If the Bible is really the word of God, why aren’t more people actually reading it?

August 22, 2010 | By | 160 Replies More

Sit back and enjoy Bart Ehrman’s research regarding what we know about the origin of the Bible. Ehrman is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill . I’ve previously posted about Ehrman’s 2007 book, Misquoting Jesus.

Ehrman starts by telling the audience about a question that he asked his students recently: If the Bible is really the inerrant word of God, why aren’t all believers actually reading it? Many of Ehrman’s own students truly believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but large numbers of them haven’t yet read the entire Bible. Ehrman asks: “If God wrote a book, wouldn’t you want to see what He said?”

Most of this lecture concerns the origin of the modern version of the Bible. Ehrman presents a fascinating history of a book based upon thousands of incomplete and conflicting earlier versions. These versions are riddled with mistakes. The oldest copy that we have of any book of the new testament is a tiny scrap from the Gospel by “John” called “P52). It is about the size of a credit card and it only contains a couple sentences. It is dated at “the first half of the second century” (minute 15 of the video). Our earliest surviving complete copy of the Gospel of “John” was created about the year 200 A.D.

Most of our manuscripts of the Bible are not anywhere near this old. Most of our manuscripts were created around the beginning of the third century (around the year 200). The earliest manuscripts of most of the books of the Bible date from the 7th or 8th century. By the time that a man named John Mill actually tracked the conflicts among the 100 manuscripts he reviewed (about 300 years ago), he noted about 30,000 differences. We now have about 7,000 manuscripts, and nobody has been able to add up all the differences among these copies (21:30). “There are more differences in our existing Greek manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” So, then how can we really know what any of the writers really said? Ehrman characterizes this as “a problem.” Most of these differences are “completely insignificant . . . mistakes.”

I especially enjoyed Ehrman’s description of one scribe’s mistaken version of the alleged genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam and Eve (27:00).   Many other more significant translation problems have been detected by modern scholars (32:00).

Unfortunately, this video has a glitch and it ended at the 34-minute mark.  This is as far as I got tonight.  I now see that there are other versions of Ehrman’s lectures available in ten-minute chunks, starting here. I’m planning on viewing the remainder of Ehrman’s lecture, and I’ll report on it in the comments.

I would add a few questions to the one Ehrman asked at the top of his lecture: If the Bible really is the inspired word of God, why aren’t more believers taking the time to understand the genesis of the Bible itself? Why aren’t they more interested in learning about the things that Ehrman has researched throughout his career. Why don’t they care more about the inaccuracies and contradictions? As Ehrman asked, don’t you need to be confident that you know the accurate version of the Bible before telling others how “important” it is? I raise these questions because, in my experience of having discussed the Bible with hundreds of Christian believers, almost none of them know about these critically important issues raised by Ehrman, and it’s a rare American Christian believer who exhibits any curiosity regarding these issues. How strange, unless, as Daniel Dennett suggested, that most believers believe in belief, rather than in the religious stories that they claim to be true.

Ehrman has also published, Jesus, Interrupted, in which he argues that “the Bible is riddled with inconsistencies and outright forgeries, but that many fundamental stories and doctrines don’t actually exist within its pages–they were later inventions by people trying to make sense of a disconnected collection of texts.”  At his website, Ehrman further states:

Only 8 of the 27 books of the New Testament were actually written by the authors to whom they’re attributed. Others are likely forgeries.

The gospels provide remarkably divergent portrayals of Jesus.

The message of the Apostle Paul and the message of gospel writer Matthew are completely at odds over the question of whether a follower of Jesus also had to observe the Jewish law.

The Nicene Creed and the Trinity were constructs of the later church and are not found in the pages of the Bible.

Traditional doctrines such as the suffering Messiah, the divinity of Christ, and the notion of heaven and hell are not based on the teachings of the historical Jesus.

The commonly told story of Jesus — his birth, death, and resurrection is actually a composite of four vastly different gospel narratives.


Category: Energy, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (160)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    For more information on this topic, I can highly recommend two books: "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus," by David Klinghoffer, and "The Portable Atheist," by Christopher Hitchens.

  2. rosa says:

    I enjoy reading my bible almost everyday, I have read it four times already and now am doing a more systematic (with extra research on something I don't understand) approach with a view to understanding it and applying what I can.

    reason people don't read it varies if I would meander a guess? first they don't read it with the right purpose, so they don't benefit and lose interest, second the science community si discrediting it with no proof of their statments, many people go by their word, so many feel it is just a book of oppression for the priests who wrote it.

    thirdly it is a deep book, requirng alot of time to understand it. it took me over a year to read it through the first time. 9 months the second time and less than that the third time. teh bible is not meant to be casual reading. in fact I am still learning new things, connecting more dots etc.

    I hear alot of discrediting statements about the bible on tv, the net, and yet they present no proof of their statements.

    it is understandable the bible would be discredited after all it is the only book that tells you God'name, some translations it is found at ps 83:18, sometimes you can find out about it in the appendix or introduction, especially older books. it is the only book that tells why man is suffering like he is, why wickedness abounds, why we grow old and die, the only book that describes in detail Gods will and purpose of mankind, that satan exists who he is where he came from, what God's kingdom is, what the future holds, what God has done in the past and why, What God requires of us to be in has favor etc.

    tells you why man desires a paradise no matter what culture he is in, why paradise was lost how it will be regained, etc, satan doesnt want people to read it know it and have faith in it. (trust it). it explains the condition of the dead, about the resurrection, it basically has everything anyone could ever need to satisfy his spiritual needs.

    it is the only book I have ever read that the writtings cover a long span of centuries and that existed before christ was even born. isa and jeremiah existing and writting long before jesus ever came on the scene. jesus many times quoted from isaiah psalms, genesis, etc.

    my favorite books are revelation, ezekiel, the smaller books or prophets they are called like malachi and jonah, and habakkah. these are my all time favorites tho I like jeremiah too almost as much.

    lest favorites are the chronicles and if you ever read them you would understand why. to tedious for me.

    if you want to know if the bible is God's word try reading it yourself and dont rely on others to tell you it is not Gods word or not. look at the history of the isrealites, how they acted benefitted or punished accordingly, how other nations were dealt with, the genesis account with the order of creation of life, not the planet, life on it, creation account.

    take brief notes and as you come across scriptures that deal with the subject you read before, connect the dots so to speak on subjects that are the same.

    you could as you read scriptures that describe God's view of time, days years. many scriptures give clues as to how he view one day. ps 90 for example and number talks about time. or connect the dots about the differnce of what it says and what people belived at that time, like job (moses wrote job there lifespans overlapped) talking about the circle of the earth or the earth hanging on nothing in isaiah. during the time people believed differently.

    stuff like that. you can't appreciate something unless you taste it or use it yourself. plese don't take peoples word for it that it is not what it say it is.

  3. Miles says:

    Dear Rosa,

    The science community discredits the Christian bible with no proof, because science doesn't deal with proof, it deals with evidence and evidence never proves anything.

    You say the Christian bible is the only book that does a number of things, but it is not. There are many, many holy books that do all of the things you mentioned, some even older than the oldest parts of the Christian bible. Nothing in the Christian bible is particularly extraordinary, the Christian god's morality is primitive even for the surrounding times and cultures. Where is the denunciation of genocide, slavery, or rape in the Christian bible?

    You equate faith with trust, but they are not the same thing. Faith is defined by belief regardless of evidence or lack thereof, whereas trust is defined by belief on the basis of past experience (evidence).

    You look to the history of the Israelites for evidence, but I wonder where you are getting this history? From the Christian bible perhaps? Or maybe from Christians who are just interpreting the bible? In either case, it is circular reasoning to use the grandiose claims made in the Christian bible to corroborate the grandiose claims made in the Christian bible. I encourage you to find some critiques of biblical history based on real, archeological evidence.

    How does the fact that people believed differently support your hypothesis that god exists? I would think it supports the exact opposite conclusion.

    You say, "if you want to know if the bible is God’s word try reading it yourself." I say if you want to know if something is true, read the critics, not the supporters. A critical eye is the only protection against delusion.

  4. Miles writees:—"it deals with evidence and evidence never proves anything."

    How do you figure that? I'm interested to learn how evidence proves nothing and that science is not interested in proof.

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    Words of wisdom from Miles (above):

    "Faith is defined by belief regardless of evidence or lack thereof, whereas trust is defined by belief on the basis of past experience (evidence)."


    "If you want to know if something is true, read the critics, not the supporters. A critical eye is the only protection against delusion."

    I just wanted to highlight these words to live by.

  6. rosa says:

    sorry you feel that way, considering the bible does condemn such things you mention, and people who actually follow the bible, like jehovah's witnesses are living testaments to it's power (the word of

    God is alive and exerts power and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart)

    who do you know renounces war and is willing to die for not going to it as a group? who else advocates Gods kingdom which rules from heaven as the only hope or solution to mankinds problem all that i have seen so far says we must look to some guru or man effort, what other religion have you seen that explains why mankind is in such a mess? any other book accuratly describe satan who he is and how he influences the governments of the world and people in general? who goes door do door in 235 lands and preaches the same message?

    what other group of people have you known that actually follows the bible accurately, who are honest, kind and long suffering and who do things simply out of love? who will go to people's homes and give free home bible studies and let people make up their own minds? who remain neutral in political affairs who do not gamble, drink to drunkedness, who will not tolerate practicing fornicators homosexuality liars cheaters and theifs in their midst? the last time I looked, tho there might be a few exeptions most churches are tolerant of homosexuals and fornicators in their midst including greedy persons, even murderers?

    what book shows the conditon of the dead what God's name is (jehovah if you want to know this is the english translation not hebrew) why man gets old and dies why wickedness abounds and why mankind cannot rule himself successfully?

    if one wants to become in harmony with God's will he must renounce such things and stop practicing and he can be forgiven and accepted into God's sheep pen.

    my question becomes what other book can you point to that does all of this? I would be intersted to know what book you use to guide your life? that answer these basic human questions? have you actually read the bible yourself? if you want to know Gods defintion of faith it is recorded at hebrews 11:1-40 this is the faith defintion chapter.

    it is not a blind faith if it was we wouldn't need a bible with tons of information and history and prophecies we can look at etc to build that faith. we would just believe, faith is actually more than belief, it goes beyond just a belief, instead of needing to build faith via expeirence and personal study of the bible plus addtional study like archealogy. faith is the title deed, (title you have in your hand that proves you own property that you have not seen yet).

  7. Dan Klarmann says:

    Rosa's latest comment shows that she knows but one book, and one way of thinking. Many of the questions she poses have been definitively figured out by science.

    For example, "Why man gets old and dies?" Answer: Entropy. Everything gets old and decays. Galaxies, stars, species, mountains, eyebrow mites, everything. Thus everything that lives, ends in death. It doesn't depend on any of the gods deciding whether or not man should be privileged beyond anything else in all the universe. Each generation of artists and philosophers produce new stories of the cursed life of immortals; currently, vampires are in vogue. No immortal with the ability to understand could stay sane. I have never heard of a story of an immortal who was pleased with his lot. Come to grips, yes. But it is always a curse.

  8. Miles says:

    Thanks for the support, Dan 🙂

    Mark, I was referring to proof in the mathematical sense. Evidence leads to increasing certainty, but no scientific theory can be proven beyond possibility of overturning.

    Rosa, you asked what book I use to guide my life. I use many books and more importantly I think for myself, but if I had to name a single book to summarize my moral thinking it might be Sense and Goodness Without God by Richard Carrier.

    The NIV (a more accurate though less poetic translation than the KJV) basically declares that faith is wishful thinking in the absence of evidence. That's an even more damning definition than the one I offered, so … maybe I should switch to that definition?

    And finally, why is the "bible with tons of information and history and prophecies" any more reliable than the Quran or the Vedas or the Odyssey for that matter? Many holy books also have tons of information and history and prophecies. Many of their followers and atheists are peaceful, honest, kind, long suffering, and generally sweet to other people – not me of course, I am pure evil, level 10 spawn of satan and all that.

  9. Miles,

    Okay. In that case, very good.

  10. TheThinkingMan says:


    Read the Mahabharata.

    Then come back to discuss.

    I am interested in your thoughts on that subject…

  11. TheThinkingMan says:

    Rosa writes:

    "who do you know renounces war and is willing to die for not going to it as a group?"

    Oddly worded. However, Christians renounce war? Since when?

    And again,

    "any other book accuratly describe satan who he is and how he influences the governments of the world and people in general? "

    Again, read the Mahabharata…and other religious texts for that matter.The concept is (not) surprisingly universal. Also: http://www.veda.harekrsna.cz/bhaktiyoga/questions


    "who remain neutral in political affairs who do not gamble, drink to drunkedness, who will not tolerate practicing fornicators homosexuality liars cheaters and theifs in their midst?"

    Neutral in political affairs?? Hardly. I surmise from this comment that you are a Jehovah's Witness?

    And, tolerate…hmm…because we here on earth should do,what,exactly? Condemn them? Stone them?

    I do not think that what Jesus preached…

    I could have sworn that judgment was the exclusive right of God alone…

    BASICALLY, my point is still: read some more books. Expand your mind. I know that your eyes will be opened.

    At the very least, you will be able to argue your own beliefs with a true understanding of all the opposition to them.

    That should be everyone's goal.

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