Thoughts on Newsweek article, “The Bible: So Misunderstood That it’s a Sin”

Q. Newsweek just published an article called “The Bible: So Misunderstood That it’s a Sin” — I found the article so loaded with half-truths that it needs to be addressed. Could you be so kind to take a look at this? I really enjoy your Blog!

Thanks for alerting me to this article, which I see was published provocatively only two days before Christmas!  Its basic premises are summarized at the end:

“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. And embrace what modern Bible experts know to be the true sections of the New Testament.”

But these so-called “modern Bible experts”–only three of them–turn out to be skeptical, critical scholars like Bart Ehrman whose work reflects a strong bias against belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God and as a coherent and faithful reflection of God’s dealings and communications with the community of faith over the centuries.  It’s no wonder that with sources like these, the article reaches the conclusions it does.

By relying only on sources that hold one view of the issue, the article violates one of the basic tenets of journalism, which is to tell both sides of a story objectively.

Others have had the space and opportunity to respond to this article at more length and in more depth than I will be able to.  (Here, for example, is an articulate response by Albert Mohler, and here is another fine one from New Testament Greek scholar Daniel B. Wallace.)  But let me at least acknowledge the accuracy of your perception that the Newsweek article is “loaded with half-truths.”  Here’s just one example.

The article says of the pericope of the woman caught in adultery, “Scribes made it up sometime in the Middle Ages.”  By contrast, Bruce Metzger, a universally respected expert in New Testament textual criticism, says in his Textual Commentary on the New Testament, “The account has all the earmarks of historical veracity,” even if it is not considered to have been an original part of the gospel of John.  The international committee he served with to edit a critical text of the N.T. therefore decided, “in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage,” to include it “within double square brackets at its traditional place” in John.  Virtually every other claim in the Newsweek article could be similarly examined and critiqued.

But I think that those who believe in the Bible as the trustworthy and inspired word of God can still take some legitimate challenge from this article.  At the start it presents some research by organizations that, if anything, are favorable towards this view, rather than hostile to it, and who found the following:

“A Pew Research poll in 2010 found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings. ‘Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it,’’ wrote George Gallup Jr. and Jim Castelli, pollsters and researchers whose work focused on religion in the United States. The Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, found in 2012 that evangelicals accepted the attitudes and beliefs of the Pharisees—religious leaders depicted throughout the New Testament as opposing Christ and his message—more than they accepted the teachings of Jesus.”

These findings, rather than the biased and inflammatory claims about the Bible, are what should really make us upset–with ourselves.  If we truly love and honor the Bible, then let’s read it, become immersed in its teachings–supremely those of Jesus–and then live them out.  In that sense I do accept a valid challenge from at least this small part of the Newsweek article.

Thanks again for your question!

The original questioner comments:  My friend Stephen M. Miller (love his books) also commented on the Newsweek article — thought you would enjoy his blog entry. Blessed New Year to you!

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Newsweek article, “The Bible: So Misunderstood That it’s a Sin””

  1. Thank you so much for your comments and this wonderful Blog! I just don’t have the stamina to refute this stuff anymore and every HIstory Channel special seems to always have Ehrman and Crossan as the representative “spokespeople” for Biblical scholarship. The tone of that article really offended me and the sad thing is that so many people I know swallow it. Thank you again for your ministry.

  2. I had never before noticed the relationships between the three pairs of days. Laying out the text in such a manner as to highlight these relationships is helpful. Thanks.

    I wonder, though, whether the Hebrew word which I will transliterate as “shamayim”, traditionally translated in this passage as “heavens” and here translated “sky” (in contrast to “land”) must mean only “sky” in this passage. After all, the word translated “Spirit” also can mean mere “wind”.

    What if we read the word translated “sky” to include both English meanings contained by the one Hebrew word? Could the meaning include not only the concepts that contrast with “land”(that is, sky), but also the concepts which contrast with that realm in which we humans are grounded and can touch (that is, heaven)?

    My denomination’s catechism cites Genesis 1:1 to support the assertion from the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…”, and goes on to explain the meaning of “heaven” to include the unseen, which it identifies as the spiritual part of God’s creation.

    I do note, however, that on Day 4 the sky is populated with items that are not spiritual (sun, moon, stars). Not, say, angels.

    Limiting this scripture to refer merely to “sky” seems to diminish its meaning from that claimed by the catechism’s commentary on the Apostles’ creed. Any thoughts on how I might reconcile this reading of the beginning of Genesis and my understanding of the historic catholic creeds of the church?

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