Newsweek Cover Story Blasts Reliability of Bible

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Newsweek Cover Story Blasts Reliability of Bible

Newsweek magazine starts 2015 attacking the veracity of the Bible. The magazine’s cover story for January 2015—“The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin”—attempts to show the illegitimacy of the Bible as a trustworthy and divinely inspired book.

While acknowledging the historicity of the Sabbath (Saturday) and its subsequent change to Sunday, Newsweek author Kurt Eichenwald claims no one has ever read the Bible. He writes,

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.

About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament. (That’s the same amount of time between the arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower and today.) The first books of the Old Testament were written 1,000 years before that. In other words, some 1,500 years passed between the day the first biblical author put stick to clay and when the books that would become the New Testament were chosen. There were no printing presses beforehand or until 1,000 years later. There were no vacuum-sealed technologies to preserve paper for centuries. Dried clay broke, papyrus and parchment crumbled away, primitive inks faded.

Back then, writings from one era could be passed to the next only by copying them by hand. While there were professional scribes whose lives were dedicated to this grueling work, they did not start copying the letters and testaments about Jesus’s time until centuries after they were written. Prior to that, amateurs handled the job.

These manuscripts were originally written in Koiné, or “common” Greek, and not all of the amateur copyists spoke the language or were even fully literate. Some copied the script without understanding the words. And Koiné was written in what is known as scriptio continua—meaning no spaces between words and no punctuation. So, a sentence like weshouldgoeatmom could be interpreted as “We should go eat, Mom,” or “We should go eat Mom.” Sentences can have different meaning depending on where the spaces are placed. For example, godisnowhere could be “God is now here” or “God is nowhere.”

It is true that today’s Bible is a translation of the original manuscripts. However, as clever as Eichenwald’s argument may appear, he fails to grasp the nature and process of biblical translation and copying. Moreover, the author greatly undermines the degree of accuracy various manuscripts render to the authenticity of the Bible. Concerning the trustworthiness of the New Testament manuscripts, the famed scholar F.F. Bruce asserts,

The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. It is a curious fact that historians have often been much readier to trust the New Testament records than have many theologians. Somehow or other, there are people who regard a ‘sacred book’ as ipso facto under suspicion, and demand much more corroborative evidence for such a work than they would for an ordinary secular or pagan writing. From the viewpoint of the historian, the same standards must be applied to both. But we do not quarrel with those who want more evidence for the New Testament than for other writings; firstly, because the universal claims which the New Testament makes upon mankind are so absolute, and the character and works of its chief Figure so unparalleled, that we want to be as sure of its truth as we possibly can; and secondly, because in point of fact there is much more evidence for the New Testament than for other ancient writings of comparable date.

There are in existence about 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in whole or in part. The best and most important of these go back to somewhere about AD 350, the two most important being the Codex Vaticanus, the chief treasure of the Vatican Library in Rome, and the wellknown Codex Sinaiticus, which the British Government purchased from the Soviet Government for £100,000 on Christmas Day, 1933, and which is now the chief treasure of the British Museum. Two other important early MSS in this country are the Codex Alexandrinus, also in the British Museum, written in the fifth century, and the Codex Bezae:, in Cambridge University Library, written in the fifth or sixth century, and containing the Gospels and Acts in both Greek and Latin.

Perhaps we can appreciate how wealthy the New Testament is in manuscript attestation if we compare the textual material for other ancient historical works. For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 BC) there are several extant MSS, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day. Of the 142 books of the Roman History of Livy (59 BC-AD 17) only thirty-five survive; these are known to us from not more than twenty MSS of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books iii-vi, is as old as the fourth century. Of the fourteen books of the Histories of Tacitus (c. AD 100) only four and a half survive; of the sixteen books of his Annals, ten survive in full and two in part. The text of these extant portions of his two great historical works depends entirely on two MSS, one of the ninth century and one of the eleventh. The extant MSS of his minor works (Dialogue de Oratoribus, Agricola, Germania) all descend from a codex of the tenth century. The History of Thucydides (c. 460-400 BC) is known to us from eight MSS, the earliest belonging to c. AD 900, and a few papyrus scraps, belonging to about the beginning of the Christian era. The same is true of the History of Herodotus (c. 488-428 BC). Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest MSS of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals. (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, p. 10)

Just like the New Testament, the Old Testament can be trusted. In 1947, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls cemented the authenticity of the Old Testament. Before this discovery, the complete Hebrew manuscripts available were from A.D. 900 on. The incredible “significance of this discovery has to do with the detailed closeness of the Isaiah scroll (125 B.C.) to the Masoretic Text of Isaiah (A.D. 916),” according to Josh McDowell (The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 78). Despite a 1,000-year-plus difference between the two manuscripts, the remarkable accuracy of the scribes and the closeness between them is simply astonishing.

It was the Biblical archaeologist and the foremost authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, W.F. Albright, who once said, “We may rest assured that the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, though not infallible, has been preserved with an accuracy perhaps unparalleled in any other Near Eastern literature” (Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974, 65).

If it were a legal case, a cross-examination of the witness on the stand (these manuscripts) would provide fingerprint evidence to put the case beyond any reasonable doubt. The evidence marshaled by these manuscripts throughout the corridors of time gives any sincerely searching person confidence in the Bible as the inspired word of God. Unfortunately, Eichenwald will not rest until he lays the ax at the foundation of the Bible—the story of creation. He writes,

Few of the Christian faithful seem to know the Bible contains multiple creation stories. The first appears on Page 1, Genesis 1, so that is the version most people tend to embrace. However, it isn’t hard to find the second version: It’s Genesis 2, which usually starts on the same page. Genesis 1 begins with the words “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”; Genesis 2 starts with “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.”

Careful readers have long known that the two stories contradict each other. Genesis 1 begins with expanses of water that God separates, creating the earth between them. Genesis 2 describes a world without enough water, which is then introduced. Vegetation exists before the sun and the stars in Genesis 1; it’s the other way around in Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, man is created after plants and animals; in Genesis 2, plants and animals come after man. In Genesis 1, Adam and Eve are created together; in Genesis 2, Eve is created out of Adam’s rib.

Given Newsweek’s broad readership, statements like these are simply a disservice. Any serious student of the Bible knows that there is no contradiction between Genesis 1, 2, and 3. Briefly, the alleged contradiction stems from the “Documentary Hypothesis,” which claims the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but rather by different authors later in the history of Israel. The theory gives four main sources: “J” (for Jehovah), “E” (for Elohim), “D” (for Deuteronomist), and “P” (for the Priestly writer). These allegations are nothing new.

In the mid-20th century, a renowned Jewish and biblical scholar, Umberto Cassuto, gave a devastating critique of this theory in his six-lecture course entitled The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1941). Cassuto discussed these five aspects of the hypothesis:

  1. The use of different names for God
  2. Variations of style and language
  3. Contradictions in the text
  4. Duplications and repetitions
  5. Signs of composite structure in the text.

Space and time do not permit me to go through each of his observations; however, readers can find them here.

Professor Randall W. Younker of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary sums up the critique against the theory:

A close reading of the text suggests that chapter 2 does not offer a Creation account that contradicts chapter 1. Rather, the point of Genesis 2:4-9 is to explain the origin of four things that were not a part of the original creation described in chapter one: (1) thorns; (2) agriculture; (3) cultivation/irrigation; (4) rain. Chapter 2 informs the reader that each of these things was introduced as a direct result of the entrance of sin. Thorns, plants requiring cultivation, and a human race that must till the ground for its food are introduced in Genesis 3:17, 18 as curses or judgments immediately after the fall. Although rain is not mentioned until the Flood, it, too, comes as a curse—a judgment against humanity’s sin. Thus, rather, than a contradiction of chapter 1, these early verses in chapter 2 actually serve as a bridge between the perfect creation of Chapter 1 and the introduction of sin into the world in Chapter 3. (Randall W. Younker, “Are There Contradictory Accounts of Creation in Genesis 1 and 2? Genesis 2:4-6” in Interpreting Scripture: Bible Questions and Answers, 122, 123)

All in all, there are several things to note about this Newsweek article. First, Eichenwald’s sources are mainly liberal scholars; Friedrich Schleiermacher is noted as the father of modern theological liberalism.

 Albert Mohler sums it up well:

[The author] really does not address the subject of the Bible like a reporter at all. His article is a hit-piece that lacks any journalistic balance or credibility. His only sources cited within the article are from severe critics of evangelical Christianity, and he does not even represent some of them accurately.

Second, a text without context is a pretext. Many of the author’s textual criticisms ignore the context. Third and most important, the author willingly ignores the traditional Christian understanding and interpretation of the Bible. Ironically, not only does Eichenwald’s article show his own Biblical illiteracy, but his misleading of many is a great sin.

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About the author


Valmy Karemera is associate editor of The Compass Magazine and posts daily news updates on the Compass Twitter page. Originally from Rwanda, he now lives and works in Texas with his family.