Below please find my response to the December 23 online article by Kurt Eichenwald attacking the Bible as well as links to the article itself an Dr. Albert Mohler’s written and video response.
Eichenwald’s article – http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html
Mohler’s response – http://www.albertmohler.com/
The Not So Hidden Agenda in Kurt Eichenwald’s “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s A Sin”
In this month’s online cover story for Newsweek, Kurt Eichenwald has written a lengthy and rambling piece on why the Bible is not the book so many Christians think it is. Along the way he resorts to character assassination of both evangelical Christians and the Scriptures. The essay is coincidently released near the Christian holiday of Christmas to, I can only assume, enlighten the faithful regarding their ridiculous belief in the Biblical account of the birth of Christ and any other Biblical narrative or firmly held doctrine.
Eichenwald, who is not a Bible Scholar, Biblical Linguist, Church Historian or Archeologist with expertise in the ancient documents of antiquities, sources very little of his information about the Scriptures. It is therefore difficult to know exactly where he gets his “facts”. He does briefly quote three living scholars, Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, Jason David BeDuhn and Richard Elliott Friedman who all teach at secular institutions. I say that not to malign these men but to point out that a journalist seeking the truth might have consulted some other sources from say Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana or Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He also references one dead scholar, Friedrich Schleiermacher, the Father of Higher Criticism, who said in 1807 that the Bible book 1 Timothy was a forgery. He writes in a matter of fact style as if everything he says is common knowledge and that all his facts are well founded in scholarship and are accepted truth by thinking people everywhere. This is very much not the case and a little inquisitive journalistic digging would have told him so.
Many if not most of Eichenwalds facts aren’t facts at all but are biased assumptions from someone with an axe to grind. He castigates Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Pat Robertson. (What do all these people have in common? They are conservative republicans.). He misinterprets the simplest of passages. For instance, he says that Jesus teaches in the Sermon the Mount that we shouldn’t pray publically. Read in context Jesus isn’t forbidding public prayer at all and He himself offers public prayer in that same gospel (Matthew 14:19). Jesus forbids prayers offered with the express purpose of being seen. Eichenwald is guilty of what he accuses evangelical Christians of. He cherry picks and twists verses for his own agenda.
When Eichenwald gets into the concept of transmission of the Biblical texts he is wrong. He says not one of us has read the actual Bible because we are reading a translation which is based on a copy, which is based on a copy and so on. First let it be said that we have no trouble telling our college students to read Poetics as the words of Aristotle when in fact there are only five copies of early manuscripts of the that text and that the earliest was copied 1400 years after the original was written. With reference to the New Testament we have over 5000 manuscripts on papyri, and sheep skin. Some of these manuscripts date as early as 40 -100 years after the original. In addition we have the quotation of the Scriptures by the Church Fathers which by themselves could nearly reconstruct the entire New Testament. Furthermore there are over 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages. The total supporting New Testament manuscript base is over 24,000 in number.
As for the accuracy of the transmission we can say it this way: The New Testament contains 20,000 lines. In those 20,000 lines about 400 words are in doubt. That is to say, we aren’t sure if the word there is correct. Most of these issues regard spelling or nuances of the word form. (Incidentally, Greek New Testaments give you all the possibilities in these cases) Not one of these places where we aren’t sure affects any major doctrines. The accuracy of the New Testament we read today is 99.5%+. This is astonishing, yes miraculous, for any book of antiquity.
In addition there wasn’t a huge debate over which books should be in the recognized as Scripture. One author says it this way “Constantine did not decide which books would be in the canon; indeed, the topic of the canon did not even come up at the Council of Nicaea. By that time the early church was reading a canon of books it had determined was the Word of God two hundred years earlier.” (Lutzer). New Testament Scholar F.F. Bruce puts it this way “When at last a Church Council—The Synod of Hippo in A.D. 393 — listed the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, it did not confer upon them any authority which they did not already possess, but simply recorded their previously established canonicity.”
By the way, when it comes to what happened at the Nicene Council called by Constantine, Eichenwald seems to have read an embellished account or took great liberties with the facts. The Bishops voted some 316-2 to that the Scriptures affirmed the deity of Christ. No one was slaughtered. Yes, some were exiled but even that wasn’t strictly enforced.
When he get into translation issues Eichenwald is wrong again. I tried to make sense of his argument regarding the Greek word “proskuneo”(προσκυνέω) and I can’t. He says it doesn’t have to mean “to worship” but could mean simply “to bow down”. I looked up every use in the New Testament and every use is either that of worshipping a false god, worshipping God or worshipping Christ. I tried to make sense of his argument regarding the word “form” in Philippians 2:6. I can’t. He says the term was twisted to prove the deity of Christ. The Greek word is “morphe”. It means the inward and outward nature of someone. When Philippians 2:6 says Christ was “existing in the form of God” it simply means He was forever in His nature God. That is why the Nicene Creed speaks of Christ as “very God of Very God. Please note that Christ’s Deity was being affirmed constantly first by the New Testament writers but also be the early Church Fathers long before Nicaea. Note by Ignatius of Antioch: “God himself was manifested in human form.” (105 AD), Justin Martyr: “The Father of the universe has a Son. And He . . . is even God.” (160 AD). Irenaeus: “He is God for the name Emmanuel indicates this.” (180 AD), Tertullian: “Christ our God.” (200 AD), Origen: “No one should be offended that the Savior is also God. . .” (225 AD). Cyprian: “Jesus Christ, our Lord and God.” (304 AD).
When he gets into the matter of Biblical and non- Biblical texts he is wrong. He seems to believe that credence was being given to pseudo gospels, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Simon Peter, the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Barnabas when in fact no credence was being given at all. Please note what Church Father Iraneus in 180 AD says about these gospels He writes “Indeed their audacity has gone so far that they entitle their recent composition the Gospel of Truth, though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the apostles, and so no Gospel of theirs is free from blasphemy.”
When Eichenwald points to the “contradicting’ gospel accounts he is, you guessed it, wrong. He fails to understand that each Gospel writer writes with a specific purpose in mind. The Gospel writers are not writing biographies they are painting word pictures of the most amazing person who every walked the earth. Therefore their use of information is selective. John tells us that Christ did many other things not contained in his gospel but that he chose to include what he included so that we might believe Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing we might have life in His name. Almost every “contradiction” is easily harmonized when seen in the broader narrative.
Space will not permit me to deal with Eichenwald’s claims of multiple accounts of creation and New Testament books being forgeries. I will note that many of these claims are “old scholarship” that has been debunked in many Old and New Testament introductions. I would recommend Gleason Archers A Survey of Old Testament Introduction and An Introduction to the New Testament by D.A. Carsen and Doug Moo for any serious person to refrence on this matter. Regarding the issue of forgeries noted historian W.F. Albright says – “Every book of the N.T was written by a baptized Jew between the forties and eighties of the 1st century”. The Early Church fathers confirm this by quoting these books and attributing them to the identified author. Doesn’t it seem incredibly arrogant for someone 2000 years later to say they know who the author is better than someone almost contemporaneous with the authors?
I find two very interesting lines in Eichenwald’s piece. I suspect they may give us a clue as to why he wrote such an unprofessional, obviously biased piece. He says “The Bible is not the book many American fundamentalists and political opportunists think it is, or more precisely, what they want it to be.” and “Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others.” So basically Eichenwald doesn’t like what we claim the Bible says. Later on we find one issue in particular that he is upset with. He spends a lot of time on what “fundamentalists” say about homosexuality and what the Bible really does or doesn’t say about homosexuality. He also gets this wrong by the way. The not so hidden reason this piece is written is to delegitimize those who say homosexuality is wrong and legitimize homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle among those who would call themselves people of faith.
He concludes by telling to focus on what experts, his experts I guess, say are the real words of Jesus. These of course are Jesus’ instructions “not to judge” and “to love our neighbor as ourselves”. Amazingly Kurt Eichenwald finds the “real words” of Jesus affirming the present culture’s doctrine of tolerance. How serendipitous. Really Kurt? After calling those who passionately believe in the Scriptures “God’s Frauds” and “Cafeteria Christians” you are lecturing us on tolerance. After writing an obviously biased piece you are going to urge us to authenticity. Right after Jesus told us not to judge he told us to remove the log in our eye before seeking to remove the speck in our brother’s eye or we’d be hypocrites. Mr. Eichenwald, please see an ophthalmologist immediately. You are so blinded by your own agenda it’s a sin.