Five Bogus Reasons to Trust the Bible

Sean McDowell (yes, son of the Josh McDowell of Evidence That Demands a Verdict fame, now in a co-written new edition) has been Tweeting some eye-rolling propaganda to miseducate the public and keep conning Christians to stay in the fold. Just like all other fake news, it distorts and deceives an unwary public, who won’t have the skills to fact-check its assertions and thus discover they are being manipulated with fallacies and falsehoods. Here’s an article you can point them to whenever they throw this meme at you.

1. Manuscript Authority

The first of five reasons listed that “the Bible is reliable” is “Manuscript Authority.” It says “There are more and earlier manuscripts for the [New Testament],” declaring over 23,000 of them, “than for any other ancient book.” This is a non sequitur on multiple levels. First of all, in any relevant sense, it’s false. The manuscripts that matter are fewer than a dozen. There are only “23,000” of them if you count even Renaissance church Bibles transcribed a thousand years later, and translations (not just copies of original texts of the Bible), and copies of copies we already have (which are useless), and tiny ancient scraps containing just a few sentences. So this meme is deceiving you by invalidly inflating the count. But more importantly, having a million copies of a false story, does not make anything in that story true. So this is not an argument for the Bible’s reliability. It is dishonest to represent it so.

I’ve already covered the second point in my discussion of this same distinction in my article about Julius Caesar. So you can read up about that there. Quite simply, counting copies of a document, gets you nowhere nearer the truth about anything in that document. Period.

But even if one were to try and fix that second point, it doesn’t work. Fluff it up into something like, “Well, okay, this doesn’t argue for anything being true in the Bible, but at least it argues for us having a reliable text of the Bible,” and it’s still false. Because:

  • Not only have we documented hundreds (in fact thousands) of examples of transmission errors in the Bible, both deliberate and accidental (thus we have proved it was not reliably transmitted—and especially so in the ancient period, from which we have the least manuscripts);
  • And not only does literally every one of the complete manuscripts we have contain deviations (thus proving no single existing text of the Bible is reliable).
  • And not only are there scores of deviations in the surviving manuscripts wherein scholars cannot tell which reading was the original (thus proving we have no reliable text of the Bible at all—even the reconstructed text invented by modern scholars contains numerous gaps of uncertainty as to the original text);
  • But also, on top of all that, our modern reconstruction can only get us the text as it most probably appeared in a single biased dogmatic edition—not in fact the first New Testament but one published in “response” to it, in the middle of a dogma war among Christian sects. Precisely the conditions under which we can expect the most distortions to have entered the records. And because we have no copies of any other edition, we will be able to detect none of the deviations made in producing it.

That’s the exact opposite of a “reliable text.” Indeed that last fact leaves a hundred years of textual transmission for which we have no manuscripts at all, and no way to discern what manuscripts in that period said. And that first hundred years is the period that scholars admit will have seen the most distortions enter the tradition. In fact, from the interpolation and distortion rate we can calculate from looking at how rapidly the text was corrupted each century for its first five centuries, we can expect there are at least a hundred passages or manuscript readings in the New Testament that are not only false (as in, not what the original text said), but for which we have no evidence of the original reading. And that means there are at least a hundred passages in the NT that were faked or altered and we will never know which passages those are.

To read up on all these problems, I’ve already surveyed the matter in my article on Three Things to Know about New Testament Manuscripts. I do some math in my slideshow on the topic. I’ve gone further with more examples in Drunk Bible Study. And I survey the examples of interpolations in Paul’s letters and the five different contradictory endings in manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark (yes, five!) in Hitler Homer Bible Christ.

My Three Things article covers the first point, too: how “23,000” is a false count. It is, quite simply, a bullshit number. Almost all of those “23,000” are copies of copies we already have, and therefore useless. When we pare it down to just copies that exemplify texts now lost, we get barely a thousand. When we remove translations (which are not copies of the original text), it drops even further. And of what then remains, almost all are Medieval manuscripts—just stock church Bibles, transcribed 500 to a 1000 years after the fact. In truth there are barely more than a hundred manuscripts of the NT from the first three centuries. And almost all of those are just scraps containing a few sentences, not even a whole book from the NT. Of “whole books” (or whole Bibles) from that period, the number of copies we have can be counted on two hands. And they all disagree with each other. And they all disagree with the modern reconstructed text. And they all contain false readings. Not only ones we now know are false, but many more we can never uncover.

Indeed, many revisions we can already detect but can’t determine how the original read. For example, scholars have verified that the Gospel of John we have underwent numerous redactions and edits, and thus absolutely does not reflect what its first author wrote. I cite the leading scholarship admitting and demonstrating this, and give numerous examples proving it, in Ch. 10.7 of On the Historicity of Jesus. The same is true of Luke-Acts, for which in fact there are two contradictory textual traditions, one 10-20% longer than the one that was canonized, yet all experts admit we can’t really know which of those two traditions is the more original version (this is so well known in the field I hardly need cite the scholarship on it, but if you need a list, see my summary in Ch. 7 of OHJ). Plus there are admitted to be numerous forgeries in the NT (Ibid.). And so on.

The fact is, unlike nearly every other text from antiquity, the New Testament was transmitted in an atmosphere of rampant distortion, forgery, and propaganda. The NT was, in other words, heavily and rapidly targeted for alteration and distortion, in ways other ancient texts were not. We know this because we can observe for a fact the pace of distortion and alteration in those ancient manuscripts. And even in Medieval ones. And it is appallingly more rapid and particular than for almost any other group of ancient texts we know. In short, even the text of the New Testament is not all that reliable by the standards of any honest historian. And the reliability of its text, is already irrelevant to its reliability as a source.

2. Archaeological Record

The second of five reasons listed that “the Bible is reliable” is the “Archaeological Record.” It says, “The archaeological record consistently confirms the biblical record of events.” Exactly as worded, that’s literally false, and thus a lie. No claim, much less event, in the Bible that is at all peculiar to Christianity is supported by any archaeology. Whereas plenty of claims in the Bible have been refuted by archaeology, particularly in the Old Testament (read The Bible Unearthed for a primer), but even in the New, such as Mark’s errors in geography.

The errors in the Old Testament confirmed by archaeology are now well known. The mainstream consensus in fact has decided almost nothing in the Pentateuch is reliably reported; that in fact most of it is myth. And even much after that is not wholly trustworthy either. The events of the Exodus did not happen. Jews never emigrated from Egypt to conquer Israel but in fact were a native tribe of Canaanites who had never left the place. The forged book of Daniel gets the sequence of foreign kings wrong. And so on. Some stuff in the OT is just ordinary history that is true, e.g. the Babylonians and Assyrians did defeat and exile the Jews. But that the OT builds wild, unverifiable fictions around core truths like that is the obvious conclusion, given all the things claimed in the OT that archaeology has proved false, or failed to verify when it ought to have been able to. Because of this, all mainstream scholars admit now that we can only trust in the Bible, what in fact we can verify independently of it. That’s the very definition of an un-reliable book!

But let’s assume this meme is only talking about the New Testament.

What in the New Testament has been confirmed archaeologically? Not a single event or fact particular to Christianity. Maybe (and I say maybe, because the reality is not as clear as often claimed) we have confirmed some of the topography of Jerusalem mentioned in this text or that, for instance. But that topography would be true whether Christianity existed or not; its being true tells us nothing about whether any Christian claims in the same text are true; and that information would have been available to be learned in texts and reference works of the era, so such facts don’t even support there being witnesses.

So getting such trivia right does not require that an author ever had been to Jerusalem or even spoke to anyone who had. And even if they did, it would not require their informant to have been a Christian or to have known anything at all about Christianity. And even if their informant were a Christian (and already we are speculating upon speculating; and speculations aren’t facts), they could have been anyone (or relating the tales of anyone before them) who once visited Jerusalem before its ruin and later crafted fictions by merely including their past knowledge of the city. In other words, none of these mundane facts being confirmed by archaeology, verifies the truth of any claim in the Bible.

Likewise for anything else. Luke-Acts, for example, could have gotten numerous incidental facts of the era and region right by cribbing them from non-Christian works like the writings of Josephus and other (even now lost) historians. And yet, the author of those works wasn’t very fastidious. For example, in cribbing “local color” from Josephus, the author of Acts mistook the order in which Josephus described rebel leaders for the order in which those leaders existed, producing one of the biggest boner mistakes in the New Testament: having Gamaliel (in the 30s A.D.) say Theudas (in the 40s A.D.) predated Judas the Galilean (in 6 A.D.), when in fact Theudas post-dated even this supposed speech of Gamaliel!

All claims of “archaeological confirmation” of facts in the NT are of this type: merely mundane facts unrelated to Christianity, that anyone could learn from histories and reference books or other assorted non-Christian lore. Not a single fact particular to Christianity. So we cannot assert the reliability of the Bible on such an observation. That’s a non sequitur. As I quote one academic reviewer pointing out, “It is enough to remark that the reviewer [himself] has read a large number of detective stories which were completely correct in their description of legal and police procedures—and pure fiction” (Not the Impossible Faith, p. 178).

Meanwhile attempts to “invent” archaeological confirmations of facts particular to Christianity are all bogus. No, we have not found the house of Simon Peter, or the tomb of Jesus, or his brother’s coffin, or any such nonsense. Even attempts to “fix” errors in the Bible with archaeology are bogus, such as trying to argue Matthew and Luke don’t completely contradict each other on the year of Jesus’s birth, by reference to miraculous coins or inscriptions “proving” the Roman census occurred during the reign of Herod (see my thorough exposé of every such attempt in Hitler Homer Bible Christ). The most hilarious example is in Lee Strobel’s (inexplicably) popular Case for Christ, where he gullibly quotes John McCray’s assertion that Jerry Vardaman had found confirming evidence of this impossible census in hidden microscopic letters on ancient coins. Those letters don’t exist. It was a total crackpot claim. (See my research confirming this, again, in HHBC).

So really, archaeology does not support the reliability of the Bible. If anything, it exposes the dishonesty and sham of Christian apologetics.

3. Fulfilled Prophecy

The third of five reasons listed that “the Bible is reliable” is “Fulfilled Prophecy.” It says, “Jesus fulfilled dozens of major [Old Testament] prophecies about his birth, life, ministry, and death.” That’s basically a lie.

Even at best this statement is vacuous, observing only that the Gospel authors invented stories of Jesus fulfilling prophecy, which is not “Jesus fulfilling prophecy.” And thus not evidence of the Bible’s reliability. To the contrary, it’s evidence of its fabrication. Meanwhile, at worst this statement is making the false claim that we have confirmed any of these claimed fulfillments actually happened. And we haven’t. It is a fallacy of circular argument to say “we know the Bible reliably reports these fulfillments of prophecy because the Bible reports these fulfillments of prophecy.” That begs the question: are those reports reliable? Yes, the reports exist. But they would exist if they were made up, too. So how does their existing prove anything? Well, it doesn’t.

That’s the con game being played on you here.

In fact no claim of fulfilled prophecy in the Bible, not even in the Old Testament much less the New, has ever passed even fundamentalists’ own tests for such a claim being true. For example, Christian apologist Robert Newman proposed a prophecy must meet five criteria to be deemed a genuine fulfillment (see my summary and discussion in Newman on Prophecy as Miracle):

  1. “the text clearly envisions the sort of event alleged to be the fulfillment”
  2. “the prophecy was made well in advance of the event predicted”
  3. “the event actually came true”
  4. “the event predicted could not have been staged by anyone but God”
  5. …and the “evidence is enhanced” if “the event itself is so unusual that the apparent fulfillment cannot be plausibly explained as a good guess”

For many OT prophecies we can’t even establish that they were made in advance, rather than after the fact. Some we know were invented after the fact and passed off as if they had been written before, such as the Book of Daniel (a known forgery) and several sections of Isaiah (which were interpolated long after Isaiah died). This is even true of NT prophecies. For example, the Gospel Jesus is made to predict the destruction of the Jewish temple—years after that had already happened.

At least it can be said that the prophecies Jesus was said to have fulfilled were written beforehand. That’s precisely why the authors invented stories of his fulfilling them: they were reading the prophecies, and fabricating tales to match them. But none of these fulfilled prophecies pass the third criterion: we can’t establish any of the predicted events actually came true—as opposed to later authors merely claiming they did. Many don’t even pass the first criterion. No prophecy of a virgin birth exists in the Old Testament, nor of Jesus hailing from Nazareth, nor of the messiah’s bones not being broken. Just for example.

These were made up interpretations of things in the scriptures that actually meant something else: Isaiah 7:14 was about Hezekiah’s (not Jesus’s) mother being a virgin at conception, not at birth (women do often conceive their first time with a man); Matthew 2:23 says (probably a now lost) scripture predicted the Messiah would be a “Naz-orian,” which does not actually mean someone from Naz-areth; John 19:36 pretends Psalm 34 is a prophecy, when in fact it’s just a song about righteous men generally, indeed a song about how God will not allow them even to be harmed—and yet John has the song apply to Jesus when he was already scourged and murdered, thus disproving the song’s promise that God would deliver the righteous from harm.

Even if we could establish any of these or any other claimed “fulfillments” actually happened, we’d still have a hard time passing the fourth criterion: proving the fulfillment wasn’t staged. There is no evidence Jesus was ever actually called Immanuel (to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy and pretend that prophecy was about Jesus and not Hezekiah). But even if we could confirm he was, can only God name a child something prophetically meaningful in the hope he’d grow up to do great things? Of course not. Such a conceit could even inspire a real Jesus to mistake himself for the Messiah. Is God needed for Jesus to effect a Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem to fulfill prophecy? No. He could have simply staged that for the very reason of promoting his claim to Messiahood. And so on.

Likewise many prophecies can be made to apply to almost anyone, because they are so vague. So even meeting the fifth criterion is difficult.

In fact, no prophecy about Jesus—nor any prophecy in the Bible—meets all five criteria. And for that reason, none have been confirmed as actually being fulfilled, in any way demonstrating the Bible’s reliability. To the contrary, what this meme hides from the rubes it’s targeting is that many prophecies in the Bible very definitely failed. Thereby disproving the Bible’s reliability.

Virtually all of Ezekiel’s prophecies about the city of Tyre failed to come true. Isaiah’s prophecy that the Nile would dry up never came to pass. And Jeremiah’s prophecy of Israel subduing all the kingdoms of the world was never fulfilled. Its failure was so glaring—as it even set a specific date for it that passed without incident—that the forgers of Daniel 9 invented a “reinterpretation” of that failed prophecy to twist it into saying that that world triumph would occur in the 160s B.C. But alas—the hence-revised prophecy failed again. The date passed without incident. And nothing Daniel predicted after that came true. Christianity was born from widespread attempts to fix that same failed prophecy yet again (see my amusing talk You’re All Gonna Die on the peculiarity of this). But their revised prediction also failed: Jesus is made to say it would come within the lifetime of his contemporaries (Matthew 24:29-34, Mark 13:24-30, Luke 21:25-32, and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; also: Matthew 16:27-28, Mark 8:38-9:1, Luke 9:26-27, and 1 John 2:18). Didn’t happen. It’s been thousands of years now. Nada.

This is all really weird. Because it should be easy for a God to set up a demonstrable miraculously fulfilled prophecy. Just have Jesus or Isaiah predict the age of the universe will be found to be around 13 billion years, or the invention of nuclear power, or the exact date of the eruption of Vesuvius, or the exact stellar location of a coming supernova. Or have either of them carve in stone an exact sequence of future events no one could stage. Yet, instead, everything we find in the Bible is just vague, unverifiable film flam.

We simply can’t disconfirm the conclusion: that all the fulfillments of prophecy the Gospels claim for Jesus were simply made up. The events never happened. The Gospels just fabricated each event, so as to claim a fulfillment. The funniest example of this is when Mark invents a scene of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem to fulfill a popular prophecy about the messiah. There is no evidence that ever happened. But what’s hilarious is that when Matthew copied that made-up story from Mark, Matthew was sure mark had read the prophecy wrong, so he “fixed” the story, by having Jesus ride two donkeys simultaneously, one adult, and one her kid (just try picturing that amusing scene!). This proves these authors were just making these things up.

(BTW, also notice how many Bibles deliberately hide this embarrassment by mistranslating the text; the Greek actually does say Jesus sat “on them,” plural. Yet many Bibles erase that fact. Even modern Bibles themselves are lies!)

There just are no fulfilled prophecies in Jesus.

4. Embarrassing Material

The fourth of five reasons listed that “the Bible is reliable” is “Embarrassing Material.” It says, “The Bible contains embarrassing material that would not likely have been invented if it were false.” That’s actually not known to be true. It has been proposed by various scholars that some such material exists in the Gospels, but without any actual foundation (such as evidence it was embarrassing), and often contrary to the actual evidence. And any example one can name, finds considerable disagreement among scholars in the peer reviewed literature of the field as to whether it actually counts.

More importantly, though, this is a straight-up non sequitur. Methodologically, that some embarrassing material gets into a legend, because the creator of that legend feels the need to rebut or explain it away or somehow knows he can’t hide it, does not in fact support anything else in that legend. Many fictional stories, many myths and legends, contain some true facts (even embarrassing ones), around which fake stories and claims are constructed. So finding some embarrassing material in a text does not in fact support the reliability of that text. It only supports the reliability of that one single claim in that text. (If even that.)

Importantly, this is the universal agreement of all mainstream experts in Jesus studies: the Criterion of Embarrassment was invented precisely because the Gospels are agreed by all mainstream experts to be unreliable. And for that reason they all argue the Criterion of Embarrassment can only, at best, rescue the one single claim it applies to (the embarrassing one) as reliable. It does not in any way support the reliability of the rest of that Gospel. That this is the universal methodological agreement of all mainstream experts, means this meme is lying to the public: it is asserting a methodological conclusion that quite conspicuously contradicts what all mainstream experts in the subject have said. It’s only worse that it is also asserting a conclusion that is directly contrary to logic.

And yet it’s even worse than that. Because there actually is no evidence that anything originating in any Gospel was embarrassing to the author of that Gospel. Other authors might have been embarrassed by it, and so they tried changing the story. But that doesn’t support the truth of the original statement. If it wasn’t embarrassing when it was composed, then we cannot argue it must be true (even if it followed that it would be). And yet, every example ever offered is far from embarrassing to its original author, but actually entirely suited that author’s inventive interests.

In other words, we actually can locate no statement in the Bible that was actually embarrassing to the author who originally wrote it.

Some claim, for example, that Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist was embarrassing; but it was only embarrassing to later authors. To Mark, who invented it, it wasn’t embarrassing at all. It entirely suited his purposes: to have the famous John the Baptist declare Jesus his superior and successor (1:7-9); to produce an aetiological myth for the Christian baptism ritual as an adoption by God (1:9-11); to cleanse the Lord’s added-on flesh of sin so he could begin his ministry and defeat Satan in the very next scene (1:12-13); and to establish God’s declaration that Jesus was his son (1:11). This is effectively Mark’s birth story for Jesus as the Messiah, the moment when the Holy Spirit entered him (1:10), the very same spirit that would depart him at his death (15:37). Mark constructed this myth at his beginning to echo and reverse his ending, with such literary precision as to demonstrate he was deliberately constructing it (because real history never works out so perfectly: see my demonstration of this in On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 421-23).

There is no indication that any of this embarrassed Mark, or anyone at the time Mark wrote. “But Jesus had to be free of sin from birth” is not a concept we can establish even existed in Christianity until generations later; and in any event it is the body that is being cleansed, not the spirit. Clearly Mark mythologically believed the body as vessel had to be cleansed before the Spirit could enter it, so he wrote a story depicting exactly that. Likewise, “But Jesus would not submit to his inferior” is not coherent with the gospel message of displaying humility (as Jesus frequently does in tales of him, creating the fictional model Christians themselves were expected to emulate), nor with Mark’s scene depicting John declaring Jesus his superior, not the other way around.

With John the Baptist (and many other examples), later authors saw problems with the story Mark created, because their morals or theology had evolved or differed from his, so they rewrote the story to suit their own agendas. That does not provide any evidence the story is true. It only shows they knew Mark’s story had gotten out, a story they didn’t like (but that Mark did), so they needed to revise or hide it. But that means it may be Mark who invented it. Just as the chronology shows. In fact, that this embarrassment only shows after Mark composed the story, is evidence Mark invented it. Had he not done so, it would have been deleted or altered in the tradition long before even Mark received it.

The same follows for any other case you care to mention. And this is not just me saying this. It’s numerous scholars in Jesus studies who have said these things, in peer reviewed books and articles, about both the Embarrassment Criterion generally and John the Baptist specifically. I survey what they have said and cite their studies in Proving History, pp. 124-69 (pp. 145-48 on the John the Baptist example).

It’s all the worse that embarrassing details in myths are often in fact false, not true as popular wisdom assumes. They are clearly commonly inserted in myths for arcane and symbolic reasons that we often can’t even identify, the original intention behind them long since lost to history. The mythical savior-god Attis was castrated, and so his priests castrated themselves, despite this being then the most embarrassing and humiliating act a man can perform on himself. Yet a revered savior-god suffered this emasculating humiliation. Does that prove Attis existed? That he really castrated himself? No. The mythical Romulus murdered his brother Remus, despite fratricide being the greatest of all sins in the Roman value system, earning the most awful punishments in the deepest part of their imagined hell. Does that mean Romulus existed? That he really committed murder? No.

So how do you tell the difference? If ancient religions were inventing embarrassing things in their myths all the time, how can we claim that they only put such things in when they were true? Clearly they did not. They put such things in for many other reasons than that. Women are not the first at the tomb because that was embarrassing and therefore true; women were the first at the tomb to manifest the gospel message that the least shall be first, and fulfill Mark’s repeated literary theme of deliberately constructed irony (as I discuss in detail in Chapter 11 of Not the Impossible Faith). So this meme also misinforms the public by concealing this fact from the public, too: that embarrassing details are not evidence of truth in any other myth; so why would they be in the Jesus myth?

In contrast to all this is the fact that the Gospels are never embarrassed by things they should be embarrassed by. Which actually proves they were not inspired by nor endorsed by any real god.

For instance, Jesus is depicted in the Gospels repeatedly acting as if Moses and the Patriarchs existed, yet archaeology has confirmed they did not. They were mythical constructs of later Jews who wanted to symbolize and explain their values, rituals, and beliefs by weaving stories articulating those views (see The Bible Unearthed and The History of Ancient Israel for a start). Just like all other national mythologies. Likewise, Jesus goes on a long rant about how it’s futile to wash your hands or utensils before eating, that nothing bad can enter you if you don’t (Mark 7:1-23), fully demonstrating he had no knowledge of germs and thus the considerable importance of washing. Thus demonstrating he or his storytellers were just ignorant men, possessed of no divine knowledge about the world. Likewise the Gospel Jesus’s endorsement of slavery and mutilation and execution for petty offenses, and all the other awful advice and horrible examples and morals Jesus conveys.

To not be embarrassed by these things, entails their authors had no true religion. They were just mean and ignorant products of their time; and thus so were the stories they made up. The Bible is no better than the flawed myths of any other religion.

5. Extra-Biblical Writers

The last of the five reasons listed that “the Bible is reliable” is “Extra-Biblical Writers.” It says “Writers such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius confirm the biblical storyline of Jesus.” Exactly as worded, that’s literally false, and thus a lie. None of these authors recorded any part of ‘the biblical storyline’ of Jesus. Nor does any other author—who wasn’t just repeating what they read (or were told was said) in the Gospels. And just repeating what a book says does not corroborate it.

There is in fact no external corroboration of any claim in the Bible distinctive of Christianity. As with archaeology, an outsider corroborating incidental details not peculiar to Christianity (like that Pontius Pilate governed Judea) tells us nothing about the reliability of the Christian claims woven around it (like that Pilate ever met or spoke with Jesus). So there is no logically valid claim to make here, that any extra-biblical writer verifies the reliability of the Bible. That authors of the Bible used reference works to glean common facts to surround its fictional characters with, is not evidence that what they surrounded those facts with is reliable or true. And that outside authors reported what the Gospels told them (or what Christians told them was in their Gospels), is not evidence that what’s in those Gospels is reliable or true.

So here even as a general claim, this meme is deceiving the public. But the specific content of it is also a deception.

  • Suetonius never once even mentions Jesus, much less any part of his story. He mentions Christianity, but articulates none of their beliefs (not even that they worship anyone named Jesus or Christ). And his account of someone named Chrestus starting a riot in Rome under Claudius (decades after Jesus died) aligns with no Biblical story of Jesus. Nor is there any evidence Suetonius was confusing this Chrestus with any Christ who lived and died decades earlier and across the sea.
  • Tacitus also mentions no part of the storyline of Jesus. The extant text of his Annals at least says (unlike Suetonius) that Pilate crucified Christ. But that’s it. Nothing confirming the storyline in the Gospels (how, why, or when Pilate did that, or Pilate’s conversations with Jesus, or anything else that would confirm the Gospel story). And if Tacitus wrote that, he almost certainly learned it from his friend Pliny, who learned it from interrogating Christians in the early second century, who would simply have been repeating the Gospels at him (see Chapter 8.10 of On the Historicity of Jesus). Tacitus mentions no effort to verify this in any way. He was just repeating what the Christians were then claiming because it was already embarrassing enough as he saw it. (It’s also doubtful Tacitus even wrote this. See my peer reviewed demonstration in Hitler Homer Bible Christ.)
  • Josephus never wrote anything to do with any part of the Gospel storyline. The extant text of his Antiquities contains a passage that now reports how a certain James the brother of Jesus “the one called Christ” was killed, but that story is nowhere in the Bible. And Josephus almost certainly never linked this James to Christ—that appears to be a later accidental interpolation by a Christian scribe (see my peer reviewed demonstration of this in Hitler Homer Bible Christ and summary in Chapter 8.9 of On the Historicity of Jesus). Meanwhile, the unrelated paragraph in that same text summarizing the Gospel is universally agreed by all mainstream experts to be a Christian forgery. It was not written by Josephus (see, again, Chapter 8.9 of OHJ; also Josephus on Jesus). And was based on the Gospel of Luke (and thus not capable of corroborating it). And even if something there was written by Josephus (that was since removed or altered), we no longer know what, much less whether it corroborated any Gospel story (beyond speculation; and once again, speculations aren’t facts).

So the meme here is extremely deceptive on the context, facts, and logic. Indeed it declares things that are outright false. This is how Christian apologists construct fake news to deceive and control their Christian flock. They want to conceal all the truth from you, and weave a falsehood in its place.

Why, then, should you ever trust them?

Conclusion

This is calculated deception. Sean McDowell is a graduate of the Talbot School of Theology and has a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It’s impossible for someone with those credentials not to know nearly every fact I just revealed to you. Yet he conceals it all from the public, tricking them into thinking he has a valid argument to the conclusion. But he doesn’t.

Each argument is a fallacy. And each either makes false statements, or leaves out key information that completely alters its relevance to the conclusion being sold:

  • The number of Medieval manuscripts actually has little bearing even on the accuracy of the text in them, and absolutely no bearing on the truth of what that text says. Whereas the number and consistency of ancient manuscripts is actually disturbingly poor; as is the alarmingly distortive and dishonest context in which they were created and edited.
  • No claim in the Bible that is at all peculiar to Christianity is supported by any archaeology. Whereas plenty of claims in the Bible have been refuted by archaeology.
  • No claimed fulfillment of prophecy for Jesus has any evidence to support it actually happening; authors a lifetime later just invented stories to fit their preferred cherry-picked scriptures. Whereas plenty of prophecies in the Bible have clearly failed to come true.
  • We can locate no statement in the Bible that was actually embarrassing to the author who originally wrote it.
  • And no extra-biblical writer corroborates anything in the Bible, by any standard actually accepted by honest historians in any other area of study.

The tactic is a familiar one. I’ve written about it before. An argument only appears to support rather than refute Christianity when you cherry-pick some out-of-context facts and leave out all the other evidence. When you put the evidence back in, that the Christian apologist has dishonestly left out, shockingly the argument flips. It transforms from an argument for Christianity, to an argument against it.

The manuscripts actually show distortion, forgery, and error. That’s impossible for a true religion’s text. Archaeology actually undermines the Bible. That’s impossible for a true religion’s text. Failed prophecies are abundant, and all the “fulfilled” ones obviously faked. That’s impossible for a true religion’s text. And there’s nothing relevantly embarrassing in the Bible, and no extra-Biblical authors corroborate the Bible’s account of anything particular to Christianity.

You would think a real religion would get better service from its god, as far as evidence its text was reliable goes. Like, say, ensuring its text was magically unalterable, or accurately predicting some deep facts of future science—like the existence of germs, or the thirteen-billion-year age of the universe. Instead, we get a corrupted, unbelievable, uncorroborated fairytale full of ignorance, bad advice, and false information.

If Christianity were true, it would not have to be defended with such deceptions, omissions, and lies. That it is so defended, is the number one reason you can be sure it’s false.

48 comments

  1. The author is only trying to be a good shepherd to the flock… and as we all know its the job of a shepherd to keep the flock calm and directed until they can be fleeced and slaughtered. See TwilightZone, To serve man.

    Reply
  2. 4 reasons the Bible is NOT reliable:

    1. Application of scientific methods, e.g. logic and historical critical analysis shows the Bible is a incohesive, source-untrustworthy, compound set of politically chosen texts.

    2. Comparison with other religions’ mythology, that Christians agree to be bogus, show the Bible is not that diffferent in literary purpose, rendering it to be probably as bogus as said traditions.

    3. Morality is not a static set of rules of behaviour, frozen in stone or papyrus, but a “common social awareness”, whether or not written in amendable laws, constantly changing as society does.

    4. Just kidding, we need only three 🙂 !

    Reply
  3. Hi Richard, many thanks for an excellent factual rebuttal of the mythological nonsense peddled by Christian fundamentalists.

    I just want to comment on your conclusion that “a real religion would get better service from its god”, and your inference that Christianity is therefore false and not true.

    To my approach this is far too cut and dried, and misses the point of how best to critique ancient religion in a respectful way. A main original intent of the Christian myths was clearly as symbolic allegory aimed at ethical teaching. However, with the central myth emerging that everything in the Bible happened in history exactly as described, eventually crystallising as the mad doctrine of inerrancy, the intent as symbolic allegory got pushed aside, often condemned as Gnostic heresy under the corrupted vision of orthodoxy.

    By that older symbolic approach, talk of God is seen more as a parable, a way of describing reality as mystery rather than asserting miraculous intervention. I just think it is constructive to recognise this more sophisticated line in the ancient thought behind the Gospels, even if that approach got lost under Christendom.
    Your use of ‘real’ in your discussion of ‘real religion’ here is too condensed. It is not that the religion is not real, it is that the object of its affection is not real, in the sense of actual existing entity. And I am not just talking about the trivial fact that the religion really exists even if its God does not in the literal sense.

    The point is you can’t infer from the idea that a real religion would get better service from its god, that Christianity is not real, in the sense of meaningless.

    Begging the question of what is a real religion, your ‘better service’ line implies there can be no real religion without the traditional God theme as supernatural interventionist personal entity. That theory of God is not coherent with science, so your formulation implies real religion is impossible.

    That may be your view, and it is fair enough in mocking McDowell in simplified language, but taken on face value it could imply that all talk of divinity as a valid psychological construct is false. That is a form of hard atheism that ignores how real religion can provide adaptive benefits through its symbolic rituals and stories, seen as socially meaningful and therefore psychologically real for the community of faith.

    The alternative to the fake religion of fundamentalism could be to say we can have real religion that does not make any unscientific assertions, except in a symbolic poetic way.

    Reply
    1. A religion is a set of propositions. Most of which are false. That’s what not being real means. It constitutes a collection of assertions, that profess to describe reality, but do not.

      Reply
      1. Zozeph Francisco August 6, 2018, 9:04 am

        Agreed, “A religion is a set of propositions. Most of which are false” so theist are blinded with such false dogma now tell me what are atheist blinded. Can you atheist show what good you had done for the world…Ok, Jesus never existed fine then how does it matter to you. Can you atheist show us from one antiquity a quote “love your enemy”. If no then why do you puke venom, being an atheist you people failed to show the history of early Christianity. Christopher Hitchens, accused Mother Teresa but can you show me what Christopher Hitchens gave to the world which Mother Teresa did not. By insulting God and people who try to do good for society, what do you atheist trying to prove. I never saw a blog of yours written in favor of Christianity, well i read your blogs and heard your debate, you have nothing new to say. Just ripping out verses and trying to connect irrelevance verses which make no sense.

        Reply
        1. Yes. “Love your enemy” was a known aphorism prior to Christianity. In Stoic philosophy, for example. See Musonius Rufus as the most renowned instance. Catch up here and here and here.

          Countless atheists throughout history have made the world a better place. Indeed, ours are the largest and most successful charities in history: we call them governments. Evidence shows atheists are no less giving and caring than Christians. Start catching up here.

          Whereas Jesus was actually a horrible person by the accounts fabricated of him. Catch up on that here.

          If you want to know why I find the question of historicity interesting and became a leading researcher on it, read my book. It explains.

          Atheists aim to have no false dogmas. Though many still do, we at least endeavor to end those errors, biases, and dependencies by committing to evidence-based reasoning and critical thought. Some succeed at this more than others. But we aim to have beliefs that will change with evidence; rather than dogmas, which are beliefs immune to evidence.

          Mother Theresa, BTW, was also not a very good person. She sought to keep thousands in poverty and misery, rather than to end poverty and misery. Catch up here and here.

          And Christianity has almost entirely been a heavy chain weighting humanity down and slowing its progress and betterment. What good there is in it, and that it has inspired, comes with too much that’s worse to warrant keeping the package. We need to dump all the bad and illogical and unevidenced stuff, and stick with what actually is good. Lo and behold, when you do that, what you end up with is Secular Humanism.

          Also, please work harder on your grammar.

        2. To Zozeph : there may be “truths” out there (physical, metaphysical, moral, what have you), but humans will never “know” them as they are… We can only build models of that reality in our mind. Science is very good at building those models, because it is testing them by experiments and other means, constantly refining them. Democracy is another self-correcting mechanism. making progress possible.

          What is not a good mechanism to understand the “truth” is believing a non-corroborated story without any evidence, be it the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormons (really, did you read this book and believe it ?) or the Fairy Tales of Mother Goose.That makes no sense and is slowing humanity down.

          If anything, it’s this what makes atheists mad 🙂 !

    2. I don’t think Richard is saying that any real religion would have to be theistic.

      Rather, if any given religion is real, its claims, whatever they are, should hold up upon testing.

      So if a theistic religion were accurate to reality, we would indeed expect that any archaeology done later would corroborate miracle stories and mundane claims alike. We would indeed expect that prophecies would be not only accurate but non-trivial. We would really expect only one religion, but even if there were many, one or at most a few would

      Even if we think of it the Bible and its claims as symbolic, if there were anything real there at all, we’d expect metaphorical constructs that would be of a vastly greater quality and would be clear in their metaphorical nature. We’d expect something like the Buddhist texts in their basic structure, but far more insightful. You wouldn’t need to do much work to get something out of it.

      More broadly, sure, religions could be all sorts of things, but unless there’s some super-weird underlying spiritual reality that we’re not getting any better of a grasp on, the best hypothesis is that it’s all a combination of culture and natural biases in the brain.

      I also think that, if Christianity is both so popular and so poorly defensible (while being so commonly defended), that shows something. It means that the “best” theories, the ones that have lasted this long, are the ones that are so obviously bankrupt, even within the defenses of their own self-appointed defenders. So whatever the true religion is, if there is one, we may actually be moving away from it.

      Reply
      1. I don’t agree with your last paragraph. Christianity isn’t popular because it’s corrupt, but because it has 3 really appealing propositions to offer :
        – you live forever
        – in the afterlife, there is social justice (the filthy rich gets it in the end)
        – in the meantime, let’s be nice to each other
        With no means to positively refute the first 2 proposals, it’s very easy to fall for this ideology. “It’s too good to be true” becomes very rapidly “It’s so good it must be true”.

        Reply
  4. Hi Richard. I have a suggestion for a future article. Could You comment on religious beliefs that Romans had before they accepted Christianity as a state religion and how their pagan beliefs and traditions affected Christianity and the Catholic church that we know today?

    There is a lot of accusations against Catholics, but it’s hard to distinguish whats true and false.

    Reply
  5. https://www.josh.org/wp-content/uploads/Bibliographical-Test-Update-08.13.14.pdf this is what i got and yes can you provide evidence that book of “Daniel is a forgery”. And yes we have bits of manuscripts that comes from the 60-70 years after the original is written down. But we have to wait for Josephus’s manuscript about 800 years after the original is written and so goes with all the historians and yet it seems you have no problem with them. So, you are trying to be hypocrite. on the other hand every scholar let it be Bruce Metzger, F. F. Bruce, Bart Erhman, Dr. Dan Wallace agree with the dating and authenticity but you on the other side of the world even ready to disapprove their verdict. Well, hypocrisy right. So, not much of evidence only side wash. Thanks

    Reply
    1. That comment makes no sense. We don’t trust Josephus’s text either (it is riddled with interpolations and transmission errors), yet it wasn’t under intense dogmatic pressures to be altered as the NT was, so the distortion rate is vastly higher: as in fact we have confirmed precisely because we have so many manuscripts, we can see the extraordinarily high rate of errors and interpolations in the text! As Ehrman himself has proved in multiple books. Metzger too. And I don’t substantially disagree with Ehrman on the dating of the NT books. So what are you talking about?

      Reply
  6. Jonathan L Widger August 6, 2018, 2:32 pm

    Regarding women being first at the tomb: I have noticed Christian apologists have made a big deal out of the claim that, because women were of low status, their testimony was not accepted in law courts. Therefore, so the argument goes, the gospel authors must have been telling the truth about the women being first at the tomb to get a post-crucifixion sighting of Jesus. I believe you have refuted this claim that women could not testify and have suggested, rather, that the women are there first to emphasize Marks motif that the last shall be first in God’s Kingdom. Perhaps it is also relevant that women in the Middle East have long played important roles in death customs. Ezekiel 8:14, for example, complains that the Jewish women were annually mourning the god Tammuz at the Temple’s north gate. Women were professional mourners annually for the gods Osiris, Attis, and Adonis, and it was customary for Jewish women to be mourners at funerals and to be caretakers of their family’s graves. Perhaps, then, in addition to your point, because of women’s customary roles at funerals, choosing women to be first at the tomb was a natural literary choice?

    Reply
  7. This post is an excellent summary of bogus reasons for believing the Bible. It was nice to see you reference “The Bible Unearthed.” There is also an excellent video documentary by the same name, that features the authors, Silberman and Finkelstein. I often share it with folks who don’t yet realize how mythical and fabricated the Patriarchs and other Old Testament BS is.

    Reply
    1. Tnx for pointing to that video. It indeed shows the mainly political and cultural reasons why the Old Testament was written, and why very little in it is historically corect.

      Reply
  8. Have you read Richard Elliot Friedman’s book, “The Exodus”? He provides a compelling story for a small exodus by a band that would come to be known as the Levites. The book essentially confirms that the story is mythical, but it explains how it came about, and the grain of truth that is part of many legends and myths.

    Reply
    1. That’s all speculation and no evidence, though. It also grates against some evidence, too. I had a private convo with Hector Avalos on this and he pretty thoroughly debunked it with cited scholarship (not exactly a refutation, he’s agnostic about “mini exodus” theories, but he certainly lowered the prior probability considerably); though he hasn’t published on this yet though so far as I know.

      Either way, it’s not useful really.

      Reply
    1. Nothing in that refutes anything I have ever said about Musonius Rufus. You seem to have a reading comprehension problem. The issue is: these ideas were not unique to Jesus. Blathering elaborate apologetics for why you think Jesus was still a better dude, is not relevant to that observation.

      Reply
  9. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-mother-teresa-her-critics-choose-to-ignore/article5058894.ece about Mother Teresa and please don’t quote Christopher Hitchikins, you atheist cannot do good for the world. Show me what you atheist did nothing. Mother Teresa was against abortion and fair enough she opposed killing so what is wrong..atheist don’t like it so i can understand. Can you atheist lay life for humanity https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/four-missionaries-of-charity-nuns-dead-in-yemen-terror-attack/article8314859.ece if so then go back to such countries and start with your work helping don’t come and criticize someone. 22 coptic Christians were killed by ISIS and you don’t criticize that, the Armanian and Assariyan genocide and you don’t write about it. So, stop misquoting people and scriptures. Thanks, go out and do something for humans and then you have the right to whisper.

    Reply
    1. Your babbling here is not relevant to what you were just shown: Mother Theresa did no more good than countless atheist philanthropists and organizations have done, and yet she demonstrably did a lot of harm. She sought to glorify poverty and misery and extended a lot of it. We seek to cure poverty and misery. And thus end a lot of it.

      Reply
    2. Mother Theresa was a theist but ISIS are also theists so what’s the point; anyways no atheist proclaims him or herself as such for doing good for the world most; like most scientists nowadays are atheists and do good for the world but they don’t brag about it; and why not quote the Hitch, because he’s right I ask you, and the people of Charly Hebdo famous atheists DID denounce ISIS and were murdered by RELIGIOUS fanatics who don’t seem to be able to order their thoughts in coherent sentences so dim it will ya?

      Reply
      1. First don’t compare ISIS with the true God that we Christians follow. You have no idea about Islam so stay out of it. Second, show me one atheist scientist who did better or good for the world. Moreover, Hitchinks and you have criticized Christianity but never said good about it. You can write tons of books criticizing the religion but you neither Hitchinks has written anything like the sacrifice that the Christians did such as Sam Childers, or writing about persecuted Christians or Christians fighting against ISIS. So, stop being hypocrite and stop accusing people “if you can’t bless then don’t curse too”

        Reply
        1. How do you know yours is a true God ? Because your Bible sais so, and you believe it without questioning. But as dr. Carriers’ article above makes it abudantly clear, you can’t trust the Bible. So we come full circle, and that’s no surprise : circular reasoning is a common logical fallacy amongst religious apologists. Now go away.

        2. A verse in a false scripture talking about a specific historical incident in which an order was delivered to kill a specific group of polytheists, has what to do with atheism?

        3. You’re not answering the question : how do you KNOW yours is a true God ? You are mentally unable to give the only correct answer (“I don’t know that for a fact, I just repeat what my parents and preacher told me”), bringing you down to the mental level of a 5-year old, and it shows !
          BTW It’s Christopher Hitchens, not Hitchkins. As a mental 5-year old, you don’t have the common decency to look up the correct name of the person you’re criticizing ! So, in the words of the great Hitch, go sit at the kids’ table and leave the serious conversations to the adults !

    1. I’m pretty sure I have far more education and experience with Islam than you do. I’ve written numerous articles on it and spent a whole day interviewing diverse Muslims from around the world, and then debating them in Dearborn Michigan several years ago, before an audience of a thousand Muslims. I seriously doubt you’ve done as much. Your behavior here suggests all you do is read the uninformed and skewed rants of bigots; and have never actually spoken to a Muslim or read Muslim commentaries.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Carrier, is there any video or podcast of that debate in Dearborn Michigan ? What was the overal reaction of the muslim audience ? Is there a strategy to go into a conversation with a muslim as an atheist ? Tnx in advance for your reply.

        Reply
        1. The Dearborn debate video is available in various places online, e.g. a poor repro is here. There may be better ones.

          The overall reaction was positive. But I doubt the debate changed many minds right away; it just laid the seed. Though honestly, a lot of them are already doubters, they just aren’t allowed to let their peers or community or neighbors know it, so they go through the motions and pretend.

          On strategies for debating Muslims I wrote a primer. And I include discussion of it in my course on Counter-Apologetics, which I will offer again maybe before this year ends.

        2. Wow, your primer on Islam counter-apologetics is impressive and very useful ! I am now a little more confident to enter a meaningful conversation with a muslim. As always, your blog contains many links to other very interesting blogs and other resources. A little addictive, I must say 🙂 !

    2. @Zozeph… Islam is nothing but a plagiarism of Judaism and Christianity… all one needs to demolish Islam is demolish Judaism, because once Judaism is debunked that implies Christianity is bunk and if both Judaism and Christianity are claptrap that implies that Islam is utter lies too. It does not take much logic to understand that and one does not need any expertise in Islam other than to realise that Islam is additional fairy tales BASED UPON the fairy tales of Judaism and upon the fables and tall tales of Christianity. So once one realises that Judaism is fairy tales then there is absolutely no need to waste any time whatsoever debunking the consequently debunked claptrap of Islam that is just rehashed hogwash from Judaism and Christianity.

      Reply
  10. Mr.Art first of all you are a kid this is why you said that whatever shit is been taught you repeat. So, that makes you a mentally dis functioned kid. Don’t blame me, you will have no backbone to debate me. Yes i know that my God is true because he gave me moral values which you atheist don’t have. Go promote LGBT, pedophilia, beastly sex and so on, which my God accuses and promises to send his wrath on people who practice it. This is why America is always effected by nature, because there is love for God. And last but not the least i don’t care how i spell Hitchkens or Hichens he is not God and i don’t respect people if they don’t admire the god’s work done by many. So, kid don’t challenge me i will not leave a pinch of ground for you to stand.

    Reply
  11. Vincent Racaniello August 27, 2018, 4:42 pm

    “Lying by withholding” is an expression I use of yours quite frequently because it’s so compact and describes the apologist’s game to a T! Thank you for all your work.

    Reply

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