During the War of 1813, the USS Constitution won 5 engagements with British warships. During one battle with the HMS Guerriere, when the cannonballs of a broadside bounced off the Constitution’s sides, a sailor was heard to yell, “Huzzah! her sides are made of iron!” earning the ship the nick-name “Old Ironsides.”
That title can be applied to the Church, which this week faces yet another salvo from Newsweek magazine. The periodical decided to open the New Year with a 16 page rant against the Bible and Christianity, most especially of the evangelical flavor. But the author, Kurt Eichenwald (KE), says nothing in his tome that hasn’t already been trudged out and hurled against The Faith by its critics numerous times before. There’s nothing new here. And frankly, they’ve been delivered by far more capable skeptics than KE. What makes the lengthy rant a waste of good paper is that all his attacks have been more than amply answered. But he does something many modern critics of Christianity do. Instead of dealing with the erudite refutations of their objections, they ignore them while issuing the same critique even louder. They pile up a mass of damning accusations, posturing the whole time as though all intelligent people know all this.
KE and his ilk hope to inoculate the uninformed against The Faith. If they can persuade the unchurched the Bible is nothing but a flawed amalgam of religious confusion and that Christians are fools for believing it, then when the Gospel is presented to them, they’ll be inclined to reject it out of hand. But as I said, the charges KE levels in his article have all been amply answered, refuted, and dispensed with. At one point, he accuses the Gospels of being a “house of mirrors” when that is an apt description of the habitation he and his compatriots dwell in.
What follows is a response to the Newsweek article, offering not a scholarly rebuttal, but a more street-level reply. I’m no scholar. But I’ve read the scholarly responses to the tired attacks of the article. They’re there, though KE apparently chooses to ignore them.
Let’s begin with his final, short section. After a massive broadside of almost 8,500 words, KE offers this disclaimer, “This examination is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity.”
An attack is EXACTLY what the article is; really, it’s several attacks. KE is utterly disingenuous to say it’s not. It moves us to question the author’s integrity when he attempts to pass off his assault as anything other than what it is. KE tries to re-package his attacks with this, “Instead, Christians seeking greater understanding of their religion should view it as an attempt to save the Bible from the ignorance, hatred and bias that has been heaped upon it.” No, it’s this Newsweek article that’s filled with “ignorance, hatred, and bias,” against the Bible and Christianity.
The author repeated postulates the position there’s a vast divide between what the Bible actually says and what Christians believe, thus the title of the article, “The Bible-So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” In the closing he writes,
“If Christians truly want to treat the New Testament as the foundation of the religion, they have to know it. Too many of them seem to read John Grisham novels with greater care than they apply to the book they consider to be the most important document in the world.”
It is surely the case that there are many Evangelicals who invest little in reading and studying the Bible. But as we’ll see, KE has a penchant for painting with a quite broad brush. He apparently thinks the ONLY people who really know what the Bible says are those who agree with his ultra-liberal view of Scripture. He is apparently unaware of the vast body of conservative scholarship that has amply refuted his charges, or as so many in the realm of snobbish academia, he refuses to grant the title “scholar” to anyone who disagrees with him. Throughout the article there’s a persistent thread of thought that all intelligent people agree with the skeptical positon of the author. It’s a clever tactic that entices uninformed readers. “Don’t you want to be smart and sophisticated too? Well, then you must join us in the views articulated here.”
KE opens the final section with this,
So why study the Bible at all? Since it’s loaded with contradictions and translation errors and wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy, should it just be abandoned?
Let me be clear. The Bible is NOT loaded with contradictions. There’s not even one, as we’ll see. The Bible is not plagues with translation errors. When KE says it wasn’t written by witnesses, he tips his hand and shows us his cards. KE stands with the confusing position of liberal scholars who claim the majority of original New Testament manuscripts were written well after the time of the Apostles. Yet they want to include in the New Testament a collection of early writings the Early Church Fathers purposely rejected because they knew them to be spurious. This is a common feature of liberal scholars. Standing in the 21st Century, they think they are better positioned to know what ought to be included in the Bible than the people who knew the original Apostles; who were led to the Faith by them and heard the tales of Jesus and the inception of the Church. What hubris!
In the second to last paragraph we find,
The Bible is a very human book. It was written, assembled, copied and translated by people. That explains the flaws, the contradictions, and the theological disagreements in its pages. Once that is understood, it is possible to find out which parts of the Bible were not in the earliest Greek manuscripts, which are the bad translations, and what one book says in comparison to another, and then try to discern the message for yourself.”
No one says the Bible wasn’t written and copied by people. Really, KE is referring to the New Testament when he says this, as the previous context makes clear. No conservative scholar says there aren’t flaws in the many thousands of manuscripts that make up the textual evidence for the New Testament. But it is precisely the vast number of those ancient manuscripts that provide the textual evidence for where the flaws are and what the correct text ought to be. In other words, the many thousands of sources can all be checked against each other so that copy-errors are weeded out. In contrast to the doubtful picture KE paints of the reliability of the New Testament text, conservative scholars says that we can confident that about 99.5% of the New Testament text is a reliable transmission of that written by the original authors. And of the .5% that is in question, none of it effects a doctrine of the Faith.
And that’s just how KE ends his screed.
It begins with two-paragraphs of sarcastic invective sure to raise louds hoots from rowdy anti-religionists. It’s clear KE’s comments are directed at Evangelicals. He calls them,
God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.” And this after saying of them, “They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats.”
This is his OPENING?!?! This is supposed to give us confidence what follows is a fair piece of journalism? If this is what passes for balanced reporting at Newsweek, I can’t imagine what the editorial section looks like.
This kind of blanket stereo-typing of any group isn’t journalism; it’s propaganda, plain and simple. Take this for example. The fourth paragraph states,
The Bible is not the book many American fundamentalists and political opportunists think it is, or more precisely, what they want it to be. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is well established.
KE then cites some recent polls. He makes a logical error. Is there NO ONE who knows what the Bible says? That few have a scholar’s knowledge of the entire Bible, does that mean they have NO knowledge? KE contends that this is so. He then goes on in the article to give what he thinks are examples of h9ow the Bible has been misunderstood.
But the scholars and experts he depends on for his views are all people whose antipathy to the Bible and to a conservative or orthodox form of Christianity is well-known. It’s the old tactic of, “All the smart people agree with me. If you don’t agree with me, you’re obviously mentally deficient and even though others may call you “professor” or label you an expert, I refuse to!”
KE quotes Dr. Bart Ehrman as one of the experts he relies on. Dr. Ehrman is a well-known, ultra-liberal whose work on the New Testament is frequently cited by scoffers because it supports their attacks on the integrity of Scripture. Dr. Ehrman regards very little of the New Testament as legitimately apostolic in origin, but he wants to include Gnostic works in the corpus of scripture.
No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.
That is a shocking revelation, if true. Part of it is, but the important part isn’t. True: We do not possess a single original manuscript penned by an Apostle. But we do have some 25,000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. And the time span between the original and the earliest copies is now down to as little as 60 years! Not the many hundreds of years KE suggests. He says,
About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament. (That’s the same amount of time between the arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower and today.) The first books of the Old Testament were written 1,000 years before that. In other words, some 1,500 years passed between the day the first biblical author put stick to clay and when the books that would become the New Testament were chosen.
This is clever. He says there is a vast space of time between the original manuscripts were penned and the Bible finally came together. The implication is that for the 1500 years in between it was all just a grab bag; that there was no collection of books that were regarded by the Faithful as inspired Scripture.
This is simply wrong! The Jews had their canon of Biblical books long before the First Century. And the mid-Second Century Muratorian Canon proves there were already lists of approved books for the New Testament long before the Fourth Century when the Church Father finally, albeit reluctantly, closed the Canon. They waited that long because humility slowed their claiming the authority to do so. But they recognized the need to close the canon of the New Testament precisely because there were works they knew did NOT belong and those who could speak with authority to the Apostolic witness of the New Testament books was about to pass form the scene.
KE and his kind make it appear that the closing of the canon was done for purely political reasons by guys with an agenda that was not in harmony with Jesus or the Apostles. A thousand times, NO! It was to maintain the integrity of the witness to Jesus and the Apostles that the canon was closed. One only need read the books of the New Testament to see that.
Oh, but anyone who holds that historically accurate view is obviously not a scholar and knows nothing. My bad.
If the tone of this reply sounds sarcastic, that’s because it is. It matches the tone of the original Newsweek hit-piece. And I’ve chose this tone on purpose. You see, as I stated earlier, KE’s points are nothing new. They are the same tired objections that have been raised time and again by skeptics. And they’ve all been answered. KE and his supporters know that. But they also know a new generation has come along that hasn’t heard them, so they fire off another salvo at the Bible and Church in the hopes it will secure some more followers of their agnosticism.
Where KE goes off the rails is in his made-up history of Constantine’s influence in church affairs. Far from the Roman Emperor getting his way at the Council of Nicaea, Constantine had hoped the bishops in attendance would have gone in a different theological direction. Yes, he called the Council to meet. Yes, he presided at its opening. But that was about all he had to do with it. This is a matter of historical record. Critics and skeptics love to assign Constantine some monumental role in commandeering the Early Church and turning it into the State religion of the Roman Empire. Yeah, uhhh; it just didn’t happen that way.
But it makes a good tale and advances the idea that the original church and Gospel were hijacked by sinister forces and turned into a political football that the modern Church and her illiterate minions won’t give up.
I wonder if after Kurt Eichenwald finished his article if he didn’t sit back, lace his fingers behind his head, stare off into space and say, “Ahhh, if only . . .”
For a more measured, and polite, review of the Newsweek article, see Albert Mohler’s blog at –