The Bible and Its Influence by Cullen Schippe and Chuck Stetson

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By Grant Steves

It may be argued that Bible literacy is the first step to a realization that the Bible is not as it claims to be – “God breathed” or “inspired by God.”  – 2 Tim. 3:16.  It may be argued that a public school should teach the Bible as literature, so that students will be able to experience Western literature more fully by recognizing the Biblical allusions.  You perhaps would agree that in teaching the Bible a supplementary textbook would help in giving background to the historical context.

The first problem in teaching the Bible is the selection of the translation to be used, (There several dozen translations available).  The New Jerusalem Bible is a fine translation by Catholic scholars, however, it is not mentioned by the textbook being reviewed.  The New International Version is a good conservative Protestant translation.  The New Revised Standard Version is an acceptable translation by Catholic and many mainstream Protestant groups.  However, none of these would give the allusions, quotations,  and references that the King James Version would..  It has influenced more literature and speeches than any other literature. 

The second concern is what supplementary reading you would select to explain context and history of the Biblical books.  In a public school, you must search out the textbook with no theological influence and bias.

This review examines the supplementary textbook, The Bible and Its Influenceby Cullen Schippe and Chuck Stetson, 2006.  It is widely advertised on the internet as a, “break through public school Bible textbook”, and “an unparalleled accomplishment.”  To appeal to the insecure, it states, “Many schools will simply not feel comfortable teaching this subject without a companion student textbook.”  Their book is the companion book that will answer all the questions.

The book is heavily illustrated with iconic pictures from Christian art.  It has the appearance of a coffee table book on the Bible.  However, beneath this veneer of art is a biased religious text.  The content contributors: Joanne McPortland has written a book on the Mass, which does not appear to be of a scholarly type; Marjorie Haney Schafer, Ph.D, has taught religious studies and English at the college level and is a freelance author; Marc Stern, J.D., writes on political topics from a conservative point of view; and Eve Tushnet, who blogs as a conservative social commentator.  None of these contributors are Biblical scholars or unbiased in their view.

The purpose of this book is to help in understanding the Bible’s influence in, “literature, art, music, culture, public policy, and public debate.”  It repeats over and over how the book does not violate the separation of church and state and presents the material in a legally acceptable way.  It does indicate, “you will encounter differing religious views, but the views will neither be encouraged nor discouraged.”  No one “will … be asked to conform to any of the beliefs you encounter in this course.”  Is it necessary to present Biblical references in a theological context?  The selection of Genesis 2: 18-23 (p. 32) illustrates the theologizing of the text.  In the comment box, this scripture is described as portraying,”marriage as part of God’s intention for humans, a sexual union for companionship, and the rearing of children.”  To draw this conclusion, you must reject a theology that would argue for gay marriage.

A second example comes from John 1: 1-5, 10 – 14.  The text is described as a “view of Jesus as both God and man.”  It is “…a foundational belief of the Christian community”…created by “… church councils such as that of Nicaea in the year 325 ….”  The Council of Nicaea, “begins to articulate the Christian doctrine of the incarnation… and the Trinity…”  This is theologizing of the text.  Not all Christian faiths draw this conclusion.

In explaining the short and long version of the Gospel of Mark they comment, “the alternate endings show how the manuscripts for the gospels grew and developed.”  The scholarship that exposed this is not acknowledged, and it is presented as a normal development of scripture.  It does not raise questions about the two endings as examples of tampering with the text.

A third example of conservative influence is on the dating of when the Gospels were written.  Ten years may not seem important; however, if that Gospel is prophesying the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, it has an influence on credibility.  Because we do not have original copies of the Gospels, we must estimate the time period based on information in the text, secular history, and archeology.  The fragments we do have date from around the third century.  In addition, the Codex Siniticus, containing the complete New Testament, dates from around the mid-4th century.  This textbook fails to refer to any of the scholarship done on the early manuscripts.  Compare their dates with those of Raymond Brown, an internationally recognized New Testament scholar in his book, An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, 1997,:

  Bible and Its Influence  Brown’s N.T. Intro.
  Matthew  – 50 – 60 CE 80-90
  Mark      –  50 – 60 CE 68-73
  Luke       – 60 – 70 CE 85
  John       – 90 – 100 CE 80-110

Rome destroyed the temple in 70 CE.  Only Mark might have written before the destruction of the Temple, but his book is also under question as to its date of composition.  The Bible Literacy Project clearly sets dates that would accommodate the credibility of prophecy but not the credibility of scholarship.

The fourth example is one of omission, and this one highlights the failure of the textbook to come to terms with scholarship.  In John 7:53 – 8:11, we have the famous scene of Jesus forgiving the adulteress.  The saying that has become infamous and important to Christian teaching is: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”(King James Version)  Most Protestant groups reject this as authentic material.  A textbook dedicated to allusions, sayings, and scholarship surely would comment on this problem so as to set the Biblical record straight, but no they do not.  What else does this textbook cover-up or omit?

The book does not reference or recognize new critical scholarship to any great extent.  In fact to this reviewer, they have gone out of their way to avoid any serious critical examination of the Bible.  In the introduction they explain the writings of Paul as being in part not written by him.  However, they fail to acknowledge the scholarship that identifies the problems raised by such a discovery.  But remember these small problems do not change the Bible’s mission, as this text would  describe, and that is  to be God’s word.  Or as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3: 16, “All scripture is inspired by God (breathed out of God), God-breathed, or given by God for teaching and showing right from wrong.”  For scholars, the identification of errors in the Biblical text is not a sign of God’s dictation or being “God-breathed” but of the human origins of the Bible.

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