Some other writers have responded to Kurt Eichenwald’s
Dec. 23, 2014 Newsweek article about
the Bible. I haven't covered every detail, so those who have additional questions may want to seek out the following blog-entries:
(James White also made a 90-minute video that included a response to Eichenwald, but due to its mistakes and meanderings I do not recommend it.)
And now back to the list of things wrong with Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek article.
(8) Eichenwald claimed that when the King James Version was made, “A Church of England committee relied primarily on Latin manuscripts translated from Greek.” Certainly the KJV’s translators consulted Latin, Syriac, French, Italian, and other translations. However, the KJV’s Preface (“The Translators to the Reader”) addressed this very question about the translators’ base-text: “If you aske what they had before them, truely it was the Hebrew text of the Olde Testament, the Greeke of the New.” The Greek New Testament had been in print since 1516, and had been reprinted in numerous revisions by scholars such as Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza (the owner of Codex Bezae, which Eichenwald described as an “early version”). Eichenwald’s claim that the KJV’s translators “relied primarily” on Latin manuscripts is simply false.
(9) Eichenwald grossly oversimplified the reasons why English translations differ, claiming that this is due to “guesses of the modern translators” about the meaning of the Greek text, as if koine Greek is horribly obscure. I am willing to grant that on this particular point, Eichenwald is only mostly wrong. There are some obscure words in the New Testament regarding which the meaning is not entirely secure, such as the exact species of tree that Zaccheaus climbed. But this sort of thing is not nearly the perplexing linguistic puzzle that Eichenwald depicts it to be. The differences in translation-methods – whether the goal is a technical precision or contemporary clarity – have far more impact than opaque terms in the text.
(10) When Eichenwald attempted to illustrate his claim that “religious convictions determined translation choices” in modern translation, he blatantly misrepresented the New American Standard Bible. He stated that when the New American Standard Bible (and the NIV and the Living Bible) translated the word προσκυνέω – which is routinely translated as “worship” in the KJV – the translators of the New American Standard Bible “dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus.” Thus, Eichenwald contended, “Each time προσκυνέω appeared in the Greek manuscript regarding Jesus, in these newer Bibles he is worshipped, but when applied to someone else, the exact same word is translated as “bow” or something similar.”
More than a dozen examples that contradict Eichenwald’s claim could be presented; in the interest of brevity let’s just look at Acts 10:25 from the New American Standard Bible:
“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him.” (
Voila. Eichenwald’s claim that the
“dropped the word worship
when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus” is false.
(11) In his discussion of church history, claimed that
Constantine “changed the course of Christian history, ultimately
influencing which books made it into the New Testament.” In real life, Constantine had practically no influence on the canon of the New
Testament. Eichenwald brought up this
point as if the New Testament canon was debated at the Council of Nicea, but
that is not what happened at Nicea. The
fourth-century historian/bishop Eusebius of Caesarea reported that on a
separate occasion, Constantine instructed him to produce 50 Bibles for the churches in Constantinople,
but there is no basis for any suggestion that Constantine was ever involved in any decisions about which books should be
(12) (This one's just about a typing-mistake.) Eichenwald wrote that at the Council of Nicea, “The primary disputes centered on whether Jesus was God—the followers of a priest named Arius said no, that God created Jesus. But the Bishop of Alexander said yes, that Jesus had existed throughout all eternity.” This should not have made it past Newsweek’s editors. The vocal opponent of Arius was Athanasius, bishop of
not the “Bishop of Alexander.”
(13) Eichenwald gave his readers the impression that at the Council of Nicea in 325,
arranged for the Sabbath-day to be shifted from Saturday to Sunday. This part of his article reads like something
based on bad Seventh-Day Adventism propaganda.
Justin Martyr, writing c. 160, stated forthrightly in his First Apology,
“On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read,” and, “Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”
This is easily corroborated by quotations from other patristic writers who lived before Constantine, such as Irenaeus and Tertullian. Eichenwald’s claim that “Many theologians and Christian historians” believe that the Sabbath-day was moved at the Council of Nicea might aptly describe theologians and historians who are as misinformed as Eichenwald is, but it does not reflect what actually happened; the decree was concerned with standardizing the liturgical calendar, not with introducing a new day of worship.
(14) Eichenwald gave readers the impression that December 25 was identified as Christmas-day at Nicea because this was when “the birth of the sun god was celebrated.” Two things should be noted in response. First, Romans had so many pagan holidays that you couldn’t throw a dart at a calendar without having more than a 50% chance of hitting some deity’s special celebratory day. Second, Christians in the western part of the
Empire had been observing
December 25 as Jesus’ birthday since at least the time of Hippolytus of Rome,
in the very early 200’s; Hippolytus mentioned its observance in his commentary
on Daniel. And Hippolytus, a rather
strict and austere theologian, had no motive to associate Jesus’ birthday with celebrations
held by his pagan persecutors.
(15) Eichenwald claimed that after the Council of Nicea had developed the Nicene Creed, “Those who refused to sign the statement were banished. Others were slaughtered.” Could he, perhaps, name a few of the bishops who attended the council who were afterwards slaughtered for refusing to adhere to the Nicene Creed? I don’t know of a single one.
(16) Eichenwald described the decrees of the First Council of Constantinople (in 381) by saying that the bishops there agreed that “Jesus wasn’t two, he was now three—Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” This is nonsense. The First Council of Constantinople expressed that the church believes in the Holy Spirit as “the holy, the lordly and life-giving one, proceeding forth from the Father, co-worshipped and co-glorified with Father and Son, the one who spoke through the prophets.” It did not decree that Jesus is the Holy Spirit or that Jesus is the Father; the idea was that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons sharing one divine and uncreated essence.
(17) Eichenwald continued to misrepresent church history when he claimed that “By the fifth century, the political and theological councils voted on which of the many Gospels in circulation were to make up the New Testament.” In real life, none of the church councils that had an impact on the New Testament canon were debating whether or not the Gnostic texts should be regarded as canonical. The four-Gospel canon was already established in the 100’s, as shown in the writings of Irenaeus. In the early 300’s, the Gnostic pseudo-gospels were not in the mix, and never had been, except to the Gnostics.
(18) Eichenwald bizarrely misinterpreted New Testament passages about the value of the family unit. He reads Matthew and concludes that “To Jesus, family was an impediment to reaching God.” This is sad caricature-drawing. Jesus was not anti-family, as many other verses (Matthew 10:2-9, for example) prove. Matthew is about priorities, particularly in times of persecution when Christians face choices between loyalty to Christ, or to non-Christian family members, or to wealth. Saying that this makes Jesus “anti-family” is just absurd.
(19) Eichenwald presented his interpretation of Mark as if “all of it is fact” instead of being his own interpretation. Citing Jesus’ statement, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be done,” Eichenwald asserted that this meant that "the people alive in his [Jesus’] time would see the end of the world.” But this overlooks the nature of the questions that Jesus was answering in his apocalyptic discourse in Mark 13. Another interpretation is that Jesus’ remarks about the end of the world in Mark 24-27 are parenthetical, and that when he says that “this generation” will see the foretold events, He is referring to events described earlier in the chapter, and to the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in the First Revolt in the late 60’s – within a generation of the time of Jesus.
(20) Eichenwald misrepresented the Greek term ἀρσενοκοῖται as if its meaning is obscure, stating, “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.” Granting that the KJV rendered the term euphemistically, it does not require a degree in philology to discern what ἀρσενοκοῖται means: those who participate in male-to-male coitus. Just reduce the word to its Greek roots and this is obvious. Eichenwald claims that translators “manipulated sentences to reinforce their convictions,” but if anyone is manipulating words in an attempt to blur the meaning of the text in this case, it’s Kurt Eichenwald.
(21) Eichenwald asserted that “Every sin is equal in its significance to God.” Granting that all sin separates sinners from God, Eichenwald’s claim does not square up with statements in the New Testament such as John 19:11, where Jesus tells Pilate, “The one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin,” and First John 5:16-17, where a differentiation is made between sins that lead to death, and sins that do not. All sins should be avoided, but not all sins have equal consequences, and not all sinners have the same level of culpability.
(22) Eichenwald misrepresented the contents of First Timothy 2:9-10, stating, “It says women must dress modestly, can’t embroider their hair, can’t wear pearls or gold and have to stay silent.” Wrong. These verses are preceded by verse 8, where Paul specifically prefaces his statement by saying “I desire” that these things would be done. Paul’s expression of his own preferences are not the equivalent of a “Thus saith the Lord.” He similarly told the Corinthians (in First Corinthians 7:7) that he desired for everyone to be celibate, like him, but he did not make that a command. Paul’s statements about hair and pearls should be interpreted through the usual interpretive lens that takes first-century Roman culture into account. When Eichenwald ignores context in an attempt to score rhetorical points, he is guilty of the same sort of oversimplification that he accuses others of committing.
(23) Eichenwald’s attempted application of First Timothy 2:12, as if it means that “Every female politician who insists the New Testament is the inerrant word of God needs to resign immediately or admit that she is a hypocrite,” is ludicrous. In this passage, Paul is laying part of the groundwork for the list of qualifications for elders and deacons, which follow in chapter three. A modicum of consideration of the context shows that Paul is focused on goings-on in the churches, not in the political arena. If Eisenwald’s myopic misapplication is the best he is capable of, then it’s Eichenwald, not Michele Bachmann, who “should shut up and sit down.”
(24) Eichenwald’s misapplication of Romans 13:1-8 was erroneous to a humorous degree. In that passage, Paul calls on Christians to be law-abiding Roman citizens, to pay their taxes, and to be respectful toward those who hold government offices. From those instructions, Eichenwald drew the conclusion that Christians are forbidden from criticizing the government; “There are eight verses condemning those who criticize the government,” he wrote. But Paul was not writing about criticizing the government; he was writing about disobeying the government. He did not want church-members to give anyone a basis to brand the Christian churches as politically driven revolution-clubs.
That is a long way from saying that Christians should not criticize anything that is done by anyone holding a political office.” Does Eichenwald serious think that anyone trained in Judaism, as Paul was, and who was aware of how the Old Testament prophets criticized various kings and government officials, would say that it would be sinful to criticize the actions of a king? Acts reports that Paul himself protested against the way government-officials treated him. Would Eichenwald conclude that Paul, by protesting unjust treatment from the government, was sinning? Surely not, I hope. Eichenwald’s abuse of Romans 13:1-8 is preposterous rhetoric which I hope he will someday recollect with a sense of shame.
(25) Although Eichenwald offered some valid criticisms of “prayer shows,” I noticed that he named Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal. (He did not mention Barack Obama – who proclaimed May 1, 2014 as a National Day of Prayer and stated, “I invite the citizens of our nation to give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I join all people of faith in asking for God’s continued guidance, mercy, and protection.”) But how can he express this criticism of the actions of government officer-holders after stating that Romans 13:1-8 condemns those who criticize the government? Apparently even Eichenwald does not take Eichenwald’s interpretation of Romans 13:1-8 seriously, even within the same article.
(26) Eichenwald seemed to imagine that Jesus’ command in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” means that Christians should not warn and plead with people not to break God’s commandments. God alone can look into a person’s heart, and God is the one Lawgiver and Judge. That does not mean that Christians should keep quiet about what God has said that He wants people to do, and what God has said He wants people to avoid doing. It is not wrong for Christians to warn others who are stumbling, wandering, or lost. Just the opposite: a church that is not calling people to repent and surrender to God is guilty of profound apathy and distraction, as if the church’s top priority ought to be keeping people well-fed on the outside while they are starving and eating dirt on the inside. Jesus said that the second-greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. When Christians warn adulterers, sodomites, liars, and sinners of every sort that they need to repent, and that they are lost, and that they need to receive a new spiritual nature from God, they are doing what they wish someone would lovingly do for them if they were lost in sin.
These were not the only problematic aspects of Eichenwald’s “Newsweek” article but they are sufficient, I believe, to warrant a request for retractions and apologies.