Newsweek's slam of the Bible 'irresponsible'
NASHVILLE (BP) -- A Newsweek cover article calling conservative evangelicals "God's frauds" and characterizing the Bible as full of errors has drawn a range of corrective responses from Baptist commentators.
"When Newsweek, now back in print under new ownership, let loose its first issue of the New Year on the Bible, I held out the hope that the article would be fair, journalistically credible, and interesting, even if written from a more liberal perspective," R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a Dec. 29 blog post. "But Newsweek's cover story is nothing of the sort. It is an irresponsible screed of post-Christian invective leveled against the Bible and, even more to the point, against evangelical Christianity. It is one of the most irresponsible articles ever to appear in a journalistic guise."
Appearing on the Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends" Dec. 30, Mohler said the article demonstrates "ignorance of the facts" regarding Scripture.
"When you have someone in the media give a balanced view and talk about the great truths of the faith in an honest and balanced and journalistic way, that's fair game," Mohler told host Elizabeth Hasselbeck and guest host Scott Brown, a former Republican senator from Massachusetts. "But that's not what we're dealing with here. From the opening shot, this [article] is an open attack upon Christianity."
Written by veteran business and financial reporter Kurt Eichenwald, Newsweek's article is titled "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin" and appears in the magazine's Jan. 2 issue. Eichenwald does not cite any conservative evangelicals as sources but does quote Bart Ehrman, a New Testament professor who has gained a reputation for attacking historic Christianity.
The 8,500-word essay begins, "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. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country's salvation. They are 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."
Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, a Southern Baptist, asked why national news magazines do not level similar criticism at adherents of other world religions.
"The national news magazines never seem to target Islam. When was the last time Newsweek or Time published an attack piece on Muhammad during Ramadan?" Starnes wrote in an online commentary. "I wonder if Newsweek would have the courage to publish 'The Koran: So Misunderstood It's a Sin'? I wonder if Newsweek would allow a feminist to weigh in on what the Islamic holy book says about women? Perhaps Newsweek could illustrate their story with cartoons of Muhammad -- or maybe photographs of jihadists beading Christians in the name of Allah? But we all know that won't happen, right Newsweek?"
Starnes' mention of illustrations likely referenced Newsweek's decision to accompany its article with photos of snake handlers, televangelist Pat Robertson and the infamous protestors of Westboro Baptist Church who have picketed funerals of American soldiers killed in action. A drawing included with the article depicts David holding Goliath's severed head.
Rebuttals of Newsweek
The Newsweek article presents as fact a list of supposed errors, contradictions and problems in the Bible. Though all of Eichenwald's assertions have been addressed by conservative biblical scholars, he does not mention that in the essay.
In his blog post, Mohler countered some of Eichenwald's incorrect claims. Among them:
-- "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."
Mohler responded, "No knowledgeable evangelical claims that the Bibles we read in English are anything other than translations. But it is just wrong and reckless to claim that today's best translations are merely 'a translation of translations of translations.' That just isn't so -- not even close."
Charles Quarles, professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, added in written comments to Baptist Press, "Several excellent translations of the Bible are available today. Many evangelical scholars read the Bible in the original languages, prepare their lectures and sermons from the Hebrew and Greek texts, and constantly consult ancient manuscripts of these texts. I frequently read directly from facsimiles of ancient biblical texts like Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and p46. The author of this article is clearly unaware of the outstanding biblical research conducted by Christian scholars or conveniently chose to ignore it."
-- "About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament," Eichenwald writes. "(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."
Mohler responded that Eichenwald "grossly exaggerates the time between the writing of the New Testament documents and the establishment of a functional canon." The apostle Peter referred to Paul's writings as already regarded among the "Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16), and an ancient document written by Papias of Hierapolis reveals that the canonical Gospels existed as a collection by A.D. 110, according to Christian History Magazine.
-- The Koiné Greek of the New Testament "was written in what is known as scriptio continua -- meaning no spaces between words and no punctuation," Eichenwald writes. "So, a sentence like weshouldgoeatmom could be interpreted as 'We should go eat, Mom,' or 'We should go eat Mom.' Sentences can have different meaning depending on where the spaces are placed."
Mohler acknowledged that the New Testament was indeed written without spaces or punctuation. But he observed, "There is no text in the Bible in which this is truly a problem. Context determines the meaning, and no mom is in any danger of being eaten due to confused punctuation."
Eichenwald also suggests that Scripture does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity, and he criticizes Christians who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality.
Mohler countered that while there is not an isolated proof text that says God is one essence and three persons, "the doctrine of the Trinity [is] drawn from the totality of the New Testament." Regarding homosexuality, Mohler noted that Eichenwald "appears unable to deny ... that Romans 1:27 identifies men lusting after other men as sinful."
Various Christian scholars have countered additional claims of error presented as fact in the Newsweek article. For example, Eichenwald writes that "contradictions abound" between the accounts of Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke.
But Thor Madsen, professor of New Testament, ethics and philosophy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a Dec. 23 BP article, "Matthew's infancy narrative would contradict Luke's only if, in some respect, Matthew says 'A' and Luke says 'not A.' But the two accounts don't differ in that kind of way. What we see, rather, are differences arising from the standards by which Matthew chooses to include information not given by Luke, and vice versa."
Eichenwald names conservative politicians Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal as examples of Christians who apply the Bible incorrectly and hypocritically. Bachmann "should shut up and sit down" if she takes seriously the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:12 that women should "stay silent," Eichenwald writes. He adds, "Every female politician who insists the New Testament is the inerrant word of God needs to resign immediately or admit she is a hypocrite."
Mohler countered that Eichenwald "seems to believe that the teachings about women teaching and leading in 1 Timothy would apply to a woman in political office, failing to read that the text is clearly speaking of order within the Christian assembly."
Steve Lemke, provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told BP in written comments that Eichenwald "grossly mischarcterizes both Christians and the Bible. He primarily cites non-Christian and liberal scholars, so their opinions predictably challenge biblical inerrancy. Eichenwald is not writing in an area of his expertise, and evangelical scholars such as Dan Wallace [of Dallas Theological Seminary] and Al Mohler have already shown that his outrageous claims are devoid of accuracy."
In the end, "this article is likely to do far more damage to Newsweek" than Christianity," Mohler wrote. "Kurt Eichenwald probably has little to lose among his friends at Vanity Fair, but this article is nothing less than an embarrassment. To take advantage of Newsweek's title -- it so misrepresents the truth, it's a sin."