Monday, 29 December 2014

Naughty Wicked Newsweek

In case you missed it Newsweek has a cover story on biblical ignorance: The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin.

The screams, wails and gibbering of those charged with the aforementioned ignorance can be heard far and wide. Bloggers, conservative theologians, the usual suspects. Apologist Daniel B. Wallace, for example, is in overdrive. No big surprise there, Wallace is on the staff at fundamentalist Dallas Seminary and received his 'education' both there and at the equally dubious Biola.

More surprising is that Überbiblioblogger Jim West has joined in the chorus of "ain't it awful".

The offending article is actually quite good. Okay, it paints with a broad brush but, let's get real, this is intended as popular journalism, not a theological treatise. If it was a theological treatise, nobody would read it. Newsweek has committed the ultimate heresy: talking over the heads of the 'experts' - particularly those with church-funded sinecures - and addressing the hoi polloi, the laity, directly. Has no-one told writer Kurt Eichenwald that this is supposed to be a closed discussion? No riff-raff allowed!

You could challenge a few of the details in Eichenwald's article, but that would largely be nit-picking. Overall it's a pretty decent introduction to a very important discussion. A discussion Christians should be embracing, not making excuses about.


  1. I couldn't continue when the author said that modern bibles were "a translation of translations of translations". That's just such a fundamental mistake. He might as well hae said that it was orignally written in Latin or Chinese.

  2. A fundamental mistake? The King James Version of the Bible is an English translation based on a Latin translation of literature that was written in a then (1611) and now defunct version of mostly Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Moreover, the New Testament is a record of the works and messages of folks who almost certainly spoke in First Century Aramaic and understood some Hebrew and Greek of the time. And none of these observations begins to take into account the number of times that scribes (with various levels of education in some of these languages) took pen in hand to copy manuscripts over the course of the last three thousand years. A mistake? I think the author was spot on!
    I did find some of the history in the article surrounding Constantine and the Sabbath to be a retread of the WCOG slant on history. The truth is that the Emperor did not change the day of worship. As suggested in the article, he was a political opportunist whatever his personal beliefs. His famous Sunday decree was an acknowledgement and nod to a practice that had been adopted by the overwhelming majority of his subjects - both Christian and pagan. Moreover, it is misleading (and an oversimplification of the history of the subject) to suggest that the canon was the product of people living in the Fourth and Fifth centuries. As many scholars have pointed out, earlier Christians had their lists of inspired writings (and most of those lists would be familiar to the Christians of 2014 and present a story and theology which they could relate to). As with most things historical, the formation of the canon was a process (which, in this case, culminated in the events of the Fourth and Fifth centuries).

    1. Miller, that was an excellent synopsis. I think YOU were spot on!

      Regarding the post you responded to, from pr-gaius-baltar: please consider that he may have been speaking tongue-in-cheek. It reads to me like he's using irony.

    2. 1. The author is clearly not just talking about the KJV. He says that "at best" we're reading a translation of a translation of a translation. In reality at best we're reading "a translation".

      2. The author was also clearly not talking about us reading a "translation of a translation of a translation" of the "works and messages of folks" who spoke Aramaic. He's talking about the biblical texts, and they were written in Hebrew and Greek.

      3. The text being copied many times doesn't add any translations to the mix. When you copy a work the language is still the same.

    3. 1. "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. According to Jason David BeDuhn, a professor of religious studies at Northern Arizona University and author of Truth in Translation, it was often very hard for the committee to find the correct English words. The committee sometimes compared Latin translations with the earlier Greek copies, found discrepancies and decided that the Latin version—the later version—was correct and the earlier Greek manuscripts were wrong." --Kurt Eichenwald in his Newsweek article
      2. Are you suggesting that no translation of the story and message of these folks was required from Aramaic to Greek?
      3. When anyone undertakes to copy any piece of literature and they are not proficient in the language and/or add or subtract anything to the original, they are effectively translating that work into something other than the original (even if they employ the same language).

    4. 1. Let us assume that the KJV fits his claim. That doesn't make his claim correct. He said that we were **"at best"** reading a translation of a translation of a translation. Are you going to claim that the NIV, ESV, NLT NASB and so on are all "translations of a translation of a translation"?

      2. No. But I'm saying that the author was clearly talking about the translation steps from the original text of the bible to the text we're reading.

      3. No. Copying a text isn't translating it.

  3. Let's pause for a second and look at one line of your post:
    "Wallace is on the staff at fundamentalist Dallas Seminary and received his 'education' both there and at the equally dubious Biola."

    Now let's count the ways in which that one line implies that Wallace is stupid:
    1) "on the staff" I'm pretty sure he's a tenured professor, and were you referencing a scholar you agreed with, my suspicion is that you would have described them as a "professor" rather than trying to play down their credentials by demoting them to "staff".
    2) "fundamentalist Dallas Seminary" DTS is extremely conservative, yes. And I wouldn't go there if you paid me. But do they qualify as "fundamentalist" in the traditional sense of that term? That is, at least, up for debate. It's a moot point though, since I don't think your point there was to discuss the technical classification of the school, so much as to associate Wallace with the word "fundamentalism", which as we all know: "fundamentalist" = "fundy" = "stupid."
    3) " 'education' " in scare quotes. He was educated there, he received an actual education, not an 'education'. I'm pretty sure DTS is fully accredited, which means that no matter how much you and I may disagree with their theological conclusions, their education does meet modern standards. But again, I don't think your point was to discuss the accreditation of DTS, but rather merely to imply that Wallace wasn't really educated, and therefore he is stupid.
    4) "equally dubious Biola" same goes here.

    That's 4 ways in just one sentence that you imply he is stupid, and since he is stupid, his arguments must be incorrect, right? Thank goodness you just saved us the hassle of having to interact with his actual arguments!

    Wallace is a well-known scholar. He is a credentialed professor, his textbook on New Testament Greek is one of the most used text books for that subject in North America, and the work he has done with the CSNTM is appreciated by all scholars in the field.

    Wallace is also someone with whom I have a number of disagreements. He has made some claims in regards to my area of study which I believe are incorrect, and I have spent a great deal of time in print presenting evidence as to why I believe he is incorrect. That's the way it should be.

    If you also think his conclusions are wrong, then you should engage those conclusions. This sentence, however, is just a text-book case of ad hominim, and I think you embarrass yourself with it.

  4. Thanks for those direct comments. I've replied to them in the following post, "A Reply to Ryan".