December 29th, 2011
09:10 AM ET
My Take: The 3 biggest biblical misconceptions
Editor’s note: John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, is author of "Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World."
By John Shelby Spong, Special to CNN
The Bible is both a reservoir of spiritual insight and a cultural icon to which lip service is still paid in the Western world. Yet when the Bible is talked about in public by both believers and critics, it becomes clear that misconceptions abound.
To me, three misconceptions stand out and serve to make the Bible hard to comprehend.
First, people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it.
The facts are that Abraham, the biblically acknowledged founding father of the Jewish people, whose story forms the earliest content of the Bible, died about 900 years before the first story of Abraham was written in the Old Testament.
Actually, that's not in the Bible
Can a defining tribal narrative that is passed on orally for 45 generations ever be regarded as history, at least as history is understood today?
Moses, the religious genius who put his stamp on the religion of the Old Testament more powerfully than any other figure, died about 300 years before the first story of Moses entered the written form we call Holy Scripture.
This means that everything we know about Moses in the Bible had to have passed orally through about 15 generations before achieving written form. Do stories of heroic figures not grow, experience magnifying tendencies and become surrounded by interpretive mythology as the years roll by?
My Take: Bible condemns a lot, so why focus on homosexuality?
Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion, and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.
Are the gospels then capable of being effective guides to history? If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written - that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then by Luke and ending with John - we can see exactly how the story expanded between the years 70 and 100.
For example, miracles do not get attached to the memory of Jesus story until the eighth decade. The miraculous birth of Jesus is a ninth-decade addition; the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative.
In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side.
Perhaps the most telling witness against the claim of accurate history for the Bible comes when we read the earliest narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark’s gospel and discover that it is not based on eyewitness testimony at all.
My Take: Yes, the Bible really condemns homosexuality
Instead, it’s an interpretive account designed to conform the story of Jesus’ death to the messianic yearnings of the Hebrew Scriptures, including Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.
The Bible interprets life from its particular perspective; it does not record in a factual way the human journey through history.
The second major misconception comes from the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense “the word of God.” Only someone who has never read the Bible could make such a claim. The Bible portrays God as hating the Egyptians, stopping the sun in the sky to allow more daylight to enable Joshua to kill more Amorites and ordering King Saul to commit genocide against the Amalekites.
Can these acts of immorality ever be called “the word of God”? The book of Psalms promises happiness to the defeated and exiled Jews only when they can dash the heads of Babylonian children against the rocks! Is this “the word of God? What kind of God would that be?
The Bible, when read literally, calls for the execution of children who are willfully disobedient to their parents, for those who worship false gods, for those who commit adultery, for homosexual persons and for any man who has sex with his mother-in-law, just to name a few.
The Bible exhorts slaves to be obedient to their masters and wives to be obedient to their husbands. Over the centuries, texts like these, taken from the Bible and interpreted literally, have been used as powerful and evil weapons to support killing prejudices and to justify the cruelest kind of inhumanity.
The third major misconception is that biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging. Instead, the Bible presents us with an evolutionary story, and in those evolving patterns, the permanent value of the Bible is ultimately revealed.
It was a long road for human beings and human values to travel between the tribal deity found in the book of Exodus, who orders the death of the firstborn male in every Egyptian household on the night of the Passover, until we reach an understanding of God who commands us to love our enemies.
The transition moments on this journey can be studied easily. It was the prophet named Hosea, writing in the eighth century B.C., who changed God’s name to love. It was the prophet named Amos who changed God’s name to justice. It was the prophet we call Jonah who taught us that the love of God is not bounded by the limits of our own ability to love.
It was the prophet Micah who understood that beautiful religious rituals and even lavish sacrifices were not the things that worship requires, but rather “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” It was the prophet we call Malachi, writing in the fifth century B.C., who finally saw God as a universal experience, transcending all national and tribal boundaries.
One has only to look at Christian history to see why these misconceptions are dangerous. They have fed religious persecution and religious wars. They have fueled racism, anti-female biases, anti-Semitism and homophobia.They have fought against science and the explosion of knowledge.
The ultimate meaning of the Bible escapes human limits and calls us to a recognition that every life is holy, every life is loved, and every life is called to be all that that life is capable of being. The Bible is, thus, not about religion at all but about becoming deeply and fully human. It issues the invitation to live fully, to love wastefully and to have the courage to be our most complete selves.
That is why I treasure this book and why I struggle to reclaim its essential message for our increasingly non-religious world.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Shelby Spong.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
While most of the comments from the crackpot element indicate that Rev. Spong was wasting his time, it was so nice to see this article in the media. I was a philosophy major/religion minor way back in the late 1960's and learned all this stuff he covers in the article. It made me go from an iffy-Presbyterian to a devout Humanist/Buddhist/Agnostic, where I've remained ever since. The professors who taught my 24 units of Old and New Testament courses were all believers, some Jews, some Christians, and I respected them for remaining believers in spite of their knowledge of how the Bible was created and why if contains so many obvious inconsistencies–e.g. should I turn my sword into a plowshare or vice versa? (check if out yahoos–it's in there!). Only one criticism–you should correct the typo where it says the N.T. was written from 70-100 BC–it should read 70-100 A.D. My profs actually said Mark was written around 70 AD, while John (with its obvious heavy Greek influences) might have been written as late as 250 AD.
"My profs actually said Mark was written around 70 AD, while John (with its obvious heavy Greek influences) might have been written as late as 250 AD." This is fairly common knowledge among believers. However, if your are able to dismiss the accuracy of scripture because 40 to 220 years elapsed, why would you trust scholars writing 2000 years after the events. These scholars have nothing but artifacts from digs, some understanding of ancient languages, and maybe understanding of ancient culture. BTW, John was probably written about 90 c.e. It has a very strong black/white, us versus them flavor. THis was the result of the destruction of the temple in 70 a.d. and the ensuing tension between Jews and Christians after Christians were expelled from the synagogue.
Good for you!!!! being a philosophy/religion major in the 60s. Now I'm convinced!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have to be honest...I find it hard to respect anyone who can stay religious if they are aware of the inconsistencies. That is being delusional, plain and simple. I have more respect for an illiterate peasant in some third world country who is religious...at least they have an excuse.
There is only one god...Cthulhu.
Anyone who takes the Bible as a literal story has obviously never played the telephone game. Stories always become elaborated. Is everything in the Bible fact? No, of course not. Are there facts in the Bible? Yes, and this has been proven. For example, they have found Egyptian chariats in the Red Sea, and they have been dated to around the time of Moses. Did Moses lift his hand up and part the sea? No, but from the eyes of someone else, perhaps this is what he SAW. The wind was blowing, Moses got up on a rock and lifted his hand, and the sea parted. Never mind the fact that the wind was blowing over an underwater ridge that was easily clearable anyway. The witness didn't see that, he just saw Moses lift his hand up, and to him it would be a miracle.
The Bible is not a book about complete facts, it is a book about faith. The message has always been about faith. The gentiles had faith in Jesus and in God. The Hebrews had faith in Moses and in God to lead them from slavery. The biggest message in the Bible is to hold faith in yourself, and that anything is possible if you have faith in what you are doing.
@Catholic- The difference is that no scholar is preaching to people that gutting their kid on the side of a mountain is a noble thing based on some artifact he found in Mesopotamia.
John written as late as 250 AD? Then he must have been copying whatever was on the Rylands papyrus P52, dated some 100 years before the 250 date. Maybe the author should be indicted for plagiarism?
Seriously. I too went through the "question everything" revolution of the 60s. After several years in Bible colleges, I atternded a state university where everything I learned as a young Christian was challenged. For a period my faith was on the ropes. But I persisted in looking for answers. I learned that questioning everything included questioning the authorities who like Spong rejected everything before them. And my research led me back to faith in God and faith in the book. I thank my skeptic profs because what I had at the end of my journey was a much more profound and informed faith.
Yeah, and that whole "original sin" concept the entire Christian religions rely on as a foundation went out the window once Evolution was came to light. Why would a perfect "God" create death and suffering without reason? Well we now know that those things existed millions and billions of years before "Adam & Eve" ever had the first chance to commit the "original sin". Perhaps it was the dinosaurs who committed the first sin? We would have to go way way back to the first forms of life. Maybe God the Creator committed the first sin.
Hey Agnostic Man, what if the Bible is literally the Word of God Himself and everything He says in it is literally true? I may be a crackpot by your standards, but I do believe that Jesus came to earth to save humanity, you on the other don't really believe in the Son of God you reject the concept of literal salvation, that's a mighty big gamble with the "what-comes-after-we-all-die" thing? you are a lot braver than a lot of us crackpots, so i like being a religious crackpot who don't know sh#%!t, than people like you who like to think themselves the enlightened intellectuals.
Yeah, RedRussian! I'll waste the only life I'll ever have shaking in my boots like a little pee-pants, while I allow my fear of "something that MAYexist in the ether" to control me, my actions, my decisions – well basically my whole life! As a bonus, I get to have others who appoint themselves "authorities" concerning their interpretations of an objective source – passed along through "teaching" by other self-appointed "geniuses" manipulate my life and therefore the lives of my family as well! Why? Because "It might be true!" Oh NO!!! GROW A PAIR BOY!!! You goofs want to tear down the educated people here as you build up yourselves and other "folk intellectuals." Pathetic!
To RD: It is important to remember that nothing is too hard for G-d to do. Moses did not split the sea. G-d did it. He created the world, so He could change the rules of nature that He created and make the sea do what He wants at that time. A miracle is the deviation from the rules of nature that G-d created. He can change the rules when He wants. If you think about it, the entire world existing is a miracle. So moving something that didn't ever move that way before, is even "less" of a miracle, so to speak. I didn't know that they found a chariot in the sea, but there have been many things found that are easy to see in Israel that corroborate the account in the Bible of what happened to the Jews. And if something isn't found, that doesn't mean what is written there didn't happen.
@DeeCee, for what you say to be true, then you would have to first accept the theory of evolution, which in fact, is really just a theory, with a bunch of holes in it. So evolution obviously couldn't discount other theories and beliefs unless it was proven true, which it won't ever be, because the more people learn about life and DNA, the more untrue evolution becomes.
I'm a Gnostic (not to be confused with Agnostics) and I agree with this article in the sense that the bible is never meant to be taken literally. The original Gnostics back in the first two centuries AD interpreted the bible in non-literal, metaphorical, allegorical, and mystic terms. To quote William Blake – "They both read the bible day and night, but you read black where I read white". Therefore, a lot of Orthodox Christians who tend to take the bible literally will sometimes think that Gnostics are reading a different scripture but in fact we read the same thing as they do only with an open mind and for the pursuit of gaining Gnosis (knowledge) so that the soul within our bodies can unite with the Spirit within and thus avoid death. By avoiding death, I mean the body will still die over time but the spiritualized soul will live on as it is then connected to the pleroma (wholeness or oneness).
I use to be Catholic and I was taught to read the bible many times by my friends and relatives. But over time, as I got older and wiser, I began to question everything. That's when I learned about the Gnostic teachings that taught me to be respectful to others regardless of their opinions and regardless if they are my worst enemy. Because of this, I finally learned to forgive even the worst people like Former Vice President Cheny (it took a lot for me to forgive this guy).
It's such a shame that our pursuit of knowledge as human beings has been suppressed for so long by the carnal urges of mankind to control the masses. It is even more depressing thought to see how the teachings of Jesus has been exploited to kill innocent people in the process.
Whew....some common sense here at last.
"Gnostic teachings that taught me to be respectful to others regardless of their opinions"
How refreshing. However, look through the responses on this forum (I've been on here off and on for three hours) and you'll find little of that. Oh, by the way....I STILL haven't forgiven Cheney but of course I don't have to because I'm an atheist with no moral compass...Oh, yeah...I got that one here!
Um, how about the whole bible...
The Bible is a great archeological assist for scholars in understanding how Bronze Age folks lived way back them and what mores governed their lives. For the non-scholar and everday person, it is useless other than making a great doorstop or firewood.
We went from worshiping the sun, dangerous animals and other such things we couldn't understand to worshiping men. Go figure.
"Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 B.C."
I think that last B.C. should be A.D. (Or C.E. depending on your choice of aberrations). I find it hard to believe that the gospels of Jesus' life were written 60+ years BEFORE his birth.
Didnt you know? There were hundreds of prophesies. LOL!
Yes, it was a typo; moving on...
organized religion...in particular the conservative types...are the most evil of human kind...just look at their history and whats going on around the world now...dont think their "savior" would have approved of what they are doing/not doing in the name of "god"?
you know knuckleheads like you keep referring to Christianity as "organized religion" and how evil it is, so why don't you just say you hate God and Christians, you hide behind stupid code words to disguise your hatred of God and religion, so why don't you just say it right here, right now that you hate God and you hate Christianity, i dare you to write public statement, maybe you should look in the mirror before you call religion evil
"Faith is believing what you know ain't so. If Christ were here today he would not be a Christian."
"I quite like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."
you know knuckleheads like you keep referring to Christianity as "organized religion"....that's because it is.
"and how evil it is, so why don't you just say you hate God and Christians"
...not generally true. But if some do I will tell you why: People like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps, and a host of others that would like nothing more than to establish a Christian theocracy in this country make it possible to get almost hateful. You want to see REAL hate? Visit the website of the Westboro Baptist Church.
"you hide behind stupid code words to disguise your hatred of God and religion, so why don't you just say it right here, right now that you hate God and you hate Christianity, i dare you to write public statement, maybe you should look in the mirror before you call religion evil"
OK....no code words...now pay attention: Religion is not inherently or I believe not intended to be evil. But many, and I mean MANY of it's most fervent adherents tend to make it that way. I will cite the WBC website as a perfect example. There are others and you can take my word on that.
Do you know that there is a mayor somewhere in Kansas that cites Leviticus and by that biblical doctrine could justify the execution of gays? Now THERE is genuine evil, sir...and I didn't have to look in a mirror. Incidentally, I am an atheist and I live quite happily and contented without the so-called "moral compass" that you all say I can only get from the bible and being a Christian.
I live by a conscience that NO ONE or no religious doctrine taught me to have. I live by logical thought, common sense, and my own intellect (such as it is). I know the difference between right and wrong and I DID NOT need Sunday school as a child to teach me that.
Hate? Yep it's out there all right and it's in your face and I can tell you and I DEFY anyone to disprove that much if not most of it is promulgated by Christianity....right along with intolerance, bigotry, and ignorance.
Love the fancy words but his statements are not precisely accurate. The book of John, the book which most scholar believe to have been written about 70A.D., is now due to improvements in tech. is now believed by some to have been written as early as 40A.D. Check it out for yourself. Sprong just choose the upper limit to "prove" his point by twisting his info.
Believed by whom? Biblical scholars from Trinity college? Liberty University? Rubbish.
wow, only 40 years...that's a big improvement...still in a different language. 0_O
Nobody's statements are "precisely accurate" at all times...
"Sacrilege" is all I can say
Sacrilege or blasphemy only have meaning to you...not us. Religiwords are nonsense.
Wow..in this article the author basically debunks the entire Bible. Read into it whatever fluffy sentiments you want since there is nothing tangible to base your decisions on. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
hey Atheist Steve, you really must hate God don't you? and you probably believe we all came from fish and monkeys too. You seemed a bit more screwed up and disillusioned, you're pathetic
To say he hates something he doesn't even thinks exist seems odd. I can't say i hate unicorns. I just don't think they ever exited. Also seems mean to call him pathetic. Doesn't the good book teach to love your enemies?
He's a demented Canadian. Enough said?
Yeah, it's funny how all the reason and logic in the world, pointing to the bible as a fallible source for information and accuracy, still gets a "Oh, but it points us to God" tagline at the end of this article.
If you bite into a rotten apple, do you stop and toss the apple away because it is false and rotten, or do you keep eating it and say "Oh, well this will lead me to good health anyway, despite it being rotten."
"Sacrilege!" is all I can say
Whaaaa, is all I can say.
Spong confesses that much written in the Bible is an exaggeration. I concluded that it was all fiction, that paryer does nothing, that god is a creation of man, and I made this conclusion by age 10. I've never looked back and I've never been wrong about that conclusion. When a child can figure out this is all make believe it certainly makes the adult in me question why you still believe in something that has been proven false by even the most unreasonalbe doubt. All I can do is shake my head and realize they are just on a lower rung of the evolutionary ladder.
You claim to have never been wrong about there being no God. How you can you know with certainty?
Been proven false beyond reasonable doubt? How is that?
David, just because the bible is fiction does not mean there is no God.
21st century and we still have people believing bronze age mythology. Sad.
Hold on a second, my shoulder angel tells me I have to sacrifice another goat...be right back!
I take it Happy Atheist is Bob.
Happy Atheist, Argumentum ab Annis and Chronological Snobbery. Your logic is fallacious.
No, it hasn't been proven that there is not god. But consider this: Humanity has created, replaced and abandoned thousands of gods. There hasn't been a shred of evidence for any of them, It is more likely that there is no god than it is that there is one god and that he is the specific one you worship.
U need Prayer
I do honestly believe that some people are on a lower rung of conscious being too. It's also why I believe that some people actually are better than others. There is something very Darwinian in that thinking. It's probably why since the dawn of time there have been natural leaders and followers. Some people are just too feeble minded and weak to have any original thoughts.
"Can a defining tribal narrative that is passed on orally for 45 generations ever be regarded as history, at least as history is understood today?", Mr. Spong said.
Who actually can prove that no age-old chronicles were available for Moses, when he wrote the stories of Abraham. And who can actually can prove that no age-old chronicles were available for the people, which wrote the stories of Moses.
It is a ridiculous assumption of Mr. Spong that everthing passed on orally. He cannot prove that. It is just his own ridiculous idea.
I guess, he never considered that Jesus Christ accredited and confirmed the Old Testament and thus we need no more evidence for its historicity.
One could challenge the historicity abd authenticity of Jesus. But even that is ridiculous.
Jesus Christ himself proved his divine sonship by the miracles, which he worked. Furthermore he fulfilled many prophecies of the Old Testament and had no chance to deceive (place of his birth, his name, virgin birth, the slaughter of the infants by Herod, escape to Egypt, etc.). The Old Testament prophecies and Jesus' fulfillment of the prophecies together delivered a splendid proof for Jesus divine mission.
Jesus Christ was yet acknowledged by the whole civilized world around 300 a. D. by the Edict of Milan by Emperor Constantine the Great, who had access to every available chronicle and administrative docu-ment of his time. The decision of Constantine was an official decision and is thus absolutely trustworthy. Jesus Christ is the foretold Messiah and saviour of the mankind.
Christianity is historical, ready.
You cannot use the bible to prove that the bible is true. That is what is ridiculous. The bible is fiction, plain and simple.
This one makes your normal silliness pale in comparrison.
Your indoctrination is stronger than the quality of this posting.
Please inflict stigmatta upon yourself and try again.
It's interesting that your entire arguement against the author of this column is based on the very texts that he describes as being written many years after Christ's life. After the 'expansion' of the hero and god like status of Christ (as he explained it).
So if I were to combine the two lines of thought, -your 'proof' with his 'thoughts'- , then your proof is the very thing that isn't proof.
Please take in account that Jesus had no chance to deceive regarding the prophecies, which he fulfilled.
Let us assume the Old Testament had been a made-up fairy tale like the Koran. Now, by Chance, a man, called Jesus, emerged and fulfilled the alleged made-up prophecies of the alleged made-up Old Testament by chance, whereby he had physically no chance to deceive. How should he influence the place of his birth. Can someone tell me? Or how could the infant Jesus prompt his father Joseph to escape to Ägypt? The mathematic probability for such a thing is zero times zero times zero .... times zero.
Let us assume Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had been deceivers. That was impossible because even decades after Jesus birth you could examine the statements of the gospel in the real existing Palestine, so that they had no chance to deceive.
Jesus is historical. Everybody, who doesn't acknowledge that, is just someone, who has no intent to live the Christian life in a secular, anti-Christian Western society. It is all cowardice.
Denial is easy, really...
Rainer, you say "Let us assume the Old Testament had been a made-up fairy tale like the Koran."
That's funny. I'm sure people who believe in the Koran are saying the same thing about your Old Testament. Therein lies the problem with religion – everyone thinks they have the right book of bedtime stories to follow and anyone who doesn't agree is wrong. Why can't people just live their lives as well as they can and not go out of their way to hurt others? Why does there need to be a god that judges/punishes people when all we need to say is "hey, don't be a jerk"?
"The decision of Constantine was an official decision and is thus absolutely trustworthy."
Here in America, we don't accept the words of royalty as absolute truth – or at least I hope most Americans remember what our forefathers fought for.
To paraphrase Thomas Paine – I believe in one God and no more – I do not believe in the religion of the Jews, or the religion of the Catholics, or the religion of the Turks.
As a fellow Christian, I have to (respectfully) disagree with you. Constantine was a known pagan and sun-worshipper who poisoned his entire family (including his wife) to ensure that his son succeed to the throne of the empire. Howin the world (as a Christian) could I ever accept Constantine's edit as being official and, as you said, trustworthy. Constantine was no apostle or prophet. He was a politician as were many (though albeit the minority) of the so-called bishops of Nicea.
Look, I love the Bible and accept it as God's word. But your claiming it is abosolutely complete and trustworthy is, well, in my opinion incorrect.
The Torah gives the laws of the Messiah: He must be from the lineage of King David. He must strengthen the observance of G-d as instructed in the Torah. He must bring all the Jews to the observance of Torah. J.C. did no such things. He is not from the lineage of King David. That is an automatic disqualification, even if he did the other things the Messiah must do. He didn't cause the Jews to increase their observance of the Torah.
All the people's focus on him is beside the point. G-d gave seven basic laws to all people to do: Believe in One G-d, not to blaspheme Him, not to steal (and kidnap), not to do adultery, not to murder, not to eat the limb of a living animal (animal cruelty) and to set up effective courts of justice. These are the laws that will improve our society and make the world the kind of place G-d created the world to be.
It is actually possible to prove the Bible with the Bible. The Bible is a collection of different books written by different authors at different times. The fact that they were all collected and put in the same larger book over time does not change the fact that they are actually 66 different books and letters. So, it is completely accurate to prove something in the New Testament with something in the Old. It is just like anybody would do with different writings from an ancient culture. The fact that the same stories and events are repeatedly mentioned in many different places in different books of the Bible is just proof that they really happened.
I am a Christian and believe in the divinity of Christ and that the Bible is accurate. But I must say that your attempted argument actually embarrasses me as a Christian. Your argument is illogical. You cannot argue that a claim is false by merely stating that said questionable subject is true. Please provide support for your argument.
I also find it sad that you stoop to the level of some of the people that you are arguing with and also attack them for their beliefs. From what you said in your posts, my impression of you is that you are the type of person who gets defensive when your beliefs are called into question and, instead of discussing it, claim absolute truth for what you believe and then turn around and do exactly what was done to you: condemn others for their beliefs.
"Jesus is historical. Everybody, who doesn't acknowledge that, is just someone, who has no intent to live the Christian life in a secular, anti-Christian Western society. It is all cowardice." With that statement, you've done nothing but perpetuate the stereotype of all Christians being ignorant, close-minded bigots.
'Jesus Christ was yet acknowledged by the whole civilized world around 300 a. D. by the Edict of Milan by Emperor Constantine the Great"
And scholars to this day still debate what his motives actually were. By the way, Christianity was made a STATE religion in 380 CE....something even the founding fathers of the United States knew better than to do. Do you know why? Because they knew the history of the church in Europe and the mother country (England). It wasn't a particularity elegant history as I'm sure you know.
'The decision of Constantine was an official decision and is thus absolutely trustworthy. Jesus Christ is the foretold Messiah and Savior of the mankind."
I certainly hope you are not implying that because Constantine made Christianity legal it validates the bible and that Jesus is a Messiah and THE Savior. Because Constantine said so????? I truly have no profound statements to even argue this with you. It is so appallingly ridiculous to even think that would be true. Truly an astounding point of view.
Keith & Kevin7Harris: You both have expressed what I believe is the belief of true followers of Christ. I find it hard to think that there are "clergymen" who lead "churches" when they have no true knowledge or faith in their own Savior.
So you are saying that these people think like you do, therefore they must be right.
Finding it hard to think; I like that...
I'm always interested when scholars point out biblical "embellishments" when they talk about miracles. As I understand current science, crude matter, under ideal conditions of heat, pressure, time, and light, spontaneously organized itself into proteins, DNA, amino acids, etc. Then further organized into life itself. If this is true, I'm obliged to believe it. If this is what happened, then it was a virgin birth on a cosmic scale. After that, the virgin birth of Jesus, where nearly all of the conditions of conception were already met, becomes thinkable. When offered the possibility of the spontanious emergence of life, the recusitation of Lazarus, or the resurrection of Jesus are perfectly plausible.
No they're not plausable because they never happened.
Plausability is a yard stick for lunatics.
In some sense anything you can concieve of is plausible.
Better to measure reality with probability, you will see it provides a more "rational" framework.
Since these accounts were written thousands of years ago and well after the events they allegedly described, and since there is no evidence or collaborating non-biblical accounts, I will continue to believe that the bible has the same spiritual authority as the Iliad.
Fascinating comments below. On a human scale, the time between the events and the recording of them is fairly close. Yet the doubter won't believe these accounts. He will, however, believe what scientists tell him about events that happened millions, perhaps billions of years ago based not on experience, but on guesswork.
The modus operandia of the typical atheist blogger is as follows: 1) Establish your conclusion, 2) think youself toward that conclusion.
To compare a book written by bronze age men with the observations of the scientific community is laughable. Science is backed up by observation and replicable experimentation. On the other hand, there is no evidence that the events in the bible are any more true than the events in the Iliad.
> I'm always interested when scholars point out biblical "embellishments" when they talk about miracles.
Because they are embellishments. Look at the discovery of the open tomb. Not all the accounts can be accurate, and some are embellishments of others.
> As I understand current science, crude matter, under ideal conditions of heat, pressure, time, and light, spontaneously organized itself into proteins, DNA, amino acids, etc.
You clearly don't understand current science. I'd suggest remedial science classes to get you back up to speed.
> Then further organized into life itself.
Same as above.
> If this is true, I'm obliged to believe it. If this is what happened, then it was a virgin birth on a cosmic scale.
Except that you don't understand the material. You only think you do.
> After that, the virgin birth of Jesus, where nearly all of the conditions of conception were already met, becomes thinkable.
Are you mildly retarded? There's no way you're an engineer. Engineers require some sort of grey matter between their ears.
> When offered the possibility of the spontanious emergence of life, the recusitation of Lazarus, or the resurrection of Jesus are perfectly plausible.
You're a disgrace to Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics believe in evolution and abiogensis. You're a creationist tool who is ignorant of the mateiral he claims to understand.
Go out and read a damn book and stop misrepresenting yourself. God if all powerful doesn't need your help. In fact, you're probably hurting God's plan by poorly representing arguments.
The gospels themselves show only one miracle in common–the feeding of the 5000. And not even the additional feeding of the 4000 which also occurs in Mark. Which did not have originally a resurrection ending (added about 450 CE), despite being the earliest gospel. And of course none of the canonized gospels are signed authorially. Anyone who thinks the gospels are real testimonial biographies is ignorant of the huge role oral tradition plays in religion. Or have we forgotten the fact that the Book of Mormon itself only has a handful of "witnesses" that the golden tablets really existed? And that was not even 200 years ago–not 2000.
One trouble about the Bible is that as children in Sunday school or religious ed, we are read Bible stories as though they were all fact. This is appropriate for children – we don't meet child theologians. Then when they grow up, they say "I've outgrown those fairy tales, fables, and myths and never discover what the Bible really is. It is a book that chronicles man's emerging relationship with God. Some CHristians try to turn it into a science and history book to support their faith. Others try to turn in into a science/history book so they can shoot it down as science or history. The Bible is always relevant because it is a human book. And in 5000 years, our attidudes may have improved, but human nature is the same.
So based on that position, Beowulf would make an excellent basis for a religion?
It in all its granduer might very well be a better choice if it not were for its honesty, where it admits to being a story.
Alas your Bible didn't provide this courtesy.
@William Demuth "It (Beowulf) in all its granduer might very well be a better choice if it not were for its honesty, where it admits to being a story." In the time and place of Jesus, higher truths were conveyed by means of stories. Ever heard of parables? And Jesus' apostles understood this. They asked him, "Why do you teach in parables?" What higher truths does your Beowulf address?
Today we call parables propoganda, and I am considered by some an expert in the field.
> One trouble about the Bible is that as children in Sunday school or religious ed, we are read Bible stories as though they were all fact. This is appropriate for children – we don't meet child theologians.
NO IT'S NOT. It's not appropriate to lie to children. It's not appropriate to give them false information. Children understand that fairy tales are not true. This goes for everything from the easter bunny and santa.
> Then when they grow up, they say "I've outgrown those fairy tales, fables, and myths and never discover what the Bible really is. It is a book that chronicles man's emerging relationship with God.
So then the bible isn't the literal word of God. Thanks for proving the author's point. If you're going to say "the bible is a general message about X Y or Z and doesn't rely upon it's content", then you're going to have to rationalize your interpretation. And who's interpretation is correct? There's already thousands of different types of Christians.
> Some CHristians try to turn it into a science and history book to support their faith.
We call those people morons. Well, maybe that's a bit harsh. I call those people close minded gullible foools.
> Others try to turn in into a science/history book so they can shoot it down as science or history.
Because it makes scientific claims that are wrong.
> The Bible is always relevant because it is a human book.
So is Harry Potter.
> And in 5000 years, our attidudes may have improved, but human nature is the same.
Christianity is dying due to public education. As average education level rises, faith in religion decreases. This is because religion relies upon simple minds without well developed defenses like logic and reason.
This brings up another good point. When we learn anything about the Bible, it is when we are children, and our minds are not developed enough to understand on a high enough level, so we learn stories, etc. Then we stop learning about the Bible, but go on to higher secular education. We develop ourselves intellectually in other education and not in the Bible. So our understanding of G-d, etc. remains so juvenile. That is besides my assertion that the Bible is unable to be understood in English because it is mistranslated so badly from the original Hebrew. Please read "The Bible Unauthorized". It is a pretty thorough translation from the Hebrew of a few chapters of the Bible and it is time to read something about it on an adult level.
Prayer changes things
Prayer does NOT change things. Unless you can provide evidence to the contrary, you are WRONG!
Prayer really changes things
Prayer changes nothing, except perhaps the endorphins in the person doing the praying
@JimTanker "Prayer does NOT change things. Unless you can provide evidence to the contrary, you are WRONG"
Prayer changes me. I've proven this in my own life. You'd have to prove it for yourself.
Prayer cannot ever change a flat tire. I know, I've tried.
"Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things. Prayer changes things."
Atheism is heathy for children and other living things. Prayer does not change things.
So easy to refute unsupported declarative statements.
CE, being delusional doesnt mean that prayer works.
Ugh, why bother responding? One unanswered post takes up a whole lot less space than a bunch of people parroting, "Does not. :-P"
So brainwashing children into believing fairy tales is? I will also remind you that you also want them to be close to atheism, ignoring all few thousand gods except the 1 you find acceptable.
The concept of prayer is an insult to God. He is omniscient! Would he change his infallible mind just because someone prays? What does it say about God if he does not save a person from a predicament because other humans have not said a sufficient number of Our Fathers and Hail Marys? Is God thinking, "Come on, I want 200 more Our Fathers and 150 more Hail Marys or the man will die a painful death." What kind of God do you worship that requires prayer to make things better?
Let continue to pray for them
Please read up on a cult in Portland, OR called "followers of Christ." This cult shuns doctors and when a member becomes ill, they pray and anoint that person with oil. Many parents have gone to trial for manslaughter or abuse, because of children who have died of easily cured diseases. They have a cemetery full of dead children, and of women who have died in childbirth.
The most recent case involved a boy who was born two months prematurely. When the child started to show signs of distress, family and friends prayed and anointed. No doctor was called, and this child died within 8 hours of his birth of an infection that a doctor would have been able to treat.
No one doubts that these people are very religious and pray to god with all their hearts. They love their children and want them to live. However, these children are dying because of one simple fact: Prayer doesn't work.
> Prayer changes me. I've proven this in my own life. You'd have to prove it for yourself.
How has it changed you. You were a gullible fool who believed things for no good reason and allowed them to change your outlook on life before, you're the same person after.
I am praying mainly that they will not put me in that dreaded straight jacket again. Last time was tough. Cannot scratch.
Prayer changes things
Not necessarily frauds who steal aliases
That has got to be the low end of desperate for attention
You are being prayed for.
If you circle the mall parking lot while praying for an open spot near the entrance doors, eventually you'll get your wish... but not because you naively believe 'your prayer was answered'. Prayer only changes the lives of televangelists and Prosperity Preachers. They get rich at the expense of their gullible 'believers' who trust them. If there is an all-powerful, all-knowing gaaaaawwwwwd, he allowed millions of people to be tortured and killed by Mao, Stalin, Hitler, disease, famine, earthquakes, accidents ... though he could have prevented it all by merely lifting his little finger. That makes him a socipath. BTW... if you pray for a better parking spot, won't it deny one to a pregnant lady or a mother of 8 who actually needs the spot?
Given the space, I would defend the historical accuracy of the Scriptures by recounting that it passes the tests for historicity with flying colors. Virtually everything from the ancient world is preserved in accounts 500 to 1,000 years after the events. The New Testament is preserved in accounts amazingly early (20, 30, 40 years after the events with reference to accounts even earlier). So to deny the historicity of the New Testament is to wipe out all of ancient history! And there is abundantly more manuscript evidence for the NT than for anything from the ancient world.
Obviously, we should observe more details in the Synoptics and John as the early Christians asked for more details. And, the best research shows it takes at least two generations for for legendary development to begin to wipe out the historical core (in the ancient world). The NT transmission falls well within that historically-safer parameter.
The Hebrew Scriptures are preserved with the rigorous scribal system of the ancient oral culture. The Dead Sea Scrolls prove just how accurate this preservation system was.
Finally, if Bishop Spong claims to be a follower of Christ, then he ought to take Christ's high view of Scripture! Christ affirmed the accuracy of the Hebrew Scriptures and promised the NT via his disciples. Further, he ought to trust that God is quite capable of preserving the Scriptures.
So the good Bishop is wrong and you are right: what a relief ...
...hmmm...it sure does appear that you are already too set in your mind about your "facts"...there is no way anyone will ever convince you any differently from your belief and thought...that is called close mindedness...nonetheless, this is a book written by man, interpretted by man, and used by man for their own selfish purposes...
@lilbluepill, that sword cuts both ways!
> Given the space, I would defend the historical accuracy of the Scriptures by recounting that it passes the tests for historicity with flying colors.
It correctly does a lot of things. It fails on other things. For example, the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb is not historically accurate. How can it be, the scriptures claim at least four different versions of the events.
And no, this isn't "it's told from a different perspective". They're independant events where each is mutually exclusive from another. No one in the tomb vs. someone in the tomb for example.
> Virtually everything from the ancient world is preserved in accounts 500 to 1,000 years after the events.
So what? Just because it's all we have isn't a good reason to accept it. Standards of evidence exist regardless of what available evidence you have.
> The New Testament is preserved in accounts amazingly early (20, 30, 40 years after the events with reference to accounts even earlier).
The new testament cannot get the most important event in Christianity consistent. How the heck can it be trusted?
> So to deny the historicity of the New Testament is to wipe out all of ancient history! And there is abundantly more manuscript evidence for the NT than for anything from the ancient world.
Again, you have this silly concept that more evidence for one thing means that it's better. It's not. Something that is unproven, even if it has better evidence then other things that are unproven is STILL unproven.
> Obviously, we should observe more details in the Synoptics and John as the early Christians asked for more details. And, the best research shows it takes at least two generations for for legendary development to begin to wipe out the historical core (in the ancient world). The NT transmission falls well within that historically-safer parameter.
There are no eye witness accounts of Jesus. There are people saying that there were eye witness accounts. And even if there were, we have eye witness accounts for alien abduction. Does that mean we need to believe in aliens?
> The Hebrew Scriptures are preserved with the rigorous scribal system of the ancient oral culture. The Dead Sea Scrolls prove just how accurate this preservation system was.
Consistent does not mean accurate. You should learn the difference between the words.
> Finally, if Bishop Spong claims to be a follower of Christ, then he ought to take Christ's high view of Scripture! Christ affirmed the accuracy of the Hebrew Scriptures and promised the NT via his disciples.
Who cares what Jesus is said to have affirmed. Doesn't make it so.
> Further, he ought to trust that God is quite capable of preserving the Scriptures.
That's an idiotic position to take. Let me show you how stupid it is...
"He ought to trust that Shiva is quite capable of preserving the Hindu faith."
The reasoning is nonsensical.
You said, "Given the space, I would defend the historical accuracy of the Scriptures..."
Have at it, buddy. The tally of comments on this article, as of this writing, is 291 on 4 pages. There have been articles with 1000s of comments on 100s of pages. The guys at WordPress seem to have figured out how to expand the space for the comments, to make it always fit exactly (must be a miracle).
Nobody is stopping you. The canvas is yours.
"... I would defend the historical accuracy of the Scriptures ..."
I don't see how you can, considering the untold number of re-writes and translations of the Bible there have been since its inception. Your last remaining leg, the one you were standing on, has been amputated.
Actually, I am surprised at the vitriol of the threads in this comment section. History records thousands of brilliant men and women who have had faith and believe in God; I would surmise that virtually all of them could run intellectual circles around most, if not all, of those here displaying such vehemence regarding religion and spirituality. That aside, John Shelby Spong is a well known Episcopal bishop who has, with great guile to say the least, espoused views contrary to the teachings of the church. There is one essential truth to both sides of the argument–God vs No God–and that is, each and every one of us will have the opportunity to find out for ourselves. Methinks there will be some very surprised atheists and agnostics whenever they take their last breath.
You said, "There is one essential truth to both sides of the argument–God vs No God–and that is, each and every one of us will have the opportunity to find out for ourselves. Methinks there will be some very surprised atheists and agnostics whenever they take their last breath."
You may want to look into what's called Pascal's wager. The odds aren't in favor of the religious any more than of the non-believers.
Glad someone pointed that out. What if all the christians go to heaven and Shiva or Odin or Zeus is waiting for them
The best of all, is that heaven is only for the atheist and agnostics, those who say this book, realized there is a lot of issues with it, and either found a new a better way to deal with it or realized it wasnt worth the mental gymnastics.
Of course, would they then be upset seeing a heaven!?!?!
Here are John Shelby Spong's Twelve Points:
Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or se.xual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.
"The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior." After the church does this, we'll need to get civil law to do the same thing.
@catholic engineer: "The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior." After the church does this, we'll need to get civil law to do the same thing.
Why? The two are not today mutually exclusive but no reason why they can't be.
C.E. – civil law existed long before biblical law did. Why should civil law be influenced by biblical law?
Biggest single misconception about the bible: that the personally involved god that it describes in its tall tales and self-contradictory text actually exists.
Wow this is refreshing. If we have to deal with christians in this world, i would much rather deal with this kind than the stupid literalists/creationists.
Rom 16:17 ¶ Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. This "guy" is as apostate as it gets. He does NOT represent Christianity.
Can you point out his errors? Or is his only error saying (truthfully) the bible isn't the literal word of God? I'm listening.
2Pe 2:1 ¶ But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
2Pe 2:2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
2Pe 2:3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
False prophet? What false statements did he make? Point them out, and show how they are incorrect. If nothing he said is in error, then how can be be a false prophet?
Ooooh, Keith can regurgitate "scripture".....that's something new.....
Keith – the truth being that YOU could also be the false one. Evil can just as easily recite scripture to support itself as goodness can. Spewing rhetoric is nothing new for evil and false prophets. Just look at the false prophets that are America's Media based evangelicals – the 'God says I can become rich on your donations because I spew the right words of God' types.
2Ti 3:16 All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: Just in case nonbeliever is out there wondering, I looked up the translation of "All"-it means ALL. Where does one even begin to pick Spong apart? I would liken it to cnn doing a story claiming Hitler to be a humanitarian. Are you kidding me? Where would you even start? cnn is trolling bigtime with this one. It is almost a waste of time to refute such a ridiculous man as Spong.
FormerMarineSgt, what exactly have I said to make you write such a thing?
Keith "2Ti 3:16 All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"
Oh, now I get it. Scripture is inspired by God because it SAYS it's inspired by God.Now that's conclusive proof if ever there was any! How could I have been so blind all these years?
Okay, Red Flag #1: Episcopal. 1Ti 4:1 ¶ Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
1Ti 4:2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
Just so everyone knows this "individual" in no way represents main-line Christianity even though cnn portrays him as such.
I take it you must be Catholic.
Just as your jesus mythological character did not represent the mainstream beliefs of his time...
J W, Bzzzzzzt. Wrong. I'm Christian.
I can't believe that people take this nutjob Spong seriously. Why should anyone trust a clergyman ... who doesn't believe the sacred books of his own religion?
How could you not trust an honest clergyman?
But you took him seriously enough to complain about him...
100% of us die, we will all find out who was right and who was wrong when it comes to these matters. Me personally I am putting my salvation in Jesus Christ. This Bishop is an apostate plain and simple. God’s word the Holy Bible is eternal and true to me and millions of other followers. If a person chooses not to believe that’s not my issue. You can’t force anyone to do anything; and why would you want to anyway?
If his word is eternal, how come there are so many different branches of Christianity? i would think that advice from all all power powerfully and supposedly loving creator would be as clear know as it was 2000 years ago. I would also think his followers would see the good they can do if they were to all gather under one banner.
It seems to me that believers struggle with the same questions non believers did, they just found different answers. While i don't know which, if any, are correct, the fact that the book can indorse a lot of terrible things (slavery), i would rather not have to have that burden self inflicted. It doesn't mean i can see what Jesus taught and even agree with some of the message, but when broken down some of them are just so simple (The Golden Rule) that i don't see the need to include any of the supernatural aspect to respect it.
This my favorite