Question: This show’s writers made an enormous biblical blunder by assuming the Apostle Paul wrote the book of Hebrews and that it is an epistle.
Answer: What is Jeopardy?
The popular game show best known for its backward syntax on answers and questions got the Bible wrong on a Tournament of Champions broadcast Nov. 16 — and pastors, theologians and students of the Bible are howling mad.
“For likely the first and last time in history, my academic field is relevant to something popular on Facebook, albeit arguments about a trivia show (Jeopardy),” wrote Mary Julia Jett, a professor at St. Francis College in New York.
She was among the throngs who took to social media to excoriate the writers of Jeopardy not only for bumbling the Bible but for costing a contestant a win.
In the category of “The New Testament” the answer seeking a question was: “Paul’s letter to them is the New Testament epistle with the most Old Testament quotations.”
Contestant Amy Schneider answered, “Who are the Hebrews,” while contestant Sam Buttrey answered, “Who are the Romans?”
Schneider’s incorrect answer was deemed correct, and Buttrey’s correct answer was deemed incorrect. This error of biblical proportions cost Buttrey the game.
But at root, the entire question was fraught.
Jett, the religion professor, explained in her Facebook post: “For what it’s worth, there are more Old Testament quotes in Romans than Hebrews, unless you assume every reference to a symbol is attempting to quote the Old Testament. And even pulling out all types, Romans is in the lead if for no other reason than it’s longer and almost every image can find a pairing in the Old Testament intended or not. Even if you count likely allusions, Romans has more than Hebrews. It doesn’t matter if Paul wrote Hebrews or not. Hebrews is the wrong answer.”
She concluded: “I’m not the kind of doctor who can help with a heart attack or even the academic kind that can assist you with a marketable skill. But if you want some spreadsheets of biblical references, I’m here for it.”
What was obvious to Jett and most devout students of the Bible is that the once-assumed Pauline authorship of Hebrews has been widely discredited and is not seriously taught by either conservatives or liberals today. In scholarly terms, the authorship of Hebrews is “contested,” meaning there are various opinions and no one knows for sure who wrote it.
Although the King James version of the Bible includes a header indicating Pauline authorship, that notion had been disputed for centuries before the KJV appeared. And the doubts have grown even more common since.
Also disputed is the notion that Hebrews — which has a unique style compared to other New Testament books — should be labeled an “epistle,” or letter.
Writing in the Fortress Commentary on the Bible, David A. DeSilva explains: “’The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews,’ as the KJV names this book, is a misnomer in every respect. First, the author does not present this text as an epistle. The opening sentence does not reflect the standard letter-opening formula, but the beginning of a well-crafted oration. He labels his own text a ‘word of exhortation,’ a term for a ‘sermon’ in early Judaism. Hebrews is best read as an example of early (and expert) Christian preaching.”
To date, the producers of Jeopardy have not apologized or corrected their mistake.