Answering
Newsweek Magazine 






Introduction

Newsweek Magazine used to be a mass-circulation periodical that shoppers passed by on the way to the check-out cashier. It has shrunk since then down to an online publication. Apparently feeling that their small current circulation does not include many Christians, they published a blistering attack on Christianity in their December, 2014 issue:



  • “They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

  • “They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch.”
  • (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014, Newsweek Magazine).




This choleric rant goes on for pages and pages. With the irremediable solipsism of willful ignorance, our author assures us that, because he does not know the Bible languages, then we cannot either:



  • “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 of hand-copied copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”
  • (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014, Newsweek Magazine).




One does not know what to make of megalomania on this level. Does this author see himself as a world-creating brain-in-jar, so that when he ceases to think about us, we flicker out? It is easy enough to believe our author lacks competence in the Bible languages, you can tell that from his Bible interpretations. But how can he possibly expect to project his own incompetence onto the rest of us, so that he becomes the high water mark of human achievement?

Anyone who has ever visited an evangelical church has likely been invited to a Bible Study. Mr. Eichenwald apparently lacks even that distant sort of contact with Christian folk, whom he thinks make no serious or sincere effort to understand God's word. While certainly we all have our failures and successes at understanding scripture, whose depths few can plumb to the bottom and whose riches few can mine to exhaustion, any lapses are not for lack of trying.

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Gay Rights

His main point of controversy with the Christian community is, of course, homosexuality, which the Bible teaches is immoral, but the secular culture embraces.






He points out that the concept of 'homosexuality' was not defined in antiquity. This is true, and it is not defined in modern times either; this concept is so nebulous, poorly defined and difficult to get your arms around, that the Centers for Disease Control, concerned about disease transmission, simply dropped it and replaced it with 'MSM,' 'men who have sex with men.' Some ancient enthusiasts, though only of a loving disposition:


Theognis and Kurnos Meleager
Harmodius and Aristogeiton Sacred Band of Thebes
Orestes and Pylades Sappho and Damophyle
Pausanias and Agathon Plato and Dion
Cleomenes and Panteus Crates and Polemo
Terence and Scipio Gracchus and Spouse
Hadrian and Antinous Heliogabalus and Hierocles
Sexual Orientation Just Friends



Did the ancients understand the concept of men who have sex with men? Did they ever! In some of these communities, like Crete and Sparta, a man who never in his life-time had sex with another man was the exception rather than the rule. This fact alone should be enough to give pause to those who think sexual orientation is genetically determined. By all available evidence, sexuality is so plastic that most men in some ancient communities could be convinced that homosexual behavior is a good thing and they should engage in it, when in other social settings these men would have been exclusively heterosexual. Why then is heterosexual orientation so demonstrably plastic while homosexual orientation is, they claim, not plastic at all?

The most visible defenders of homosexuality in the church today, like Matthew Vines, make the startling claim that the kind of homosexuality which exists today did not exist at all in the ancient world. It should be apparent that a type of behavior simply not found during some eras is not genetically mandated! They say that ancient homosexuality focused on brief, uncaring, even exploitive encounters whereas modern homosexuality is focused on loving, committed relationships. Can this sweeping claim be verified by objective scrutiny of this behavior, in modern times and in antiquity? Sending a pollster to enquire of modern homosexuals whether their erotic activity centers more around the brief, ancient kind, or is of the modern, committed variety, produces the conclusion that ancient homosexuality and the modern version are actually very much alike. There is, however, an ideal which has been expressed by a minority of this minority community.

This ideal was not lacking in proponents in antiquity, at least to the same ratio as it attracts today. The claim that there were no loving, committed homosexual relationships in antiquity, so much so that ancient authors would not have been aware of the existence of such a possibility, cannot be verified by any study of ancient literature.



  • “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.”
  • (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014, Newsweek Magazine).





One might inquire further into the mind-set of these advocates. In fact not theory, ancient homosexuality had a lot in common with modern homosexuality: most of the men who practiced this behavior were promiscuous, with multiple partners. Some unloving and judgmental people think they should not have done that. The tail wagging the dog, a small subculture wants to put its stamp on a much larger group. They substitute their own subjective desiderata for what all available surveys show is the reality, both then and now. This is gay 'liberation'? Some people think they were placed upon this earth to herd sheep! Now they must submit to being told how to behave, not by the church, not by society, but by a tiny subset of their own community? Who are these advocates for the seldom-seen age-equal, monogamous life-long homosexual relationship to judge their contemporary brethren, who greatly outnumber them, who do not share their likes and dislikes? These advocates are replacing an 'is' with an 'ought;' since the Bible is quite realistic, it doesn't say much about all those monogamous, committed homosexual relationships out there; if it were more realistic, it would say even less.

"The New Testament doesn’t proclaim homosexuality the most heinous of all sins." (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014 Newsweek magazine). True, murder's worse. He intones, "No, every sin is equal in its significance to God." (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014 Newsweek magazine). The things you learn reading Newsweek Magazine! You sure about that? While Augustine loved the stealing more than he loved the pears, stealing pears is after all fairly small time. Gay marriage has become an issue of public controversy, not because the Bible teaches that homosexuality is worse than adultery or other moral evils, but because there is no party or faction demanding social assent to the proposition that adultery is morally good.

Our author dislikes politicians like Rick Perry, but instead of making a case to their constituency that their candidate's views on many points are out of alignment with theirs, he believes launching an ignorant diatribe against Christianity will do the trick. Gay marriage and abortion on demand have become litmus test issues for the Democratic party, with the predictable result that a huge chunk of the electorate is simply lost to this party. These are not issues where, the more you know about the Bible, the more likely you are to agree with Mr. Eichenwald, but rather the contrary. The idea that, if Christianity is the problem, simply dismantling it is the solution, is bold but rather naive and over-ambitious. It didn't work for Nero, a participant in a gay marriage, and won't work any better this time. One must wonder if it really was a smart move to tie the fortunes of liberalism to these two divisive issues, which cut right across the normal social and political boundaries, because the Republican goals of lower taxes for the wealthy, reckless deregulation, and foreign adventures might turn out to be unpopular after all were their lack of attraction not masked by these two litmus test issues.

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Letters of Paul

Our author gets down to cases and explains that Paul did not write those of his letters which mention ascetic practices (of which he disapproves):

"The next thing to check is whether 1 Timothy was based on a forgery. And the answer to that is a resounding yes. In 1807, a German scholar named Friedrich Schleiermacher published a letter observing that 1 Timothy used arguments that clashed with other letters written by Paul. Moreover, 1 Timothy attacks false teachings, but they are not the types of teachings prevalent when Paul was writing — instead, they are more akin to the beliefs of the Gnostics, a sect that did not exist until long after Paul's death." (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014, Newsweek magazine).

And they really did think like that. Colossians, for example, they say cannot have been written by Paul for this reason:

"Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." (Colossians 2:20-23).

James and Paul were contemporaries, and James, a life-long celibate according to Epiphanius, did indeed neglect the body. And it is known that missionaries came out from James: "For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision." (Galatians 2:12). Given that Paul knew James, it is after all not that likely he had never heard of such practices, although of course James cannot be accused of the later horrific heresy, which denies even monotheism.



  • “JAMES, who is called the brother of the Lord, surnamed the Just, the son of Joseph by another wife, as some think, but, as appears to me, the son of Mary sister of the mother of our Lord of whom John makes mention in his book, after our Lord’s passion at once ordained by the apostles bishop of Jerusalem, wrote a single epistle, which is reckoned among the seven Catholic Epistles and even this is claimed by some to have been published by some one else under his name, and gradually, as time went on, to have gained authority. Hegesippus who lived near the apostolic age, in the fifth book of his Commentaries, writing of James. says “After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone halt the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels’ knees.”
  • (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 2, James the Brother of the Lord).





If some of James's emissaries chance to praise his life-style, there's nothing strange or unexpected in that. Paul is talking about things he must have known about, not things not yet invented.

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Pick and Choose

Our author accuses Christians of picking and choosing the parts of the Bible they like. Is this fair?:


Eating Lobster Moral Law
Ceremonial Law Universal Law
Sabbath Keeping The Talmud
Law of Love




  • "But fundamentalist Christians must choose: They can either follow Mosaic Law by keeping kosher, being circumcised, never wearing clothes made of two types of thread and the life. Or they can accept that finding salvation in the Resurrection of Christ means that Leviticus is off the table."
  • (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014 Newsweek magazine).



Up until 70 A.D., when the temple at Jerusalem was destroyed, both Judaism and Christianity had a system of blood atonement whereby God and man can be reconciled through sacrifice. Christians believe that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was a type of Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice on the cross, the antitype which fulfills this testimony. Accordingly, Christians do not in any way discard or overlook Moses' blood atonement; rather, they believe they receive it in its fullness:

"But if a Jew asks me why I profess to believe the Old Testament while I do not observe its precepts, my reply is this: The moral precepts of the law are observed by Christians; the symbolical precepts were properly observed during the time that the things now revealed were prefigured. Accordingly, those observances, which I regard as no longer binding, I still look upon as a testimony, as I  do also the carnal promises from which the Old Testament derives its name. For although the gospel teaches me to hope for eternal blessings, I also find a confirmation of the gospel in those things which 'happened to them for an example, and were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the world are come.'. . .We hold all that is written in the Old Testament to be true, and enjoined by God for suitable times." (Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Book X, Chapter 2, The Complete Works of Augustine, Kindle location 178167).

Some of the Rabbis understood that closing the book on the only God-ordained means of atonement presented a problem: "R. Elazar said: Since the destruction of the Temple the gates of prayer are closed. As it is written [Lamentations, iii. 8]: 'Also when I cry aloud and make entreaty, he shutteth out my prayer.'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 11, Tractate Baba Metzia, Chapter IV, p. 138). Others believe study can substitute for the no-longer-available blood. Whether it is, or is not, fair to accuse the Rabbis of improvising a substitute for the God-ordained temple worship, Christians claim they have found the blood that sanctifies, which is what was meant all along. Before our author can debunk these claims, it would be helpful if he first became aware of them.

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Bart Ehrman

Faulty Text

This author borrows from Bart Ehrman the notion that the Bible as we have received it is radically defective. A more realistic presentation of the problem of the text would be that we have a thousand piece puzzle, with 1,010 pieces in the box. In fact the presentation of the gospel in scripture is so super-abundantly redundant that a person can be saved while reading even the most deficient of translations:




Such points as he has, he oversells. For example, the story in John of the woman taken in adultery, forgiven by the Lord, is medieval, he says: "Unfortunately, John didn’t write it. Scribes made it up sometime in the Middle Ages." (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014, Newsweek magazine). The Middle Ages? Then what's it doing in the Apostolic Constitutions, which cannot realistically be dated later than the fourth century:

“He says also to another, a woman that was a sinner: 'Thy sins, which are many, are forgiven, for thou lovest much.' And when the elders had set another woman which had sinned before Him, and had left the sentence to Him, and were gone out, our Lord, the Searcher of the hearts, inquiring of her whether the elders had condemned her, and being answered No, He said unto her: 'Go thy way therefore, for neither do I condemn thee.' This Jesus, O ye bishops, our Savior, our King, and our God, ought to be set before you as your pattern; and Him you ought to imitate, in being meek, quiet, compassionate, merciful, peaceable. . .” (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 2, Section 3, p. 809, ECF_0_07).

The story of the woman taken in adultery will, of course, be cited by everyone who wants to discredit the Bible, because it 'moves around' in the earliest texts, indicating that people thought it belonged in the New Testament, but weren't quite sure where. It is one of a very small assortment of problem texts; the game is to cite these few texts as if they were the tip of the iceberg, rather than the full extent of the problem.

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Constantine

As these people invariably do, our author resorts to Constantine:

"Christianity was in chaos in its early days, with some sects declaring the others heretics. And then, in the early 300s, Emepror Constantine of Rome declared he had become follower [sic] of Jesus, ended his empire's persecution of Christians and set out to reconcile the disputes among the sects. . .Those who refused to sign the statement were banished. Others were slaughtered. (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014 Newsweek magazine).

When Christian missionaries spread the Good News in India, some of the Hindus are only too happy to hear of a new Savior, and add a statuette of Jesus to the display on their shelf, joining Ganesh the elephant-headed god and other worthies. The embarrassed missionary is obliged to explain. The Christians do not want their new convert to add a statuette to the row, but to toss the whole thing in the trash. The same thing happened in antiquity. Some people, excited by the advent of a Savior, combined their new confession with their existing belief in a pagan pantheon. The result was gnosticism, pagan polytheism which has adopted a partially Christian cast of characters. The only "chaos" is in the minds of those who do not understand the Bible throughout teaches monotheism. Or rather the same "chaos" there was then is still plaguing the church today, on the interface between Christianity and pagan polytheism, and will continue to do so so long as polytheism flourishes.

No one was "slaughtered" at Nicaea, which also did not determine the canon nor set the date of Christmas. Where do they get this stuff? They make it up. There's worse to come.


History

A part of the "chaos" of early Christianity was that some people, the gnostics, believed an evil god had created the world and inspired the Old Testament:

"In fact, Christians are believed to have massacred more followers of Jesus than any other group or nation. . . Some felt certain God inspired Old Testament Scriptures, others were convinced they were the product of a different, evil God."
(Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014 Newsweek magazine).

Is it really possible for anyone who is a follower of Jesus in any meaningful sense to believe that an evil god inspired the Old Testament, as our author says?:

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Jesus the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

I kid you not, this was published in a major American publication:



  • “About 50 years later, in A.D. 381, the Romans held another meeting, this time in Constantinople. There, a new agreement was reached — Jesus wasn't two, he was now three — Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Nicene Creed was rewritten, and those who refused to sign the statement were banished, and another wholesale slaughter began, this time of those who rejected the Trinity, a concept that is nowhere in the original Greek manuscripts and is often contradicted by it.”
  • (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood it's a Sin, December 23, 2014, Newsweek magazine).




The difficulty in this view is seen in studying a passage like John 16:

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you." (John 16:7-14)

If Jesus is Father, Son and Holy Spirit as our author suggests, why use personal pronouns like 'He' and 'Me'?




The view Mr. Eichenwald believes was endorsed by the early church at the council of Constantinople is actually held by a small segment who will likely be pleasantly surprised to discover they are the mainstream after all. The rest of us do not say that Jesus is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit or that Jesus is Three; rather, we say He is the Son, and that one of the Trinity became incarnate. The Biblical problems that follow from saying what Mr. Eichenwald imagines the Christian church says are just too overwhelming. Which leaves the reader wondering, why does someone who knows nothing at all about what Christians believe feel the need to write an article on the topic?:

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Sunday Worship: Mark of the Beast?

Our author explains,

"The word Sunday does not appear in the Bible, either as the Sabbath or anything else."
(Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014 Newsweek magazine).

True. It's called the Lord's Day:

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Christmas Day

The reader relying on Newsweek for information discovers that "contradictions abound" in the gospels' account of Jesus' birth:

""To illustrate how even seemingly trivial contradictions can have profound consequences, let's recount the story of Christmas. Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehem. . .No wise men showed up for the birth, and no brilliant star shone overhead. . .Contradictions abound."
(Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014 Newsweek magazine).

Is there a Bible account of the nativity that says no wise men showed up, no star shone, and no angel announced? Of course not. The reader here discovers the meaning of a Bible 'contradiction:' if one account contains the information, but another does not, this is a 'contradiction.' By this standard, contradictions abound indeed: one history of D-Day will 'contradict' another if it reports incidents unmentioned by the other, one newspaper account of a car crash will 'contradict' the other if it includes survivor interviews not offered by the competing paper.

"And while the Bible mentioned nothing about the day of Jesus's birth, the birth of the sun god was celebrated on December 25 in Rome; Christians historians of the 12th century wrote that it was the pagan holiday that led to the designation of that date for Christmas." (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014 Newsweek magazine). True, or just Newsweek doing what Newsweek does?:

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The King James Version

Mr. Eichenwald labors under the misimpression that the King James version was translated from the Latin Vulgate rather than the original languages: "The gold standard of English Bibles is the King James Version, completed in 1611, but that was not a translation of the original Greek. Instead, a Church of England committee relied primarily on Latin manuscripts translated from Greek." (Kurt Eichenwald, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin, December 23, 2014 Newsweek magazine). Some of the great medieval translations, like John Wycliffe's ground-breaking version, were made from the Vulgate and were thus translations of translations, but like other post-Reformation Bible translations, the KJV was prepared from the Hebrew and Greek. Flip to the opening pages of your copy! No doubt the translators made note of the Vulgate along with other early versions, and more than that, since the Latin was the Bible they 'knew,' its familiar phraseology may have unconsciously influenced them. So also is it true that the NIV translators, who likely heard the KJV read in church during their childhood, may have been unconsciously imprinted by its cadences; would that they had been more forcefully influenced! Mr. Eichenwald continues to insist, in radio interviews he has conducted defending the article, that his belief this version was in reality made from the Latin is a 'fact.' If it is so, one wonders why the King James version does not give us Jerome's leper scholar:

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Public Prayer

Our author scolds Christians for failing to realize their religion prohibits public prayer. While it is certainly true that Jesus wanted the center of gravity of His people's prayer life to be alone with God, and hearing of a Christian who did most of his praying in church, we would certainly think something was wrong,— still He does not seem to have intended an absolute prohibition against public prayer, as this author assumes. Certainly the First Amendment, if it means anything, implies that it is not up to the Supreme Court to tell Christians where they are to pray:

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