For nearly two billion people, the Bible is a holy book containing the revealed word of God. It is the source of their religious beliefs. Yet few who believe in the Bible have actually read it.

This must seem strange to those who have never read the Bible. But anyone who has struggled through its repetitious and tiresome trivia, seemingly endless genealogies, and pointless stories and laws, knows that the Bible is not an easy book to read. So it is not surprising that that those who begin reading at Genesis seldom make it through Leviticus. Believers that try to do so continually face a disturbing dilemma: their faith tells them they should read the Bible, but by reading the Bible they endanger their faith.

When I was a Christian, I never read the Bible. Not all the way through, anyway. The problem was that I believed the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant word of God, yet the more I read it, the less credible that belief became. I finally decided that to protect my faith in the Bible, I'd better quit trying to read it.

I think most Bible-believers find themselves in that position -- although few will admit it. Not even to themselves.

The most popular solution to this problem is to leave the Bible reading to the clergy. The clergy then quote from the Bible in their writings and sermons, and explain its meaning to the others. Extreme care is taken, of course, to quote from the parts of the Bible that display the best side of God and to ignore those that don't. That this approach means that only a fraction of the Bible is ever referenced is not a great problem; because although the Bible is not a very good book, it is a very long one.

But if so little of the Bible is actually used, then why isn't the rest deleted? Why aren't the repetitious passages -- which are often contradictory as well -- combined into single, consistent ones? Why aren't the hundreds of cruelties and absurdities eliminated? Why aren't the bad parts of the "Good Book" removed?

Such an approach would result in a much better, but much smaller book. To make it a truly good book, though, would require massive surgery, and little would remain. For nearly all passages in the Bible are objectionable in one way or another. But with a little luck and much careful editing, perhaps a small pamphlet could be produced from the Bible -- one that could honestly be called good.

Perhaps. But to the Bible-believer the entire Bible is inspired, and has God as its author. Each passage contains a message from God that must not be altered or deleted. So the believer is simply stuck with the Bible. He or she has no choice but to call it good, true, beautiful, and perfect. When the Bible seems otherwise, as it nearly always does, the problem lies with the believer's interpretation of the Bible -- not with the Bible itself.

The believer's defense of the Bible is assisted by those who publish it. They are invariably believers as well, and are interested in promoting and defending the Bible. Millions of such Bibles are published and distributed each year by believers in their tireless and tiresome effort to propagate their beliefs. Consequently, nearly everyone, whether believer or skeptic, has at least one copy. Among these Bibles will be found many different versions, but all have one thing in common: all are believer-friendly editions that support, promote, and defend the Bible.

The Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB) attempts to remedy this imbalance. It includes the entire text of the King James Version, but without the pro-Bible propaganda. Instead, passages are highlighted that are an embarrassment to the Bible-believer, and the parts of the Bible that are never read in any Church, Bible study group, or Sunday School class are emphasized. For it is these passages that test the claims of the Bible-believer. The contradictions and false prophecies show that the Bible is not inerrant; the cruelties, injustices, and insults to women, that it is neither good nor just.

The SAB will help those who believe in the Bible to honestly reconsider that belief. It will help those who are unfamiliar with the Bible to resist the temptation to believe. And it will help those who have already rejected the Bible defend their position.

It is time for us all to stop believing in, or pretending to believe in, a book that is so unworthy of belief.