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Through my work with the Christian Standard Bible, I came across some stats about Bible reading: 88 percent of American households own a Bible, but only 37 percent of people read it once a week or more. People said they don’t read their Bibles because they don’t have enough time, and they struggle to understand the words.

These two frustrations are understandable, and we’ve all struggled with them. But are they the real reasons people aren’t reading their Bibles?

Root Issue

When you think about it, we should get really excited about Bible reading. The God of the universe has given us his Word. He could’ve tapped out when we disobeyed him in the garden, but he didn’t. He went looking for us and talked to us (Gen. 3). Knowing our gracious God gave us his Word should make us want to read it, but often that’s not enough.

We don’t read the Bible regularly because we don’t understand how it works. We often think it’s all about us, and that opening Scripture is only useful when we think we need it. We don’t understand how amazing the Bible really is.

Word that Lives

We shouldn’t read the Bible like we do any other book, or treat it like a source of entertainment. Instead, we should consider what makes Scripture special. Paul tells Timothy:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16–17)

Notice the verbs: Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable. It’s not that Scripture was inspired but now isn’t as relevant. It was and is and will be inspired and profitable.

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The screen printer standing in my living room was trying to sell me on a new four-color process for the kids Bible club shirts my church needed. One problem: he came to the door asking for “Mike,” not “Mark” because I kind of forgot to tell him the truth… (I used to use a pseudonymous email address out of overblown security concerns.)

We still joke about that. He’s now one of my best friends. But back then I had no idea of the wonderful story of God’s grace in his life. He and his wife were brand new to the area, and my wife and I invited them over and started a friendship. We found out that this clean-cut young man had, not too many years back, been a drug addict. As a last resort his non-Christian family had sent him to a Christian program in a rural area. Most guys go there to get clean, and they’re willing to use the God stuff temporarily if it will help them get their lives back from drugs and alcohol.

But my friend’s experience was different: God wouldn’t let him be temporary. He got hold of this young drug addict’s heart. After graduating from the program, he immediately went on staff, then married the daughter of another graduate. The screen-printing gig was his first venture into “the real world” since coming clean and turning to Christ. He was full of faith, hope, love, and zeal. He and his wife found a church that was known for engaging (ahem, read: wild) worship services, not so much for theological depth.

Pins and needles

So I was surprised when, one Sunday, he called me and asked if he could come to my church, where the proportion of wildness to theological depth was rather different. “Of course!” I said; I was thrilled. But I immediately became afraid, too. My pastor was going through Isaiah. We had just made it to chapter 21, a somewhat recondite passage full of judgments on people such as the Dedanites, Temanites, and Kedarites. I had to listen to a lengthy expository message through the ears of a guy sitting next to me who, as best I knew, had never heard an expository sermon.

To make matters worse, the title of the message that evening was “Shuddering Over a Harsh Vision.” That was me: I envisioned my friendship with this guy ending. In my vision, he was looking at me like I was an alien, and he was heading back to a church where he could be sure he’d never have to hear about the Dedanites again.

My pastor, an experienced expositor who also taught preaching, said something at the beginning of the message that I’d never heard him say before: “This is one of those obscure passages of Scripture that, if it went missing, no one would notice.” Oh no, I thought. The pins and needles under my pew cushion grew longer, and I was required to sit on them throughout the detailed explanations required to get us all through Isaiah 21.

When the service was over, I couldn’t bear to ask my friend what he thought. I didn’t want to put him in the awkward position of having to tell me with a glazed expression, “Church is not supposed to feel like a sentence-diagramming party.” So I changed the subject of our conversation to something else, maybe football.

He changed it right back. With deep feeling he said, “Wow. . . Now there’s one part of the Bible”—and here he held up his hands to indicate the space of about a chapter—“that I understand.”

Shortly thereafter my friend and his wife were eating up the kind of in-depth Bible teaching I was afraid to introduce him to that Sunday; they listened with the zest of someone who has just discovered that meat exists.

Exposition

Expository preaching is sometimes criticized (and sometimes rightly so) for being all about understanding and not about feeling. All head, no heart. But you had to be there to see my friend’s eyes. Few people get excited about hour-long expositions of Scripture. He did, because he had the new heart of the New Covenant. He hungered to know God’s words.

John Piper advocates preaching that is what he calls “expository exultation”—head and heart. And in my experience there’s nothing quite like it. The capacity for deep feeling is itself made deeper by a greater depth of exposition. I’ll never forget singing “The Church’s One Foundation” with my fellow church members after we’d been treated to an exposition of that foundation in Ephesians 2.

As is nearly always the case, Piper’s “expository exultation” is only an encapsulation of Jonathan Edwards, who said in Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England,

I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with. (387)

After hearing a message on a harsh prophetic vision, a congregation is supposed to shudder—as Isaiah himself did in this portion of his book (“My heart staggers; horror has appalled me”). The Bible, rightly preached and rightly understood, creates negative feelings as well as positive in hearts made soft to God’s words. The Lord evidently thinks we need to hear passages of comfort as well as of warning. The Bible clearly instructs us both to love the Lord and to fear him. A New Testament preacher must bring in gospel comfort, too, but not by removing the teeth from God’s warnings.

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9 Things You Should Know About the ESV Bible

Last month the publisher and translator team that produced the English Standard Version (ESV) announced the “text of the ESV Bible will remain unchanged in all future editions.” But after public debate about making the latest edition the “permanent text” they announced this week, “We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake.”

Here is what you should know about the ESV, one of the most popular English translations of Scripture:

1. The idea for the ESV Bible originated in the early 1990s when Lane T. Dennis, president of the nonprofit book publishing ministry Crossway, discussed the need for a new literal translation of the Bible with various Christian scholars and pastors. Near the end of the decade, the translation committee began work. The ESV was released in 2001, with minor revisions being released in 2007, 2011, and 2016.

2. The starting point for the ESV translation was the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Each word of the text was also checked against and based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983), on the Greek text in the 1993 editions of the Greek New Testament (4th corrected ed.), and Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.). Crossway adds that in “exceptional, difficult cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, and other sources were consulted to shed possible light on the text, or, if necessary, to support a divergence from the Masoretic text.”

3. The three general philosophies of Bible translation philosophy are formal equivalence, functional equivalence, and optimal equivalence. As Dave Croteau has explained, formal equivalence (“word-for-word” translation) attempts to translate the Bible as literally as possible, keeping the sentence structure and idioms intact if possible (examples: NASB, KJV); functional equivalence (“thought-for-thought” translation) attempts to translate the text so it has the same effect on the current reader as it had on the ancient reader (example: NLT); and optimal equivalence falls between the former approaches by balancing the tension between accuracy and ease of reading. As an “essentially literal” translation, the ESV most closely aligns with a formal equivalent translation philosophy in that is “seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer.”

4. The translation was overseen by a 15-member Translation Oversight Committee (including TGC Council member R. Kent Hughes) and another team of more than 50 Translation Review Scholars (including TGC Council member Ray Ortlund).

5. On the Christian Booksellers Association 2014 listing of top selling Bible translations, the ESV ranked fifth in dollar sales and fourth in unit sales. During the past 15 years, he ESV has distributed more than 100 million print copies as well as more than 100 million electronic copies.

6. In 2013, Gideon’s International—a ministry that distributes free Bibles to locations including hotels, motels, hospitals, convalescent homes, medical offices, domestic violence shelters, prisons, and jails—announced it would be transitioning its modern English version from the New King James Version (NKJV) to the ESV. This change will make the ESV one of the most widely distributed versions in the world.

7. The readability level of the text of the ESV is around 8th grade (7.4 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and 74.9 on the Flesch Reading Ease). In comparison, the NIV is also at the 7th-8th level, the KJV at the 12th grade level, and The Message at the 4th-5th grade level.

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“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

~ 1 Peter 1.8-9

If you’re a Christian, you believe reading the Bible is important. But have you considered how to approach it in the first place? What kind of “heart posture” is necessary?

God cares deeply about these questions. Here are seven ways we should approach his Word in 2016.

1. Approach It Humbly 

The Bible is empirical evidence that the Maker of the universe is a God who initiates, who reveals, who talks. There are, after all, only two options when it comes to knowledge of one’s Creator: revelation or speculation.

Either he speaks, or we guess.

And he has spoken. As Carl F. H. Henry said, the God of heaven and earth has “forfeited his personal privacy” to befriend us through a book. The Bible is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.

Now, given that we’re not only creatures of the dust but rebels against heaven’s throne, this is astounding. The King would’ve been entirely right to leave us to ourselves, sunk in an ocean of ignorance and guilt.

But he didn’t. He peeled back the curtain. And then opened his holy mouth.

Any authentic knowledge of God hinges on his generous self-disclosure to us. Only through his Word can we know who he is, what he’s like, what he demands, and how we may know him. This ought to humble us deeply.

2. Approach It Desperately

Having rehearsed God’s law one final time before his death, Moses looks at the people of Israel and says, “These are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deut. 32:47). The stakes could not be higher. Not only are our spiritual lives launched by God’s Word (James 1:181 Pet. 1:23), they are sustained by it too. As Jesus declared, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4).

The psalmist, too, ached to hear the words of God: “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times,” he exclaimed. “I cling to your testimonies. . . . I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments” (Ps. 119:2031131).

Your soul will wither and die without the Bible. Approach it desperately.

3. Approach It Studiously

Imagine if you asked me about my wife and I responded, “Oh, she’s incredible—the most amazing girl I’ve ever known! She’s from Oregon, has gorgeous red hair, and hates chocolate.” Now, would my chocolate-loving brunette who hails from Virginia feel honored by this description? Of course not. I can gush about her all day, but unless my words reflect who she really is, she’ll be insulted.

Why, then, are we so careless when thinking and speaking of our Creator?

“Great are the works of the LORD,” the psalmist exclaims, “studied by all who delight in them” (Ps. 111:2). The New Testament, too, commends engaging Scripture with care: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

Come to the Bible with a learner’s posture, asking the Author to teach you wonderful things.

4. Approach It Obediently

The psalmist didn’t just long to understand God’s commands; he wanted to obey them, too.

You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! . . . Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
 and obey it with all my heart. . . . I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. (Ps. 119:4–534, 60)

The New Testament reinforces this urgency of submitting to Scripture: “Whoever says, ‘I know [God],’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1 John 2:4–5). Or, as James simply urges, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).

5. Approach It Joyfully

As a dad, I’m not always pleased when my kids obey me. They need to do so with a happy heart, too. Anyone can muster grudging compliance, after all, but real obedience flows from love and joy (John 14:15).

The Book of Psalms opens with a man whose “delight is in the law of the LORD” (Ps. 1:2). He can’t get enough of it. Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah confesses, “When [God’s] words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jer. 15:16). Even Jesus said the purpose of his words is to induce joy: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

Cracking open my Bible feels like a duty at times. It will for you, too. We’re fallen humans in a fallen world. When that moment arrives, though, press on. Press through. Ask for help. Plead for joy. It’s a prayer the Father loves to answer.

6. Approach It Expectantly

Since the Bible’s ultimate author is God, it is a book of unparalleled power. Its words can melt hearts (Jer. 23:29) and change lives (John 17:17).

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Christianity and Homosexuality: A Review of Books

A sign of this cultural moment is the wave of new books—from very divergent points of view—that have come out recently treating this topic. So over the next few months I will be reviewing several of these books. It’s my way as a pastor to point people to those volumes that both fit in with biblical teaching and are pastorally wise and sensitive, as well as those books that, for all their good intentions, are mistaken and unhelpful.

The first two books I’ll review are both written by authors who hold two things in common. In Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay? Questions Christians Ask and Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, both authors relate that they are sexually attracted to the same gender, but at the same time, in the words of Hill, they testify:

“to the truth of the position the Christian church has held with almost total unanimity throughout the centuries—namely, that homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity…and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ.”

It says something about the clarity of the Bible’s teaching that neither of them can find any loopholes in the traditional Christian position, but affirm it completely. Hill, who is a New Testament scholar, sums up the biblical material nicely (and briefly) in his first chapter.

Allberry’s book does so as well and, though it is a shorter book overall, he gives the biblical teaching more sustained attention. There are two basic parts to it.

First, every place the Bible directly addresses sexual relations between people of the same gender, it is always unambiguously forbidden. This is not only true in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22) but also in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9,10; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Romans 1:18-32).

Allberry says the more he looks at the Bible the more he is convinced that what it says about homosexuality “makes most sense in light of what it says in general about sex and marriage.”

I would add that the Bible’s prohibitions are not motivated by animosity toward people with same sex attraction. Rather, they are there because homosexual practice doesn’t fit with God’s wonderful purposeful design for sexuality in our lives. Even the design of male and female bodies testifies to this design.

This purposeful design is made clear in at least three ways.

First, sex was given to men and women to enable whole life covenant bonding. God made sex to be a commitment-deepener—a way to say to someone else “I belong completely to you.”

Therefore it is only for use inside marriage, where it is designed to operate as a way to constantly renew, remake and re-energize your covenant with love and joy so it does not grow old or cold.

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Trigger warning! The Bible may disturb your emotional health (COMMENTARY) – Religion News Service

A boy from the Mennonite community reads the bible at his school in Cuauhtemoc, Mexico o November 8, 2012. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez  *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-WAX-COLUMN, originally transmitted on August 17, 2015.

(RNS) Before you read this article, be warned! You may come across something you disagree with, or an idea that makes you uncomfortable, or a statement that causes offense. Please shut off your mobile device or close your browser, and back away slowly from your computer.

I’m kidding, of course. But only a little.

There’s a movement afoot in many universities and colleges across the country. It’s driven by the vision for the campus to be a “safe space” where ideas and words that make someone uncomfortable can be easily avoided. In New York magazine, Jonathan Chait describes it as a renewed strain of political correctness, a kind of “language policing” that poisons political debate and shuts down discussion.

In The Atlantic, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff argue that this strain of political correctness is primarily about “emotional well-being,” protecting students from psychological harm. It’s “the coddling of the American mind,” they say, in a twist on Allan Bloom’s famous work, “The Closing of the American Mind.”


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One example of turning college into a “safe space” is the recent trend of putting “trigger warnings” on books — alerts from a professor that something in the course may stir up a strong, emotional response from the students. The motivation behind trigger warnings is sensitivity to people who have had traumatic experiences, a way of letting them know they may be disturbed by what they read.

Unfortunately, in a collegiate atmosphere tense with the fear of perpetual offense, the number of “triggers” have multiplied, and many of the most important books in history are getting labeled, and in some cases, dismissed.

For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” gets a trigger warning because of its depiction of misogyny and abuse. The classic myths of ancient Greek literature get trigger warnings because of rape.

Can you imagine how many trigger warnings the Bible would get? If there has ever been a book that is designed to make you uncomfortable and challenge your way of thinking, it’s the Bible.

Christian radio stations love to say they’re “safe for the whole family,” but that slogan wouldn’t fit if they were reading the whole Bible out loud as part of their programming. Violence, abuse, torture, rape, slavery — these are the warnings we’d have to issue by the time we finished reading the Bible’s first book, Genesis.


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The further you read, the more challenges you find to today’s political correctness. The storyline of the Bible starts with a God who created human beings in his image as the crowning achievement of his creation (trigger warning: speciesism!). He created humans male and female (gender binary alert!) to subdue and cultivate the Earth (ecology alert!), to join together as the two halves of humanity in covenant marriage (marriage discrimination!), to be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth with icons of his glory (overpopulation!).

After the human race revolts against God, the stories of the Bible follow a long line of humans who are idolatrous to the core, willing to substitute anything and everything for worshipping God (low self-esteem!). The diagnosis for humanity is bleak, but the thread running through the narrative is one of God showing mercy and grace to his chosen people, Israel, (ethnocentrism!) in order that he might one day bless the whole world.

For Christians, God’s rescue plan happens only through sacrifice — blood sacrifice that covers our guilt and shame (Sorry, PETA!). Their Bible climaxes with Jesus the Messiah who lives the life God always intended for humanity, shows the world what God is like, extends mercy to those who oppose him, and willingly offers himself as the final and ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world. In the Gospels, the trigger warnings multiply: torture, injustice, abuse, and execution.

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by Dr. Darrell Bock

I’ve been hearing a lot in the public square about trajectories. In these conversations God’s Word is used to argue that the church needs to change its view on same-sex marriage, even though Scripture seems uniformly against it. This comes not only from newspaper columnists, such as Steve Blow in the Dallas Morning News, but also from evangelical commentators who claim the direction of the Bible takes them there. I understand this desire to love well, taken from the great commandment (Matt. 22:39), and I also see that one can ask such questions not out of a desire to rebel, clear a new path, or conform to culture, but out of sincerity.

Sincere questions deserve sincere responses. This article is designed to engage those who say the real thrust of the Bible is to joyously enter our brave new world with open arms and hearts. I’ll discuss various claims arguing that Scripture either doesn’t clearly address our specific contemporary situation or that Scripture is open and inconsistent enough to allow room for a category previously rejected.

Claim 1: Jesus didn’t speak about same-sex marriage, so he’s at least neutral if not open to it. What Jesus doesn’t condemn, we shouldn’t condemn.

This is an argument from silence, but the silence doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Jesus addresses and defines marriage in Matthew 19:4–6 and Mark 10:6–9 using both Genesis 1:26–27 and Genesis 2:24 to parse it out. Here Jesus defines and affirms marriage as between a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together. With this definition, same-sex marriage is excluded. Had Jesus wished to extend the right of marriage beyond this definition, here was his opportunity. But he didn’t take it.

Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way he defined marriage already excluded it. He was not as silent on the topic as some claim.

Claim 2: The Old Testament (OT) allows all sorts of “prohibited” marriage, including polygamy and what would today qualify as incest. If those were permitted, surely monogamous same-sex relationships should be allowed.

Here’s where a look at trajectory helps us. If we observe what Scripture actually teaches, we see that (1) such past marriages are consistently portrayed as resulting in social chaos and aren’t so much prescribed as described; and that (2) Scripture’s expansion into the New Testament (NT) narrows down the scope of options to the standard of one monogamous union between a man and woman in which the marriage bed is to be honored but porneia—sexual infidelity in all its manifestations—is to be avoided (Heb. 13:4). Additionally, elders are to show the community what it looks like to be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2, 12).

So opening up marriage to a new category actually works against Scripture’s trajectory on marriage.

Claim 3: The move to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriage is like the church’s past blindness on slavery, women’s rights, and a geocentric universe—where what was “clearly” taught in Scripture is now seen as wrong.

It’s fair to point out that some views that used to be considered clear in Scripture have actually turned out to not be so clear—and even wrong. Hermeneutical humility for all is not a bad thing. But it cuts both ways. Whereas with creation/slavery/women one can point to passages where counter-tensions existed with what was clear (such as the way Paul asks Philemon to treat Onesimus, or how Mary sat as Jesus’s disciple, or how the Spirit is said to indwell all women), no OT or NT text is even neutral on same-sex issues. Every single text that mentions the topic does so negatively.

So here also trajectory helps us, since with same-sex passages there is no trajectory. The reading is consistent. That should count for something.

Claim 4: We don’t follow all sorts of OT laws today (try laws on having sex while a woman is menstruating, or eating certain types of food), so why should we accept what the OT says about same-sex relationships?

We already set the trajectory for this answer when we noted that all the biblical texts on homosexuality, both in the OT and NT, are negative. Yet one other observation needs to be made. Some OT laws deal with the issue of uncleanness tied to the temple and worship, which aren’t categories of sin but of appropriateness tied to worship. These aren’t moral laws, but restrictions that distinguished Israel from the surrounding polytheistic nations who were morally loose and sacrificed certain types of animals (and in some cases, children) as part of their worship. This claim shows no sensitivity to these biblical distinctions. In some cases, it ends up comparing apples to oranges since issues of uncleanness were set aside in the NT when Gentiles came into the fold (Acts 10:9–29; Eph. 2:11–22; Col. 2:13–15).

We don’t read the Bible as a flat text. It progresses, even along certain trajectories, so that with the arrival of the promise certain parts of the law are set aside (Gal. 3; Heb. 8–10).

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The death of his brother Walter (in World War I) and his mother’s desperate grief left an indelible mark on the child Dietrich Bonhoeffer. At his confirmation three years later, she gave him the Bible that Walter had received at his confirmation in 1914. Bonhoeffer used it throughout his life for his personal meditation and in worship.

Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (revised edition), 28.

by Justin Taylor  January 14, 2015

Bock

The following is a guest post by Dr. Darrell L. Bock. Dr. Bock serves as the Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and is the author of a two-volume commentary on Luke, a commentary on the book of Acts, along with books on The Da Vinci Code, challenges to the historical Jesus, and the claims of Bart Ehrman.

I let a week pass before deciding to write about Newsweek‘s latest take on the Bible, an article called “The Bible So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” by Kurt Eichenwald, a former investigative reporter for the New York Times. I have been asked about it by email. I have decided to go one section at a time through the article, so this will start a series of responses with four parts.

Now one thing not to do is be angry about it, treat it as a screed (since it clearly has a bias as it makes its “case”), and miss the fact that what is written here is how many are told the Bible works and what many who engage with the Bible today think about it. Since this is a national news magazine, a calm response of substance is needed.

Having said this, I do have to note that of my many experiences with national media, it has been consistently the case that Newsweek has been among the least responsible in handling issues tied to the Christian faith. The one exception to this was Jon Meachum, the former editor, whose articles did seek to raise issues with some sense of balance and respect for the complexities of doing work in ancient sources. My own Breaking the Da Vinci Code was written because of my frustration with a multiple-hour interview with the magazine’s reporters (two of them on separate occasions) where I pointed out well-known flaws with the novel’s alleged historical background claims that never got even a sentence’s mention. My story in this case was not isolated. They also interviewed my Catholic friend, Francis Moloney, Dean of the Catholic University at the time, who made the same points I did in interviews that ran an equal length. They did not print a word of what he said either. A series of witnesses to an opposite point of view apparently is not worth reporting.

Part of what we are seeing is not only the annual Christmas and Easter articles saying what Christianity has taught is not what “scholarly” history shows nor is it in the least bit credible, but it is done with a kind of tribalism in reporting that engages in complete silence about any counter perspective. In noting this, I am pointing to a trend that exists on all sides of these kinds of debates. The tribalism approach on all sides is part of what contributes to the historical and biblical illiteracy the article complains about in its opening. This problem runs across the idealogical spectrum of discussion on these issues. Unfortunately the article’s approach to this discussion is no antidote to that problem. In fact, it reinforces it.

PART 1:
ABOUT THE BIBLE’S TEXT

1.1. On Manuscripts

NSWKSo let’s go through this piece one issue at a time. Let’s start with what is said about the actual text we have. For this I could just cite the response of my colleague, Dan Wallace, who has spent his life investigating and photographing the very manuscript evidence this article raises as so untrustworthy. Dan correctly opens up saying the issue is not the fact that Eichenwald asks hard questions. The Bible makes such important claims, so such questions should be asked. It is the way he answers them that is the problem. Dan also shows how the nature of the issues Eichenwald makes about our manuscripts does not lead to Eichenwald’s conclusions. I leave the Textual Criticism side of the argument to Dan’s piece.

Eichenwald’s way in is to cite Bart Ehrman, whom he calls a ground-breaking New Testament scholar. Now Bart himself has said that what he writes is a reflection of current discussion that has been around a long time. He and I have debated over the radiom where he made this statement to me as something I was well aware of, something I also affirmed at the time. The views presented (including the appeal to the telephone game as Erhman’s illustration for how poorly copies were passed on) are but one take on these issues that are argued pro and con in the public scholarly square. This hardly makes him a ground-breaking source. Ehrman is a spokesperson, a very competent one, for one take on all of this. But the article even uses his material extremely selectively. Here is another quotation Ehrman makes on this topic: “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” What this means is that people on all sides recognize that what we have in the Bible, in terms of the core things it teaches, is a reflection of what made up these books originally. The caricature by Eichenwald that what we have in our hands has no resemblance to what was originally produced is misleading in the extreme, even considering the source the journalist uses to make his point.

1.2. On Supposed Problematic Texts: Luke 3:16

But there is more. This section of the article got my attention by an example it raised from Luke 3:16, a book in which I have spent my entire academic life. Eichenwald complains that the text has a literary problem in that John answers a question that the text never raises. He argues that the effort by later copyists in the fifth century to fix this conceptual problem in the text led some to attribute to John the Baptist an ability to read his audience’s mind that was not in the original. This example betrays two problems.

(1) If we cannot know what the original was, then how can we complain about the variant? How do we even know it is a variant? I say this somewhat facetiously, but it does raise an issue inherent in the discussion. Unless we have some sense of what the original is likely to have been (something all textual critics believe is something that can be pursued), we cannot even raise questions of assessment.

(2) Even more problematic is the literary insensitivity the objection has. In Luke 3:15 the crowd is speculating as a group that John the Baptist might be the Christ. There is a public-square question on the table. When the text says succinctly, John “answered,” it is not a specific question he is responding to (which is what Eichenwald thinks is required) but to the general and expressed speculation: a publicly raised question that opens the door for a reply. There is nothing at all problematic about the text as it stands.

1.3. On the Issues Tied to Orality: Is It the Telephone Game?

The area of discussion this section also raises has to do with how accounts were passed on in the ancient world when manuscript writing was rare and orality was the norm, in part because when it came to events, the accounts were rooted in those who were alive and could testify to what took place was valued in ancient culture, something Papias tells us in the second century.

The telephone game analogy (where such reports can go anywhere) has been countered by two other models: one rabbinic and the other community based. The rabbinic model shows that when a community cares about the content, it can pass it on and recall it with a high degree of accuracy. This passing on is overseen in a way that protects its core content from deviation. Although this is the main model put forward by some, it also has a problem in that the parallel accounts of what we have in Scripture when the same story is being told has enough variation in it that the exact standards this model implies are placed under some pressure.

This leads us to the second approach: the community model. The argument here is that accounts people care about are passed on in such a way that the core or gist is passed on but allowance is given for some variation of detail. The most revealing illustration of this is how Luke retells Jesus’ appearing to Saul on the Damascus Road in Acts 9, 22 and 26. We know this is the same author, yet he retells the same story with a touch of variation that keeps the story somewhat fresh and not merely a repeated, boring, retell. This shows, culturally and at a literary level, how such passing on of accounts works. Now either of these other examples point to the fact that the telephone game example is flawed in terms of ancient culture when discussing accounts about which ancients have an interest in passing something on.

For the rest of the post…

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