The Bible does not exist.
The statement above shares certain qualities with similarly bold and blunt statements - namely, it needs to be qualified. Certainly, by many definitions, the Bible exists. It exists more than any other book in the world, by pretty much anyone's count. I'm not sure whether this is true because I can't recall the source, but I seem to remember reading once that the most-published book by number of volumes of all time is the KJV Bible; and that #2 and #3 on the list were other, slightly different versions of the Bible. Whether that's actually true or not, we must all agree that the Bible is a very popular and widespread piece of work.
Or is it? I submit that the actual number of Bibles in the world is ZERO.
It all comes down to how you define the Bible. If the Bible is just a book, then yes, there are millions (billions?) of them. If it's just a book, then just about every "Bible" ever written has at least some fair claim to its title. But the Bible is not just a book. The Bible is the Inerrant Word of God, written by those who were directly inspired by God, and they wrote His words without fail and without error. The real, true Bible is a perfect record.
And every "Bible" we have on Earth in this time has been changed in some way from that original, allegedly inerrant message.
We have translated it into new languages which didn't even exist at the time the original was written. We have updated certain words and phrases to encompass concepts that people didn't understand. We have, in some cases, softened the particularly nasty parts or the sexual references. We've made some honest mistakes. We've made some dishonest ones too. The Bible has changed.
For most books, this isn't a problem. For almost any reference book (and the Bible certainly is that, among other things), we deliberately produce several editions, each of which is different from the previous one in some way - ideally, these differences are improvements. Other books can be translated into languages other than that of the original author, and while some meaning may be lost, the general idea can be preserved. Other books can be copied badly or fraudulently, and we can usually undo this damage by comparing it to the original when it is available. Furthermore, if the book is nonfiction, we can usually check it against the real world and see how accurate it is.
None of these things applies to the Bible. The Bible, as the Word of God, cannot be improved upon; ANY change to the original words is detrimental. When the Bible is translated and meaning is lost or changed, the book is no longer divine or perfect. When it is translated badly, we cannot check it against the original, because we no longer have the original. As far as checking against the real world… "Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test."
Consider what this means. Any mistakes (or deliberate alterations) that were made back in the era of Constantine will be permanent ones; we cannot correct them because we cannot know what they were. Issues with translations have led to dozens if not hundreds of slightly different versions in the English language alone. What few fragments remain of documents prior to Constantine are in languages that have been dead for centuries, and we cannot be sure we fully understand the nuances and deeper meanings; we have a hard enough time with correct interpretation of living languages.
Whatever the Bible was once, it is most definitely no longer the Inerrant Word of God - and if one of the many versions just happens to be absolutely correct in every detail, we have no way of knowing which one it is.
If the Bible is just a book, then what we have now is adequate, even impressive. But if it is the Word of God, then it must be perfect. And it is not. However strong a believer's faith may be, one must acknowledge that at the very least, all the various translations of the Bible except one are flawed in some way - and there is no reason to believe that even one of them is perfect in every way.
There is no written Word of God. There is no Bible. It does not exist.
This has what should be seen as devastating consequences for those who lean on the Bible as the foundation of their faith. The Bible is essentially the sole source for information on the Jewish and Christian beliefs. There are no other records of Christ, Moses, Abraham, or any others who claimed to be inspired (or begotten) by God. There may be a scrap here and there, but nothing that could be said to be in any way reliable, and certainly nothing upon which one could base any sort of faith.
If the fate of our souls is indeed dependent upon the following of God's word, then we are left with incomplete instructions at best, and deliberately perverted ones at worst. How can a believer reconcile the idea that the Bible was inspired by God, but that God apparently has not seen fit to inspire those who copied and translated it?
The implications are worse than that, for the believer. It is entirely possible that, while they believe they are following God's word, they are actually doing precisely the opposite in some ways. Here's a hypothetical situation: suppose the Bible included a verse which forbade the imbibing of "milk of the poppy" or something like that. As far as I know, there's no such commandment in the Bible specifically forbidding drug use, but it sounds like the sort of thing that might be in there. And certainly, there are dangers involved in heroin use. But IF that were in there, it would mean that everyone who was ever prescribed morphine was violating God's word, without even knowing it! For that matter, even a poppyseed bagel might be a sinful food. And we would have no idea.
It can go the other way too. What if all the lines about the evils of homosexuality were put in there by an ancient scribe who happened to be disgusted by that sort of thing, and his version was the one which caught on? All this time, so-called Good Christians have been railing against homosexual behavior… and maybe God actually has no problem with it at all.
Suppose there were a line in there which specifically said that the soul does not enter the body of an unborn child until the mother feels the quickening. Perhaps God offered us a solution to the entire abortion battle, and we don't know what it is because that page got lost.
Allow me to produce a real-world example. When Percival Lowell studied Mars through his telescope, he thought he saw straight lines across its surface,
which he called canali, the Italian word for "channels". This, however, was famously misinterpreted as "canals" which clearly indicates
intelligent origin. With a single mistranslated word, we go from meaningless straight-line geological features to Martian Civilization. The public came to
realize the error not because someone fixed the translation, but because we got better views of Mars which confirmed that these features were an illusion. In
other words, reality stepped in and we were compelled to accept it.
But we can't do that with the Bible! We can't compare it with real-world observations and see if it's correct - or rather, we could, but we don't because the Bible itself forbids that.
The bottom line is that we cannot trust the Bible to be perfect in every detail, and there would seem to be no mechanism by which we can determine which details we can trust and which are faulty - UNLESS we accept that the Bible is NOT the inerrant Word of God.
If it's just a book, then we can edit it. We can keep the good and expel the bad. But we must first allow ourselves to do it, and that means we must accept that God didn't write it. Human beings wrote it, and human beings can fix it. They'd better, because God clearly isn't up to the task.