Exegetical malpractice in — of all places — Newsweek

For a religion reporter editor of a major magazine, Lisa Miller of Newsweek can be woefully undereducated about some religion basics. Such as the Old and New Testaments.

The unintentionally hilarious headline of her recent piece is “What the Bible Really Says About Sex.” In it she writes that the Bible is a jumbled mess of patriarchy and contradictions but that it approves of premarital sex and so you should feel free to engage in that. Or something. Anyway, she begins with a basic tale from the Song of Solomon and then informs us that, sit down, it’s from the Song of Solomon IN THE BIBLE. Really:

This ode to sexual consummation can be found in — of all places — the Bible.

In the Bible? Why mercy me! Who knew such things were in the Bible? When did this “Bible” book become available for public consumption? I wonder what other untold shockers are in it. And what do you have to do to gain access to these naughty bits? Miller lets fly with such nuggets of wisdom, available to every single young Christian who has gone through a basic catechism class, a weekend lock-in in the church basement, or, heck, a third-grade Sunday School class on the right week of the church year.

The piece is obviously not going to teach you anything you didn’t know, assuming you’re even mildly familiar with the Bible or even some of the less respected Biblical scholars of recent decades (the ones that claim to know that King David was totally gay and had gay sex with Jonathan). But let me say this much: After her piece on how the Bible loves same-sex marriage was ridiculed all over the place, she at least quoted some people in this piece who disagree with her. It’s sad that this is an improvement, but improvements should be noted. Right up at the top Richard Muow, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, is quoted. But then she goes right back at it:

These battles over the “right” interpretation are, of course, as old as the Bible itself. In today’s culture wars, the Bible–specifically a “one man, one woman” argument from the Book of Genesis–is employed by the Christian right to oppose gay marriage.

If you’re wondering about those old battles for same-sex marriage that are as old as the Bible itself, you won’t find any substantiation in the piece. In fact, you won’t learn how consistently the church has taught regarding the heterosexual basis of marriage. But you will be told that “many” people respond to the idea that sex should be enjoyed solely within marriage by believing the Bible just doesn’t speak for them. How many? Who needs substantiation? This is Newsweek! Instead we learn that the Bible doesn’t have a word to say about “traditional marriage.” Perhaps Newsweek‘s copy of the Bible doesn’t include passages such as this one where Jesus says:

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

I don’t know, maybe the Gospel of Matthew and the words of Jesus are too obscure for a piece on what the Bible “really” says about sex. Anyway, from there she lays out the arguments of two authors of recent books. As mentioned, if you were alive in the 1980, 1990s or thereabouts, you’re probably familiar with many of these arguments: The Bible is an ancient text, inapplicable in its particulars to the modern world. It’s patriarchal. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing at all to do with homosexuality. Some of it goes into territory that would get much higher marks for blasphemy than exegesis, such as one author’s assertion that Jesus had sex with the woman who washes his feet in the Gospel of Luke. The passage about Sodom and Gomorrah even explains that back “in the biblical world” people actually believed in angels? Can you imagine what silly people these folks were?

The piece ends with a quote from “eminent Bible historian” Elaine Pagels, as you probably could have predicted if I’d asked you “Guess who is quoted in the final paragraph of this piece.” But before that, we get this quote that is included in the piece without any obvious irony:

A person alone on her couch with Scripture can also come to some dangerous conclusions: the Bible has, at certain times in history, been read to support slavery, wife-beating, kidnapping, child abuse, racism, and polygamy. That’s why Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, that citadel of Christian conservatism, concludes that one’s Bible reading must be overseen by the proper authorities. Just because everyone should read the Bible “doesn’t mean that everyone’s equally qualified to read it, and it doesn’t mean that the text is just to be used as a mirror for ourselves,” he says. “All kinds of heresies come from people who read the Bible and recklessly believe that they’ve understood it correctly.”

For his part, Mohler says that’s not what he said. He said his point was not that the church needs authorities to oversee Bible reading but that “just any interpretation of the Bible will not do. The authority in this issue is that of the Bible itself. Those who read it as bearing the very authority of God will read the Bible quite differently than those who see it as a human book conditioned and warped by human frailty and fallibility.”

Quoting more than one side is a start, but you want to make sure you actually understand and accurately reflect what they’re saying. Call it journalism 101. And while this piece is also better than that abominable previous example of exegetical malpractice (which is saying nothing, really), it fails to inform readers about the topic at hand.

In presenting the arguments from two recent books, Miller inaccurately presents the arguments as new. The piece (which attempts to expose contradictions in the Bible) also has too many contradictions and curiosities that are left unexplained. Is the Bible wrong or is it just the interpretations that are wrong? And if the Bible is an ancient, patriarchal, awful text, why are we arguing that it embraces gay sex, premarital sex, etc? And why are we saying that’s a good thing if, again, the Bible is this awful, patriarchal mess of incohesion?

I bet the authors actually have a response to these questions. Perhaps it would be better, when attempting to take down traditional Biblical arguments regarding sex and marriage, if we could get a reporter who would ask a few meatier questions. It would do everyone a service. It’s like in the Newsweek piece when there’s this big “gotcha” moment of learning that in the Old Testament, divorce is permitted. But in the New Testament, Jesus frowns on it. I get that this is news, sadly, to Lisa Miller and the other folks at Newsweek. But obviously this isn’t a gotcha moment to anyone who’s been Biblically literate in the last 2000 years. Either way, it’s presented as a contradiction. Many brilliant academics have written on just this topic and “contradiction” is not really scratching the surface of what they have to say about it. It’s not even scratching the surface of what the least interested or educated 8th-grader in my catechism class would have had to say about it.

I get that these national “news” weeklies have to dumb down stuff for a general audience, but I even the average student could handle a ton more complexity and scholarship than this piece offered. But if you were hoping to learn anything about what the Bible has to say about sex or marriage, this piece wouldn’t even rank on an extremely long list of things you should read. It doesn’t just do a poor job of explaining what the Christian church teaches and has taught on these matters so much as just not even address the question in any meaningful way. What the Bible “really” has to say about sex would make for a great article. This article doesn’t even come close. That it comes from the magazine’s religion editor, of all people, is a sad statement for Newsweek and the product they’re failing to push.

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  • http://www.redletterbelievers.com David Rupert

    It’s sad when commentators, writers and politicians cherry pick passages out of the Bible. But then again, so do I.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Actually, without a teaching authority (Catholics call the “Magisterium”) guided by the living Holy Spirit, there is no reason to believe Lisa Miller of Newsweek is any more in error interpreting the Bible than Albert Mohler president
    of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary or media darling Elaine Pagels.
    Rarely brought up in articles of this type in the media is the issue of whether the Truths in any book–even the Bible–can be properly understood by only diligently parsing its grammar and vocabulary on the scholarly level devoid of personally living those Truths.

  • texag_98

    That article was wretched. What’s worse is that Newsweek didn’t even fact check the supposed portions of Song of Solomon. How hard is it to call up biblegateway and check the quote? Her beginning story doesn’t actually exist or at least it doesn’t exist in that form. Some of the comments called her on that aspect of the article.

    The idea of sex in the bible that the author in question is perpetuating is like a couple of 15 year old boys laughing in the back of the classroom because the teacher said something that could be twisted into an innuendo. You know, Beavis and Butthead, were not the greatest of thinkers and I really wish people wouldn’t emulate them when trying to read the Bible. I wish I had never read works by similar academics, they ruin completely innocent actions and sayings.

    Of course, I can’t believe Miller was dumb enough to attribute a quote about needing authorities to oversee Bible Readings with a Baptist. Seriously, a Baptist? I thought anybody with a passing familiarity with denominations in America would know Baptists are big on personal reading and interpretation.

  • Jerry

    Rarely brought up in articles of this type in the media is the issue of whether the Truths in any book—even the Bible—can be properly understood by only diligently parsing its grammar and vocabulary on the scholarly level devoid of personally living those Truths.

    I was going to write something snarky, but the truth behind these words of Deacon Bresnahan’s struck me strongly.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Newsweek is really going downhill.

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.com/ Randy

    The press typically assumes a magisterium of scholarship. That is the people with degrees and tenure at the best universities are the ones who get to interpret. Of course, almost all Christians reject that. Catholics and Orthodox have a coherent way of defining who does interpret. Namely the bishops and for Catholics the pope also plays a role. Protestants have interpreters they like as well. But they have to be respected in the relevant tradition. It is quite a bit fuzzier. Mohler would be respected by many of them. But they don’t have a good self-understanding of how interpretative differences get resolved. If you ask them they will just say the bible says so.

  • Martha

    I didn’t need either Lisa Miller to tell me that “A person alone on her couch with Scripture can also come to some dangerous conclusions: the Bible has, at certain times in history, been read to support slavery, wife-beating, kidnapping, child abuse, racism, and polygamy.”, I learned that years back from reading G. K. Chesterton in his “Father Brown” story, “The Sign of the Broken Sword”:

    ““Sir Arthur St. Clare, as I have already said, was a man who read his Bible. That was what was the matter with him. When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible unless he also reads everybody else’s Bible? A printer reads a Bible for misprints. A Mormon reads his Bible, and finds polygamy; a Christian Scientist reads his, and finds we have no arms and legs. St. Clare was an old Anglo-Indian Protestant soldier. Now, just think what that might mean; and, for Heaven’s sake, don’t cant about it. It might mean a man physically formidable living under a tropic sun in an Oriental society, and soaking himself without sense or guidance in an Oriental Book. Of course, he read the Old Testament rather than the New. Of course, he found in the Old Testament anything that he wanted — lust, tyranny, treason. Oh, I dare say he was honest, as you call it. But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?”

    If something like this was written back in 1911, I’m afraid “Newsweek” is a little bit behind the times with its “Bible is shocking!” exposé :-)

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    This was my reaction at The God Blog:

    The religion scholar Stephen Prothero had a tweet this past week that caught my eye: “Turns out the Bible isn’t against premarital sex and gay marriage after all. Great Newsweek piece by Lisa Miller.”

    I’m not sure what I was more surprised to read: that the Bible doesn’t speak against premarital sex and gay marriage or that Lisa Miller wrote a great article. Both would be pretty serious news.

    Not to pick on Lisa Miller, but, seriously, she’s on a crusade.

  • Passing By

    I was getting ready to say something about the Baptist principle of Soul Competency, then I found this discussion, and then a direct comparison under the rubric “There are two different visions of Baptist life and the Baptist faith.” That statement is attributed to Al Mohler.

    All of which is to say that even within the over-simplications Miller indulges it’s easy to over-simplify and miss some very interesting complexities.

  • tim

    she also forgot about Abraham’s second wife Keturah. but then so does almost everybody else.

  • Hector

    Re: Protestants have interpreters they like as well. But they have to be respected in the relevant tradition.

    I don’t disagree with you at all, and I think that we need to turn to tradition, reason and experience to guide us as well as to Scripture. That being said, quite a number of interpreters (including the head of my church, Rowan Williams, who is a bishop ordained in the apostolic succession) have argued that the traditional and orthodox understanding of sexuality need to be appraised, and that premarital sex and gay sex aren’t necessarily wrong (though they may of course be wrong in a particular case). I agree with him. A great number of Christians- Lutherans, Anglicans, and laypeople within a number of churches that officially oppose homosexuality- no longer agree with the traditional consensus against homosexuality. Their thoughts deserve to be taken into account as well.

    Re: In fact, you won’t learn how consistently the church has taught regarding the heterosexual basis of marriage

    ‘The church’, if you mean the Catholic and Orthodox church, has changed its teachings in the past, about sex as well as about other things. Most of the Catholic/Orthodox church fathers in the first few centuries opposed any sexual relations not undertaken with the purpose of procreation, and would have been critical even of natural family planning, and most of them (with one or two exceptions) also opposed remarriage after divorce under all circumstances. The Orthodox church has changed its position on both of those question (albeit that they see remarriage as a lesser evil and a concession to sin, not something positively good), and the Catholic church has changed at least to the extent of supporting natural family planning.

    Outside of traditional orthodoxy, of course, there’s quite a range of views in what Christians held about sexuality. Many of the medieval heresies held fairly liberal views of sex outside marriage- in Spain under the Inquisition that was the most common ‘heresy’ that people were brought to trial for. (They were drawing on older ideas, of course; most medieval and modern ideas had precedent in one or another of the early heresies). One of the commenters on Rod Dreher’s old blog once brought up something called ‘Gaelic marriages’, which were sort of a trial period before the real marriage and could be dissolved within the first year.

    As for the founder of your church, Mollie, remember that he went on record arguing that polygamy, though unadvisable, was not explicitly forbidden (it’s in his letter to the Landgrave of Hesse).

    http://books.google.com/books?id=a_xAAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA373&lpg=PA373&dq=luther+polygamy+landgrave+hesse&source=bl&ots=rmCQIHGQG7&sig=q4oKOpG9uInw3g7yKo9PaI0kQXo&hl=en&ei=ihRbTbbuIsH58Aan8pTsDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CDgQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=luther%20polygamy%20landgrave%20hesse&f=false

    There’s a good case to be made that whatever Paul might have said about gay and/or premarital relationships, Jesus didn’t talk about them at all, and that neither natural law nor the teaching of Jesus give us good ground to believe they’re always wrong. It’s also true, unfortunately, that Miss Miller isn’t really making that case very well.

    If you’re going to dissent from traditional orthodoxy (which anyone who supports birth control, and remarriage even under limited circumstances has already done), then you’ve already conceded that Rome and Constantinople can be wrong, and if that’s the case then it seems likely they’re wrong about gay and/or premarital sex as well. In this sense, the Roman Catholics are a lot more consistent than Rev. Mohler.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    I have to wonder, is Lisa Miller really an idiot, or does she just write what her audiences wishes was true? This peice reminds me of a class I took long ago. One of my classmates, who smoked a lot of pot, saw the right to grow and smoke pot in every third line of the Constitution because George Washington grew hemp on his plantation.

    I suppose I am the general reader Newsweek targets but I stopped reading Newsweek years ago because I didn’t feel like they were a trustworthy source of information.

  • Bram

    Newsweek is a Jack Chick comic for liberal fundamentalists.

  • http://stehmanchurch.wordpress.com helena

    Thanks, Mollie, for parsing Miller–I’m a second-career pastor whose first career was (still is, part time) journalism, and I’m consistently appalled by Miller’s lack of knowledge of her beat. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand the subject of Christianity, just as I didn’t have to be a Republican or a Democrat to cover politics.
    Miller and the authors she’s writing about seem to have confused the DEScriptive passages of the Bible with the PREScriptive passages. Just because Lot offered his daughters to the mob in Sodom doesn’t mean God approved of it. Just because polygamy was practiced in Israel doesn’t mean God planned it that way (see Matthew 19).
    And the assertion that Song of Solomon is a paean to unmarried sex would come as a shock to anyone who’s read the book and noticed that the lovers get married.

  • Hector

    Re: And the assertion that Song of Solomon is a paean to unmarried sex would come as a shock to anyone who’s read the book and noticed that the lovers get married.

    Not till midway through the book, though.

  • http://stehmanchurch.wordpress.com helena

    Evangelical scholars I’ve read describe the sequence as the lovers longing for each other until the consummation of the marriage.
    Great book on the whole topic of sexuality in the OT: Flame of Yahweh, Richard Davidson.

  • http://aleksandreia.wordpress.com Hector

    Helena,

    I confess I’ve never devoted a lot of time to exegesis of the Song of Songs (though I love the poetry of it, and the Marian typology). But a quick google search indicates that the Oxford Bible Commentary, among others, disagrees with you and thinks it’s about unmarried lovers. Of course, all that doesn’t prove much one way or the other, just that it isn’t really a clear sequence. What is clear to me is that the Song of Songs (in the literal sense) is about romantic love, more than about marriage per se. We need to ask ourselves whether the goods that romantic and erotic love involves within marriage, can also be achieved (to a greater or less extent) by people in unmarried (gay or straight) relationships.

  • http://aleksandreia.wordpress.com Hector

    More generally: I think it may make sense to condemn premarital sex and homosexuality _if_ you think that sex needs to be naturally ordered towards procreation, and that contraception is always wrong. In the absence of contraception, sex can carry the risk of pregnancy, and marriage is a good way of ensuring the children are taken care of, while homosexuality obviously can’t be oriented towards procreation and is contraceptive by its very nature. That said, if you are going to accept the legitimacy of contraception, then it only makes sense to relax the prohibitions against gay sex and premarital sex as well. Neither of them makes sense without the other. I respect the RC position that all three of them are wrong, though I don’t agree with it.

    So do you think contraception is always wrong?

  • John Pack Lambert

    … The resounding call from Sinai “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultry” is where we have law being given. Jesus goes further and condemnes looking at a woman to lust after her.

    The basic problem is that the Bible is not just a text setting forth God’s law. It also contains sections that show how God interacted with people, but just because the Bible reports a behavior in no way means it is advocating it.

    In the case of the Song of Solomon many will argue it should be read as a symbolic, metaphoric, mystical text. If you are going to try and discount the plain translation of Jesus endorsing a man marrying a woman, and multiple New Testament condemnations of homosexual behavior, why must we go against the symbolic reading of the text the one place it is the most common?

  • Passing By

    A fair amount of the bible is best illustrated by this quaint wisdom. Which is to say: if the Old Testament describes fornication, polygamy, and the like, a sinking ship (so to speak) is often part of the story. Yes, Abraham had multiple sexual relationships, as did his son Isacc; David and Solomon were, as they say today, rowdy dogs. So treating things in scripture as permissive or illustrative of truth or some such business is exegesis of the most juvenile type.

    Sort of like what Lisa Miller is selling.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Friends, let’s remember to stay focused on discussing the journalism of the piece. Thanks.

  • http://www.faithandgeekery.com Justin

    There does seem to be a continuing theme in all of these stories: a) Everyone’s got it wrong for over 2000 years, and b) David and Jonathan were lovers. The former is just arrogant, the latter seems to be symptom of our intimacy-phobic society. Personally I think a response from Mohler or Mouw on these assertions would make a far more interesting article.

    What would make a more complete article would be to mention that Knuth relies on the gnostic Gospel of Phillip to boost her case (as her CNN Religion Blog post mentioned the other day). There’s a whole other story in there, but it would wreck the headline.

  • Ron

    I still can’t get over the fact that Stephen Prothero thought this was a “great article.” I’ve been wondering whether or not to read God is Not One. Now, I think I’ll give it a miss.

  • http://www.progressiveinvolvement.com John Petty

    What is your real gripe with the Miller article? That it didn’t defend so-called “traditional marriage”?

    Rather than employ snark-after-snark in criticizing the piece, you might have made that defense yourself.

    The Genesis text doesn’t use the word “marriage,” incidentally, and I know very few men who leave their own parents to go live with their wife’s parents.

  • http://watersblogged.blogspot.com Rev. Robert Waters

    Well, no, Deacon Brennan. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of clearly expressing Himself in His own inspired Scripture without the necessity of either Lisa Miller or the Magisterium telling Him what He really means.

    What the Scriptures have to say on the subject of human sexuality- as is the case on all other matters of dogma and ethics- is clearly available in the natural meaning of the text. What is too seldom discussed is why the effort is so often made to seek it elsewhere.

  • Michael

    I agree that Lisa Miller is on a largely uninformed crusade, and she has a history of painting with broad strokes that ignore any nuances that don’t support her own personal biases and theories…

    However, doing the same to her in return does no one any favors. Sure, Miller’s piece is poor journalism, it’s obtuse, and it will only appeal to those who already agree with her, or who are looking for someone to support their own opinions on the issue of sex.

    This response is equally poor, equally obtuse, and will only appeal to those who already agree, or who are looking for someone to support their own opinions on the issue of sex and/or Lisa Miller.

    When accusing someone of exegetical malpractice (in a secular publication), one better bring some exegetical accuracy to the table. I see very little of that here. Instead, I see snark, sarcasm, cheap shots and poor grammar. In–of all places–a CHRISTIAN blog.

    If you’re going to take aim at an easy target, please do so with grace and originality. I don’t disagree with your point that Lisa Miller is wrong and willfully ignorant. But I do disagree with your tactics.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Michael,
    We’re neither a Christian blog nor an exegetical blog but, rather, a journalism blog. But thank you for your comments.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Here is a link to Mohler’s response to this article. http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/02/09/what-the-bible-really-says-about-sex-really/

    I think his clear differentiation of the two authors is good. His point that the arguments are internally inconsistent is also one that does not get sounded enough. Either you reject the Bible as conditioned by the time of its writers, and having no normative authority, or you accept it as a normative work.

    I would say Mohler does not point out a bigger problem for the liberal Protestants who attempt to reject the Bible’s normative authority. Why is it that its normative authority on sexual issues is no more, but its normative authority when it can be used to advance their intentions and goals is good? If the Bible can be reduced to having no normative authority on some things, why should it have normative authority on anything?

    Considering there have been those who took the passage “to the pure all things are pure” to justify adultry and beyond, this is hardly a new set of actions.

  • Michael

    My mistake, Mollie–though, I hope you can understand why I might make that assumption.

    Regardless, you DO accuse Lisa Miller of exegetical malpractice, so Christian/exegetical blog or not, you have a bit of a responsibility to back up that claim with substance.

    Also, while I strongly disagree with points made in Miller’s article, you mischaractarize the article as all Miller’s opinion, when in fact she’s primarily reporting the opinion of actual Biblical scholars. As the religion reporter for a secular publication, she seems to be doing her job.

    Much (all?) of what you take issue with in this post is in reaction to the opinions of those scholars (Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan), yet you make no mention of either of them.

    In claiming “I bet the authors actually have responses to these questions,” you are actually accusing Miller of poor reporting, which has some merit… except you don’t back up that accusation either. Do the authors have responses to those questions? If so, what are they? Or does Miller accurately portray their opinions?

    (And–just a typo–it’s Richard Mouw, not Muow).

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Rev. Waters. If the Holy Spirit is clearly expressing Himself in the Bible without need of interpretation, explanation, or guidance–then why do media people like Lisa Miller, and the head of a Baptist seminary, and a scholar such as Elaine Pagels (and 40,000 Christian denominations world-wide) have so many varying and
    frequently opposite understandings of what is in the Bible.
    And the Catholic Magisterium is not telling Him what He really means, but is proclaiming through the illumination provided by Tradition and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit what the Church understands to be the Truths in the Bible.
    But as one commenter here said the media has its own Magisterium of the scholars. But for the most part they spurn Tradition which is so important to the Faith of Orthodox and Catholic Christians in interpreting and understanding the Bible.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    I have to point out that in 1911 Mormons had stopped entering and accepting new polygamous marriages. Due to a belief in the sacred nature of marriage, the fact that covenants of marriage were entered into solemly before God, and a general view that the anti-polygamy crusade was punishing men for acknowledging their wives while treating as upstanding citizens men who kept mistresses or occasionally frequented houses of ill repute, there were still many Mormons practicing polygamy in the sense of a man living with multiple wives.

  • Robert Fisher

    Oops. I meant ‘considered “legitimate” if …’.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Folks,

    This is not the place to advocate for one’s views on sexuality but, rather, for a discussion of the journalism issues at play here. Keep focused on journalism. Thanks.

  • MJBubba

    Mollie, regarding whether GetReligion is a Christian blog, it is easy to see how a casual reader might get that impression. All of the current contributors are Christian, and the viewpoint comes across. Which, I appreciate, since so much of the mass media seems to want to preach universalism and agnosticism at us, to the extent of being deliberately ignorant of Christian teachings. Thanks again to all the GetReligionistas for the good work you do.

  • MJBubba

    I had read the Newsweek article several days ago, and had wondered if anyone at GetReligion would post on it. I did not submit it myself, since I recall that you had previously, after much exasperation, dismissed Newsweek as being what they finally admitted: only an opinion journal. Since the article is a book review in an opinion journal, it does not fit the standard model of media news that is the core of the stated mission at GetReligion. However, I look at the default page for Google News at least once most days, and this article had a link there in the “Spotlight” box for nearly a week. So, it appears to me that Google News was strongly endorsing this article. That makes it suitable GetReligion fodder as far as I am concerned. Thanks for reviewing it.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Trust me, folks, MZ would never knock an article for quoting scholars. Her criticism is that the selection of the scholars quoted is — surprise, surprise — leaning way over backward in the direction of Miller’s chosen thesis.

    Again, journalism. Is Newsweek an advocacy magazine or not? We are all watching, especially if NewsBeast has also hired journalists with the excellence of, oh, Peter Boyer.

  • http://watersblogged.blogspot.com Rev. Bob Waters

    Deacon Brennan,

    That’s avery old argument, and never a very convincing one. The reason for the multiplicity of interpretations is that, precisely like the Catholic magisterium (which is merely one more interpreter among all the others) people don’t read the text on its own terms, but in personal and institutional agendas which are allowed to color and influence those interpretations. The Catholic church’s institutional claim to authority is a case in point. Lisa Miller’s animus against Christianity and, specifically, traditional Christian sexual ethics is another.

    People differ in their interpretation of Scripture because they don’t allow Scripture to speak. To blame Scripture- and by inference the Holy Spirit Who inspired it- is a very convenient tactic for evading His authority, whether it’s Lisa Miller or an institutional magesterium which is the culprit.

    There are different interpretations, not because of some deficiency in Sacred Scripture, but because interpreters have both conscious and unconscious agendas of their own.

    Nor can I allow you to claim tradition as somehow an illuminator of Scripture which is unique to Catholic or Orthodox traditions. Only a fool would fail to consult the wisdom of the ages before interpreting any text concerning which that wisdom is available. The question is whether it is tradition or the words themselves that have the final say.

    Indeed, I trust that you are well enough informed about the Magisterial (excuse the expression) Reformation to know that the Fathers and the history of Christian biblical interpretation carry great authority for most Protestants, as well. Sola Scriptura (the frequent Catholic caricature to the contrary) does not mean that there is no source of authority other than Scripture, and never has: it simply means that there is no source of authority which in the same sense or degree. The words of Christ and the Prophets and the Apostles trump all interpretation; all the sola Scriptura means is that the words themselves- the words of Christ and the Apostles and the Prophets- take precedence over all attempts to impose other agendas upon them, be they institutional or ideological.

    The question remains: when tradition has had its say, why would any honest interpreter a text not regard the native sense of the words as the final authority as to their meaning- especially where a conflict exists between the native sense of their words and, say, Tradition?

    One final point. Despite our disagreement as to the relative authority of Scripture and institution, we do share a great deal in common precisely because we share both Scripture and the Fathers- and, for the most part, two thousand years of a tradition of sexual ethics which it is the agenda of Ms. Miller and a great many others these days to overthrow.

    The issue here is precisely that the secularist Left has its own “magisterium,” with its own agenda. Better to let the words speak for themselves.

    And with that, Mollie, by all means let’s return to the question of journalism. Deacon Brennan and I both need to remember that it is not the purpose of this thread to re-fight the Reformation, but to deal with the irresponsible way in which secular journalists like Ms. Miller often handle the sacred texts we hold in common.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The issues Rev. Waters and I (Deacon BRESNAHAN) have been
    discussing are very relevant to the media scene because the media promotes looking on university scholars as the last word in what the Bible says and means. Yet if anyone takes the time to look at the jealousies, ambitions, rivalries, book promotions, sometimes total incompetence, and preference for radically new ideas that infects the academic world (virtually its own culture), it is absurd the way the media constantly runs to a Elaine Pagels, for example, to look to for correct Biblical understanding.
    Very, very rarely do I see bishops (the official teachers of the Church in the Orthodox-Catholic Tradition) or pastors from Protestant churches quoted for their interpretation or understanding of what is in the Bible. Constantly featured and spotlighted as the fount of all wisdom by the media are usually the radical “scholars” who agree with the radical attacks on traditional Christian morality or doctrine.

  • Bern

    LM’s pieces certainly advocate her own positions and invoke a lot of debate and blog activity (like here!) Maybe that’s the point: Newsweek admits it’s a journal of opinion; opinions like LM’s get a lot of folk worked up, linking to the article, so NW can charge more for advertising there.

    Have said lately it’s about the eyeballs line?

    Yes, she should be embarassed as should Newsweek to be so obtuse about what she’s supposed to be writing about, but that hasn’t stopped any number of commentators on any number of subjects, particularly in the last 20 years or so.

    A minor nit for Mollie:

    But obviously this isn’t a gotcha moment to anyone who’s been Biblically literate in the last 2000 years.

    Which 2000 years? The books of the Hebrew bible–including the Song of Solomong–go back a bit farther than that.

  • Phrank

    I don’t know why this never shows up in debates about the Bible and homosexuality, but Paul makes it crystal clear in Romans 1:21- end of the chapter. Why is this passage never, ever referenced? Instead, everyone seems to suggest that the New Testament is silent on the issue. It is not.

  • http://watersblogged.blogspot.com Rev. Robert Waters

    My apologies to Deacon Breshnahan- both as one Christian to another, and as one Irishman to another- for misspeling his name.

    I completely agree with you here, Deacon Beshnahan. Where Catholic theologians are quoted by the popular media, it is almost always Richard McBrien or John Dominic Crossan or some such less-than-orthodox example. And where Lutherans are quoted, it’s generally some equally marginal ELCA type.

    The representatives of the historic Christian mainstream are simply ignored, regardless of denomination


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