While I agree that most people don't know the Bible nearly as well as they think, I'm not a fan of the tone of the article, which says things like "This is no longer a matter of personal or private faith." which can be taken as a public call to action. (What sort of action is unnerving.) Also, it seems to imply Christianity's general anti-gay political stance is somehow also non Biblical, along with other examples of varying levels of relevance.
I think this article is trying to influence people into a more PC friendly way of reading Scripture. First, it seeks to undermine the reliability of the Bible:
"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."
While this statement is a fact, (perhaps a bit exaggerated) and is the reason there are some errors and omissions, the way it's presented here appears to be paving the way to cause the reader to doubt their current interpretation of the text. Not to re-examine, but to doubt.
Next, we have a few examples where the author is saying that later scribes made up various sections of the Bible, and we know this because earlier copies of the manuscript don't have some of that material in them. This would be a profound statement if the author hadn't already reminded us that no original copies exist and we've all just been reading copies of copies of copies etc etc etc. So while it's true that some older copies might not be complete, that doesn't necessarily mean they're more faithful to the original. The problem is that since the author doesn't go into any real detail, we're just supposed to take his word for it that the Bible is partly made up by Medieval scribes.
Again, this is to cause us to doubt. Why? I bet we find out later in the article. For now, we get this kind of vague "trust me..."
"These are not the only parts of the Bible that appear to 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 guess we'll just take his word for it. Again.
We now go on to hear about the King James Translation:
"The committee sometimes compared Latin translations with the earlier Greek copies, found discrepancies and decided that the Latin version—the later version—was correct and the earlier Greek manuscripts were wrong."
There may be a reason for this, don't you think? Maybe they had good reason to think the Latin versions they had were more accurate. They may well have had material available to them that is lost to us, 400 years later that justified that decision. That isn't the conclusion the author wants us to draw, so we're just supposed to let our trust in the Bible slide further and further down. Mind you, the KJV isn't the only translation we have these days, and it isn't like other translations rely on it. They go off, do their own translating and research, and while the result tends to be slightly different, it isn't by very much.
See, the problem here is that the article isn't presenting information to the reader in order to allow us to draw our own conclusions. There's a very definite conclusion we're meant to come to, and that's the one the author is spoonfeeding us here: "The Bible is unreliable 'cause people translated it wrong and made stuff up. Don't worry about evidence, just take my word for it."
Again, only the most rabid Biblethumper is oblivious to these issues.
The next part is meant to show us that religious bias influenced translation:
"For subsequent English Bibles, those slightly off translations in King James were then often converted into phrases that most closely fitted the preconceptions of even more translators. In other words, religious convictions determined translation choices."
Again, as a Christian, my reaction is "Duh." It's better than making a WAG (Wild Guess) when a word or phrase's meaning isn't crystal clear. I'm comfortable with this.
And now *boom* the first payload is delivered:
"In other words, with a little translational trickery, a fundamental tenet of Christianity—that Jesus is God—was reinforced in the Bible, even in places where it directly contradicts the rest of the verse."
So, dear reader, you are now meant to doubt Jesus' divinity.
And next, it's time to attack the Trinity:
"So where does the clear declaration of God and Jesus as part of a triumvirate appear in the Greek manuscripts?
Nowhere. And in that deception lies a story of mass killings."
Now, I don't believe in the Trinity either, but I find it repugnant that we're now supposed to let the author convince us that even believing in it is immoral...
"Those who believed in the Trinity butchered Christians who didn’t. Groups who believed Jesus was two entities—God and man—killed those who thought Jesus was merely flesh and blood."
Ok so Christians are barbaric, bloodthirsty savages that kill each other over doctrinal differences... well, okay that has been known to happen I'll grant that much but I'd say that has a lot more to do with the ugly side of human nature than translation flaws in the Bible. If you think things like the war in Northern Ireland or the Missouri Massacre of Mormons in the 19th Century or any of the Medieval "holy wars" in Europe had to do with spirituality, then you aren't paying attention. These things happen for much simpler, more ugly human nature reasons and religious doctrine is just an excuse.
I kinda like this trick... so the author goes on to talk about Constantine:
"in the early 300s, Emperor Constantine of Rome declared he had become follower of Jesus, ended his empire’s persecution of Christians and set out to reconcile the disputes among the sects."
Sounds great, right? But in the very next line
"Constantine was a brutal sociopath who murdered his eldest son, decapitated his brother-in-law and killed his wife by boiling her alive, and that was after he proclaimed that he had converted from worshipping the sun god to being a Christian."
Ok... so, I guess trying to unify a religion whose different camps were at each others' throats is a bad thing after all? I don't know what we're supposed to make of this. The author spends a couple of paragraphs talking about all the division, violence and strife among various denominations of early Christianity and then demonizes the person who sought to put an end to it all? Kinda weird. It's almost like we're meant to come away from this article just feeling discouraged about all of it... Well, perhaps I shouldn't say "almost." That's probably exactly how we're supposed to feel.
The article next goes on to talk about the Council of Nicaea in highly critical terms, as if the whole thing were a bad idea. (Again, since I doubt the author is trying to say all the strife would have been better, we're left with the notion here that Christians just can't get anything right at all.)
So then some more silliness about the doctrinal conclusions reached at Nicaea, with the strong implication here being that Constantine just made stuff up because he still had a thing for the Roman Sun God (Apollo?) and that he probably got a few things wrong but enforced it anyway. (Here I'm forced to somewhat agree with a couple items, since this is where the Trinity idea comes from, but that's neither here nor there.) We're still meant to see the Council of Nicaea as being a sort of Monty Python level of silliness and stupidity and that produced what we have today.
See where this article is going? I'm analyzing this as I read it, and I'm predicting that this article's grand finale will be something to the effect of "this is why Christians are wrong to oppose gay marriage." I'm calling it now.
So now comes a re-statement of "the Bible is all messed up" claim...
"Errors and revisions by copyists had been written in by the fifth century, and several books of the New Testament, including some attributed to Paul, are now considered forgeries perpetrated by famous figures in Christianity to bolster their theological arguments."
Who? Which famous figures in Christianity? Are we talking about historical figures or contemporary ones? I guess we're just supposed to be impressed by that statement and not think about it.
And then: "Some of those contradictions are trivial, but some create huge problems for evangelicals insisting they are living by the word of God." I'm telling you... we're setting up a gay = good argument...
Next we get some discussion of the contradictions in the various tellings of the Christmas story, along with a dose of the author's own ignorance. At one point he says: "And both Matthew and Luke offer that proof—both trace Jesus’s lineage to his father Joseph and from there back to David.
Except…Joseph wasn’t Jesus’s father. Jesus is the son of God, remember? " I can just imagine the smug look on the author's face as he typed this... I'm sure he felt this was a very clever little bit of reasoning. The problem is that this isn't contradictory. Jesus was born into Joseph's House, and as such was born into the House of David, Joseph's ancestor. In that culture, you were considered a member of a family's house even if you were adopted into it as opposed to having been born into it... So there's no problem here.
he then goes into the different genealogies but that's been addressed elsewhere because, again, "duh." This ain't news.
Ok what next... ok Anti-Semitism charges we knew that was coming at some point. What else... different accounts of Jesus' empty tomb... ok "duh" again, this author clearly thinks he's stumbled onto some shocking revelations that just induce a yawn from Christians...
Ok here's something noteworthy:
"For example, evangelicals are always talking about family values. But to Jesus, family was an impediment to reaching God. In the Gospel of Matthew, he states, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”"
That's a rather clumsy distortion. Jesus wasn't against family. The point of that verse was to show that God had to come first. Quoth Christians everywhere: "Duh." Jesus wasn't advising His disciples to break up their families.
But, did you catch it? Christians aren't supposed to be about Family Values... you know, the thing that makes us oppose Gay Marriage...
Also, I'm wondering why he keeps using the term "evangelicals." Is he really talking about only a subset of Christians who identify themselves by that term, or is this meant to signify all Christians but on the sneak, so that Christians who don't necessarily call themselves evangelicals will remain open to his conclusions? Hm.
"And even in ancient times, many Christian leaders proclaimed 2 Peter to be a forgery, an opinion almost universally shared by biblical scholars today."
Oh? That's news to me. Again, what Biblical scholars? Are we talking about credible Biblical scholars who know the difference between their backside and a hole in the ground, or just a couple of guys with a pet theory that happens to fit nicely in this article's narrative?
"None of this is meant to demean the Bible, but all of it is fact. Christians angered by these facts should be angry with the Bible, not the messenger."
I think I just wet my pants a little. That was a good one.
So, now we're going to look at the Old Testament, and the parts where there are two different stories telling the same thing, like Genesis 1 and 2.
"These duplications are known as “doublets.” “In most cases,” says Richard Elliott Friedman, a biblical scholar at the University of Georgia, “one of the versions of the doublet story would refer to the deity by the divine name Yahweh, and the other version of the story would refer to the deity simply as God.” Once the different narratives appearing in the Bible were divided by the word they used to reference God, other terms and characteristics turned up repeatedly in one or the other group. “This tended to support the hypothesis that someone had taken two different old source documents, cut them up and woven them together” in the first five books of the Old Testament, Friedman says."
At last, a specific name. Well, maybe this is right, maybe it isn't. Not sure why this need be a problem if you understand what's going on, but whatever. Again, this really isn't news.
"The doublets make reading the Old Testament the literary equivalent of a hall of mirrors." Hey tell us more about how this isn't mean to demean the Bible...
Isn't that like saying "No offense, but you're as dumb as a bag of hammers. No offense though?" (I suppose once you call "no offense" it's no longer an insult.... right?)
"These conflicting accounts are only serious matters because evangelicals insist the Old Testament is a valid means of debunking science. But as these example show, the Bible can’t stop debunking itself."
Hm. Maybe the chip on this guy's shoulder is more about Creation vs. Evolution... Or maybe it's both that and the gay thing. I dunno, but I'm sticking to my original theory. I'll be right back... gonna get some popcorn to see how this train wreck ends...
...ok I'm back.
"Evangelicals cite Genesis to challenge the science taught in classrooms, but don’t like to talk about those Old Testament books with monsters and magic."
Hmmm maybe this is a Science v. Religion thing. Don't forget you can't get mad 'cause he called No Offense. So sit down and take your beating you poor, misinformed, brainwashed religious zealots.
"The declaration in 1 Timothy—as recounted in the Living Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version Bible and others—could not be more clear: Those who “practice homosexuality” will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the translation there is odd, in part because the word homosexual didn’t even exist until more than 1,800 years after when 1 Timothy was supposed to have been written. So how did it get into the New Testament? Simple: The editors of these modern Bibles just made it up. "
ZOMG ok guys joke's over, time to embrace homosexuality.
Oh... wait... my Bible doesn't use that word either. So I guess this point is irrelevant and misleading. Is this author seriously trying to tell us that no word for the act of same sex pouncing existed before? (Not that it matters, that's not the way it's phrased in the KJV anyhow.)
Well he does acknowledge this: "The King James Version translated that as “them that defile themselves with mankind.” Perhaps that means men who engage in sex with other men, perhaps not." See? Doubt, doubt, doubt. Stop opposing same sex marriage, you dupes!
It gets better...
"The next thing to check here is whether 1 Timothy was based on a forgery. And the answer to that is a resounding yes."
Sometimes I hate being right.
"Most biblical scholars agree that Paul did not write 1 Timothy."
Who? Again, no sources, no specifics, no context.
Now we get some irrelevance from a guy who doesn't seem to be too confident in his arguments:
"But suppose for a moment that 1 Timothy was written by Paul, and that “defile themselves” does refer to homosexuality. In that case, evangelical Christians and biblical literalists still have a lot of trouble on their hands. Contrary to what so many fundamentalists believe, outside of the emphasis on the Ten Commandments, sins aren’t ranked. The New Testament doesn’t proclaim homosexuality the most heinous of all sins."
Why would it need to be? And who said it was? I'm pretty sure if you ask 100 Christians what the worst sin is, they'll all either say 'murder' or 'blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.'
Newsflash to the gay community and it supporters: Our lives as Christians don't revolve around what gay people do. Just sayin'.
And a tour now on the stuff in 1 Timothy about women keeping quiet.
You know, one of the things that annoys me when a non-Christians starts trying to analyze the practice of Christianity is that they don't get these kinds of differences and nuances, and then come demanding that we look at it as ignorantly as they do.
Next he concedes that the admonition against homosexuality in the book of Romans is probably authentic, but that doesn't really matter 'cause you can't criticize your leaders which Christians do all the time so let's just gloss over that one.
Again, regarding 1 Corinthians:
"The story is the same in the last New Testament verse cited by fundamentalists who scorn homosexuals. Again, it is a letter from Paul, called 1 Corinthians. The translation is good, and the experts believe it was written by him. But fundamentalists who rely on this better stay out of court—Paul condemns bringing lawsuits, at least against other Christians. Adultery, being greedy, lying—all of these are declared as sins on par with homosexuality."
So... the conclusion here is... what? That we shouldn't have any moral issues with homosexuality because we take each other to court?
I get what this author is saying. He's accusing Christianity of picking and choosing and being hypocrites. I get it. We get it. There are answers and discussions on these very topics going on within the Christian community all the time. Again, this guy's on the outside looking in.
And then this gem:
"Of course, there are plenty of fundamentalist Christians who have no idea where references to homosexuality are in the New Testament, much less what the surrounding verses say. And so they always fall back on Leviticus, the Old Testament book loaded with dos and don’ts. They seem to have the words memorized about it being an abomination for a man to lie with a man as he does with a woman. And every time they make that argument, they demonstrate that they know next to nothing about the New Testament."
Translation: If Christians knew the Bible as well as *I* know it, they'd never condemn homosexual behavior.
Now he's making a very old theological argument about how the New Testament supposedly trumps the Old Testament so we're not supposed to use the OT to guide us in anything moral. That's rather beyond the scope of the reliability of the Bible, and getting into how various denominations weight the Old and New Testaments. Nothing to do with translation quality.
"Which raises one final problem for fundamentalists eager to condemn homosexuals or anyone else: If they accept the writings of Paul and believe all people are sinners, then salvation is found in belief in Christ and the Resurrection. For everyone. "
A statement like this can only come from someone who has absolutely no understanding of how Salvation works.
Then the author goes into a sermon about how people who give public prayer on TV or at sporting events are contradicting what Jesus taught about praying privately. I do think he's correct here, but not through deep understanding. He's already demonstrated a lack of that. Again though, that's got nothing to do with how well the Bible is translated. At this point the article is just going on a generalized Christian bashfest.
"Because God knows what someone needs without being asked, there is no reason for long, convoluted prayers."
Well, actually... Long prayer DOES have its spiritual benefits, but that's beside the point here.
"It seems almost a miracle that those who effortlessly transform Paul’s statement about “them that defile themselves with mankind” into “homosexual” can ignore the clear, simple words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. "
Ok, back to the gay isn't sinful argument.
"No. This examination is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity."
This guy really cracks me up.
Ok, in the unlikely event that this Newsweek writer ever reads this post: Kurt, seriously... If you were honestly trying to open up a productive, reasonable, honest discussion about these issues (and yes, there are some genuine issues up for discussion here) then your tone, approach and vague references have been a catastrophic failure to do so.
"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."
Well, this is true. He's got a point here.
"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."
Or what agenda-driven magazine articles tell them, for that matter.
I noticed at the bottom of the page there's a link to another article saying "Jesus may have been crucified because his followers were carrying weapons, according to a scholarly analysis of New Testament books."
So, apparently the next article is to support gun control.
This article appears to be one in a series of Newsweek articles designed to attack and undermine Christianity and Christian beliefs by disguising itself as a reasoned, researched analysis.