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Newsweek attacks belief in Scripture



Published: 8 January 2015 (GMT+10)

A prestigious publication like Newsweek is read by millions every week, so one would think they would exercise due diligence in making sure that their articles were factually accurate, and at least retain some semblance of journalistic impartiality. All such standards were clearly not taken seriously in the recent front-page story by Kurt Eichenwald titled “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin”.1 Eichenwald shows no integrity as a reporter, and if he had done research even on something as basic as Wikipedia, many of his errors would be corrected. But fault also lies with his editors and everyone who had a hand in publishing this embarrassingly bad screed.

Biblical Illiteracy: It goes both ways

Eichenwald laments biblical illiteracy, and criticizes those who use the Bible for their own political ends without really reading it (which is an odd charge, considering he says it is impossible to really read the Bible—but more on that later). We would agree, and we’ve condemned using the Bible for particular political ideologies. But Eichenwald is doing the same thing, only from an unbelieving standpoint. This article will go on to show that Eichenwald is ignorant about nearly every topic he chooses to address, and what he isn’t ignorant about, he willfully misrepresents.

From autographs to the Authorized Version

Eichenwald makes the strange claim:

“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 or hand-copied copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”

So apparently we are talking about a text which none of us have access to, even if it exists! So how can Eichenwald claim we are misinterpreting it? We can’t know what the originals said (because they are copies of copies of copies), but we can be sure they weren’t translated accurately! And we certainly know that the Bible-thumpers are misinterpreting this mysterious text which no one has ever seen!

The process of Bible transmission and translation is not nearly as mysterious or uncertain as Eichenwald claims. In the case of the Old Testament, it was copied with care by professional scribes. There are some textual differences and difficulties, but we know that the text we have is substantially the same as what Jesus and His apostles had in the first century—and that was close enough to the originals for Jesus to quote it as authoritative.

Regarding the New Testament, it was copied with less accuracy, but we have many more copies, much closer to the originals. And even these copies are substantially the same. We’ll look at the most major differences, but most differences aren’t even translatable into English, because they involve minor things that don’t influence meaning. And in most cases, we know for sure which variant is original. This isn’t the case of “1,000 Delicious Locust Recipes” evolving into the Gospel of Mark. See the booklet How Did We Get Our Bible? for an easily-understandable explanation of how the Bible was copied and translated.

Eichenwald helpfully demonstrates his ignorance about Koine Greek. He says:

“Koine was written in what is known as scriptio continua—meaning no space 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.””

What Eichenwald fails to grasp is that Greek nouns have case, indicating what part of speech they should be. So if “word” is the subject of the sentence, as in “The Word was God” it is written logos, but if it were the object of a verb, for instance, “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man…” it is written logon. In Eichenwald’s first example, “Mother” would be written in the vocative or nominative case if Mom was intended to eat with them, and probably the accusative case if she were the meal.

Then, Eichenwald also demonstrates he knows nothing of the history of text criticism.

“None of this [differences in the text] mattered for centuries, because Christians were certain God had guided the hand not only of the original authors but also all the copyists.”

But many manuscripts have been edited (we can tell there are different sets of handwriting editing the first copyist), obviously reflecting the fact that people knew there were inevitable errors in the copying process. In the third century, Origen spoke of “the diversity of copies arising either from the negligence of scribes or the presumption of correctors”.2 Eichenwald expects us to believe that ancient people were too stupid and gullible to realize copying wasn’t inerrant, but that simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. He is criticizing a view that almost no one in Church history has ever held.

The major differences in the text

There are three major blocks of text that Eichenwald identifies as not being part of the original New Testament. These are the Periocopae Adulterae (John 7:53–8:11), the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9–20), and the Comma Iohannum (1 John 5:7–8). Very few textual critics believe there is even a chance of these being in the original text, and inerrantists have rightly pointed out that inerrancy applies only to the original text, which we have preserved in the Bible as we have it now. In addition, in some translations where these verses appear, they are usually accompanied with explanatory footnotes mentioning that these verses are not in the earliest manuscripts. Regardless of whether one agrees with Eichenwald or not regarding the authenticity of these passages, it is certainly an issue that evangelical scholars are aware of, so unfair to portray it as a devastating blow against Christianity.

But Eichenwald, without any explanation, claims that Luke 22:20 and 24:51 were not in the original text of Luke. This is odd, because the major manuscript that deletes both of these is Codex Bezae, a fifth century Western-type text that is highly divergent from other texts—meaning it has a lot of errors. P75, Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, and Ephraemi Rescriptus are all superior manuscripts to Bezae, and all include these two verses.3 There is simply no textual reason to omit these two verses.

Eichenwald says:

“These are not the only parts of the Bible that have been added much later. There are many, many more—in fact, far more than can be explored without filling up the next several issues of Newsweek”.

I’d like to see that, because Eichenwald covered every single significant variant in a couple paragraphs. Would he like to spend an entire article covering the likes of the variant in John 15:8, where some manuscripts have genesthe, some have ginesthe, and some have genesesthe? This is actually a case where we don’t really know which one is original, because strong manuscripts are divided between the first and the third option. As you might be able to tell, it’s also one of the untranslatable differences, because all of them are forms of the same word, ginomai.

Translation trouble?

Eichenwald either lies or is uninformed about the translation of the King James Version. It was not translated from Latin manuscripts, but from Erasmus’s critical text of the Greek New Testament. Erasmus did not have a Greek manuscript of the last bit of Revelation, so his New Testament had to ‘back translate’ the Latin into Greek, creating a Greek reading found in no Greek manuscript. However, that is the only part of his NT that is not based on a Greek manuscript.

Another claim is that many Greek words do not have precise English equivalents. In a sense, this is true. But this is also true when you’re translating between Chinese and English, for example. It may be necessary to use several words to get the meaning of a foreign language phrase in English, but this does not mean we cannot communicate the meaning accurately.

Vile slander against God and Christians

Eichenwald says that “Christians are believed to have massacred more followers of Jesus than any other group or nation.” Oh really, more than Communist China or Muslims terrorists? More than the Roman Empire, which made it a hobby to find and slaughter Christians for a couple hundred years? One would presume Eichenwald would cite a source if he had one.

There is absolutely nothing about Eichenwald’s account of Nicaea and Constantinople that should be given an ounce of credit. There is not space for a thorough refutation, but anyone who believes, as Eichenwald claims, that Constantinople declared Jesus “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is seriously confused.

Eichenwald attacks the virginal conception of Christ and makes reference to Leviathan/Rahabthe ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis 6, claims the Bible is anti-woman and that Paul didn’t write 1 Timothy4. We’ve written on these things elsewhere. What Eichenwald is doing is taking the far left of Bible scholarship, and treating that as if it were the mainstream. At the same time, he is ignoring the growing number of scholars who believe the Bible and who find no contradiction between Bible scholarship and their faith.

Judge not?

Eichenwald ends by saying we should:

“embrace what modern Bible experts know to be the true sections of the New Testament. Jesus said, Don’t judge. And he condemned those who pointed out the faults of others while ignoring their own.”

Unsurprisingly, he ends up with a Jesus who looks a lot like him, and not at all like a first-century Jew. In John 7:24 Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” And there is no variation among manuscripts, so we know it’s part of the original New Testament! So according to Eichenwald’s criteria, we should follow that. And judging with right judgment will lead us to reject this entire article.

Our wording in this article is a bit stronger than we normally like to use, but in this case it’s appropriate. Eichenwald should be ashamed as a writer and a journalist to have published something so poorly researched. His editors should be ashamed they did not catch the gross errors in the article. Everyone who had the slightest involvement with this article is culpable. And we can only hope that Newsweek is flooded with subscriber feedback expressing their disappointment in the shockingly low standards that resulted in this piece. We would encourage readers to contact Newsweek and point out their lack of journalistic integrity.

References and notes

  1. Eichenwald, K., The Bible, So Misunderstood It’s a Sin, Newsweek December 23 2014; newsweek.com. Return to text.
  2. Vincent, M. R., A History of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, Macmillan: New York, 1899, Chapter V, http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/vincent_textualcriticism.html. Return to text.
  3. The original hand of Sinaiticus omitted 24:51, but a corrector added it back in. Return to text.
  4. See Cosner, L., An unconvincing case for pseudepigraphy, J. Creation 28(2):42–44, 2014. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

How Did We Get Our Bible?
by Lita Cosner, Gary Bates
US $3.50
Soft Cover
15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $3.50
Soft Cover
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Bob J.
Isaiah 26:10 Though favor be shown to the wicked yet he will not learn righteousness, though he live in the land of the upright yet he will deal unjustly and not acknowledge the majesty of The Lord!
cf. Romans ch.1;I Corinthians 1:18;2:14 and many more scriptures could be added to these.
This man's article is a living demonstration of the truth of God's word, because this man, who obviously has no idea of what he's talking about has unwittingly condemned himself! God's word has very clearly condemned this man by his own ignorance of the truth!
Psalm 2:4 He who sits in the Heavens shall laugh!
Bob Jones - New Brunswick, Canada
Beth G.
Thanks for the informative response. I particularly appreciated the information on Koine Greek. However, I do have a (somewhat picky) caution: if your position on the Pericope Adulterae and the long ending of Mark is not a ministry-wide one, it would be better to qualify that in the article itself. When writers representing CMI take a firm stance without qualifying it, it certainly gives the impression that their stance is CMI’s. (And even a Wikipedia search shows that there are scholars on both sides of this issue, so it can’t be a totally settled question.)
Mick K.
Hi all. I understand that you do not publish links to outside articles but may I alert readers to Albert Mohler's response to Mr Eichenwald's article? It is also well worth reading. Keep up the good work! Mick Koster.
Lita Cosner
I agree that Mohler's response is well worth reading. Here's a link for our readers.
Jim G.
This is a response to Ian's (valid) point about Newsweek not attacking Islam. However, I would like to clarify, because I think many Christians hold the view that Newsweek won't attack Islam because either they fear it or they're in bed with it. I think the reason, and the reason Lita's article was needed, is far more insidious: It's because deep down, they know that the Gospel is true, and they refuse to admit it. When you are opposed to the one correct religion, there's no point attacking other religions; there's only one that needs to be defeated: the REAL one! While I suspect it would be OK with them to attack other religions, only Christianity MUST be attacked. Because, in the mind of their real master, only Christianity matters. Compare to Dawkin's (or other atheists') diatribes against religion. He is smart enough to spread the wealth, but his real attention, and the one he works hardest to destroy, is Christianity. They're all following the same marching orders. Any perceptible deviation is likely only a smokescreen to mask their true intent.
Rick V.
The Newsweek writer seems to not have eyes to see or ears to hear and therefore his mind is unable to comprehend the things of God as clearly written in His word . Until God enlightens him he will continue to not be careful in dealing with the
things related to Divine revelation and that way of thinking is not uncommon is it?
Patrick T.
The truth be told it would seem to me he is simply reiterating the standard University mantra. This same garbage is what has and will be feed to millions of unsuspecting young minds today on most collage campuses. I have had my share of witnessing encounter on campus after campus and have heard this same exact objections from students ( many of which came to school from Christian homes). I hate to say this but it is the fault of our own making. We where commanded to fight the good fight not retreat as has been the practice of the last 60 years in the Church. This article is almost as important as scripture. If one can not defend what one believes how in the world can you share it with someone else. It is like joining the army and receiving your weapon but not given any ammo. It is rendered almost useless.
Lita Cosner
Well, I can tell you that most universities would be far more fair and accurate than this article (which shows just how far off the rails Eichenwald is with his piece).
Ian T.
Isn't it just great fun to pick on Christians? Newsweek are likely quite proud of themselves because they know Christians will be offended and get really mad. Why I'd bet some of those Christians will even write letters to the editor they'll be so mad at these insults to our holy scriptures. That ought to learn em!
Next they can take on the Muslims and attack the Koran. I wounder what kind of letters to the editor they'd get then?
Mark P.
I was upset to see a friend of mine from church posting that Newsweek article, which sounded convincing, but I knew was not as strong as it sounded. I found a good response from Dr James White at Alpha and Omega ministries on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7yxEjhiiM4)
Well worth watching to reinforce Lita's written arguments.
Lita Cosner
We normally do not publish outside links, but I have also seen the James White video and can thoroughly recommend it.
James H.
Interesting. So just out of curiosity, did you request a retraction? Did you submit this article to them? What did you do or say about it other than speaking to your own crowd on your own site? Considering the large audience that read the original article, what efforts did you make to reach the same masses? Just wondering.
Lita Cosner
Well, publishing the article on a site that gets thousands of visits a day is a good step toward reaching the masses. But really, we rely on our readers to share this article with those they think should hear this. As far as Newsweek is concerned, hearing from their subscribers will be more effective than hearing from an evangelical ministry.
Julie M.
Your readers might like to know how they can easily contact Newsweek. I Googled "Newsweek contact," and it directed me to a form. I urged them to read this article by copying/pasting the link. I really hope everyone does this!
Marcos W.
We know that God is jealous about His Word, and the history of the Bible, and the way it reached us, should be rather taken as a proof of its divine origin.
There is a discussion raised by the Jews regarding some differences between the LXX and the Massoretic texts. They claimed that the LXX was a bad translation, which was a blow against the Christians, because our first manuscripts (600 years older than the first Massoretic one) were mainly based on the LXX, as well as the OT references inside the NT.
The Dead Sea Scrolls put some light on this discussion, because it pushed the oldest texts 400 years backwards, and it was found that those manuscripts weren't uniform, and there were versions supporting both LXX and Massoretic texts.
It seems that God allowed some slightly different versions to coexist, and I don't see any reason to blame it, because God also allowed us to use translation, and even several translations for many languages. Otherwise, all of us would be compelled to learn Hebrew and Greek, and to seek what the original text was.
It is often so enriching to compare different translations, and try to get some clues from eventual differences. I would say that differences on old manuscripts should be used to discard what God didn't intend to tell us, instead of speculate about an original wording.
Glen J.
I did not think anyone still read Newsweek or Time magazines. They probably just wanted to print a controversial article to boost readership.
Terry P.
It is well to remind ourselves that it is God the Holy Spirit who opens our minds to know the truth…
«/ But, in the words of Scripture, ‘Things beyond our seeing, things beyond our hearing, things beyond our imagining, all prepared by God for those who love him’, these it is that God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit explores everything, even the depths of God’s own nature. Among men, who knows what a man is but the man’s own spirit within him? In the same way, only the Spirit of God knows what God is. This is the Spirit that we have received from God, and not the spirit of the world, so that we may know all that God of his own grace has given us; and, because we are interpreting spiritual truths to those who have the Spirit, we speak of these gifts of God in words found for us not by our human wisdom but by the Spirit. A man who is unspiritual refuses what belongs to the Spirit of God; it is folly to him; he cannot grasp it, because it needs to be judged in the light of the Spirit. A man gifted with the Spirit can judge the worth of everything, but is not himself subject to judgement by his fellowmen. For (in the words of Scripture) ‘who knows the mind of the Lord? Who can advise him?’ We, however, possess the mind of Christ. — 1Co§2:9-16 /»
We christians should not be surprised that the unspiritual find the Scriptures folly and misinterpret them, because they stumble around in the darkness of ignorance. But, in all humility, we should open our own hearts and minds, and allow the Holy Spirit to correct of our own misinterpretations of Scripture.
Ronald W.
I have contacted Newsweek via email and attached a link to this article. Thank you for such a timely and well thought out article. I now have to question the academic and journalistic integrity of every article I have read in Newsweek. I feel embarassed that I have used some of their past articles on various subjects as resources for essays I have submitted for various college level courses over the years. Thanks again Lita.
Joel L.

As I understand it, the case of the pericope adulturae is a good bit more complex than the other two. A contemporary of the disciples, Papias, was aware of the story, if we are to believe Eusebius, and may be original source for the later inclusion. Jerome is also said by ambrose to have mentioned it's inclusion in several codices.

More than that, the entire account fits, both thematically with Jesus' confrontations with the Pharisees, but more significantly in historical detail that is difficult to explain if the account does not have at least some historical truth. The importance of _two_ witnesses against an accused, the possibility that some of these men had also used her 'services'( and would thus benalso subject to death under Jewish law ) and that it was their names which Jesus wrote in the dirt all bear more than a passing scent of historicity. And one must wonder why the entire church leadership would suddenly accept, around the fifth century or so, the historicity of an entire passage of scripture spun ex novo from whole.

Perhaps even the strongest argument from silence may not be as strong as as it appears?

Lita Cosner
While CMI does not have a ministry-wide position on this issue, on the basis of my investigations as a NT specialist, I believe the evidence is clear that the Pericope Adulturae is an authentic record of something that happened--but it is not originally Johannine.

To summarize the evidence 1)It is not in any of the earliest manuscripts of any textual tradition. 2) It is not in the earliest translations of John 3) When it does start to be included, many manuscripts set it off with scribal markings that indicate the copyist is unsure of the authenticity of the passage. 4)Manuscripts insert the pericope in different places, some earlier in John 7, and some in Luke! Authentic parts of Scripture don't migrate like this.
S. J.
It is sad that on a day following the slaughter of journalists that say anything about Islam in France, that there is need for a commentary like this. Not only is the original article full of flaws but they feel no shame in mocking Jesus. They feel no shame in mocking Christians, making fun of our beliefs, openly cursing God's and Christ's name in vain, arguing with us, cursing us in public squares, and on and on. But while they claim Christians killed more than anyone in history, they are not afraid of us storming their building, lighting their building on fire or a couple open executions/kidnappings/beheadings of dissenters. Why do they not point out the thread connecting terrorism throughout the world. It could be stupidity, could be Satan blinding them (he has made strange bedfellows who have nothing in common but hating Christians), could be that they stink at researching backgrounds and don't see it. But I believe much of it is ignorance on what 'radical' of each religion believe coupled with those that do know being fearful of retaliation.
Esther M.
Thank you for a well-written rebuttal to a very poor article. The sad truth is that so many will never read a rebuttal, but will accept as fact everything the author of that article wrote.
Jack L.
Newsweek and Time (1996 God is dead cover) have attacked Christians for years. As a result they have seen steadily declines in subscriptions to the point and been marginalized to the point where uninformed college students seem to be the main writers who parrot what the editor says. I don't pay either one much attention at all.
Grahame G.
Jesus said to the religious rulers of his day, and to the religious rulers of the Western world of our day (secularists, both humanistic and "religious"), I say the same: "You (plural) are of your father the devil and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and did not live in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." From about half way through that verse it describes the Newsweek article perfectly and the spirit behind it. Can we trust scripture? Yes, we can not only know that we have accurate translations that faithfully relate the sense of the original inspired scripture but that we have the Holy Spirit to make sure we "get it". Scripture constantly affirms this and there are no unsolvable internal contradictions (which is a miracle in a book of its size written by so many authors from such diverse cultures over many centuries). History increasingly confirms the truth of scripture as well - in archaeology and extra-biblical texts. And nothing in science has ever proved the bible wrong. The manuscript evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the Bible being supernaturally created/produced (or as the Greek says "God breathed") and supernaturally preserved (protected). There is much more that far more serious scholars than those behind this Newsweek trash can bring up in support of the belief that God's word is indeed the word of God! And the article has done a fantastic job of laying out the case for trusting scripture and just how thin are most of the popular level attacks on the Bible.
"The Bible stands like a rock undaunted midst the raging storms of time -
Its pages burn with the truth eternal and they glow with a light sublime!"
Les G.
Sadly, many will take Eichenwald's words as accurate and true. Without the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, people prefer to not believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Articles like this encourage them in their unbelief, causing them to say, "I always knew the Bible is full of error". Well done, Lita! Keep contending earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
David P.
I do hope that CMI are going to also forward this article as a rebuttal to the Newsweek editors. Truth needs to challenge untruth for it to win out. A well written rebuttal together with a large number of feedback items to the editors and it may even get published by Newsweek.
Gary Bates
David, if you look at the bottom of the article we recommended that individuals like yourself should forward the article and protest to Newsweek about their poor journalistic standards. Simply, it is much more powerful if the public does it, rather than us. Potential loss of readership, thus dollars, is what really speaks to them.
Ian N.
I just love a good hypocrite, because they make mistakes without realising it. He said we should take the command of Jesus and "don't judge", then why did he write that article in the first place because he is judging those he wrote against. But like a good lefty on those who don't believe what he believes are wrong and should be judged.

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