My Take: The 3 biggest biblical misconceptions
The Bible presents us with an evolving story, writes John Shelby Spong.
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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (6,068 Responses)
  1. Pastor Salvador Garcia

    I applaud John Shelby Sponge for voicing his "Opinion" regarding what he perceives to be popular misconceptions in the Bible. However, it would be unfair and dishonest not to mention that many bible scholars to uphold and believe in the historicity of the Bible and its historical claims: The Pharaohs of Egypt, the Kings of Babylon, etc. Bishop Sponge is a liberal scholar and a part of the now defunk "Jesus Seminar". While his outrageous views have gained some popularity among secular media outlets, claims such as "Jesus did not die on the cross but was eaten by dogs" which have been made popular in his best selling books, most bible scholars and archeologists would confirm that most historical references made in the Bible in references to people, place, and events are true. Has bishop Sponge ever studied the discoveries of Archaeology in reference to the Bible? ... The Tablets found in ancient Babylon with the inscription, "Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon" confirming that He was indeed a king of babylon, or the inscription found in 1979 in Caesarea Maritima with the name "Pontus Pilate" confirming that the Roman Governor actually did exist? ... I hope honest seekers, but atheists, agnostics, and theists will look into the works of Nelson Glueck, renowned Jewish archaeologists who wrote, "It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted the Bible," and also the works of William F. Albright, a leading archaeologist who stated, "THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT ARCHAEOLOGY HAS CONFIRMED TEH SUBSTANTIAL HISTORICITY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT TRADITION. DISCOVERY AFTER DISCOVERY HAS ESTABLISHED THE ACCURACY OF INNUMERABLE DETAILS, AND HAS BROUGHT INCREASED RECOGNITION TO THE VALUE OF THE BIBLE AS A SOURCE OF HISTORY." Finally, in response to Bishop John Shelby Sponge's assertion that Bible is not a historical book, and that neither the Biblical Moses, Abraham, nor Jesus ever existed as presented in the Bible, I would like to cite Millar Burrows of Yale who stated, "Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics."

    December 29, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • George

      I agree ... all I can say to this "opinion" is wow. Most of the information presented in the above article simple is not true for anyone that understands the concepts.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • asrael

      So the article is no good because others have laid claim to the infallibility of their contrary conclusions? I feel a large smile coming on...

      December 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible isn't even consistent as to the order of creation of man and animals.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • fred

      You miss the blessings of the word of God when you constantly look for what is wrong with God rather than what is the truth.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • jimbo

      "Most of the information presented in the above article simple is not true for anyone that understands the concepts."

      Advantage of science and facts: Truths are true all the time, regardless if the person already "understands the concepts."

      December 29, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • George

      The article is "no good" because the author is mistaken in this claims about what the written text even means! If you don't like religion .. that is fine but make sure you understand what it is about!

      December 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • George

      @ jimbo The point is that the author is misrepresenting what educated Christians have to say! If you don't like Christianity .. that is fine but make sure you understand what you don't like! Stop misrepresenting Christianity!

      December 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • The Maurey Povich Bible Show

      "John Shelby Sponge" .. He's not a sponge. His name is Spong. The fact that you are ignorant of such a leading American religious thinker's name says more than you can imagine.
      "scholars to uphold" ... is improper English.
      "part of the now defunk "Jesus Seminar". ...The Jesus Seminar is not "defunct". (There is no English word "defunk".)

      The fact that there are some historical references, (or even many, or even ALL), that are known to be correct, does not "prove" the conclusion of your premise is correct.
      ....The sun can up this morning. I got sick afterwards. Therefore the sun coming up made me sick. Get it genius ?

      I am sure Bishop Spong knows a lot more archaeology than you do. The fact that there actually was a Pontius Pilate proves NOTHING about the claims of the followers of Jesus. (And actually as has been pointed out this past week here, on this blog, there are glaring errors...in the Birth Narrative for example. (Quirinius was said in Luke to be Governor of Syria, when Herod was King..and the know for a fact Herod was DEAD 10 years before Quirinius was made governor). (Can't remember who pointed that out, I should credit her/him). The fact that a cultural work of mythological literature can be dated in a certain culture, with some historical references does NOT make it literally true. (We know when the Greeks developed their myths..does that make them "true" ?)

      December 29, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  2. joey

    yes, thats what he is saying, albeit in a polite manner. i however, shall digress. all forms of human herd mentality are false and just mental masturbation for weak human minds. there are no gods or god.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  3. Joe

    I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Yes, the Bible is full of inconsistencies. Yes, historical timelines are confusing. Absolutely....interpretations of the Bible have led to hate, prejudice, and killing. Men trapped in an ancient place in history wrote the Bible. They tell stories that supposedly took place generations before they were born. We don't know what their motivations were. We don't know what were dreams, folklore, or actual happenings.

    Whether it be the OldTestament, New Testament, Koran, teachings of Buddha, etc. a higher authority (God) can be found preaching peace and love.

    Anybody that raises their religions good book and says....this is it...it's this way or the highway is blind, and surely does not understand what pleases God.

    Just one Man's opinion.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  4. kayaker44

    This guy is a former Episcopal bishop. Maybe he has some chip on his shoulder. First part of his opinion was more ranting, then he tries to calm himself down at the end.
    I wonder; does CNN seek these loons out or do they come to CNN wanting their 5 mins of fame?

    December 29, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • John

      These are the folks that go into the seminary believing in God and come out doubting God, the Bible and the whole purpose of it all. This is a concerted effort from the Left to distort and dilute all that is sacred from the inside out. It's one thing to talk about God a whole other thing to experience his presence for yourself. After this, there is no doubt he's the same one from scripture.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  5. ARthur

    Mythology is funny.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Only sheep need a shepherd

      Concur. This article was oriented toward helping people trust in the bible. John, instead, helped prove my opinion that it is only a book that was written, edited, adjusted, and misinterpreted to curb the masses of weak and desperate unintelligent human sheep.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  6. rbmeoe

    WOW! You have really brought home the belief of so many. That the bible is nothing more than the fantasy ramblings of a bunch of religious zelots, bent on conforming the uneducated masses to thier way of thinking at the expense of each individuals needs, wants and beliefs!! Thank you for confirming what I have believed since I was 18 years old, that christianity is nothing more tham hypocritical, money grabbing con games!!!

    December 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Anony

      Actually, that's not what he said at all.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  7. johngeisler

    And you say Buddist and Hunduism ect are crazy stories! ! EYE SEE YOU

    December 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  8. Ron

    “In individuals, insanity is rare, but in groups, congregations, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”
    –Friedrich Nietzsche

    December 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  9. Christlike!?!

    I enjoyed reading the article very much! It sheds valuable light on the Bible and mans lack of understanding and misuse of the Holy scriptures. It encourages people who take the Bible at its face value, and are often turned off by religion, to seek the living word. The living word is Jesus Christ, he loves us, died for us, and is coming back for us. He will bring peace and the goverments of the world shall be upon his shoulders.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Faisal

      That is a false prophecy. The Anti-Christ is coming first, also known as the False Messiah. You are doing nothing to prevent people from believing he is the true Messiah by saying what you say. Perhaps you are a devils angel?

      December 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Lee Ann

      It Baffles me when I read that all who say they are Christian are sitting back waiting for the all mighty to come and fix all of our problems.... They are OUR problems... No God is coming.... It's all about you as an individual, being a better person, a good person, a loving person, a good value person... "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!" If every one lived by A simple Golden Rule we would all live in peace... Give YOUR God a break and start acting independantly...And stop blaming the Bible.. I was written by Man.... need I say more!

      December 29, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Christlike!?!

      Thank you both for your comments. @leeAnn, I agree with most of what you said. I personaly believe Jesus is coming back, with all due respect. If it never happens then I won't know about it. If there was no Heaven ok, I enjoy being a regular-loving person living a very happy life, trusting in God built on my faith. @faizel. Devils angel, lol, no! Your right anti-christ is coming, but thing arent going to work out for him/her in the end. Jesus win so we all can. Peace

      December 29, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  10. Michael S

    I fully disagree with the suggestion that the Bible is simply a snapshot of an ever-evolving oral tradition. This discounts the role of a living and active God throughout history.

    As for oral tradition magnifying and changing events of a story, there are of course examples of this happing in other cultural traditions. However, I have also read sources that tell of how obsessed Hebrew scribes were with word-for-word accuracy in their oral traditions. So it is possible that the stories did not change as much as Mr. Spong suggests.

    "Literal" is a tricky word though; I think it has the potential to mean different things to different people. I do believe that most of the Bible represents literal history or as close to it as need be, but there may also be some poetic stories in there (Garden of Eden might be either literal or figurative, but the underlying meaning is the same).

    So yes, I believe that the events of the Bible literally happened…or at least, I think we need to be prepared to believe this. But I am hesitant to go as far to say that "every word is true"…in some sense, I believe this, but I think people use this phrase in order to take verses out-of-context and use them to prove their own points.

    Mr. Spong brings up some good points though…what about those specific verses that command things that seem strange, preposterous, or downright wrong to us in the modern day? What about God's command to kill other tribes? I don't think there are easy answers to these questions, but I think we need to prayerfully grapple with these issues, rather than simply throwing them out.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • joey

      yes, thats what he is saying, albeit in a polite manner. i however, shall digress. all forms of human herd mentality are false and just mental masturbation for weak human minds. there are no gods or god.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Michael S

      Sure about that, are you?

      December 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Did you really suggest that the word "literal" is open to interpretation?

      That's remarkable.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Michael S

      I merely suggest that different people use the same word to mean different things...it is one of the problems with human language.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      But...specifically the word "literal" might mean something else somehow...

      To what alternate meaning of "literal" might someone choose to subscribe?

      There's a special place in hell for people that can construct the phrase "It depends on your interpretation of the word literal," and do it with a straight face.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  11. Isaac

    As an Orthodox Jew I can tell you that the writer got his facts wrong when discussing the Torah or "Old Testament". It is also frustrating because the Torah was written in Hebrew, and has been analyzed and re-analyzed with a long and accompanying Oral history (now termed the Talmud and Mishnah) that has discussed to death every single letter, word, possible anomaly and interpretation by tens of thousands of Jewish scholars over thousands of years. I cannot comment on his statements referring to the Christian Bible as I have very little knowledge on this subject. But in Judaism it is well known that you cannot correctly interpret the Torah without the Oral Law. Also, it should be recognized there are issues dealing with Law and then other things, such as ethics. To keep it simple and not get bogged down in debates about opinions, I will only deal with issues of law, as this had to be correctly interpreted and a final say (law) established. Here is but one concrete example (meaning with sources you can look up) of where this author is so wrong as to illustrate either his ignorance or desire to avoid the facts. The author states that the Torah "calls for the execution of children who are willfully disobedient to their parents". The case he is talking about (termed "Ben Sorer u-Moreh, or "wayward" child) is cited in the Parshah (weekly Torah reading) called Ki Setze (21:18-21, Deuteronomy). It basically says that the child is tried to be disciplined by the father and mother but he does not listen to them becoming a glutton and drunkard. Then both the mother and the father together must bring the child to the court, both must testify against him, and if the court is convinced, orders the death penalty. This is the basic outline in the Torah. HOWEVER, the Talmud (in Sanhedrin, 71a) states that there are so many pre-conditions that are virtually impossible to attain that this case NEVER happened and WILL never happen! For example, to put someone to death by a Jewish court based on witness testimony, the witnesses cannot be family! Moreover, by Jewish law, for a court to put someone to death required the testimony of at least two "kosher" witnesses that had to have WARNED the person before the crime that if he/she commits the crime the crime is punishable by death. The perpetrator must actually acknowledge this and state he/she does not care and commit the crime. This is Jewish law for how the court imposed the death penalty! Thus, while there are many cases where the death penalty is hypothetically applicable from a simple reading of the Torah (which is what this author is doing), the Oral law is the other necessary half of the story. So why does the Torah have an example that is impossible as is the case with the wayward child. There is a whole literature on this about family and ethics. If interested, I would encourage you to go read more. For example, bringing a child to the court by parents that would wish him dead, is a way for the court to protect the child! I am not trying to convince anyone about the validity of Judaism, or any religion or even G-d. But you should at least know that this article has its facts wrong when it comes to the Torah. And like any other subject, if you really want to study something, go to the original sources.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Faisal

      You'd be hard pressed to find an American who would go to that length. But thanks for the write up. As a true believer in God, I read it with great interest and thankfulness. I hope you come to discover that Jesus (Emmanuel) is the true Messiah. Although you might gain very little in this present life by coming to this realization. It is the soul that profits from the truth.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • liz48

      Thank you for an excellent exposition of Torah and the Oral law. I was a convert to Christianity. I have for some time distanced myself from the order of all Christian churches that are offshoots of the roman catholicism, and have entrenched myself in the study of the Jewish scriptures and oral law. I have encountered the man condemned by the Sanhedrin as being false – known as Jesus; and believe He is Mosciah (the Messiah).

      I see differently and have a wonderful life free of sickness and suffering and amazing joy; all the promises of Moschiah. The change came when I separated myself from the twisted doctrines that were imposed by the political and religious establishment of the roman empire. YHWH told us not to touch paganism and all I knew of catholicism and its offspring protestant churches is the deceptive blending of paganism and rebellion against YHWH. People have been deceived for many years and my heart is that Truth will dispel lies and darkness...

      December 29, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • George

      I agree ... the author did not even read the texts that he is referring to ... many of the concepts are simple wrong that are presented here! People have the right to make up their own minds but misrepresenting what the texts say and mean is just wrong!

      December 29, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Mattmchugh

      "You can't possibly understand the Bible unless you follow the exclusive interpretations of religious authorities!"

      Thanks for perfectly illustrating the main purpose of the Bible (Hebrew or Christian): Control.

      - mm

      December 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Leanne

      I appreciate your explanation of the Torah and Oral Law but it seems irrelevant to this article. The author seems to be addressing misconceptions found in the Christian Bible and inconsistency between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Whatever laws were actually followed under Judaism are not at all related to the Christian Bible followed by millions of Americans today who use it as a means of judging and condemning others who do not believe the same things they do. I appreciate your clarificaiton of what actually would have happened but that seems to support the author's point, not disprove it. His point is that people take the Bible literally and believe it without question, despite inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Your explanation supports that point by showing that those who take the Bible literally might actually believe a wayward child should be condemned to death without knowing the full story of what would've happened had such a punishment actually been carried out.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      Wow, Isaac! That was really interesting! Thanks for sharing that. It certainly brings into context much of the content of Leviticus.

      I really appreciate it.

      December 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • St_Mosquito

      Hey Faisal – did it ever occur to you that Isaac may be perfectly happy with his religion and that your comment is rude and condescending? He's obviously very well educated in his religion and can discuss in an academic way and explain why a child wouldn't be killed for being a brat. Can you? Why on earth would anyone think to themselves, "Whoa, it must be true if Faisal says so – I'll convert right away!" Keep your religion to yourself and allow others to do the same.

      December 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  12. NJBob

    Who cares?

    December 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Luke Skywalker

      I care.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Larry

      I care

      December 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  13. Faisal

    This article is a blasphemy against God. In Abraham and Moses time, people lived much longer. A quick Google search, which is highly unreliable, suggests Abraham lived to be at least 175 years old. Moses 120 years. The way this BIASED article writer did his math, he's assuming "modern" life expectancy. And it is KNOWN that people don't look at history until CONFLICT arises, and that is when records resurface, such as what is being done right now. Ultimately the REAL truth will come on top, and Christ will reign forever just as the Bible said. There are NO lies in the Bible and that will be evidently true when the day of the Judgment comes.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • skeptic

      Yikes. It's scary that someone as delusional as you has access to a computer. Have yourself checked out by a licensed health professional. Can't hurt, right?

      December 29, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Observer

      You might try reading it again. It talks about a circle with a diameter of 10 and circ-umference of 30. Ooops!

      December 29, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      And Methusela lived to be 969 years old. Wow his life span was nearly 1/6 of the whole of history! HOw many generations of begats was that again?

      December 29, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • joey

      are your feelings hurt ? truth hurts

      December 29, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Mr. Smith

      Here's your sign.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • liz48

      Yes, the lies are waiting to be dispelled by the LIGHT and Truth of God's Word....Psalm 110 tells us that Father waits till His (Jesus') enemies are made His footstool....We are one with Jesus and are His Body; we have a mission...We are led by Joy and Peace as we are led of God in what we do – Isaiah 55:12.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Boisepoet

      "Methusela lived to be 969 years old."
      But who calls dat livin' when no gal will give in to no man, who's 900 years...
      Props to the Gershwin boys!

      December 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • St_Mosquito

      LOL!!!! Do you seriously believe that, in ancient times, you know, back when people died from simple things like broken bones and tooth abcesses, that the human body could somehow live 190 years if disease/injury free? Put the Bible down and pick up a biology book about cell structure and failure or human anthropolgy. Oh wait, I forgot that science is all lies...

      December 29, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Cocoa Puffs

      Really, blasphemy? The Bible itself can be pretty disgusting. Remember that guy Lot? He offered his daughters up to an angry mob. If you're a father, the next time you're about to be murdered in a back alley, and your daughter's with you, why not follow Lot's example – you'll be a hero for sure. Then, later, because your wife looked back on the city you fled, and turned to salt, you'll realize it's the end of your family line because you don't have sons. Well, time to get it on with your daughters.

      Unless you have a time machine, no one's going to get their facts right about the Bible. But the author of this article was accurate when he said the Bible has been used to justify some of the world's biggest atrocities – that should give you pause enough.

      And I don't care what anyone says about the quality of a Biblical scribe, without the printing press, there is absolutely no way the Bible as we know it today is anything like it was intended. This may be its only saving grace, because if not, the Bible, as a whole, is easily one of the darkest books ever written.

      If there's a God, he or she, or whatever, is going to recognize the greatest beauty in life is when a good person, does a good thing, even when the decision is difficult. The majority of the stories in the Bible don't uplift like this. A book like Tuesday's with Morrie is more Christian than the entirety of the Bible.

      Feel free to pick and choose the stories from the Bible that give you peace and comfort, but as a whole, it's an inconsistent mess, and anyone that feels it's, in its entirety, the word of God, is a scary person capable of evil things – history has more than proven this.

      December 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  14. Talgrath

    Here is my question, if scholars know the book is full of lies...why continue to be Christian? Personally, I have taken the positive stories of love, redemption and kindness from the Bible, Quran and Buddhist and Hindu writings and used them as a guide on how to be a better person, without necessarily buying into the dogmas of any religion. I guess in real terms, I am an atheist, but I am happy to say a prayer with any religion so long as it isn't filled with hate or foolish declarations. Religion doesn't really matter, it is all about whether or not you are a good person; and if some form of the divine exists and it condemns me for not "praying the right way" then so be it, such a petty and spite-filled being is not a deity I wish to embrace and I will gladly march to hell or whatever other punishment awaits me.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Boisepoet

      I think religion has stunted our ability to evolve into a more moral and ethical creature. Our personal growth has been stunted at 700 AD or earlier by the world's religion, and any progress beyond that time has only been in spite of and not so much because of religion.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Happy Atheist

      No problem, bud, you will have plenty of decent people to soak up the heat with. All religions suck.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • St_Mosquito

      Bingo! Those books are good guides, but the lines you have to read between are archaic. Leviticus is full of rediculous rules and someone who takes them literally would be locked up as either a criminal or crazy. Santa Claus has a better way: be good for goodness sake.

      December 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Cocoa Puffs

      Talgrath, I'd almost argue you're agnostic, rather than atheist – simply because you're open to the idea of something bigger. But here's the irony filled kicker, with the way you think, if there is a heaven, I'm sure with the way you value the positive in all things, you'll find yourself happily there. Good for you.

      December 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Junyah

      Well said!

      December 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  15. Roger

    The author is an episcopalian.......nough said

    December 29, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  16. lulu

    Um... you forgot the most important point of the bible... accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Boisepoet

      Why not Zeus?
      One mythology is as good as the next...

      December 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  17. Mattmchugh

    Here you have a perfect example of the willed obliviousness of believers Rev. Spong is obviously well-educated about the Bible (though he gets some facts wrong, for example, about the original languages of Gospels). In any case, he clearly knows what the Bible is: not a literal historic book, but an anthology of oral folklore written down piecemeal over hundreds of years.

    Given the overwhelming evidence that the Bible is a wholly human creation, Rev. Spong ultimately chooses to set that all aside and stick to idea that the Bible is still an irrefutable source of spiritual communication from the Supreme Being; we just need to refine how we interpret it!

    Hogwash. The Bible is fiction. That doesn't mean it's valueless, but it does mean reading more into it is dangerous. Rev. Spong readily admits this, then timidly skirts around it in his conclusion. He seems a man of very weak faith indeed when it comes to his own intellect.

    - mm

    December 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • firebrand

      "Spong is obviously well-educated about the Bible (though he gets some facts wrong, for example, about the original languages of Gospels)."

      Really? Well-educated you say? And making such obvious blunders? If you count out ignorance (and you say he is well-educated), you must either rule in incompetence or willful deceit. What's obvious is that Spong is a terrible scholar and spouts off hear-say rather than putting any intellectual effort into performing actual research.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  18. EdTex

    It never ceases to amaze me how "Christians," when confronted with rational arguments or differing views, become so defensive and closed-minded. It is like talking to a brick wall. They have been so brainwashed by their hateful leaders that no rational thought can enter their minds. Very sad.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • BillyBean

      Everyone who disagrees with you is somehow closed minded, I bet.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • lulu

      Not all christians are the same just like not all people are the same. There are crazies everywhere.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Richele


      December 29, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Al

      Critics are open-minded. It's just that the literalists don't have anything very convincing to show us. What you want is blind acceptance that what you say is true without offering any compelling reasons why.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Larry

      It never fails to amaze me how you atheists are so closed minded and have no faith in anything that you have to call anyone who believes in God crazy. You people are so insecure you have to have anything even remotely associated with religion take from society. If you only wish to worship the almighty dollar and not God that's to bad for you but I won't take that from you, just stop trying to take from us also.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Larry: Nobody's trying to "take" anything from you. You want to believe in silliness? You keep on keepin' on.

      I'll make you a deal though...if you could manage to simultaneously hold the belief that you can fly if you jump off a cliff, I'll stop pointing out the goofiness about the god thing.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Al

      "If you only wish to worship the almighty dollar"
      That would be Republicans, not atheists per se.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  19. palintwit

    Sarah Palin believes that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that early man walked with the dinosaurs. Sarah Palin believes that early man rode dinosaurs to church every Sunday.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      So the Flintsones wasn't real? 🙁

      December 29, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Al

      No, but Terra Nova is (will be) real. 🙂

      December 29, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • palintwit

      Actually, Sarah Palin believes that the first automobiles really were foot powered.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  20. b_briane

    I am glad that at least only one sentence had any relevant truth: the last sentence stating that this article is one man's opinion. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, so his article started with a fallacy when he claims that Moses and his story wwas 'orally" past down when it was not. This author failed to recognise the Jewish tradition of keeping the written text in the location of worship and the religious leaders had to memorize the written text word for word and then while they preached and taught the written text verbally, other men, scribes and lawyers, had to also memorize the written text and then stand and observe the preacher and correct him if his qouting of scripture had any mistakes. The stories he points out as God commanding men to destroy a group completely are the only times God said to do so, in fact when Israel took possesion of the land, they were only told to destroy the temples and altars of the false gods and "push" the people out, or the latter was that upon destruction of their false gods the people converted to Israel and were allowed to stay. Case in point as to why on 3 occasions God said to destroy a group completely can be seen with Hitler and his doctrine, because all the followers of Hitler were not destroyed, we have neo nazi cults that still preach hitler's final solution doctrine and hate crimes agianst ethnic cultures by white supremacists are still followed and if all believers and war criminals from WW2 would have been assinated, we would not have the lies of hitler in our society today. That is why God said to stamp out such wickedness because later generations of the followers of evil end up wanting revenge. Just as we will see revenge for Osama Bin laden's death and our work in Iraq and Afghanistan. When you do not erase a culture group that hates you based on ethnic and religious beliefs, but only "subdue" their terrorist actions for awhile, it comes back to haunt you.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      I thought Moses was dead before the end of Exodus...

      December 29, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Jujubeans

      Moses wrote the first 5 books of the bible? Moses who?

      December 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Al

      Moses supposedly wrote the part describing his own funeral, but those who take the bible literally don't seem to be troubled by this at all.

      Deuteronomy 34:5-7
      And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to his day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • St_Mosquito

      Must be a wonderful world you live in. A world where it is ok to own slaves, oppress your wife/wives, kill an entire culture because if some have an extremist/violent view toward you then they all obviously have that view, and all those other neat rules from Leviticus. Sorry, but the Bible is no different than the Greek and Roman myths and you are ignorant if you say otherwise. Yes, I believe Jesus was a real man in history. I also believe he would not be pleased with those of you who hand pick parts of the Bible to justify your biases.

      December 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
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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.