It seems that at least once a year, the editors of Newsweek feel compelled to publish yet another arrogant, condescending, misinformed, and poorly researched article proclaiming to the world that those idiotic Christians are all wrong.
Last year was no exception. The latest, written by Kurt Eichenwald, was published on Dec. 23rd and is a prime example of the kind of anti-Christian arguments found spewed throughout the popular press and across the internet. You can read it here. I’m not nearly as upset over the arguments as I am about the attitude with which they are presented. Mr. Eichenwald presents his “The Bible : So Misunderstood it’s a Sin” article with the apparent expertise of a high school student who has just watched a Hogan’s Heroes marathon and on the basis of what he has learned from the series can confidently lecture any and all about how the history texts are all wrong about WWII.
In this post, I’ll start a point by point analysis of his screed, and show how sloppy both the research and the thinking of the modern pop-culture pundits really are.
The first three paragraphs are a litany of everything naturalists and the politically far left think is wrong with Christians. I say THINK because the description paints all Christians as the embodiment of the popular caricature presented by the ‘new atheists’ and the entertainment media. Accordingly, Christians are presented as Republicans from a church like the Westboro Baptist crowd who hate everything they hold dear and have never actually read the Bible (assuming they are able to read). Eichenwald goes on to lament the level of Biblical illiteracy among Christians in America and the many sins of “self-proclaimed Biblical literalists” and the misery they bring….
… and that brings up the first red flag. I have a much varied background within the Christian community. I have either attended, been a member of, or preached at Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Advent Christian, Covenant, Mennonite, Society of Friends (Quaker) and Episcopal congregations and have attended Roman Catholic prayer meetings and events. I have been involved with a number of non-denominational ministries. I say that to establish that I have been friends with and partnered in ministry with a very wide variety of traditions within Christendom. That, coupled with a web search for the term “Biblical literalist” just to make sure, leads me to confidently say the following:
There is no such thing as a self-proclaimed Biblical literalist. I know of no such person, and in EVERY case I can find of the term being used it is applied to someone else (as Mr. Eichenwald does) in a perjoritive manner.
Judging from other comments Eichenwald makes in his article, I suspect that he makes the same assumption that many anti-Christians make. That is the mistaken belief that if anyone who considers any part of the Bible to be historical (i.e. ‘literal’) then they must believe all of it to be so. This appears to be Eichenwald’s definition of a ‘fundamentalist’, a term he uses almost like a swear word throughout the article, and he considered to be synonymous with ‘Biblical literalist’.
I have yet to meet anyone who takes such a nonsensical approach to Scripture. Yes, much of the Bible is historical and is meant to be taken as literal truth, but no serious Bible scholar denies that there are many passages that are poetic, allegorical, metaphorical, or use many other literary devices to make a point. There is an entire section of the Old Testament that is made up of books of poetry, and many passages that explicitly state that they are visions or illustrations.
The author then goes on to state, “This examination—based in large part on the works of scores of theologians and scholars, some of which dates back centuries—is a review of the Bible’s history and a recounting of its words. It is only through accepting where the Bible comes from— and who put it together—that anyone can comprehend what history’s most important book says and, just as important, what it does not say.”
Strangly, while his introductory lament about the Biblical illiteracy of American Christians prominently references both Pew and Barna research polls, with the exception of Bart Erhman none of these ‘scores’ of authorities are quoted, named, or footnoted. So, the unanswered question is, “how much of this did he actually do any research on, and how much of it is of the ‘I read it on Wikipedia so it must be so’ variety of authority?”.
Next, Eichenwald goes on to mix fact, fiction and speculation to assert that no one has ever read anything more than a copy of a copy of a copy (and so on hundreds of times over) of documents that have been so altered by both omission, editing, and additions that the original Scripture is unknowable.
Set aside for the moment the fact that his statement “About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament” is off by 200 to 300 years as I showed in detail here.
He makes the common mistake of those who use the ‘telephone game’ analogy to illustrate that the Bible MUST have been corrupted over time because of the many copies and translations.
But that isn’t how it was done. Copies of both Old and New Testament manuscripts were made from the oldest available reliable manuscripts, and modern translations were not made in a linear fashion as suggested by that illustration.
To elaborate, rather than our modern translations coming about like this:
The process was more like this:￼
As you can see from the chart the more modern English translations are, if anything, more accurate than earlier translations, not less.
He also asserts that “While there were professional scribes whose lives were dedicated to this grueling work, they did not start copying the letters and testaments about Jesus’s time until centuries after they were written. Prior to that, amateurs handled the job.”
In response to that, I’d like to remind you that most of the early Christian leaders were from a Jewish background and training, and many were from the leadership of the synagogues. At least two (Paul and Nicodemus) were members of the Sanhedrin. These were men who would have been either trained as scribes or been intimately familiar with the procedures these professional copyists used. This fact, coupled with the high regard for Scripture that both Jews and Christians had in the first and second centuries, the description of copyists prior to ‘centuries after they were written’ as amateurs is misleading at best.
Eichenwald then spends several paragraphs detailing passages and verses that are considered by most (but by no means all) Biblical scholars to be late additions to the New Testament record. He concludes with “These are not the only parts of the Bible that appear to have been added much later. There are many, many more—in fact, far more than can be explored without filling up the next several issues of Newsweek.”
That may be so, but only if each and every suspected addition is given much more explanatory ink than is warranted. The ‘many, many, more’ that he mentions consist almost entirely of single words or short phrases of less than four words. Not only are these minor and disputed additions, but NONE of them change any core teaching of scripture.
And that is an important point. None of these late additions make any significant changes in the doctrine of the Bible. If every one of them, even those which are most disputed as to whether they are in fact additions and not original, are removed from the Bible not a single core teaching of the Bible is changed, and the significant historical record contained is scripture is not altered.
Remember Eichenwald’s assertion that there were many omissions from the original texts? If you’re wondering why he doesn’t elaborate on that, it is because he has no supporting evidence. There is nothing whatsoever to support the idea that passages have been removed from the original texts other than a very few non-authoritative manuscripts other than pure speculation.
Wow. Iv’e already written more than I planned, and I’ve only addressed the first half of the article. I’ll try to finish my rebuttal in the next post.