If anyone misunderstands the Bible it is the Kurt Eichenwald’s of this world.
Kurt Eichenwald wrote about how the Bible is so misunderstood because it is wrongly translated. He presumes the Bible to be unreliable.
“No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”
“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.”
The two quotes from Kurt Eichenwald are from the beginning and the end of his “hatchet-job” on Christianity and the Bible, especially the New Testament. (Newsweek,1/2/15) To someone who hasn’t ever read anything on textual criticism his article may sound compelling, even convincing. From the outset let me state that he misquotes and misleads by the so-called evidence he presents. It appears that Christianity has gained attention through protests and stands some Christians have taken on issues that may or may not be political or in the public interest. He mentions protests at abortion clinics, prayer at high school football games, and battles over whether or not the Ten Commandments should be exhibited in public schools. If this is all he has ever encountered of Christianity, then he needs to get out more and perhaps read some history. There is much more to Christianity than what Eichenwald has gathered and from what the media portrays as Christian.
So what does Eichenwald attempt to say? Simply, the Bible cannot be trusted as an authoritative guide for life because it is not God’s word, was copied over and over by people who may not have known what they were copying, and it was assembled by mere humans. According to Eichenwald , it is also full of errors. His first quote, that no one has ever read the Bible is very misleading. He should have said, “No one who is alive today has ever read any of the original documents that later became the New Testament.” That would be accurate. To say no one has ever read the Bible fails poorly and misses the mark completely. As an illustration, imagine that I am a non-English speaker but I want to write a letter to you. So, I write in my native language which you don’t understand. You in turn find someone who speaks my language and have them translate the letter. Could you say you never read my letter? At best, you could say you didn’t read it in my native language, but it wouldn’t be true to say you didn’t read it. So, it goes with translations of New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew languages.
Three simple Responses
There are three things to hold on to to dispense with Eichenwald’s rant. They’re pretty simple. First is that the New Testament has almost six thousand manuscripts that are used by scholars well 'schooled' in Koine Greek to translate it. (There are thousands more in other ancient languages.) Contrary to what Eichenwald says, this has made for more accurate translations than anything previously made. Without these manuscripts Eichenwald could never charge that there are any differences within the text. He would have no idea of what an “earlier” manuscript is. He erroneously calls the King James Version of 1611 (KJV) one of the best translations. The KJV has some beautiful prose, but there are better translations. The KJV was translated from six copies of the Greek New Testament. Today textual critics scour the thousands of documents, assembling what would be the best translation process to offer us a great translation. This is fairly common knowledge which Eichenwald ignores or perhaps is ignorant of.
The second response is that there is enormous internal consistency within these documents. Contrary to what Eichenwald asserts there are documents from as early as the end of the first century through the twelfth Century. There are three major families of documents that are identified for their style and geographical location. Comparing the differences within the documents scholars rate the New Testament documents at ninety-eight percent accurate or consistent. There are variations but none of them account for any discrepancy in the message they communicate. Eichenwald quotes Bart D. Ehrman, as a modern scholar who has pointed out these changes and differences. Ehrman is known among the textual critics as one of the best today Greek scholars. No one can take that away from Ehrman. However, Eichenwald fails to quote Ehrman’s statement in his well-known book, Misquoting Jesus where he states: “The vast majority of these changes are insignificant, immaterial, and of no importance for the meaning of the passages in which they are found.” (Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, (New York, Harper Collins, 2005) 260.
Finally, when Eichenwald asserts that the Bible was assembled by man, he is correct. However, his argument is that it was wrongly assembled. It wasn’t the Emperor Constantine who decided which books would be in the New Testament. It was the Council of Laodicea (AD 363-364) that finally agreed on which books would become what we know as the New Testament. However, it wasn’t as if the Council just picked these books at random. There were a couple (ex. 2 Peter) that weren’t clearly accepted, but almost all were acknowledged as coming to us from the Apostles of Jesus or other eyewitnesses. Here is something that Eichenwald doesn’t mention: if we never had one of Paul’s epistles, or any of Luke’s writings, or any of the gospels, or other documents, we could reconstruct the entire New Testament from the writings of the Apostolic and Church Fathers. This means that the earliest disciples of the apostles of Jesus received the same message as the apostles did. In turn, they communicated that message to their successors. What they wrote in their epistles is what the New Testament says. So, we may ask, “where is Eichenwald getting his information?” It may be in the playground of his imagination.
There is one other idea Eichenwald proposes that needs to be addressed. That is, the writings called the Gnostic Gospels. The earliest of these writings appeared in the second half of the second century. It is clear they are not written by people who were familiar with the Jewish culture of the first century as it is absent in all the writings. These writings are not embellishments of the authentic writings but departures from the form and nature of the New Testament. They declare “another gospel.”
So, if I were to point you to scholars that Eichenwald ignores I’d point you to Dan Wallace, Darrel Bock, Tom Howe, and some others. These scholars have considered the writings and statements of the Bart Ehrman’s and found them wanting when compared to what is in the NT documents.
Concluding that the New Testament is a hodgepodge of unintelligible scribblings of ignorant copyists is about as far from reality as flying elephants. What we have in the New Testament is the inspired Word of God, preserved through meticulous responsibility, scholarship, and divine providence. Even using the documents in languages other than Greek, one could still arrive at the New Testament we have today. We have the most of all ancient documents, the most accurate of ancient documents, and therefor the most reliable of ancient documents. Certainly, to attack it is common; to study it by the nay-sayers, is uncommon.
It’s a new year. The holiday season has passed and we begin to look down the road for what this new year will bring. I am always looking at what the future will bring. It is both a strength and a weakness, a virtue and a fault. It is a strength because it allows me to prepare for what I see coming, if I see correctly. It is a weakness because I can lose focus on what is right in front of me. Some may say that if I have seen the future correctly and prepared for it, it ought to take care of what is right in front of me. Sounds logical, but doesn’t always work out that way. There’s always those unpredictable things that come up.
Well, what is coming now? How should we prepare for 2015? For me, it is simple. I have some goals that carry over from 2014. Most of them are related to education and completing a degree. The others are ministry goals - equip the church for their work of service. I know, that is pretty general. So, to be specific, I want to provide sound, relevant answers that strengthen the believer’s faith and help him/her to be a better witness for Jesus. However, that also must become more specific. What area does the church need answers for in the coming year. The answer lies in where the challenges are.
What are the areas I believe are the most challenging for the Christian in 2015? I believe there are two with which we need to concern ourselves. The two are, Islam and Secular Humanism. Ironically, these two are more dependent on each other than it appears at first glance. Islam often relies on secular humanists and skeptics to challenge the veracity of the New Testament. For instance, they love to quote Bart Ehrman and his attempts to show the New Testament is unreliable. On the other hand, secular humanists love to use radical Islamic actions to declare that devotion to religion is destructive. In order to do that they must lump all religions in one heap and then attack the entire heap. To the untrained Christian these two foes can be a bit unnerving.
Churches must educate their members about the challenges that the church faces. And, as these challenges increase the church will find itself pushed further onto the margins of society until it loses the power of its witness. The church’s lack of vision and preparation will make it anemic and an anemic church is basically useless.
An anemic church doesn’t have the strength to fight for its place in society. Worse, it doesn’t have the strength to be the witness Jesus has called it to be. I should point out that churches don’t evangelize, individuals do. Churches may organize evangelistic events, but it is the rank and file of the church that bears the witness for the risen Jesus. It is the everyday encounters with family, friends, colleagues and classmates that really matter. When people lose their courage they don’t witness. Perhaps the underlying challenge for every generation is to follow Jesus without compromise. This is the fight for every generation - can we witnesses to our world without compromising the integrity of the message? Can we uphold the integrity of Scripture’s message that Jesus is risen from the dead? It is a fight to follow Jesus in a world that continually pressures us to give in to its ways.
More than ever the church needs to equip people to share their faith. People need to be trained in evangelism and what we may call pre-evangelism, which is apologetics. To focus on the challenges at hand, I believe the main target is the Resurrection of Jesus and the reliability of the New Testament. A third argument would be the way the documents were transmitted over time. From my experience, arguments for the existence of God take a back seat to these three challenges. The Newsweek, issue of January 2, 2015 is a case in point. If you haven’t read the article on how Christians get the message of the Bible all wrong, you need to. If the arguments posed put you in a tail spin, well, good. You need to learn how to defend the reliability of the Bible, the transmission of the documents, and the person and work of Jesus as all three are targeted in the article.
One thing is for sure: Both Muslims and atheists have rejoiced over this article. However, the article didn’t start these challenges; it will just serve as fuel. You will hear these arguments echoed time and time again from both of them. Both Islam and secular humanists challenge the veracity of the message of Christ.
Are you ready for the challenges? Are you prepared to face them? Are you ready to fight to follow Jesus?