NEWSWEEK magazine two days before Christmas published a cover story about the Bible: The Bible: so misunderstood it’s a sin. That article got a lot of my fellow Christians worked up and freaked out.
I understand why.
They don’t know any better. They haven’t heard that kind of talk before.
Most Christians don’t know much about the Bible.
- They know almost nothing about how we got it.
- And barely more about what it says.
As the Newsweek writer Kurt Eichenwald reports, “A Pew Research poll in 2010 found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings.”
Chew on that a while.
I don’t doubt the finding for a second. In fact, I built my career on the fact.
If people read the Bible, I wouldn’t have to spend my life writing books about the Bible in an attempt to draw people inside Scripture to read the thing for themselves. That’s what I do. That’s pretty much all I do.
Most Christians seem content to sit on their butt and let the preacher read the Bible for them.
What troubled many of my fellow Christians is that the Newsweek writer said even if we do read the Bible, we haven’t really read the Bible.
He said, “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.”
Big deal. I’ve been saying that for years.
Well, not the part about “a bad translation.” From what I can tell, the people copying copies of copies of copies were paying attention to what they copied.
The Newsweek writer’s article is basically a list of problems that most Bible scholars have been aware of for a long time. Like passages that don’t show up in the oldest copies of a book.
For example, the earliest version of the Gospel of Mark stops at chapter 16, verse 8. It’s an awkward ending, and most scholars I know of speculate that some editor copying a copy from a copy decided to add some of his own copy. He inserted info he knew about from other Gospels and perhaps from some teachings he had heard.
Sadly, that editor added some stuff about handling poisonous snakes. That generated a pile of dead Pentecostals.
Most new Bible translations now delete that apparent add-on to Mark.
I don’t have a problem with cerebral scholars finding humanity in the Bible. Inspired humans wrote the Bible, but they were humans. As scrolls wore out, humans replaced old scrolls with freshly copied scrolls.
I don’t have a problem with humanity in the Bible. I see plenty of humanity in the Bible, and reported some of it in Strange and Mysterious Stuff From the Bible. But I see God, too.
I worship God. I do not worship the Bible.
I remember the first time I heard that idea – that we should not worship the Bible. My New Testament professor, Dr. Rob Staples, used a word picture from Bethlehem to illustrate his point. It went something like this, “It’s as though some people go to the birthplace of Jesus and instead of worshiping Jesus they worship the cradle that holds him.”
The Bible is not Jesus. The Bible holds the story and teachings of Jesus.
There may be humanity in the Book, with words dropped and phrases picked up and translations getting it wrong.
Regardless, I can love God. And I can love my neighbor as myself.
Or at least I can try, for Jesus’s sake. I’m pretty sure the Bible writers and translators all got that right. But even if they didn’t, there’s a Spirit inside me that says it’s the right thing to do.
It may seem odd, given the fact that I write books about the Bible, but I don’t hold most tightly to the Bible. I hold most tightly to the Christ revealed in the Bible. There’s a difference.
If we recognize there’s some humanity in the Bibles that we hold in our hands, we’re a little more reluctant to thump people over the head with one particular phrase in one particular verse based on one particular interpretation.
I’d rather not be that particular.
So, about that Newsweek article. Read it. And read the Bible references the writer quotes.
Think. Learn. It’s good to do that.