bible commentary

The Many Sins of Newsweek’s Expose on The Bible

Reading the Bible. Image via RNS.
Reading the Bible. Image via RNS.

It is a tradition in American journalism as predictable as Easter and Christmas itself: a cover story purporting to reveal the true story behind the Bible we thought we knew. Newsweek — now in its digital-only form — offers the latest entry in this genre with “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” written by Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald.

Eichenwald seeks to demonstrate that the Bible is “loaded with contradictions and translation errors and wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy.” Eichenwald insists his article is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity. Rather, Eichenwald wants to rescue the message of Jesus from “God’s frauds,” those manipulative fundamentalists who don’t read or understand their Bibles but abusively twist it in order to create misery for others.

Even with a generous 8,487 words, Eichenwald reveals he is out of his depth for this subject matter. Though he doggedly advances his predetermined thesis from a mishmash of angles, experts quickly showed online that Eichenwald has not really done his historical homework or read his Bible carefully.

The Way of Peace and Grace

THE DIVINE COMMANDS to commit genocide found in the Old Testament are some of the most difficult and disturbing parts of scripture. Consider God’s decree against the Amalekites: “Totally destroy everything ... Do not spare them; put to death ... children and infants” (1 Samuel 15:2–3). Such passages have been used repeatedly to justify bloodshed in the name of God, beginning with the Crusades and continuing right up through U.S. history, where texts were used in sermons to justify the slaughter of American Indians.

In seeking to defend the Bible, many well-meaning commentators have become inadvertent advocates for these atrocities. But do we really need to defend and justify violence in God’s name in order to remain faithful to scripture? Is that what God desires of us? I’d like to propose that there is a better way—a way found in learning to read our Bibles as the apostle Paul read his.

To understand how Paul read scripture, it is important to first understand his conversion to Christ, which Pauline scholar James Dunn describes as a conversion from a version of religion characterized by “zealous and violent hostility.” In other words, Paul did not see himself as rejecting his Jewish faith or Israel’s scriptures, but rather as rejecting his former violent interpretation of them. While Paul could boast that his observance of the Torah was “faultless” (Philippians 3:6), at the same time he describes himself as “the worst of all sinners” and “a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13, 15). He confesses painfully, “I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). 

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How to Read the Bible

New Favorites
Here are five relatively recent titles that seem to me both of great importance and compelling interest:

With Job, part of the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series (Smyth & Helwys, 2006), Samuel E. Balentine has written a truth-telling commentary on the book of Job that teems with broad cultural awareness and stunning, courageous insight. Job lives at the edge of scripture and goads at the edge of faith. Balentine is knowing and unflinching in his capacity to face the rich truth of God’s holiness and all in our world that is not morally reliable or predictable.

In The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder (Oxford University Press, 2010), William P. Brown has offered what will surely and quickly become a classic on the difficult issue of “science and religion” or, more precisely “creation and evolution.” He has taken serious trouble to engage with the best available scientific thought and shows how biblical claims for God as creator resonate deeply with the order and awe-producing wonder of creation that inescapably culminates in doxology. He pays only slight attention to the shrill “new atheists,” but takes seriously the “adults” in the scientific community who know better than any thin scientism.

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