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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. Jon

    I can't seem to find anything about Julius Caesar that was written on the day when he supposedly died in 44 bc – there was no reporter there to give me a play-by-play. Should I conclude he wasn't stabbed 23 times? Should I conclude there was no Julius Caesar at all? True stories, both then and now, are passed along orally, and it is perfectly acceptable method of how we get HISTORY. Just because you don't believe it doesn't mean it's not true. If you believe that Caesar was stabbed, or that Columbus set sail, or pick another historical "fact" that you believe, actually happened, then you're hypocritical to not believe the Bible – no matter if you believe in Jesus as your Savior our not.

    December 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The difference is that the historical doc.uments pertaining the Ceasar do not purport any supernatural powers.
      Do you believe that the Epic of Gilgamesh is historically accurate?

      December 29, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • wayne317

      No, none of those other men mentioned had anything happen to them that is by all means impossible happen to them. Also, beleving that those men existed does not come with the consequence of eternal hell fire simply for not believing stories about them. You could not be more wrong.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Jon

      So, Wayne: If we're only believing things that are possible by your standards, creation / evolution must frustrate you to no end! You weren't there to observe either, and neither SEEM possible, but one had to happen...Don't tell me you only believe in things seem possible to you – there are too many holes in that.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Dogamus

      Aren't you a little off base? There were many Roman authors who lived during the time of Caesar..........Horace, Claudius etc........in fact Julius himself authored "Bellae Gallica". In fact Horace wrote a very descriptive personal account of the eruption of Vesuvius which has often been compared to Mt St Helens.

      Now, Moses........well wasn't that several thousand years before Caesar ? Stories handed down through the ages, tend to also reflect those telling the stories.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • wayne317

      So, Wayne: If we're only believing things that are possible by your standards, creation / evolution must frustrate you to no end! You weren't there to observe either, and neither SEEM possible, but one had to happen...Don't tell me you only believe in things seem possible to you – there are too many holes in that.

      Let's stay on topic please. Accepting creation or evolution does not come with a conssequence of eternal punishment. Beleving in Jesus does, and the supernatural claims made about him are silly and stupid imo. There is no reason to believe any of the miracles at all. If that is my worst crime, so be it.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Jon

      Sorry, Wayne – I'll stay on topic. My point was that we all believe things that we didn't witness first-hand and are not explainable by our own "logic".
      You know, my kids don't like the consequences of their wrong choices either – but it doesn't make the consequence any less of a reality. All of nature shows Action vs. Consequence reality. We don't have to like them, but it doesn't make them less true. You either believe the statement, "Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess..." or you don't. But when that day comes, don't claim ignorance to the consequences, whether you feel they are fair or not.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • wayne317

      "You know, my kids don't like the consequences of their wrong choices either – but it doesn't make the consequence any less of a reality."

      Yeah but you are real. You exist. Your consequences than can experience in real time. Jesus and his consequences are 100% make beleive.

      " You either believe the statement, "Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess..." or you don't."

      You either bellieve the statement

      "if you don't howl at the moon tonight, a monster will crawl out from under your bed and boil you in acid"

      or you don't.

      " But when that day comes, don't claim ignorance to the consequences, whether you feel they are fair or not."

      That day won't come, your Jesus as a deity is imaginary and you should be ashamed of yourself for beleiving such nonsense and please don't teach those precious children that crap. Thanks.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      Nice try, Jon. You can't just take all stories which we haven't seen personally, lump them all together, and call them equally valid. That is a dishonest logical fallacy.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Jon

      Sorry – it seems I've offended. What was I thinking sharing my opinion in the comments sections of the Religion Blog??

      Curious as to your response to my first statement:
      Sorry, Wayne – I'll stay on topic. My point was that we all believe things that we didn't witness first-hand and are not explainable by our own "logic".

      Do you only believe in things that are logical to you?

      December 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Jon

      Henry, we all take as fact and have faith in stories we've heard and can't corroborate. How do you choose which stories are historically valid and which ones aren't?

      December 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • wayne317

      " My point was that we all believe things that we didn't witness first-hand and are not explainable by our own "logic"."

      Whatever those things are don't carry a eternal threat behind it. For the most part accepting them as true of false is meaningless.

      Do you only believe in things that are logical to you?

      I only accept things as fact that can show to be evident in some objective way.

      The bottom line is there is no reason to beleive some diety that created the universe 14 billion years ago (6,000 for morons) came to this planet 2,000 years ago pretending to be a human being. Then killed himself becauase he could not figure out another way to forgive us for a sin that never happend anyway. Then will torture you forever if you don't believe a few stories in a book. That is nonsense my man, nonsense.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • wayne317

      "Henry, we all take as fact and have faith in stories we've heard and can't corroborate. How do you choose which stories are historically valid and which ones aren't?

      The ones that have supernatural impossible nonsense can be thrown out first. From then you can do futher evaluation.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Eric

      There's a huge difference here. Whether or not Julius Caesar existed has absolutely no effect on my belief system. If it turns out he was fictional, the only thing it would affect is some history. It would not alter my world-view. On the other hand, Christians depend on the existence of Jesus and other character for their entire belief system.

      December 29, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • wake up

      History is the acceptance of the absurd. Unless you have seen anything as a witness you have no idea what "really" happened. I witnessed 911 and I have yet to see a news story that accurately represents anything that happened on that day. That was when I realized, first hand, that the entire "history" of the world is absolute nonsense.!! The four or five major world religions have widely different explanations of the the last 2000 years. Are all of them "true" or just the one your daddy taught you to believe?

      December 29, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • ambi

      I believe in the ancient alien theory and nope not trying to be funny just re watched (bought) seasons 1 & 2 lol clears up a lot of things and basically Jesus was real he was half alien, end of story, all our ancestors believed these folks they knew nothing about and had technology so great (or magic) in there eyes were GODS and I guess they were shrug, never really could understand why if you believed all the stories in the bible why folks were so against magic back then

      December 29, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Al

      Eye-witness testimony is the least reliable evidence in a trail. The longer it takes for a case to get to trial, the more unreliable they become. Caesar was a hero in his time, like Chuck Norris is today. Chuck Norris having a third fist in his beard is the same as Caesar being stabbed 23 times.

      December 29, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Revolution

      Where does the universe begin? Where does it end? What are we doing here anyway? Where are we? How did we get here? How did the planet get here? How did the universe get here? How did it all start? The big bang is just as silly in my opinion especially when I think about the inertia. What proceeded the big bang then? How can all this happen without there being some other force that starts the whole thing? And what is that force?

      January 8, 2012 at 5:25 am |
    • md2205

      To Doc Vestibule: What could be more mind boggling and even supernatural then that the world exists not having been created? Those who believe that believe in something even more supernatural and less logical, totally irrational, than what they are trying to say is irrational.

      January 11, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • md2205

      And, by the way, historical facts are those that people have witnessed. It says in the Torah 24 times that G-d gave the Torah to Moses in front of the entire Jewish people at the mountain. 3 million people saw it happen. 3 million people passed that tradition to their children, and to their children, to each subsequent generation, until nowadays. Would you believe something that one person says that no one else saw? Would you bet a million dollars that it really happened? Would you believe it if 2 people said they saw it happen? If a thousand people said they saw it? If 3 million? At some point, something many people say they saw happen is believable and becomes a historical fact. There are many people who believe in what one person said even though no one else saw. Whoever believes in J believes what he said: That G-d spoke to him when he was alone and told him something. There are many people who believe in what Mohammed said: That he went up to Heaven and G-d gave him the Koran. No one else saw it. The Torah said 3 million people saw G-d give the Torah to Moses on the mountain.

      January 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • northern light

      ""Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess..." or you don't. But when that day comes, don't claim ignorance to the consequences,"

      So Jon .......will all those who lived before the year zero be subject to eternal damnation because they could not have been aware of JC because JC's dad had not magically impregnated a young lady named marry?

      Come to think of it ....Mary was quite a lady to be having an affair with a deity......that is called adultery ....is it not.....or maybe not ..........if you do it with your imaginary friend.

      January 24, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • TRH

      'Do you only believe in things that are logical to you?"

      Exclusively, no. Often, yes.

      January 28, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  2. Atheismas

    I think you have BC and AD mixed up twice in this article.

    December 29, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  3. fred

    I don't know what this guy is talking about. I mean now how can you take the euchrist any way other than litrally. You might as well just pull the plug on the whole bathtup.

    December 29, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Those catholic priests, always tricking their congregants into cannibalism.
      You think it's a tasteless wafer, but it's really filet-o-saviour!

      December 29, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • J.W

      Many people think the bread and wine are representations of the body and blood, or they look at communion more as a celebration.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • HotAirAce

      fred, congratulations! You are evolving towards atheism at a rapid rate. Pull the plug!!

      December 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Bill

      I thought at first that fred was trying to be sarcastic, but I'm not sure that he has the mental capacity for that. I look forward to the unplugged (from religion) version of fred, anyway.

      December 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Bill

      Doc, 'filet-o-saviour', funniest post I've seen here in a while.

      December 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • northern light

      "I don't know what this guy is talking about. I mean now how can you take the euchrist any way other than literally............ You might as well just pull the plug on the whole bathtub'

      Now that last line Fred is a very reasoned and logical statement.....here here......as John Lennon wrote in "Imagine"
      "And no religion too"......

      Cannot arrive soon enough for me..

      January 24, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • northern light

      To William Demuth..you wrote
      "I suspect Jesus prefered Greek.
      Thus his lack of a wife, and his twelve flaming friends"

      William........ speaking of Greek oddities .....is it not more than a coincidence that .....sheep ....are mentioned a lot in the bible??
      I trust you can deduce the inference......casts a new light on Christians being ......sheepish.....

      January 24, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  4. Rainer Braendlein

    "and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.", Spong said.

    Sorry, Spong has no idea and he is quite presumptuous.

    The great Prof. Dr. Helmut Koester (he is alive and Harvard professor), who is a leading scientist on the field of New Testamant research claims that it is quite possible that Jesus spoke Greek. Look at his great work "Introduction to the New Testament".

    December 29, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • William Demuth

      I suspect Jesus prefered Greek.

      Thus his lack of a wife, and his twelve flaming freinds.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Wikipedia:

      Helmut Koester (born 1926) is a German-born American scholar of the New Testament[1] and currently Morison Research Professor of Divinity and Winn Research Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard Divinity School.[2] He teaches courses at both the Divinity School and at Harvard Extension School, and was the president of the Society of Biblical Literature.[3] His Introduction to the New Testament is described as a "standard reference work."[4]

      Koester studied under Rudolf Bultmann at the Philipps-University of Marburg, Germany, after being released from a POW camp there in 1945. He later became an assistant of Günther Bornkamm at the University of Heidelberg in 1954-1956. He was a visiting professor at Harvard in 1958, and became the John H. Morison Professor of Ecclesiastical History in 1963. Although now emeritus, he continues to teach at Harvard University and oversee (with Laura Nasrallah) the Harvard project Archeological Resources for the Study of the New Testament, which has been published by Fortress Press in CD-ROM format as "Cities of Paul: Images and Interpretations from the Harvard New Testament Archaeology Project."

      December 29, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Dogamus

      Helmut Koester ?? You are of course joking.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • MomOf3

      Anyone who uses Wikipedia as a reference can't be taken seriously...

      December 29, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • TR6

      “claims that it is quite possible that Jesus spoke Greek”

      It’s also possible to claim that he was married to 4 different women and had 20 children because there is just as much evidence for it

      December 29, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      Jesus spoke Hebrew and Aramaic. Nice try.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • The Maurey Povich Bible Show

      Great Rainer....and have you ever read Rudolph Bultman's best known book : "Jesus Christ and MYTHOLOGHY" ?

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

      The Bible says he walked on water and rose from the dead. I doubt mastering Greek was a dealbreaker.

      December 29, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • Bible Scholar

      Incorrect.
      Dr. Bart Ehrman from UNC Chapel Hill, whose credentials far surpass those of your Harvard professor's, says that Jesus did NOT speak Greek...nor did his disciples. In fact, he has published and lectured widely on this subject and is worldly recognized as one of, if not THE foremost expert on this subject.

      January 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • TRH

      Apparently Dr. Hector Avalos doesn't quite agree with Prof. Helmut Koester.

      January 28, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • TRH

      Per Dr. Hector Avalos:

      At once, we are introduced to one of the most common defenses of biblical studies today. That defense rests on the illusion that “the Bible” is uniquely vital and essential for Christianity and the American religious life.

      Curiously, Dr. Koester seems to privilege a more traditional view of the biblical canon in his attack on my book. But his own past work shows that he did not always think that the Bible, as we currently know it, was uniquely essential or vital for Christians in all periods.

      For example, in his own Introduction to the New Testament: History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age (2 vols.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), he tells us the following about other early Christian writings (Volume 1, p. xx1):

      January 28, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      "Me: The Bible says he walked on water and rose from the dead. I doubt mastering Greek was a dealbreaker."

      So you're equating the likelihood of his speaking Greek with the likelihood that he walked on water and rose from the dead? That pretty well sinks the "spoke Greek" argument.

      January 29, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  5. LinCA

    I predict an avalanche of No True Scotsman Fallacies (see: http://www.iep.utm.edu/fallacy/#No%20True%20Scotsman).

    December 29, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      A real belief blog poster would never make such an as/sumption.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • LinCA

      Thanks Doc. That made me lol. 🙂

      December 29, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • J.W

      I like Doc. I consider him a true atheist.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  6. Doc Vestibule

    I never thought I'd read an article from a clergyman with whom I can wholeheartedly agree.
    "The Bible interprets life from its particular perspective; it does not record in a factual way the human journey through history." <– a truly wonderful statement – clear, concise and true.

    There is nothing wrong with using Christ's character as presented in the Bible as a personal guide.
    Charity, compassion, humility – these are traits we should nurture in ourselves and if the Bible helps you do it, then it truly is a Good Book.
    Problems arise when people start believing that the Bible is the ONLY path to becoming a better person.
    People can trod different roads on their journeys, yet still reach the same destination.
    `

    December 29, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • mac

      Now that is the best comment i'v seen on this blog yet today

      December 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • northern light

      "People can trod different roads on their journeys, yet still reach the same destination."
      Wrong Doc.

      The believers think they are going to a place called heaven and we none believers to a place called hell.
      We are not on the same page........... let alone the same library....

      They play about in fantasy....... while we live in the real world.

      January 24, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • TRH

      "There is nothing wrong with using Christ's character as presented in the Bible as a personal guide.
      Charity, compassion, humility – these are traits we should nurture in ourselves and if the Bible helps you do it, then it truly is a Good Book.
      Problems arise when people start believing that the Bible is the ONLY path to becoming a better person.
      People can trod different roads on their journeys, yet still reach the same destination."

      Even an atheist like me can see the wisdom and logic of this statement.

      January 28, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
  7. lazurite

    Hurray! Finally someone using common sense when approaching religious topics!

    December 29, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Bill the Cat

      Only if you define "common sense" as discredited fringe history. Duh...

      December 29, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • TRH

      "discredited fringe history'

      Discredited where? This forum? By whom? You? Show us the where, who, and why...otherwise this is a meaningless opinion expressed by you only. You can't expect anyone with any intellect to take for it anything else...an opinion.

      January 28, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  8. Project:out of bounds

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzP8PUp6S04&w=640&h=360]

    December 29, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      You claim it is discredited, with no proof. So...you just discredited yourself.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • TRH

      Good reggae! But what's it doing here?

      January 28, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  9. brett

    Stop! You're making too much sense! I'm covering my ears...la la la jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so la la la

    December 29, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • William Demuth

      Come on lets sing it!

      JESUS LOVES THE LITTLE CHILDREN (especially the Altar boys!)

      December 29, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Bill the Cat

      I'd rather we all sing "atheists have no standard to judge immorality by"

      December 29, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • William Demuth

      Cat

      So Christians have the only morals?

      My guess is six billion plus rice burners would gladly pimp slap your redneck rear end for such blatant bigotry.

      Not to mention the billion plus hindus?

      You sicken me.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • asrael

      That's not singing, Bill, that's pouting...

      December 29, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • TRH

      "I'd rather we all sing "atheists have no standard to judge immorality by"...

      I've about had with you punk.

      January 29, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  10. anonymous

    Very well written post. The old testament God seems a contradiction at times to the new testament Jesus and his testimony. I believe God ordered his people to do what was ultimately the best thing for their survival. One must take into context orders given to a whole and orders given to an individual. It is ok for a people to wage war and kill in battle yet wrong for an individual to commit murder. All things must be taken into perspective in order to see the big picture.

    December 29, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  11. Rainer Braendlein

    Jesus eradicated all ambiguities

    "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, Jesus made it clear.

    December 29, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • asrael

      Denial is easier...

      December 29, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • ETM

      Your argument begs the whole question. You presume that Jesus was divine and proceed from there. However, you make your judgment based on part of the Bible, the New Testament. Circular reasoning.
      Reason tells us that many of the stories of Jesus gleaned from the New Testament are fabricated or exaggerated. For example, the story of the Bethlehem birth is almost certainly a fabrication since there never was a Roman census requiring return to a place of origin.
      Religion is mostly mythology. Unfortunately, humans have an unlimited capacity to choose mythology over reason.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • sbp

      Wow, you never cease to amaze. "The decision of Constantine was an official decision and is thus absolutely trustworthy." Just one example of how clueless you are. What a buffoon.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Jen

      It's well-established scholarly fact that these tribes relied on oral history because literacy was rare. Just read the annotations in your Bible. Don't accuse people of making stuff up just because it's news to you.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Kevin M

      The last few verses of Deuteronomy talks of Moses' death, Biblical scholars understand Torah or the 5 Books of Moses could not have been written by Moses.

      ...And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab...'

      December 29, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Voice

      THANK YOU!!! VERY WELL SAID!!
      I'll tell you what IS a contradition:

      A man confirming popular doubts of this world while trying to hold hands with God. Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? (jms 4:4) Someone "RECLAIMING" truth in a "Bible full of lies". A WEAK "teacher" caving to the pressures of a doubting "congregation", saying, yes, the book he's using to preach is whisper-down-the-alley corrupt, but worth listening to ANYWAY? As if the God we believe in is capable of creating a universe, but unable to preserve a centuries-old guide!

      SPONG IS WEAK !!!! NOT THE GOD WE BELIEVE IN !!!
      Time won't corrupt God's Word. People like Spong will corrupt people's perception of it.
      THIS AUTHOR THINKS HE'S DOING GOOD CREATING BELIEVERS BUT HE'S DESTROYING FAITH. THAT'S CONTRADICTION.

      "My dear friends, don't believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world." (1Jn 4:1 MSG)

      December 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      Rainer, your post is one long daisy-chain of logical fallacies. Nice try.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • George

      Your definition of "the whole civilized world" leaves out an awful lot of Asians, who were arguably more civilized than the Roman Empire (superior math, science, literature and technology.) They also have detailed chronicles of their history going back before Noah (with no mention of the flood), by the way.

      December 29, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • northern light

      "Jesus Christ himself proved his divine sonship by the miracles, which he worked"

      Jesus was supposed to have been Jewish....if he existed at all.

      If Jesus was a god and capable of miracles....then why would he not provide a miracle for his Jewish brethren that the Nazi's murdered in Auschwitz from 1943 to 1945?...

      It is very odd indeed for a god to save a man named Jonah from a whale ....yet ignore the plight of 6 million ofhis own people.

      January 25, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  12. C. Smith

    This article is a travesty. Just to start out:
    "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., 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."
    And yet, several of Jesus' disciples were fish merchants, meaning they almost certainly spoke and wrote Greek in their business dealings. This major misstep renders his entire first point questionable (and there are many more questionable claims in it).
    His second point, that a Perfect God couldn't command acts like the extermination of a vile, human-sacrificing people, fail to understand to a Perfect God is a perfectly just God, punishing for all crimes.
    His third point is almost right. The Bible doesn't 'evolve' so much as it is dependent on context. The laws given in the Old Testament were harsh, but we don't live under those laws today. Those laws were given to a harsh people surrounded by harsher people in harsh times. The fact that the things it calls sin are sin is absolute (within this religion) and do not change, but the fact that they are punishable by death was only true in that culture. Also note that the cleanliness laws (not eating pork or shellfish, for example) were a different set, not punishable by death and not called sin. The New Testament's commands for slaves to obey their masters is absolute, slaves should always obey their masters unless the command directly contradicts God, but that is only true in a culture that allows slavery, which the New Testament does nothing to encourage (and in fact discourages people from selling themselves into slavery). The author may see the Bible as evolving because he is trying to interpret it through the context of modern culture, which DOES evolve, but that is a mistake. Read it in the context it was written in, understand what it says and means, and then apply that to your own context today.

    December 29, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • William Demuth

      I have.

      It is clearly the writings of men with a very mortal agenda intended to indoctrinate the feeble minded.

      Amazingly enough you are proof that even aeons later humans are still emotionaly vulnerable to the "get out of death free" con.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Bill the Cat

      Demuth is an anti-religious bigot and a modern elitist snob.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • William Demuth

      Bill the Cat

      And a man who buries cats up to their necks in sand and then decapitates them with lawn mowers.

      Here KITTY KITTY KITTY

      December 29, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Bill the Cat

      And your worldview has no basis on which to condemn your actions either. So, why do you obey the law?

      December 29, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • William Demuth

      Bill

      I don't. Never have. I just pretend, and then use peer pressure to make you conform.

      Thus I have the advantage.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Dogamus

      You state,

      "And yet, several of Jesus' disciples were fish merchants, meaning they almost certainly spoke and wrote Greek in their business dealings. This major misstep renders his entire first point questionable (and there are many more questionable claims in it)."

      It is unlikely that any of Jesus' disciples could read or write anaything but the very basic things. The business of selling their catch from the Sea of Gallilee, would have been to local folks, so, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, it is unlikely that they had any reading and writing skills in Greek.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Jen

      Actually, Hebraic Jews and Greek-speaking Jews didn't get along, and that's the reason they would not have been fluent in Greek: http://catholicplanet.com/TSM/NT-John.htm

      December 29, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      They weren't "fish merchants", they were fishermen. There was no one there to speak Greek to. At best, Matthew as a tax collector might have spoken enough Latin to deal with the Romans. Nice try.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  13. Bill the Cat

    Spong has been discredited time and time again.

    December 29, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      So prove it.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • TRH

      By whom? You? Where? Why? Again, merely an opinion which you expect us to believe.

      January 29, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  14. BubbasWorld

    Apparently John Shelby Spong isn't one of the "scholars" he speaks of; he got several things wrong. And then he goes on to do his best to discredit the very book he loves in much the same way as the atheists do. He's gone over to the other side and just forgot to change his clothes.

    December 29, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      What did he get wrong?
      I assume that you're a proper, scholarly authority on the Bible...

      December 29, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      Prove it.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  15. Reality

    A shorter summary:

    Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    December 29, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • BubbasWorld

      Wow. You say all that stuff like it's proven fact. You're as delusional as your characters.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Bill the Cat

      You are just parrotting the discredited "Jesus Seminar". There is so much information available online to show their lack of intelligence on this entire subject.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      Bubba, Bill - sorry, but he's right. In particular, most of the story of Christ was plagiarized from the Egyptian story of Horus.

      December 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • TRH

      "For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider". "

      And that, among other things is what PO'd Martin Luther in the mid 1500's and ultimately started the Protestant Reformation. And that opened up a marvelous new chapter in the history of Christianity.

      January 28, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • TRH

      'You're as delusional as your characters"

      Is he? Prove it. Once again another dump and run. We are once again expected to believe what is nothing but an opinion.

      January 29, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  16. Meaghan

    "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."

    Then why are Bible-toting Born-Agains always saying that the Bible is the Word of God and we're damned if we don't heed? They PRIDE themselves on knowing that book back to front!

    December 29, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • J.W

      Maybe they have never read it.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • William Demuth

      Evangelicals preaching is quite akin to North Korean grieving.

      It has the scent of bovine droppings about it!

      December 29, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Dirty Sancheez

      Meaghan
      I am an Athiest who studies the Bible and other mythical stories. When I ask a person witnessing to me the meaning of certain scriptural passages, you find out most haven't read the Bible at all.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Jen

      It's true, they don't read it or study it. They're drawn to the emotional satisfaction they get from being born-agains, which is fine, but then they assume things about the Bible without bothering to fact-check, which is annoying.

      I was raised Christian and taught to study the Bible, so I agree with this article. Understanding how the Bible came to be doesn't make it less special. You don't need to think it's a magical tool like Harry Potter's wand to find meaning in it.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  17. RFBJR

    John Shelby Spong is an apostate. If any of you haters and supposed bible scholars want a good read, go to 2 Peter 2. Here is a taste starting at verse 17:

    17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” 20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

    However, if you don't believe it, then it is of no consequence, just forget about it. From my point of view, it is prophetic. I have to say, hmmm, the bible is right once again. And please don't give all of your Old Testament and Jewish Law wrangle, things changed when Jesus came into the picture. Jewish law proved one thing for certain: man cannot live up to the standards of God and they need a Saviour.

    Won't it be fun when our time on this earth is over, then we get to know the truth? I'm a little anxious and unsure of exactly how it's gonna be, but sure that I am heaven bound. Of course, it is nothing I did; it is what Jesus did for me. What do you think? Once again, you have the choice to believe or deny.

    December 29, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • asrael

      And once again someone has the opportunity to be smugly self-righteous, and can't resist...

      December 29, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • William Demuth

      Huh? When Jesus came into the picture?

      So Jesus did not exist during the Old Testament?

      You confuse Christ with a mortal. Do you believe he was fabricated by God, or has always existed in Unity with God and the spirit.

      If you claim he was created for the occasion, then you are NOT Christian

      December 29, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Rick

      "I'm a little anxious and unsure of exactly how it's gonna be, but sure that I am heaven bound."

      Why then are you waiting here? Jesus is waiting.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • DamianKnight

      The other big thing that Chuckles pointed out long ago, which brings into context the Old Testament, was those laws were for the Jews and the Jews alone. It did not pertain to anyone else.

      Secondly, the laws were written for man. Not for God. God is free to do as He pleases. It's one of those perks of being the creator of it all.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • RFBJR

      @Wiiliam:

      You know what I mean, Mr. Man. The Word became flesh. But what do you care? You're an atheist.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • William Demuth

      RFBJR

      You imply God changes morality midstream, meaning good and bad are relative.

      If that is the case, why follow his rules if he is at liberty to change them.?

      When his morals match mine, he shall be free to worship me as I see fit. Before then he is just another republican flip floper.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      So you're using the Bible to prove the validity of the Bible. Congratulations, you've just invented the logic equivalent of the self-licking ice cream cone. Nice try!

      December 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • George

      Aww, you left out the part about the talking donkey, right above your quote:

      "But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. "

      The talking donkey is the clincher...

      December 29, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  18. Reality

    A reference the follower of Henry VIII forgot to mention:

    ARTS & IDEAS/CULTURAL DESK | March 9, 2002

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    By MICHAEL MASSING (NYT) 1775 words

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

    December 29, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Bill the Cat

      Sorry, but the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt is seen by most historians as the basis for the Exodus, so the source you claim is under-informed

      December 29, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Reality

      How is the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews under-informed?

      December 29, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Odin

      "Sorry, but the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt is seen by most historians as the basis for the Exodus, so the source you claim is under-informed"

      How arrogant!!! Bill the Cat's head is so far up his "expeller" that he thinks that Christianity precedes Judaism. Don't contradict Bill's fabled facts with nonsense (hahaha couldn't keep a straight face typing that) from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. He may become catatonic or commit suicide when he realizes that being a hypocrite isn't going to earn him a place in that fabled land called heaven. Pretending to be good was all for nothing!

      December 29, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • under_khan

      @ Odin and Reality
      1st commandment of the Internet: Don't feed the trolls

      December 30, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  19. BubbasWorld

    Aparently John Shelby isn't one of the "scholars" he speaks of; he got several things wrong. And then he goes on to do his best to discredit the very book he loves in much the same way as the athiests do. He's gone over to the other side and just forgot to change his cloths.

    December 29, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • asrael

      That's OK; at least he knows how to spell "atheists" and "clothes"...

      December 29, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  20. YBP

    There are no gods, let alone the one of the ancient Middle East. Of all places to look for enlightenment and values...

    December 29, 2011 at 10:54 am |
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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.