the Newsweek Christmas rant on the Bible: naive, over-the-top–and basically right

the Newsweek Christmas rant on the Bible: naive, over-the-top–and basically right January 7, 2015

Kurt Eichenwald’s Christmas missive in Newsweek, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s A Sin,” has predictably gotten it’s share of strong reactions.

As others have pointed out, Eichenwald’s rhetoric is inflammatory, and his grasp of the issues is second-hand–at points rather naive, at least from the point of view of those who have been around the block a few times on the issues he raises, and especially those who work with the Bible for a living.

But he’s still basically right.

Even though Eichenwald would probably benefit by availing himself of some conversation partners in Bible, theology, and church history, his main point holds, if only in principle:

  • Politicians, adopting the rhetoric of their fundamentalist Christian constituencies, claim to revere the Bible but are clearly unaware of what it says, what it doesn’t say, or of the insights of those who study it seriously.

Why is Eichenwald so animated?

When the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists leads parents to banish children from their homes, when it sets neighbor against neighbor, when it engenders hate and condemnation, when it impedes science and undermines intellectual advancement, the topic has become too important for Americans to ignore, whether they are deeply devout or tepidly faithful, believers or atheists.

You or I may be able to go through each of Eichenwald’s list of Bible problems or early church embarrassments and offer a reasonable counterpoint, correct an overstatement, or provide some needed nuance–and every other paragraph I wished I could sit down with him and say, “Dude, seriously, we know all this; here is where the conversation is. You’re welcome to join whenever you’re ready.”

But reading the article from that point of view misses what Eichenwald is trying to do.

Despite appearances, Eichenwald isn’t attacking the Bible. He is attacking Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, Pat Robertson, and Bob Jindal. Eichenwald makes that perfectly clear in the opening paragraph, and in the last several pages where he has these politicians directly in his sights.

The Bible of these fundamentalists is really a Bible of their own creation, one that is already freighted with theo-poliitcal baggage. That is what Eichenwald intends to expose.

Most of the article looks like an attack on the Bible, but in fact it is only a rehearsal of what can be found in decent introductory books on the Bible.

Yes, Eichenwald overstates here and there; yes, he seems at times to be largely unaware that there is a world of scholarship out there that knows these same problems he points out, doesn’t avoid the issues, but looks at them from a larger perceptive.

It is completely obvious to me, however, that Eichenwald has a strategy in his article, one that reminds me of Spinoza’s 1670 Theological-Political Treatise.

There, anticipating some elements of modern biblical criticism, Spinoza famously undermines traditional views of the Bible for the purpose of undermining ecclesiastical authority over the state.

By deconstructing the Bible, Spinoza pulled the rug out from under the the tyranny of mixing politics and religion (to use the modern idiom).

Eichenwald’s article is no Theological-Political Treatise, but the vibe is similar.

He spends most of the article alerting the politicians of our day that the Bible is not what they claim it to be–and they are inconsistent and naive in how they handle it. They are, as Eichenwald says, “Biblically illiterate” both in terms of what the Bible actually says and what modern scholarship has shown to be case.

This is why Eichenwald covers several well-known topics–they may be well-known to most, but apparently biblicistic-literalist politicians need a course in BIB 101. He wants to undermine politics, not religion.

It may not be a surprise for most to see that the Bible we have is a product of transmission over a long period time that led to additions, like the “woman caught in adultery” in beginning at John 7:53. The Bible as a whole–both testaments–developed, changed, morphed, evolved over time; that’s how the Bible came to be from the very beginning.

You and I may know that, but if you’re trying to pull the rug out from under a Rick Perry prayer rally to 30,000 people, it’s something worth bringing up.

It may not shock most seasoned Bible students to hear that translations never get the originals right, that translation is a form of interpretation–even to the point of deliberately sanitizing troubling parts or creatively “clarifying” ambiguities by adding words that aren’t there. Welcome to the world of translating ancient languages into modern idioms.

You and I may know that, but a modern-day Spinoza wanting to squash Michele Bachmann’s biblical support for her views on same-sex marriage will want to bring this front and center. And he may also–and Eichenwald does–point out how inconsistent these fundamentalist politicians are in appealing the Bible as a moral standard.

It may not trouble everyone to hear of the political shenanigans, and violence, of the early church in their disputes over matters of theology, but if you’re dealing with a Sarah Palin or Pat Robertson who think the Bible was handed down from on high more or less as is, you’re going to highlight this with rhetorical overstatement and flare.

Theological contradictions and diverse theologies on the part of biblical authors may not cause you to lose sleep, but pointing them out sure comes in handy when politicians claim to be following the “clear” teachings of the Bible.

There is a lot in the article I could pick on, like mistakes Eichenwald makes (e.g., 1 Timothy does not prohibit women from ForTheBibleTellsMeSopositions in secular leadership, adding things to sacred texts isn’t a shocker but as old as the Bible itself).

But I don’t disagree with what Eichenwald is trying to do in principle, as he summarizes at the end of the article.

If Christians truly want to treat the New Testament as the foundation of the religion, they have to know it. Too many of them seem to read John Grisham novels with greater care than they apply to the book they consider to be the most important document in the world.

Yes.

But 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. 

Yes.

The Bible is a very human book. It was written, assembled, copied and translated by people. That explains the flaws, the contradictions, and the theological disagreements in its pages. Once that is understood, it is possible to find out which parts of the Bible were not in the earliest Greek manuscripts, which are the bad translations, and what one book says in comparison to another, and then try to discern the message for yourself.

I might say it differently–and in fact I did, and do several times a week on this blog. But the very fact that Newsweek can pick up a story like this about the Bible tells us more about the frustratingly inept manner in which some public Christians sell the Bible–and the Christian faith–short. 

Christians should be at the forefront of correcting the kind of Biblical illiteracy Eichenwald exposes. If we did, we wouldn’t need Newsweek to do it for us.


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  • CanIbeFrank

    Yes! Exactly. Lots of people are reacting to the caricature that Eichenwald presented of evangelicals, but the main point really was how too many Christians have no idea what the Bible actually says, and even what exactly the thing we call “the Bible” is and how it came to be. I’ll add that rarely if ever are nuances and inconsistencies discussed in a church setting. We teach our children the fact of Noah’s ark, Jonah being swallowed by a whale and so on. We tell them God created man (Adam) and that Eve came from his rib. Then, when confronted with what science tells us, we shush people and/or call them heretics and apostates if they even so much as question if what we’ve learned via science and what we read in the Bible can co-exist. And we condemn gay people to hell and push them from our families, all in the name of a loving God.

    Thank you, Peter, for a great response to the Newsweek article.

  • gapaul

    Small point perhaps, but one of his ideas others assume: The Bible has been translated so many times we don’t know what we’re reading. (This is around the time he calls the King James the Gold Standard. Whoops.) People think this means we’ve got no idea what ancient writers were trying to say, a claim that wouldn’t be taken seriously in a conversation about the Iliad. We have multiple manuscripts, and while they differ — its pretty clear the writers didn’t mean to tell us about fairies on Mars, amirite? So unfortunately, I think he corrects ignorance while offering a bit more ignorance. I don’t care about Pat Robertson and Sarah Palin, because nobody around me does, but I’d love to read more engagement with those places he does overstate. In my neck of the woods people have mostly concluded the Bible is a worthless old relic already.

  • Dr. Enns, I really enjoyed this post! It happens to match up with much of the reading I’ve been doing lately, in philosophy, theology, sociology, and a tiny bit of politics.

    He wants to undermine politics, not religion.

    Have you read Jacques Ellul’s The Subversion of Christianity? It’s about how politics has undermined Christianity time and again, and yet how Christianity keeps being able to come back and critique the status quo. For those who want to know why Christianity seems to sour so easily, it’s a great resource. Another one in this vein is Os Guinness’ The Gravedigger File.

    It may not shock most seasoned Bible students to hear that translations never get the originals right […]

    Have you explored what one might term the ‘brittleness assumption’, that if the tiniest bit is wrong in the Bible, we cannot trust it at all? I’ve read I&I, but not TBTMS. The way I envision this is a TV with one pixel bad: does such corruption prevent me from getting an absolutely clear idea of what the movie is about? It strikes me that if you try and look at the Bible as a unity—a diachronic one, not a synchronic one, and one which contains multiple viewpoints—it’s quite easy to make translation errors not matter for the first several steps of understanding. At some point the details really do start to matter, but we also get more manuscripts, extra-canonical texts, and archaeological data as we move forward to help.

    It strikes me that those who hold onto the ‘brittleness assumption’ in life—whether theology or not—tend to be those who want to game the laws, regulations, statutes, etc. This may be a bit uncharitable: I know some personality types need rules more than others for guidance. However, it does seem like people would prefer to refer to the letter of the law than the spirit of the law, and this seems extremely problematic. It is as if the New Covenant has not actually taken effect!

  • Addie

    You made Rachel Held Evans blog… 🙂

    http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/newsweek-bible

  • Rick

    “Eichenwald overstates here and there; yes, he seems at times to be largely unaware that there is a world of scholarship out there that knows these same problems he points out”

    Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln.

    I have to agree with Dan Wallace’s comment in his review of the article: “Although the author claims that he is not promoting any particular theology, this wears thin. Eichenwald makes so many outrageous claims, based on a rather slender list of named scholars (three, to be exact), that one has to wonder how this ever passed any editorial review.”

    • yaddamaster

      completely agree. 100% agree. There is little of redeeming value in this hit job that Newsweek published. The contents are are well known to even most people of my very fundamentalist congregation. It was a hit job and little more. To pretend that he’s merely attacking political Christianity is I fear a little naive. Besides, I’ll take Sarah Palin’s Christianity any day of Obama’s tepidly claimed fidelity any day. Regardless of whether I agree with her politically or not.

  • Ross

    Yes indeed, Christians should be trying to correct the illiteracy, however I feel there is just this rolling inevitability that those who actually “get it” are in a fairly small minority and like those throughout history who “got it”, will be stoned, crucified or otherwise looked down on by the Pharisees/Inquisition/Evangelicals. (Though that may be a result of my pessimistic Scottish heritage). Please cheer me up if I am in error and there is enough evidence that more humble and thoughtful Christians are in ascendency.

    Having faith in God and following him should be our goal and possibly knocking the bible off its pedestal to be replaced by Him may be necessary, however I think the defensive sociological nature of the “biblicists” is far too ingrained to actually listen to and learn from reasonable correctives/criticism, as it has become their essential “raison d’être”.

  • Honestly Dr Enns, I’m astounded at this post. Mr Eichenwald’s article for Newsweek attacks the Bible on poor grounding and paints a picture evangelicals (even though this is more likely fundamentalists) that is neither charitable nor accurate.

    Though I understand the aspect of critique that you mention in that first bullet point from Mr Eichenwald’s piece, the larger picture of his article is unacceptable for any scholar to affirm or credible news source to print. Drs Kruger and Wallace have, separately, articulated robust and cogent objections to the piece that I need not pass on here.

    Perhaps my point is to express disappointment at this post Dr Enns and the ground upon which is built. There is no redeeming value in scholarly circles nor Christian ones for accepting Mr Eichenwald’s piece. Mr Eichenwald is not basically right; if for no other reason than he lacks the ability to credibly articulate any of the objections that he raises he taints the entire project beyond any level of acceptability.

    For a scholar of your reputation to affirm it is difficult to accept, given the heft and vigor of your own scholarship on these issues. I hope you modify your post and position on the piece.

  • Kevin

    Maybe he got it wrong. But he is not the only one that sees or has these issues with the bible and christians. Sadly christians and especially the expert-christians are more willing to attack someone that speaks out against the problems of the bible and it’s readers than they are to address the issues of why people are coming to these conclusions. Maybe the christian community should come together to address and resolve these very real issues for the lowly christian that is not so high and might as to have all the correct theology as the professionals. Maybe the pros need to get together and patch up some of these humongous holes in message before they just go off willy-nilly trying to dream up a catchy new twist on the gospel for their next book, blog-post or sermon.

  • Mark K

    Eichenwald makes good use of the classical and biblically-frequent
    instrument of hyperbole to get readers engaged with his topic. Yes, much
    is over the top and over-generalized, but so is “if your eye causes you
    to sin, tear it out” and “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it
    off.” And yes, his knowledge of textual criticism, transmission,
    translation, and interpretation is pretty shallow, but he still
    effectively calls attention to the far more shallow–or
    non-existent–knowledge of many who so publicly claim to represent the
    Bible.

    My main takeaway: when it comes to comparing our own with others’ understanding of the Bible and faith, be a Mensch.

  • David

    Dr Enns I recall your scathing, tongue in cheek critique of the “Exodus: Gods and Kings–unless you’re a biased blasphemer, the movie is utterly historically plausible” – December 17, 2014 By Peter Enns. I compare it to your critique of this article; by Kurt Eichenwald, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s A Sin,” I do see a level of inconsistency / cherry picking on your part. Your are prepared to be charitable, generous, forgiving and understanding to Mr. Eichenwald even while admitting his “faulty scholarship”, “overstatement”, “over simplification”, “naivety” and “second-hand” grasp of the issues. Your refrain is an amazing “but he is basically right” No such charity is extended in your critique of “Exodus: Gods and Kings”. Instead Ridley Scott was punished with biting sarcasm summed up in your last paragraph: “All these things need to be looked at carefully without rushing to modern biased judgment about what can and can’t happen. Plus those things don’t take anything away from the essential historicity of the movie.”. My point: If you are willing to find some redeeming elements in Eichenwald article, extend the same courtesy to Ridley Scott whether or not he is of your theological ilk.

    Attach

    • AlanCK

      Um, the review of the movie was satire.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Yes, some of his arguments were a little generalizing/exaggerated but by and large his facts were correct. Want to see more errors? Read the plethora of apologetic “response” articles that of course filled the blogosphere before the ink of the Newsweek piece could dry.

    • Rick

      Well, as Ben Witherington writes,
      “ironically he serves up the very same sort of biased interpretations and polemics that he accuses fundamentalists of, not without some justification. And here is where I say fundamentalism is basically a mindset, not a position on the theological spectrum. Believe it or not, there are fundamentalist liberals in our land as well as fundamentalist conservatives…Eichenwald’s article is opinion strong, and news (and facts) weak, precisely what he accuses fundamentalists of.”

      • Andrew Dowling

        Most of his rebuttal centers on the “translation of translation” section that was sloppily written but not a major crux of Eichenwald’s argument anyway. That Witherington claims there aren’t major contradictions between the birth narratives in Luke and Matthew says it all.

        • Rick

          I don’t think the rebuttal “centers” on that, but uses that as a prime example of how “sloppily written” the article was. I don’t think Witherington disagrees with how some misuse the Bible. Rather, he thinks the article built its case on limited resources, thus weakening his case, and misrepresenting the situation. Witherington expects more some such a publication.
          In regards to Luke and Matthew, that it bothers you says a lot. Witherington is stressing the incorrect use of the term “contradiction” (technically speaking, it is not). Witherington is against forced harmonizations, but he is also against overplaying “differences”. Futhermore, and relatedly, he does not see Matthew and Luke as even the same genre, so expects to see some differences.
          It is the “literalist” approach, seen in both fundamentalists, and many on the other side, that Witherington opposes, and had wanted the vast and various non-literalist scholarship to be better represented in the Newsweek article.

  • RJ (TO)

    When I first started reading the Newsweek article I was immediately taken aback by the sneering tone of Eichenwald’s writing, pretty well right from the opening paragraph. I almost stopping reading then and there figuring it was going to be just another hit-piece against Christians by a guy with a chip on his shoulder.

    Curiosity kept me reading though and I soon began to feel that Eichenwald’s intention was actually not to attack the bible or Christians in general, but specific types of Christians. Namely, the frustratingly sanctimonious ones who use the bible as a bludgeon against people and politics they disagree with (or downright hate). We all know these types are out there, in abundance. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council recently insisted—ON CAMERA—that the first amendment was not intended to protect all faiths but his brand of “orthodox” Christian faith only. Yes, he actually said that (although I’m paraphrasing, but not too difficult to look up for yourself). Then we have David Barton, another pious-political phony nevertheless popular with many on the Religious Right (for obvious reasons), who contended that Jesus would most certainly be against the minimum wage (lol!) and pulled several scriptural quotes out to “prove” his point.

    These are the types Eichenwald was targeting specifically, and rightfully, and I think it became more obvious toward the end of the article; I therefore tend to agree with Dr. Enns’ assessment and breakdown of Eichenwald’s piece for the most part. These types need—and deserve—to be called out for their blatant, purposeful misuse of scripture and mind-boggling hypocrisy. I think many people offended by the piece are taking exception more to Eichenwald’s arrogant, bullying tone and his counter-productive insults than the information in the article (and I certainly don’t blame them), since most of the “facts” he presents have been floating around in books, blogs, and articles for years and are nothing new.

  • FoundationLapper

    The problem I had was that it was presented as a ‘Newsweek invesigation’ but was really a one man polemic. He didn’t quote a single authority that wasn’t either liberal Christian or Jewish and seemed unaware, for example, that the women in adultery story has been italicised in Bibles for as long as I can remember with notes pointing out its unreliability. He could see bias in all his opponents but none in himself. It’s an odd direction for a reputable news magazine to go in.

    • Dr_Grabowski

      To the extent that the press in the US was ever reputable, Newsweek was reputable, at least insofar as its Washington Post owners were. But in 2010, a year in which An ISSUE, that is, one copy of Newsweak sold for $5, Newsweek, the entire enterprise sold for $1 and is now part of the Daily Beast website outfit

  • Daniel Fisher

    general, I fully agree with the basic point here – it makes me cringe when I see political and fundamentalist folks “revering” or using the Bible in order to support their pet causes, while remaining practically ignorant of what is actually in the Bible–often the contents might well undermine their very cause.

    But you lost me with some of the specific examples: I’m not following how Rep. Bachmann’s view on gay marriage is an example of such egregious biblical illiteracy? Regardless of one’s position on the topic, it is incontrovertible that everything the Bible says about “marriage” from Genesis to Revelation without exception either explicitly teaches or implicitly assumes a man and a woman… so I’m not seeing how her views on same sex marriage belie any biblical illiteracy on that topic?

    Also, I’m unfamiliar with the context and full details of Gov. Perry’s prayer rally…. but I’m not immediately seeing anything categorically unbiblical about a governmental leader inviting his people to pray? (President Lincoln did that and now we have “Thanksgiving”, after all). If Gov. Perry knew the Bible better he would never have invited his people to pray? I’m not quite following here…. I read his prayer and it was pretty benign and non-political, asking (practically right out of 1Tim2) for wisdom and physical protection for the president. Though I may be missing something the the rest of the content or larger context… can anyone comment further about the specifics here?

    Now, on the other hand – I can completely understand if the criticism is that, while these leaders were supporting these pet causes they were simultaneously *ignoring* other even weightier biblical concerns (“you tithe the mint, but you neglect justice and the love of God…”) But the way I read it, it seemed to suggest that, if they had actually read their Bible, they would never believe marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that leaders would never invite their people to pray…. I’m not connecting the dots if that is the actual criticism…?

    • Andrew Dowling

      Revelation comments on marriage? Haven’t heard that one . . .

      • Daniel Fisher

        “…the voice of the bridegroom and bride…”; “…his bride has made herself ready…”; “…a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…”, etc.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Can we agree that the metaphoric Apocalyptic language above is not making any comment whatsoever on marriage as an institution among human beings?

          • Daniel Fisher

            Andrew, thanks for the thought, I always appreciate your perspective. i believe i can see what you’re getting at, but respectfully, no, i couldn’t agree there, for two reasons, one minor the other major:

            1) a minor point: Revelation’s language, just like every book in the Bible, even if it were not making explicit comment about marriage, assumes without question a male-female pattern. (The first quote i gave is actually about actual human bridegrooms and brides, so while poetic, it is not actually metaphorical language, after all). This is not irrelevant if someone wants to understand “the Bible’s own view on marriage.”

            2) much more significantly, the metaphor about Christ married to his bride the church is not limited to The Apocalyptic; the same concept is found in Romans, 2 Corinthians, and most famously Ephesians, not to mention the nascent similar concepts throughout the Old Testament of God and his bride Israel. In Ephesians at least, it is pretty clear that the relationship between Christ and his church is held up as the archetype, the standard which models and informs all earthly human marriages. Hence the image of Christ and his bride the church, whether in the Apocalypse or the Epistles, I would suggest, is of the utmost importance if one wants to understand “the Bible’s own view own marriage.” Paul in Ephesians 5 certainly seemed to think so.

            But back to the main topic (I don’t want to stray in the weeds too far)… even if hypothetically, for the sake of the argument, I did agree with you that Revelation isn’t saying anything about the institution of marriage… There is still nothing there (or anywhere else in the Bible) that suggests anything other than an exclusively male-female pattern from beginning to end. so point remains that I’m just not seeing how someone who reads the Bible cover to cover (or even from Genesis to Jude, if you prefer) and comes away with the idea that the Bible seems to exclusively support a “male-female” pattern for marriage, can be for that reason accused of some significant biblical illiteracy…? One might agree or disagree with that reader’s moral conclusion or larger social stance based on numerous other social or ethical factors, but I am not seeing the accusation that their perspective betrays an *ignorance* of what the Bible actually says…?

          • Andrew Dowling

            But this is what many find so frustrating about conservative exegesis: you said “there is still nothing there (or anywhere else in the Bible) that
            suggests anything other than an exclusively male-female pattern from
            beginning to end.”

            So what? An argument from silence isn’t an argument. That’s like saying Sicilian pizza makers did not like/”disapproved” of deep-dish pizza 100 years ago because they only made thin crust. The references above are metaphoric language using what would’ve been known among the audience, which makes sense since metaphors make no sense if the audience has no conception of what is being alluded to. They don’t reflect a judgment on alternatives. Hence the shepherds take care of sheep . . sheep existed in the ancient Middle East. Lamas did not, so does their absence indicate God has a preference for sheep shepherding over lama-shepherding?

            Regarding the Bible and marriage; one finds a) The Bible has relatively little to say on it; marriage is shown primarily in the narratives of the patriarchs, and the moral character of those marriages is usually lacking to say the least b) There are competing views on marriage; it’s either a commitment primarily designed to produce children (Genesis) or primarily a commitment between two people (Jesus, with his absolute prohibition of divorce cancelling out the justification of infertility and Shammai). It’s touted as an ideal (sections in Proverbs) or begrudgingly accepted but not encouraged (Paul). There is really no such thing as a unanimous, “biblical” view on marriage and thus if we are going to be making moral decisions about the nature of the marriage covenant in the 21st century, we’re going to have to use other tools in making that assessment beyond just the Bible.

          • Daniel Fisher

            (Andrew, I’d love to talk much more in depth with you about this – but don’t want to eat up too much of Peter’s comment section and get off topic – please let me know if there’s another appropriate forum and I’d be happy to discuss in much more depth.) In short, though:

            I’d have to respectfully disagree on the point that multitudinous and unanimous affirmation (both explicit and implicit) of one perspective is an “argument from silence.” The Bible doesn’t mention deep dish pizza or lama-herding, but neither does it mention electronic imbezzlement nor female circumcision. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t speak to these topics. Developing a theology based on what the Bible doesn’t say can be problematic.

            Also, no one I know bases their perspective on the male-female pattern simply on it being a cultural reality that is reflected in the narratives and language (like the people wearing sandals and robes)…. it is based on various explicit teachings about it being the normative/creation pattern (“He who created them from the beginning made them male and female…. for this reason a man will… be joined to his wife…”, etc.). This is then additionally confirmed by the condemnations of same-gender sexual relationships, and then further confirmed by the unanimous description of marriage as male-female without exception.

            I’d agree with you insofar as there are certainly numerous “perspectives” about various aspects of marriage in the Bible (the basic purpose, how many marriages one can have, the circumstances under which it can be dissolved, etc.)… but the basic “male-female” pattern is NOT one with numerous perspectives; that one, at least, is unanimous, no?

            While I disagree, I respect your desire to look outside the Bible to inform you about the nature of marriage – but it sounds like we at least agree that (for whatever reason), the Bible without exception presents a male-female pattern?

          • Tim

            Just like there doesn’t seem to be a unanimous, biblical view on… much of anything, really. I understand your frustration here. Conservative “exegesis” tends to treat the bible as a conversation-ender, when it’s really meant to be a conversation starter.

  • Kurt Eichenwald

    I want to thank you for spending so much time on the piece. You are one of the first to understand what I was doing. Although it wasn’t targeted solely at politicians – it was targeted at those who politicize the Bible or use it to justify whatever secular belief they have, particularly those beliefs that entail condemning others. You also are the first to realize the purpose of the hyperbole, and that the opening paragraphs were intended to define the limited target, not in any way to attack Christians or evangelicals in general.

    And my argument was, in some ways, a theological game with the illiterates: “If you want to accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God in attacking another about *this* issue, then you must also accept your obligation to abide by *that* requirement in the same Epistle or Gospel.” In a way, that element was an attempt to force people to focus on the splinters/planks and think about it.

    One thing that too many experts miss, though: the readership of general topic magazines don’t even know many of the discussions on any particular issue exist. If you read one of my pieces on ISIS, for example, you might find it enlightening. But people in the intelligence world would say “Well, we knew that already.” Very, very few readers of Newsweek or any other general interest magazine know about these Biblical issues. Look how many conservative publications are calling my piece an attack on the Bible by pointing out the very items you and I both know are generally accepted among theologians.

    So yes, I was actually celebrating the Bible and targeting those people who, through not even bothering to read it or think about it, use it for political gamesmanship. It is abuse of a Holy Book to do that and the general public needs to know all of the issues that surround this topic, so they can begin to remember what the Bible really is and what it is about. It deserves no less.

    • peteenns

      Thanks for your article and for commenting here, Kurt. You’ve made some friends–and enemies–through it. Par for the course (unfortunately) when you write about God or the Bible 🙂

    • Under The Bridge

      You’re a huge Obama supporter and the most recent election probably sucked for you. Certain types of people irritate you because you perceive them as hypocrites. Got it. People don’t like hypocrites. That’s why Al Gore takes crap from the right when he flies somewhere to talk about climate change.

      I understand that you’re frustrated, but the type of hyperbole and overstatement that you used is probably better suited for certain so called “news programs” on AM radio instead of Newsweek. And . . . its probably best if opinion is clearly labelled as such.

      When you’re dealing with the readership of a general interest magazine it is particularly important to get your facts absolutely correct. Such an audience can easily be misled.

      Following up with the hyperbole theme . . .

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTBsm0LzSP0

      (May not be safe for all work and family situations)

      • Andrew Dowling

        Newsweek has long had opinion pieces as their front page stories; this is far from a first.

      • doughall

        I had a bet with someone that I could find a post on here attacking Obama for this piece. That someone said that idea was “insanely ridiculous.” Thank you for helping me make money.

        • Under The Bridge

          Huh? Please read my post again. I certainly didn’t attack President Obama. I merely put forth a possible explanation for why Eichenwald wrote his rather angry piece.

          Examples:

          The statement “President X sucks” might reasonably construed as an attack on President X.

          The statement “Author Y is upset that President X’s party lost big in the most recent election” cannot reasonably construed as an attack on President X.

          Sorry about the $$$, but merely mentioning the name “Obama” does not constitute an attack.

    • Frank McManus

      I’m glad I read Peter Enns’ piece before yours — I’d have been a lot more annoyed with it without his interpretation. I’m very sympathetic with your intentions. Even so … man, that was one incredibly sloppy article. Your arguments regarding the texts and debates pertaining to the incarnation and trinity were utterly garbled, for example. You want your readers to take biblical scholarship seriously, but you haven’t bothered to do it sufficiently even to make your most elementary claims factually correct. And you conclude the piece by calling for people to follow the command not to judge, yet you violate that very command in the same article, and repeat it here when you tell us who it was that you intended to “target.”

      On the other hand, I do agree with you that most members of the general public — potential readers of Newsweek — know nothing at all about any of these issues. I’ve met a lot of fundamentalist Christians over the years who literally didn’t even understand the concept that the Bible was written in other languages than English (though not only Koine Greek, as you claim in the article). Maybe what Flannery O’Connor says about her own work could apply to your article:

      “When you can assume that your audience holds the
      same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of
      talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have
      to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you
      shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

    • Daniel Fisher

      Kurt, thanks for writing here. For what it is worth, I am your relatively typical evangelical believer who agrees wholeheartedly with the basic, basic point you were making, I cringe at thos e who, as you describe, “not even bothering to read it or think about it use it for political gamesmanship,” or even as you describe in your article, use it for all kinds of false religiosity. There are plenty of evangelical, conservative, bible believing types that I know that are in full agreement on that topic.

      But for what it is worth, you have managed to alienate the lot of us – and more significantly,- alienate many of those who may have been on the fence, who may have genuinely benefited from thinking through their use of the Bible. It would be great if many Christians would take their Bible more seriously and consistently, actually read what is in there and use it as such rather that as a convenient tool to prove their own cultural or political cause.

      But if any do so, I fear I doubt that your article will be the means by which these Christians come to their senses on the topic, the tone, and the numerous errors, will I fear keep it from being taken to heart at all by those whom perhaps most need to think about these things. Even I, so strongly supportive of your most basic point, was so put off by the tone and errors… You have alienated one who may well have otherwise been one of your strongest cheerleaders.

  • John Hanna

    Pete, let me see if I understand. In spite of Eichenwald’s numerous biblical, theological, and historical errors, and the manner in which he caricatures his political opponents and, yes, Christians and Christianity in general, because his political goals are laudable, that justifies the means he employs and his use of the Bible to serve his worthy cause.

    • peteenns

      John, you don’t understand.

      • John Hanna

        Touche Pete. Your pithy reply however doesn’t change that the thrust of your piece seems to be that Eichenwald’s political motives make him “right,” in spite of his writing a naive, over-the-top rant.

  • John Hanna

    It’s simply hard to see what’s commendable here.

    That Emperor Constantine selected the books included in the New Testament; that all we have are translations of translations of translations containing more errors than the number of words; that the divinity of Christ was decided by Constantine’s decree; that Christians slaughtered one another throughout the early centuries, with those who survived forcing the belief that Jesus is three – Father, Son and Holy Ghost; that whether Jesus was crucified at all was seriously in dispute among Christians in the first centuries of Christianity, until those with “power” resolved the issue, etc.

    If we’re going to take Eichenwald as seriously as I think he wants us to take him, we can’t simply ignore all of that. This isn’t stuff “we all know.” This is silliness.

    But, even realizing that, we commend Eichenwald for telling us at the end of his article to be attentive to what the whole Bible says? But why should we, if everything Eichenwald has written up until that point is to be believed?

    Now, the fact of the matter is Christians don’t read and know the Bible as we should. However, those of us who do read and try to know the Bible (even as we could always know it better) don’t draw the conclusions he wants us to draw. Also, on the whole, I think Christians take the Bible a whole lot more seriously than he claims. That’s why our disagreements can be somewhat…intense…

    That having been said, we know that we are not nearly the people we are supposed to be. The impulse to self-righteousness abounds within us (as I think it does in every human being). At the heart of what we know and understand is that there’s something fundamentally wrong with us – even more than Eichenwald knows! But the solution to what ails us isn’t to follow Eichenwald’s lead, setting aside our most basic convictions.

    Every Sunday in churches around the globe, we confess our sins – our pride, our selfishness, our lust, our greed, our disobedience, our idolatry. And the reason we can do that openly and freely, and invite others, including Eichenwald, to do the same, is that we profess and believe and know what Christians have professed and believed and known from our earliest days – that Christ died for our sins according the Scriptures, that he was buried and he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

    • doughall

      I don’t think Eichenwald makes an assertion that Christians don’t take the Bible that seriously. Just the opposite. I think his claim is that they take it way to serious for something they no so little about. I also don’t think that Eichenwald has asked us to follow his lead. He’s asked us to educate ourselves, and that’s never a bad thing. If you have faith, then there’s nothing to worry about. If Eichenwald’s article can convince you to abandon your faith, then it wasn’t worth having in the first place.

  • One of my favorite things in your review is the comparison of Spinoza and Eichenwald, brilliant and really help puts it in a historical context.
    I am quite a “nube” on biblical criticism and it’s history and Spinoza and his work is something even more obscure to me…so bear with my question if it is obvious to those better read than I am…. but my question is: who were some of the best contemporaries of Spinoza (or up till now) that have evaluated and responded to his stance on scripture and biblical criticism? I know a little bit about what he put forth about Mosaic Authorship from your book Pete “evolution and Adam” but I am wondering who wisely and graciously has worked with some of his thoughts directly from a christian perspective?

  • Kurt Eichenwald’s Christmas missive in Newsweek was embarrassingly ignorant. I can’t believe it ever got published. Not sure what you’re trying to do in this article, Pete, but I don’t think academia or education benefits from nonsense like Eichenwald’s article. It doesn’t matter to me what the topic is – he has an ill-informed emotional response that he is pretending is something like responsible thought.

    • peteenns

      Dr. Funkensteinenheimer, I explain what I am “trying to do” in my post.

      • I know, its just…well, to be honest, we who have left the inerrancy fold just don’t have a lot of people to go to any more. You. Kenton Sparks. Maybe a few others. Now all those snobby conservatives get to say, “See! Pete obviously doesn’t know the Bible! THAT MEANS YOU’RE WRONG!” And, well, I hate being wrong. By the way, you missed your last checkup…I haven’t been too rough, have I?

        • peteenns

          That’s why I ignore snobby conservatives.

  • mattmikalatos

    It’s still a little baffling to me that Newsweek would publish something with so many exaggerations and misunderstandings. Good intentions or not it seems like poor journalism. And they gave it a lot of space which added to the appearance of having an axe to grind.

    • Robert Johnson

      Yes.
      Furthermore, how do we know the article’s author is any better equipped at knowing what the Bible says than the personalities he vilifies?
      This could very well be the “pot calling the kettle black.”
      Robert Johnson

  • doughall

    Eichenwald, I loved this article! Your point that the Bible is so misunderstood that it’s a sin is the essence of the article. I know people who think the Bible was literally translated to man by God, written down and then published with no editing whatsoever. While I admire faith, there’s a fine line between faith and naivety, or in some cases faith and outright stupidity. While I think the article is overkill for the point it is trying to make, and I do disagree with some assertions, it powerfully drives home the right points: 1) most people of faith have no idea how the book was constructed and how certain writings came to be in the Bible while others did not, and 2) if you’re going to hang your faith on an exact interpretation, then do it consistently for the entire book, not just in the instances that make you feel good. Well done.

  • doughall

    Who was the writer who said, “If there was no God, man would have invented him.”

  • Collins

    Well said, Pete. I mostly had the same take–Biblical Studies 101 covers most (all?) of those issues he brought up. His axe to grind is a political one.