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.
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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.
Hey all of you Disbelievers!!!!! You just don't believe because you are afraid of Judgment Day and all your sins and wrongdoings will be revealed and you will not spend Eternity with God!!!
I'm sorry you're wasting away your life worrying about that stuff.
You believe because you are afraid of Judgment Day, I have no such fear. I don't believe for the exact same reason you don't believe in the Gods Ba'al or Aguara.
That doesn't even make any sense to an atheist............... or a non-christian. You can't fear something that doesn't exist.
You sound like a crazy left hand Muslim from the middle east
Wow, your argument is so compelling and original – I'm going to go out right now and convert to...
Wait, which thing is it I'm supposed to believe?
How could fear in something that you don't believe will take place drive you to not believe it will take place? I assume you are a disbeliever as well. Unless you not only subscribe to Christian faith but to all other faiths... Olympus, Ra, Norse, etc.
I do pity you in the sense that you feel people are attacking your faith and that you are offended, but instead of lashing out at them just seek the security of your faith and try not to judge others.
I stand by everything I said. Internet is evil...you all are committing sin by commenting on a great post like mine. I am feeling this way as I ran out of my medication and my therapist is on a vacation.
I don't have to listen to you, because you are a woman, and the bible says that you have no authority over men. Timothy 2:12 "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. ". So shut up.
That was a powerful spoof, Diane...
We don't believe because we believe in it and are just in denial? Really? That makes sense to you?
Oh dear. Poe's Law is at work again.
DianeD: How can we fear judgment of a being in which we do not believe?
Threats and fear, that is why people don't take Christians seriously anymore.
No, we disbelieve because you theists have failed to provide a single shred of evidence that any of your claims are true. I could turn your own "logic" back around on you and say that theists only believe because they are afraid to face the reality of their own mortality and so they choose to delude themselves into thinking there is life after death. Now do you see how rude and unintelligent your statement is?
Uhhhh...wait a minute. Shouldn't one believe BECAUSE they are afraid? It seems to me that it's the theists who are afraid of not going to heaven so they believe and pray and do all sorts of other nonsense dictated by there particular branch of Christianity (of which there are hundreds.)
Who are these so-called "biblical scholars" that this nimwit is referring to? What are their credentials that allow them to dub themselves "scholars"? I've been studying the Bible deeply for over 17 years, professionally for the past 5 years with a degree in Biblical Theology. It's pretty fair to say that, by strict definition, I am a biblical scholar. That said, I don't agree with a single statement made by this man. His arrogance and ignorance regarding the Bible is mind-numbing.
Draz, are you really arguing that everything in the Bible is true, correct and without error or embellishments?
Typically a "scholar" is someone who has reached the highest level in a field – usually a Ph.D. Having a single undergraduate degree doesn't make you a scholar.
Having fun...I am just an imbecile, Ignore me.
Not to mention his statement that "the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 B.C." I assume that is supposed to be A.D., unless there is even more prophecy involved....
Sprong is working off of Higher Criticism tradition. His scholars all travel in that tradition. Scholars who disagree are not considered valid to him.
The most interesting aspect of this is, why would a guy who does not believe the Bible is truthful, remain a Christian and a bishop to boot. hmmm... doesn't add up.
Unbelievable, 17 years, buddy did you ever pick the wrong subject to study.
"Draz: Who are these so-called "biblical scholars" that this nimwit is referring to? What are their credentials that allow them to dub themselves "scholars"?"
If you really want to know (I suspect not), you could start by checking the bibliographies of the nearly two dozen books that Bishop Spong has authored over the years.
KJV. The King James VERSION of the Bible. That word; version. It implies that the Bible has been edited. Not just once, but a number of times. Who did the editing. Why, people of course. People who wanted to impress, influence and convince other people that this book is right and portrays miraculous happenings, people and things. How do you do that? Embellish. Simplify. Attempt to Clarify. Etc. Even if you could say (and I don't think you can) that the original Biblical texts represented an actual history, they don't anymore. And personally, I don't think they ever did. They were written to embellish, simplify, clarify and impress so that people would follow.
"The Bible" was written by Saint Jerome between 380 AD to 420 AD after the Canon (which books are allowed in it) of The Bible was defined. He translated the Aramaic, Greek, and other languages into Latin which was the universal language of commerce at that time. This book became known as the Latin Vulgate. It is The Bible and is kept in the Vatican Archives. All Other books are "versions" of it. All "Versions" are check against it for accuracy. "Versions" that were inaccurately translated were destroyed to prevent propagation of error which is where The Church got the reputation for burning books.
Only inaccurate translations were burned.
Whoa. As Steve Perry sings, "Don't stop believin', hold on to that feeling ... "
Translated by Jerome except for: Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, 3 Esdras, Acts, Epistles, and the Apocalypse. The translators of these are unknown.
And the rest were TRANSLATIONS by Jerome which means he didn't write it. He merely compiled it. And if what he was working from was already embellished, etc., then by definition the reference "version" is as well.
You don't need to be a scholar to refute these points. For example, Paul, wrtiing only 20 – 25 or so after Resurrection mentions eyewitnesses seeing Christ alive, including himself. If you think Paul has no integrity, then why believe in Christianity at all?
Are you saying that a Man could not embellished to press a point or to clarify an idea?
Yes, Paul claimed to have seen Jesus as a beam of light. But what makes Paul any more believable than Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon? It's the same deal – one guy claiming to see something that no one else saw.
The whole point of the article is that these stories were not written down for decades or even centuries after the supposed facts took place. Stories grow in the telling.
Guess I should clarify – Paul didn't write Paul's account of what happened. He just told it, and other people told it, and then it was finally written down. Paul didn't write Paul's account.
except possibly where Paul said see what large letters i have written to you with my own hand, could that have been Paul?
For all the naysayers, things weren't written down because nobody knew how to read until the Renaissance except Priests.
Required education is a concept of the 20th century so before then lots of people couldn't read or write which is why oral traditions were kept.
Well, it's generally believed by scholars that Paul actually did write approximately half of the letters attributed to him: Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon. The rest were probably written by his followers under his name. He was a Pharisee and probably an educated man. He did not, however, ever see Jesus in the flesh. He claimed to have experienced a vision of the resurrected Christ – a "vision" is hardly the same as seeing the man himself. Paul in fact almost never talks about Jesus the man, he always refer to the risen Christ.
Yeah, I'm interested in hearing one as well... Pray tell.
"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."
Mr. Spong is quite dubious.
He conceals that at the same time husbands are required to love their wives like God has loved the Christian Church and gave his Son for her.
Marriage is a partnership which is founded on mutual love. Its only that the man is a little stronger than the woman and she should accept that. By no means God wants husbands to boss their wives.
Marriage in the Bible is about property ownership. Solomon had 500+ wives. A man takes his wife and all of her belongings and slaves as his own.
What do you mean by "man is a little stronger than the woman and she should accept that."? Do you mean physically stronger, emotionally stronger, psychologically stronger or some other way?
I would recommend to mr Spong to go back and read the bible again, again and again until the word becomes alive and stars jumping out of the pages, until the Holy Spirit would take control and lead him to what to read, say and finally erase from his mind any remaining doubts or misconceptions.....
Ask yourself this simple question: Why, when you read the Bible, are you not left in awe? Why doesn't a book written by an omniscient being leave you with a sense of wonder and amazement? If you are reading a book written by the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe, wouldn't you expect to be stunned by the brilliance, the clarity and the wisdom of the author? Would you not expect each new page to intoxicate you with its incredible prose and its spectacular insight? Wouldn't you expect the author to tell us things that scientists have not been able to discover yet?
Yet, when we open the Bible and actually read it, we find it is nothing like that at all. Instead of leaving us in awe, it leaves us dumbfounded by all of the nonsense and backwardness that it contains. If you read what the Bible actually says, you find that the Bible is ridiculous. If we are honest with ourselves, it is obvious that an "all-knowing" God had absolutely nothing to do with this book.
The reason why the Bible contains so much nonsense is because God is imaginary. The Bible is a book written thousands of years ago by primitive men. A book that advocates senseless murder, slavery and the oppression of women has no place in our society today.
You've been hitting the mescaline again haven't you?
That was my exact reaction when, as a young man, I read it. I read it with excitement, expecting to find insights and answers and brilliance.
The excitement did not last for long. Not at all. Then the effort became a slug-fest, an endurance contest against the odd mix of unreadability and unbelievability and sheer boredom of the text. God behaved badly, Jesus behaved very strangely, and none of it sounded like anything I wanted to follow.
I re-read it when I was older, thinking that perhaps my youth impeded me from seeing it clearly, but that only made things worse. I read the other major texts – the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, lots of Buddhist scripture, and even some of the Book of Mormon (as much as I could take, which wasn't much at all).
Religion has always been man-made. No God would act the way they various texts say he/she/they do. The world does not work the way those texts say. There really is not even the tiniest shred of evidence to even support that a deity MIGHT exist, much less does.
Having read the books that supposedly were going to convince and convert me, and to save my soul, I realized that the probability of the existence of a deity is infinitessimally small. And if there is some supernatural entity out there that is a deity, it cannot possibly be like the ones described in these bizarre old books.
max – I'm hoping you were being facetious, because if not, I have a term for what you describe: Voodoo Zombie Mind Control, or VZMC for short. I hope to trademark that phrase and acronym some day, lol.
It is indeed a ridiculous Bible that is read when reading in English because it has been mistranslated, either on purpose or by accident because it is really too hard to translate it from the Hebrew into any other language. The nuances of meaning are not only in the words but in the markings around the Hebrew words, that are a code to learn how what the words mean. In addition, there are words used that signify meanings that you have to learn from an Orthodox rabbi because they are not to be found written in any translation. The only way to learn the book is to learn from an Orthodox rabbi who can teach all these things. It takes time, but is worth it and you will be amazed to see how relevant the meaning really is. I suggest reading a book called "The Bible Unauthorized" which writes a few chapters of the beginning of Genesis with all the meanings in the markings, etc. and you will get a clear picture of it. You see that only a few chapters comprise a book, and imagine how large the Bible would have to be to include that kind of translation for it's entire Five Books of Moses.
Amen Max; each one of us is on a very tailored journey through this life. As we express ourselves here, on this topic, I hope we all realize the power of our words. Whether you are a Believer or an Atheist, consider that, the power of your words is beyond what any of us could ever imagine. My hat’s off to Sprong, not for his ‘take’, but for igniting a debate that has moved so many to respond.
@md2205 you stated: The Torah gives the laws of the Messiah: He must be from the lineage of King David. He must strengthen the observance of G-d as instructed in the Torah. He must bring all the Jews to the observance of Torah.
In 2Samuel 7:16, God said of David, ‘Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ Scripture further says in Isaiah 49:6, ‘It is too small a thing for you (Messiah) to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’
The Book of Matthew opens with Jesus’ genealogy, in contradiction to your next statement, indicating that he was from the lineage of King David. Please tell me where scripture says that the Messiah will bring all the Jews to the observance of Torah?
md2205: "It is indeed a ridiculous Bible that is read when reading in English because it has been mistranslated, either on purpose or by accident because it is really too hard to translate it from the Hebrew into any other language."
You do realize that your statement, even if true, applies only to the so-called "Old Testament" (aka Hebrew Scriptures), don't you? The New Testament was written in Greek. Which raises another question: How can the New Testament, even in the original, be said to contain the actual words of Jesus? Although it is possible that he knew some Greek, it being the lingua franca around the Mediterranean at the time, he would have spoken to his followers in Aramaic. So right away we have a shift in language, long before any translations into Latin, English, or whatever were attempted.
Mr. Spong, excellent insight and knowledge of subject and a wonderful job of putting thoughts and ideas into words. I feel that all the books written about the subject long ago add pieces to the puzzle and the picture and understanding what Jesus was about is being understood by more people today. I fully agree with you about the meaning of the bible and feel that religion in America today is more about faith than any ideas the bible writers were meaning to accomplish. Thank you for your commentary.
I'm an athiest and the author's article is the single most intelligent piece ever written by a religous adherent. Why can't those of faith simply acknowledge the significant irregularities and disaparities found throughout the Bible?
Many (most) of us do. Why can't the atheists look past their idea of what it means for someone to be 'religious' and listen to what we really think?
czerendipity – Why can't theists look past their idea of what it means for someone to be 'atheist' and listen to what we really think?
Because people raised in the christian environment or any other environment that becomes woven into the fabric of their culture have a significant emotional investment tied to its continuance. If you have ever known people that have deconverted from a religion you can understand how difficult it is for them when the blinders come off.
PC, joke's on you.
You're right, I am just a fool.
Unfortunately, it may sound intelligent, but it is not very truthful and only focuses on the controversial areas without exploring the possible answers. Is historic "facts" are far from factual.
Should read, "His historic "facts" are far from factual."
Irregularities are either from mistranslations or from not understanding the deeper meaning behind the Hebrew words. It is indeed a ridiculous Bible that is read when reading in English because it has been mistranslated, either on purpose or by accident because it is really too hard to translate it from the Hebrew into any other language. The nuances of meaning are not only in the words but in the markings around the Hebrew words, that are a code to learn how what the words mean. In addition, there are words used that signify meanings that you have to learn from an Orthodox rabbi because they are not to be found written in any translation. The only way to learn the book is to learn from an Orthodox rabbi who can teach all these things. It takes time, but is worth it and you will be amazed to see how relevant the meaning really is. I suggest reading a book called "The Bible Unauthorized" which writes a few chapters of the beginning of Genesis with all the meanings in the markings, etc. and you will get a clear picture of it. You see that only a few chapters comprise a book, and imagine how large the Bible would have to be to include that kind of translation for it's entire Five Books of Moses.
He didn't even touch on the appearance of Jesus Christ to the Americas!! That was a pivitol moment!
And didn't he also visit Mars? Isn't that the basis for the Church of Christ, Astronaut?
"So in your mind genocide is okay.
Thank you for your input, Doctor Goebbels."
Ridiculous. The extermination of the Jews by the Nazis was not commanded by God. The Nazis had the idiotic idea that the Jewish blood would contaminate the German blood and thus weaken the Germans. It was all about racism. By the way, Hitler was a neo-pagan. It seems that he believed in the ancient Germanic myths, which were promoted by the lousy operas of Richard Wagner, the arch-idiot.
Hitler's ideas about "clean blood" came from the United States, where eugenics projects were even funded by the Carnegie & Rockefellar foundations.
Hitler was not the only man to espouse genocide. Read the book of Joshua, Bullwinkle.
Nice evasion, though!
"I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so."
– Adolf Hitler, to General Gerhard Engel, 1941
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. ...Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross."
– Adolf Hitler, speech on April 12, 1922
By its decision to carry out the political and moral cleansing of our public life, the Government is creating and securing the conditions for a really deep and inner religious life. The advantages for the individual which may be derived from compromises with atheistic organizations do not compare in any way with the consequences which are visible in the destruction of our common religious and ethical values. The national Government sees in both Christian denominations the most important factor for the maintenance of our society. ...
– Adolf Hitler, speech before the Reichstag, March 23, 1933
How do you know the Holocaust was not commanded by God? And if not, why did he not stop it when he clearly has the power to? Why did he make Hitler as he was, with all the character traits necessary, knowing full well what would happen? Why did he create the Nazis as they were, and allow they to run the course they did?
Yes, it's The Problem Of Evil again, and here comes the absurd, impossible answers from the believers. I need some comedy this morning, so bring it on, you wacky believers!
Der Ring des Nibelungen is largely regarded, in both literary, and musical circles as a work of genius. That fact that YOU have such "lousy" musical taste only furthers your image as a complete dolt. But, please continue to prove that to all, again, and again.
Please take in account that Hitler spoke out lies because of tactical reasons. You cannot take his ridiculous public speeches as confessions of his personal faith. I have read elsewhere that he yet in his youth abandoned any faith (that he confessed in a personal talk; sorry, I don't remember where I read that).
Hitler could not afford to lose the support of the multi-tudes of the nominal Christians of Germany and thus he had to tell them lies about his personal faith.
Far more info pointing to Hitler maintaining his Catholocism than anything else...but it's still debatable. But the thousands of soldiers and officers with "God Mit Unst" on their official uniform belt buckles were overwhelmingly theists.
Good point Rainer. That is one, know- it -all, canadian who stuck his nose in and got it bit. There's your sign
Rainer Braendlein: "Please take in account that Hitler spoke out lies because of tactical reasons ... Hitler could not afford to lose the support of the multi-tudes of the nominal Christians of Germany and thus he had to tell them lies about his personal faith."
So you're saying that the "multi-tudes of the nominal Christians of Germany" supported his spoken words regarding the need to fight against, cleanse, and ultimately murder the Jews? So whether or not Hitler really adhered to Christianity, he was able to reach out to millions who did with his arguments for mass murder? Seems like it hardly matters what Hitler really believed if he could mobilize so many believers in a genocidal cause.
So wait, this author spends most of the article debunking the bible and yet he still believes in it? Religious insanity never ceases to amaze me. There are two kinds of christians: a) those that believe the bible is the literal word of their god and b) those that know better but perform these mental gymnastics in order to still believe. I don't know which is worse. The latter have enough sense to realize the stories just don't add up but they still try to believe. My message to all of you in the second group: it's ok, you know it's not real, let it go. You've come this far, take that last step into a rational world.
The problem is that they don't know anything else. Their entire family and social lives are wrapped up in the church. It's like a drug user living in a community of pushers. It's hard to let go and make a clean break.
Religion enriches life. Every culture from the beginning of time has followed some sort of religion. Most of them even have the same fundamental elements: virgin birth, resurrection, enlightenment, life after death, etc. It's an archetypal element of being human and there is nothing wrong with that.
Its sad that you have to project your unhappiness onto those around you.
As reactionary athiest, you are displaying the same simplemindedness as one of the two types of christians you describe. The Bible is not the word of God. It is the attempt by people to express their understanding of the nature of God. The Bible, as it exists today, is the result of decisions made at the Vatican hundreds of years after the time of Jesus. I won't claim to know what a true christian is, or what the right answer is. I can only speak to what I believe.
Like many other things in life, religion can serve a noble purpose, or it can be perverted to dark means. Those who read the bible from a literal standpoint, without considering the context in which the passages were developed, written, or the meaning they were intended to convey, will always miss the larger message.
Over all, most religions attempt to teach the same essential principles – Humility, care and consideration for others, had living with a purpose. As we grow as Human Beings, we should allow our understanding of God and the Universe to grow as well. No farmer today would follow the farming practices of 2000 years ago. In all other aspects, we allow new insight to move us forward. All things change and evolve over time. We should apply that same open mindedness and critical thinking to our views of God, the universe, and how we interact with others.
Tak, the bible is still the greatest book ever written. And Mr. Spong is not saying it was written to fool us. The bible is just a take off of ideas of methods that ended up following its own path. The bible should be less than 5% of the text used to understand the past. The information is out there for you to find. I agree with you in taking that extra step. We are coming out of the dark age of religion and maybe we can pick up where we left off over 2K ago. If you believe in knowledge then you are not far from the religion of the past.
"So wait, this author spends most of the article debunking the bible and yet he still believes in it?"
It's not the first time an Episcopalian got something wrong :-). The Old Testament is the history of the Jewish People and their relationship to The God that made them. The New Testament is a message of Love and Peace in a world of violence and hatred, or in other words, evil. Love and Peace or Evil, it has always been your choice. Choose carefully, your future depends on it.
TAK reply to Binky42, there is no such thing as a clean break. History shows us that there was religion before pottery. It is built into the nature of man. My advice to you is that if you have a problem with this religious insanity that is going on. Then do research on the internet and read several of the books that are available. Understand the religion of Jesus, you will not find it in the bible. As religion is in constant change, so is the meanings people get out of the bible. Understand that the bible does not have even one major new concept in it. When you decided to take on the task of trying to understand religion, you should reach the point of having a fair idea in about two years. It is much easier than trying to understand the bible. The great part is that once you understand religion then the bible is much easier to understand. The people who put the bible together said that it was not meant for the common man to read. They were right. And in a way is that not what Mr. Spong is talking about?
Because of the many mistranslations of the Bible, people think it is non-sensical, which makes sense being that no one can really understand it in English unless they learn it in the original Hebrew from an Orthodox rabbi, who knows the meaning of not just the words but the markings around the words as well, which were not translated into English. However, this is beside the point because G-d gave the Torah to the Jews. Non-Jews may be perfectly fine people without reading the Bible in English. G-d gave different commandments to Jews and non-Jews according to His expectation of what He wants them to do in the world. All people have Seven Basic Laws to follow: To believe in one united G-d, not to blaspheme Him, not to steal (and kidnap), not to murder, not to do adultery, not to eat the limb of a living animal (animal cruelty) and to set up courts of justice that are effective. Jews have 606 more commandments to do. The reason is due to the nature of the closeness of the relationship between G-d and the Jews. G-d chose the Jewish people to create a society that would focus on improving the world to the point where the Messiah would come. This would make the world return to the way G-d created it before Adam and Eve made their mistake. (Their mistake was to think they knew better than G-d. G-d told them to stay away from the fruit of the tree that would make them internalize evil. If they had pushed away their desire to do what G-d didn't want, they would have merited to have the days of the Messiah come immediately, and this is what G-d wanted of them. Their rationale was that if they would eat from that fruit, it would make evil part of themselves, and every action they would do after that would be the same: pushing away the evil, time and time again, which would be a greater accomplishment than before because the evil they would be pushing away would be from inside themselves.) The Jewish people were chosen to bring the world back to that original state. We are almost there, as it is hard to recall when the days were that people all over the world were cannibals, would murder each other, steal, etc. and do so without a government to stop them. All we have to do is increase in acts of goodness and kindness, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said to do, and the Messianic age will come.
This guy got so much factually wrong, I'm just amazed.. just looking at 3 of his nonsense claims.
@John Shelby Spong "miracles do not get attached to the memory of Jesus story until the eighth decade...",
Mark is the FIRST gospel(authorship 60-70AD, 30-40 years following Christs death/resurrection), which HAS 19 miracles. So, what is your earlier story of Jesus that does NOT have miracles from which you are showing embellishments??
@John Shelby Spong "The miraculous birth of Jesus is a ninth-decade addition"
=> Factually incorrect
"The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God" Mark 1
Mark declares Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, not merely prophet, but SON. That is a miraculous birth.
Paul declares the divinity of Christ THROUGHOUT his writings (40-67 AD)
@John Shelby Spong "the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative."
1 Corinthians 15 (50AD)
" 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."
So, you're going to squabble over a decade or two? It doesn't make any difference. The fact is, these stories (which don't have a solid publication data by the way) were written way after the fact, when they were trying to spread the religion. Of course they had to embellish the stories to make them seem convincing.
I think I'll trust this Biblical scholar and the courses I took on history of Christianity over you. Thanks for trying though.
He's referring to older incarnations of the Gospel, not the KJV or whatever version you use that has been warped.
@Binky42 "So, you're going to squabble over a decade or two?"
=>yes! Is this guy a scholar, or just trying to present the bible incorrectly by rounding everything up and taking liberties with even that?
@Binky42 "It doesn't make any difference"
=>that's exactly the point, it does make a difference, is this guy merely sloppy, or biased? One thing for sure he isnt a disciplined scholar.
@Binky42 "which don't have a solid publication data by the way"
=>there were publication houses in the first century AD? Interesting, I hadnt heard that before.. your source?
@Binky42 "were written way after the fact, when they were trying to spread the religion"
=>Pauls writings 15-20 years after Christs death/resurrection, first Gospel 30 years after death/resurrection. I wouldn't call that "way after the fact". would you?
@Binky42 "Of course they had to embellish the stories to make them seem convincing"
=>this is an interesting claim.. do you have an earlier narrative that does not contain "embellishments"?
"well, that can't be true, so it must be embellished" is hardly a factual assertion..
@Polis "He's referring to older incarnations of the Gospel, not the KJV or whatever version you use that has been warped."
=>I see this so much.. a completely fabricated baseless claim.. what is your source? What "older incarnations" [sic] are you talking about?
The facts are, there is more evidence for New Testament authenticity than ANY other ancient writing. Wikipedia.
Chad – Define "New Testament authenticity". Existing scholarship can find not a single text written by someone who ever met Jesus and the earliest texts we do have are copies. At best we're talking a 4 decade discrepency and the whim of whatever scribe happened to have on a particular day.
Can't help noticing how many times the expression "the facts are" is followed by anything but facts...
Chad, your line of thinking is “Factually incorrect”. What Mr. Spong is telling us is an idea or a thought. After all, that is what the bible is, a new method to translate ideas. Some of the ideas it is translating comes from the old method of verbal translation. You will be able to find all kinds of dates for when the books of the bible were put down in text. Mr. Spong is using the most agreed upon dates.
Can I have a little fun with what you have written?
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God"
(the good news) = gospel. So did Mark get his information from the gospel of Jesus?
(Son of God) = son can mean light. Light = knowledge. Thus Jesus had the knowledge of God.
You see what can happen when you go after the meaning of words and not the idea the words are trying to get across.
Mr. Spong is just telling us what is obvious to most people who understand how religion evolved.
To faith based people, it really should not matter what Mr. Spong or anyone else says or thinks. Their religion is based on faith, not facts. And the dumber you are the better Christian you make. That is not my idea, it is “Factually correct” when you look at the dark ages of Europe.
@Chad – Remember when you made these three "nonsense claims"?
– "I dismiss all other gods other than the God of Abraham because the God of Abraham has told me that they aren't real."
– "The Genesis account stands alone amongst all creation stories of the time, a fact universally acknowledged...We are only know [sic] beginning to scientifically discover how accurate it is indeed."
– "Every book that purports to accurately record history needs to be examined critically for internal consistency and for its accuracy in detail. The bible succeeds on all accounts."
@BR "Define "New Testament authenticity"
=>"Parts of the New Testament have been preserved in more manuscripts than any other "ancient" work, having over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian. The dates of these manuscripts range from c. 125 (the John Ryland's manuscript, P52; oldest copy of John fragments) to the introduction of printing in Germany in the 15th century" – wikipedia
@BR "Existing scholarship can find not a single text written by someone who ever met Jesus"
=>Gospel of John written by the apostle John, Gospel of Matthew by the apostle Matthew. Peter 1 and 2 by the apostle Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John by the apostle John, Revelation by the Apostle John.
All personal acquaintances..
What data do you have backing up your claim?
Really-O? "Remember when you made these three "nonsense claims"?"
=>do you actually have any data whatsoever refuting any of those statements of fact?
@Henry: Interesting that you bring up Goebbels. He was the only Nazi who was ever excommunicated from the Catholic church. Not for his attrocities against humanity, but because he married a Protestant.
where did you read that. Very interesting.
Point of clarification: The Catholic Church never excommunicated anybody. Sinners excommunicate themselves and The Church just points out the fact. Also, being denied communion is not necessarily excommunication, just not living what you were taught.
"people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it."
That is absolutely not so and everyone who has ever met a biblical scholar recognizes it. I know quite a lot of them personally and every single one would refute Mr. Spong's assertion.
"Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 B.C"
First, I think he meant AD. Second, that's an outright lie. They were written 30 years earlier than that. The very latest book written was Revelation, which was written c. AD 90. Furthermore, the gospels were written by people who were present for most of the events being described.
"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."
Only someone who has never read the Bible could make such a claim. From the Bible: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." – 2 Tim 3:16-17
"The third major misconception is that biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging."
Truth is, by defintion, unchanging. Again, epic fail. God's laws don't change (or, rather, they only changed once and the former told repeatedly that this was going to happen.)
CNN, I would advise not publishing further articles from this guy.
"Because I said so...."
Ha ha ha ha ha.
"Furthermore, the gospels were written by people who were present for most of the events being described." – Find me a single Biblical scholar who would back that statement up. Name one. Point to an academic book that backs this up. Good luck finding any sources.
There are other books out there that were written around the same time as the Bible that offer a conflicting view of history, and archaeology backs them up. For example, it's very doubtful that the pyramids in Egypt were build using slave labor.
The best biblical scholars in the country, including Dr. Bart Ehrman, would agree with every word he said.
What a great suggestion! CNN, I would recommend not allowing any commentary from vbscript2. Such a simple solution...
Hey, I've been meaning to ask...
Can I join one of these "atheist gangs?"
We have meetings in the PATH in JC every third tuesday of the month.
You are welcome (Please carry large amounts of cash if you come)
Sure, but the initiation rites are tough.
You have to publish two hypotheses pertaining to evolutionary biology which then will be scritinized by a panel of your peers.
You absolutely can. They known as the rational and scientific community. The religious gangs have meet-ups at the annual "monster in your closet" convention and believe in sugar plums and fairies.
Of course in order to get a "panel" of atheists you have to include several countries.There just are not that many to be found anywhere in numbers that could be considered significant. For as few of them as there are they have managed to screw up a lot of the earths population with mass murder and oppression. One communist atheist alone was responsible for the deaths of millions. Nice ambition you got there sean.
@just helping out: I suppose you have a different idea where my time would be better spent? Can't wait to hear it...
@Doc Vestibule: Did you write your two papers, or is this just some form of post hoc, atheist gang gerrymandering?
I went to Christian schools (Protestant and Catholic) for 11 years, and this article is pretty much what all my scripture teachers taught. Most Biblical scholars can't see the logic in the evangelical way of thinking, because it just doesn't make any sense to anyone who has really read the Bible and thought about it thoroughly. According to a Pew survey last year, 50% of Christians can't even name the four Gospels, let alone debate about them. It's the ignorant Christian who scares me more than anyone in the world.
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 ho-mose-xual persons and for any man who has se-x with his mother-in-law, just to name a few.", the apostate said.
Mr. Spong has indeed no clue of the Bible.
It is true that God punished certain sins quite strictly, but the whole content of the Bible makes it clear that he always gave opportunity to repent. He sent prophets to the sinners, which warned them of God's upcoming judgement. Only when they refused to repent for a long time, finally God punished them.
By the way, we live in a time of grace and God warns us by his prophets. But once, time of grace will be over and then we will have to give account before Him.
The OT condones slavery and says that parents can sell their daughters if they want to. When did they get a chance to repent? What was their sin?
Rainer, clearly the author has read the whole Bible, and you haven't.
Didn't you know, Binky? God can change his/her/its mind and behavior wherever and whenever, and there isn't a thing anyone can do about it. Being the Great Chameleon is what makes God so utterly adorable...
I don't intend to insult, but are you off your meds?
Rainer, what bible have you been reading? Try reading the one Mr. Spong and the rest of us are talking about.
Remove the trash and I might read it! I am not going to waste my time reading crap that is clearly not true.
If you remove the trash in this article, there would be nothing left to read.
I bet you haven't read the Bible either.
wow, there are so many provable falsehoods in this article I literally don't even know where to begin...I can only encourage everyone to do their own research, and not just listen to this guy spout off. He's LITERALLY lying through his teeth.
How about listing one?
Why don't you begin by listing at least ONE falsehood, instead of just making a blanket statement about the whole article?
Josh, what was false in the article?
Wow and double wow! Josh's "argument" is so very convincing...
Joshy can't "begin" because he's got no facts to contradict Spong with.
Josh, It's because cnn is trolling with this ridiculous article. The next article will read "Hitler surpasses Mother Theresa as a great humanitarian". Where the hell do start with something so ludicrous?
I am ready for the rapture and I am taking only my cat and the TV guide.
Josh, I hear ya. If I only get one crown-it'll be because I look forward to His Coming. In the mean time, hang tough. Contend for the faith. It will be worth it if even ONE of these people who are lost repents.