We are losing our consciousness of the Bible

David Brooks flubbed the Bible, and his June 13 column for the New York Times now bears this correction:

An earlier version of this column incorrectly identified the biblical texts in which three figures — Saul, David and Esther — appear. Their stories are told in other books of the Jewish Bible, but not in the Torah. The column also incorrectly described a passage from I Corinthians that ends with the statement, “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” It was written by Paul, not spoken by Jesus.

Alas, it’s actually worse. Not only was Paul’s line misattributed to Jesus, but the column also failed to identify in which of the two Corinthian letters Jesus wasn’t speaking — while simultaneously changing the audience for the misattributed line: “In Corinthians,” the column originally said, “Jesus tells the crowds. . . .” No, manifestly, he didn’t.

And, even worse still, Brooks flubbed the Bible while addressing the ebb of religion in society.

Now — hear me — this isn’t to beat up on Brooks. I make more mistakes in a week than Brooks does in year and tempt fate by even pointing to another man’s sins. Yet the story is cautionary on about fourteen levels. Most of those we all know and don’t need to rehearse. But we do need to underscore the point made by Commonweal blogger Michael Peppard.

Brooks’ error was embarrassing, yes. But the more troubling fault is that it went unflagged by the Times fact checkers. “[M]ultiple people,” says Peppard, “read over this sentence, and not one of them stopped the error. What that reveals is profound: the staff at the Times is not as secular as we think they are. They are even more secular than we think they are.”

Imagine, says Peppard, if they let slip “Columbus’s voyage on the Mayflower” or “Malcolm X’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.” Such an error would say that the facts of basic American history are unknown. To let Jesus’ imaginary address to the Corinthians go by betrays a sad reality — the basic facts of the Bible, the font from which so much of our culture flows, are increasingly unknown.

We capped the well and find ourselves parched.

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • Steven Odom

    I think with the NYT it’s more a case of “Oh well, it’s just a bible quote. What does it matter. They’re all the same kind of stuff.”

    • Joel J. Miller

      That’s possible, but I think the point still holds. How many Times readers didn’t even realize there was an error until it was pointed out?

      • Steven Odom

        Myriads upon myriads, to use a term you’ll be familiar with!

  • Ray McCalla

    David Brooks is Jewish, so he might be forgiven for not knowing the New Testament very well. However, any time someone writes something s/he needs to do his/her homework.

    • Joel J. Miller

      But presumably the Times’ fact-checkers can tell the difference between two of the most important figures in western history.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/loveisanorientation Andrew Marin

    Well, from what the Times has allowed people to write about me and my org in the past I have to concur that they are definitely not what I would call “pro-Christian” or even anywhere close to being vaguely knowledgable about the Bible.