fiction, where he mentions the miracle in p. 75, but I was curious if you have some more knowledge about the particular miracle story.

    • says

      Yes. A lot. I cite the scholarship (well beyond Helms) and discuss the salient details on the miraculous feeding tales in my next book. Currently projected for release this February.

    • Mikael Smith says

      Sooo… Could you tell some more about the miracle story and unusual things in it, or do I have to wait until Feb? :)

    • says

      Anything I said would just evoke more questions until I just ended up saying what’s in the book. Which would defeat the purpose of writing books in the first place. So wait for the book. Then we can continue a conversation from there.

    • Mikael Smith says

      Haha okay. I’ll sure will buy the Historicity of Jesus when it comes out! I’m just debating semi-publicly (in Facebook) a Christian right now and I used that particular miracle story as an example of an emulated story, and now he demands more evidence about it. I don’t want to push you, but could it be possible to get an email from you about the particular miracle. Otherwise I’ll have to weasel out from my own argument. I’m getting desperate :D.