The many sins of Newsweek’s expose on the Bible
by Justin Taylor
It is a tradition in American journalism as predictable as Easter and Christmas itself: a cover story purporting to reveal the true story behind the Bible we thought we knew. Newsweek — now in its digital-only form — offers the latest entry in this genre with “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” written by Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald.
Eichenwald seeks to demonstrate that the Bible is “loaded with contradictions and translation errors and wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy.” Eichenwald insists his article is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity. Rather, Eichenwald wants to rescue the message of Jesus from “God’s frauds,” those manipulative fundamentalists who don’t read or understand their Bibles but abusively twist it in order to create misery for others.
Even with a generous 8,487 words, Eichenwald reveals he is out of his depth for this subject matter. Though he doggedly advances his predetermined thesis from a mishmash of angles, experts quickly showed online that Eichenwald has not really done his historical homework or read his Bible carefully.
Daniel Wallace, founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, demonstrated Eichenwald’s “numerous factual errors and misleading statements, his lack of concern for any semblance of objectivity, his apparent disdain for and lack of interaction with genuine evangelical scholarship, and his uber-confidence about more than a few suspect viewpoints.”
Michael Kruger, an expert in early Christianity and co-editor of “The Early Text of the New Testament,” lamented Eichenwald’s “jaw-dropping ignorance of the facts about the Bible.” Kruger showed that Eichenwald’s article “is short on the facts, it has little understanding of interpretive principles, it assumes that it knows more about theology than it really does, and it pours out scorn and contempt on the average believer.”
Despite this cool reception, Eichenwald might be surprised to learn that academically informed evangelicals agree with him on a number of issues. Yes, the Bible needs to be read more and to be read better, even among the faithful, and yes, the Bible can be abused and misused. Yes, people in the pew should learn the basics of historical background, interpretive principles, manuscript transmission, the formation of the canon and translation theory. They would also give a hearty “amen” to Eichenwald’s statement that “the history, complexities and actual words of the Bible can’t be ignored just to line it up with what people want to believe, based simply on what friends and family and ministers tell them.”
The problem, they would humbly suggest, is that Eichenwald has not truly taken his own advice to heart…
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