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. terri

    The extreme irony of the story is that the author wants us to believe that his words, written thousands of years after Biblical accounts, are more reliable and believable than the words of those written after a much smaller span of time.

    I find it alarming when a supposed religious representative has conflicts about his profession (and feels the need to publicize them). I would like to suggest that the author select a different profession (that he actually believes in). I.e. A salesman who tells everyone what is wrong with the product will not last long in his position.

    The reason the Bible was written was to prevent the situation the author is attempting to portray as "fact". I.e. Writing the story down prevented the erosion of the facts. Part of believing the Bible involves the acknowledgement that there is a God, who is smart and capable enough to protect the truth, despite what men may do or say. In my opinion, the writer's knowledge of God, as a being, is missing. Therefore, his capability of understanding religious matters is severely hampered....Therefore, his words cannot be trusted.

    This article underscores the importance of knowing one's Bible......So that when erroneous words are spoken, the message can be rapidly disassembled and dismissed.

    December 30, 2011 at 5:39 am |
    • Adrian

      It looks like he did find a new profession. He's a former bishop.

      December 30, 2011 at 6:13 am |
    • Lee

      "The reason the Bible was written was to prevent the situation the author is attempting to portray as "fact". I.e. Writing the story down prevented the erosion of the facts." Really? If after 45 generations of oral history the fact had not eroded why would they now erode? How to you address the differences between Mark's and John's versions of history? Are you really suggesting that Jews will only be saved when they bash the the children of Babylon against rocks? Or that a child who is disobedient should be killed? Or perhaps and adulterer? Or gay? OH and let's not forget witches. I trust his account far far more than yours because I suspect he has a greater real understanding of the bible and not just "don't confuse me with the facts', kind of understanding.

      December 30, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • liz

      Pretending that the Bible and the stories haven't been altered in order to support beliefs of men does not make it unchanged. Yes it was written, and every new translation changes words slightly but in ways that can change meanings. Whole books have been removed in favor of others. The church has manipulated it to tell the story they want to tell. Pretending it didn't happen just makes yo the ignorant one. Learning the details and still believing shows strength and open minded intelligence.

      December 30, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • Fluffy, the gerbil of doom

      It isn't the "job" of "religious representatives" to parrot YOUR views.
      The rest of your post represents the complete ignorance of the cultural differences in which the editors/authors operated and YOUR culture. So someone saying the world is 6,000 years old is more correct than a theory using carbon dating, simply because it is closer to the event ? Bullshit. His "job" is not to sell someone your bill of goods. Honesty is the best policy, not PR crap. You actually have no clue "why" the Bible was written. The word "fact" is a corollary of a "scientific" world view, which never entered their minds. So god is "smart" ? What is it's IQ ? What if we make robots with higher IQ's ? There goes god. God is not a "being". "Being" as'ssumes it exists in the dimension of "time". Where was god before it created "time" ? The thing that cannot be trusted is your 2nd grade education and thought processes.

      December 30, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  2. James Medina

    This makes an interesting argument on the editorialization of the bible and the assertion of what is "holy"? I like to think it's a political thing, changing as the times change. I mean after all, look at all of the Apocrypha. Do those books have no meaning because they weren't approved by some bureaucrat in a big hat a long time ago? I read the bible as a collection of historical books, but ultimately they are reflections of their prejudices and values. Perhaps some of them can be used as moral tales, but obsessing over fire and brimstone and the utter fury of a mythological figure only shows the narrow-mindedness of some individuals.

    Also I have problems with the Bible's obsession with the worship of kings. That's just a personal thing. Government comes from the consent of the governed, not the other way around, and certainly not from a single book written about 2000 years ago. It takes all sorts to make a world, including things that people will be actually offended by. I'll quote John Milton, "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties." Obsession with custom has shown what a disgusting creature some "Good Christians" can be. I prefer reason and actual compassion, that's something that should come from within and not because some book tells you so.

    December 30, 2011 at 5:03 am |
    • erussell

      Your vile bigoted hatred of Christians stinketh. Why do you only hate Christians bigot. Why not Muslims also they are far more closed minded and are the only religion that openly kills Gays. And I dont mean some wack job suppose to be every once in a while kills a Gay person. Its the law. your gay you die. You should spread your hate around a bit bigot.

      December 30, 2011 at 5:32 am |
    • terri

      The Bible was not obsessed with the worship of kings, it was the people. God never intended for there to be kings as He was the only being fit for the position. However, the "people" couldn't bear to live without a "flesh and blood" ruler to follow. God, in his mercy, permitted the practice.

      December 30, 2011 at 5:43 am |
    • terri

      The fallacy of many non-Christians is that adulthood is an end unto itself, intellectually speaking. If you study the Bible, you will find that as adults, we are still clueless idiots when it comes to grasping spiritual matters. One cannot "reason" one's way into understanding God. Furthermore, if you study history, you will find that those who attempt to "master the universe" intellectually usually end up going mad. One has to submit to God and pray for understanding prior to studying the Bible. Without God's assistance, there can be no understanding.

      December 30, 2011 at 5:51 am |
    • Fluffy, the gerbil of doom

      What a bunch of crap. So why study it, if one cannot ultimately understand it. Why not just go shopping ?

      December 30, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • BOB

      @ erussell It's "you're" not "your." Also your argument becomes invalid when you use such horrible grammar.

      Gay pride <3 ! Never be ashamed of how you were born.

      December 30, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  3. Greg Powell

    Please read http://www.FindingLifeInJesus.com

    December 30, 2011 at 4:52 am |
  4. ERussell

    I always get a kick out of Athiest's bringing up how Christians( "religious" people under the disguise of Christianity not Christian ) were responsible for some terrible thing that happened. When the Athiestic world view has delt out more destruction and death under such " progressives " as marx, Hitler, Stalin, Moa, Pol Pot and a whole list of rather unpleasent cast of charecters in just the last century not to mention the last thousand yrs. Also alot of the genocide commited by Athiests was directed at people of Christian faith. If this is who you uphold as hero's there is something seriously wrong with you. Your backwards march to the progressive ideals of your dear leaders is quite sickening and fools no one.

    December 30, 2011 at 4:14 am |
    • Crazy Sanity

      Apparently, you do not think there is a difference between politics and religion.

      December 30, 2011 at 4:18 am |
    • One one

      How does Stalin being an atheist prove god exists or that the bible is the word of god?

      December 30, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • erussell

      Why is it you fight against something you do not beleive exists. Isnt that the defenition of insanity? Your running around telling everyone that God doesnt exist sounds like a mad man running around saying Ghost's dont exist. It's embarresing and make you look dumb.Especially since making a statement like there is no God means that you have seen the far reaches of the universe and every dimention of said universe. Its almost as pathetic an argument as the bone heads who say there is no truth. A statement that cancels itself out a good argument it doth not make. You serve the will of your Father well.

      December 30, 2011 at 4:54 am |
    • Mark S.

      @erussell. Nice try. Hitler was deeply religious. One of the mottos of the nazi regime was "Gott Mit Uns" (God With Us). I'll let you slide on Marx's and Stalin's religous positions, but Marx never killed anyone. For one thing he was German, plus he was dead (1883–in London) before the Soviet Union came into being (1922). There's no question Stalin was evil, but so is (or was) Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Joseph Kony (of the LRA), Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Moammar Ghadafi, Ayatollah Khomeini (and Khamenei), Osama bin Laden, every christian involved in the six or eight crusades through the ages, the perpetrators of 9/11, and on, and on, and on. I think it is fairly safe to say the number of those who have died or killed because of religion is orders of magnitude above and beyond any unbelievers who have perpetraed violence such as only the relidious seem to be capable.

      December 30, 2011 at 6:29 am |
    • Serratedteeth

      ERussel: Please, before you every reply again to any post, get your facts straight. Hitler was Christian and repeatedly claimed he was doing God's work. Stalin wasn't necessarily atheistic, but he was power hungry, saw the Church as an obstacles to his quest for dominance and eradicated it, but once in power he led a massive restoration of the Russian Church and religious programs. Neither of the others could be construed as atheistic either. And by chance, what atheist run genocide are you speaking of?

      December 30, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Godless

      "When the Athiestic world view has delt out more destruction and death under such " progressives " as marx, Hitler, Stalin, Moa, Pol Pot and a whole list of rather unpleasent cast of charecters in just the last century not to mention the last thousand yrs. Also alot of the genocide commited by Athiests was directed at people of Christian faith. If this is who you uphold as hero's there is something seriously wrong with you. Your backwards march to the progressive ideals of your dear leaders is quite sickening and fools no one."

      Nice straw man there. "Pol pot was evil. Pol Pot was an athiest. You're an athiest. Pol Pot must be your hero." Yup, rational logic there...

      December 30, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • DigitalCoke

      The people who claim they are Christian but do nothing to follow the teachings of Christ. I can profess that i am a mechanic working at a car dealership but show up every day breaking peoples cars. well you can call me a mechanic but am i really? for Hitler to believe in God but do nothing god says he is not a true Christian.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  5. Kevin

    The biggest biblical misconception, of course, is that the Bible is true.

    December 30, 2011 at 3:53 am |
    • terri

      Excuse my sarcasm.....Wow. Too bad you couldn't have been around throughout history, when so many despots expended huge efforts in an attempt to destroy the book and those who believed in it. You could have saved so many rulers from worry and confusion with your simple little statement.

      December 30, 2011 at 6:00 am |
    • Lee

      Terri would you mind listing some of the despots of history who expended huge efforts in an attempt to destroy the book and those who believed in it? I really think you're going to find that to be a very short list.

      December 30, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  6. Lance

    One important misconception i often hear that could have been added is as follows:
    God loves all of his children and wants them all to be happy and return to live with him after this life.
    Many people believe that the book of Revelations is the end of God's word. This book was selected to be put at the end of the bible but douse not mean an end of all revelation on earth. The Bible is a true and mostly accurate record of God's teachings on earth. As it is prophets accounts of what they experienced in there life's this leaves much room for accounts that may have been missed or left out of the bible. There is evidence of other prophets and there accounts of God giving them guidance here on the earth. God is no respecter of persons and would not favor one child more than another. This is why if you look and research you will find that he has called prophets in other lands. I believe in the bible and also in other prophets who have been called to testify of Jesus Christ then and now in our day today. God has a plan for us, and wants us to live with him again. We are here on earth to learn and progress. First we all have our free agency. God will never force us to do anything. Just as people where free to reject Christ. We can use our agency to become better people and do good in the world. Influence and help others so they can be better people also. When we do our best to be like Jesus we are following God's plan for us. and will return to Heaven and live with him again. So to finish up here, the book of Revelations is not an end of revelation. God speaks to his Prophets today and he leaves us proof, find a copy of The Book of Mormon to find out for your self. It teaches good as with the bible from prophets accounts just like the bible because God loves his children.

    December 30, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • it ain't true

      The bible was compiled as a way to control the people. Just as other races have followed the sun or the moon or the goat... stories are told to control the population and to set rules to keep peaice and order.. and when the peace is disturbed it gave permission to punish the sinner. Man has always been looking for a peaceful life, it's just too bad we have decided to scare people into being a peaceful and loving people. Their is not dog.... live spelled backwards is evil, so to live is evil???

      December 30, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  7. it ain't true

    And the author leaves out how the bible was compiled. There are literally hundreds of gospels, or scripts written by followers or believers... and it was left to a council of some old dudes to decide what was added and what was left out. There is nothing that would make me believe any of this is the words of God, it just represents some narrow minded men who compiled and edited until it fit their beliefs. I guess with the new testament they really liked that dude Saul of Tarsus, who later becomes Paul... even though the guy never met Jesus or was chosen by Jesus... He just kind of appointed himself an apostle. Right along the same lines of Joseph Smith... and the forming of the Mormon religion.

    December 30, 2011 at 3:43 am |
    • James Medina

      The construction of the Bible is sloppy, prejudiced, and to be quite honest, quite surreal.

      December 30, 2011 at 5:05 am |
  8. Small 'c' christian

    Well, it's been fun, but I have an early morning ahead of me. Maybe we can do this again, sometime.

    G'night, and as Red Skelton was fond of saying- "God Bless"

    December 30, 2011 at 2:58 am |
  9. buddhist punk

    "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." - This after all the horrors you've mentioned? If this article is serious, I'd call you delusional, Mr. Spong. IF readers are being punk'd, well done!

    December 30, 2011 at 2:25 am |
    • TR6

      “"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."

      Typical Christian rubbish. How does the bible being indecipherable call us to recognize every life is holy? Especially when it contains verses like this:

      Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"
      1 Sam 15:3

      December 30, 2011 at 3:23 am |
  10. island girl

    this is my 2nd run at trying to get on here –thank you very much windows 7!!!!!! ,anyhoo– if you believe that the bible is the word of God then you cannot 'pick' pieces out of it that 'support your personal statement 'of the Bible says"...I could cite you chapter and verse where it would not. The bible is a book, meant to be read from beginning to end –try it, you might like it

    December 30, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      So do you believe in stoning adulterous wives to death?

      December 30, 2011 at 2:30 am |
    • Observer

      EVERYONE just picks and chooses from the Bible. For example, don't ever expect people trashing gays to mention the Golden Rule or judging others.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  11. Page887

    If this apostate even believed in the concept of a God, he would be misrepresenting him. The Bible claims to be inspired of God, And by nature God forgets nothing, So God had the Bible written down at his own time, and doesant approve of the gay lifestyle. Id have to say its HIS business. This man is a good example of what fake christians will get you, the nice broad and easy road leading "off into destruction". My eyes are insulted for reading this mans slander of the Bible.Page887.

    December 30, 2011 at 2:16 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      In other words, you don't like Christians, or human beings in general for that matter, who state the truth founded on actual facts.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • Observer

      "God doesant approve of the gay lifestyle.'

      Yep. God also doesn't approve of people remarrying, but don't expect most Christians to make as big an issue of that as they do of gays.

      REALITY: There are FAR FAR MORE adulterous Christians than there are total number of gays, but most Christian hypocrites prefer to ignor that.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  12. BobbaFett

    I find it interesting that 99% of what's on the "Belief" blog is material that basically says, "ooh, gotcha, idiot" to the average born again Christian. I have a feeling that atheists enjoy this site much more than the "believer".

    December 30, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • BobbaFett

      Every "expert" that contributes here could be torn apart by other intellectual debaters. But that wouldn't be fun, would it.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • BobbaFett

      If people did their homework and researched history by Christian AND secular historians, archeologists, linguists, etc., this guy would be laughed out of town wherever he went. But CNN decided that this guy must be pretty smart, so I better just sit down and take my Prozium.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:56 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      I know you don't realize it, but you are making a fool of yourself. It is YOU who need to do more research imbecile.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  13. david

    Well, Observer, perhaps your problem is that you are trying to reconcile your adult biases to what you remember of Noah's Ark from when you were five-years old. Again, it's astonishing how many people come here to argue passionately against ideas that they haven't refined since Kindergarten.

    December 30, 2011 at 1:47 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      You're an idiot if you believe everything in the bible is true.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:00 am |
    • Observer


      Guess again. A 600-year-old man supposedly built a ship so large that it could hold HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of animals from all over the world. Somehow, they were teleported in. The animals consisted of two of each kind except for the animals that were 7 of a kind. Also teleported in were months' supplies of the sometimes unique food required by the animals. Noah apparently was instantly imbued with knowledge of how to care for thousands of animals that he had never seen before. The ship, which was smaller than some cruise ships today, was manned by 8 people who feed the hundreds of thousands of animals and exercised them and cleaned cages daily. After months of such cramped quarters, the animals were let off the ship in time for some to be sacrificed to please God.

      Yep, that's about it.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:00 am |
    • david

      Nothing in the story mentions "teleporting" or "hundreds of thousands of animals".

      December 30, 2011 at 2:11 am |
    • Observer


      – Genesis 6:19 “And of EVERY LIVING THING OF ALL FLESH, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark”

      The entire world was flooded. God killed EVERY LIVING THING except for those on the ark.

      Instead of "teleported", would you prefer "magically appeared", "flown in", "swam from Australia" or what?

      December 30, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • Observer


      There are an estimated 2,500,000 different kinds of animals in the world. I gave you a big break by allowing for fish, etc, and generously pared it down to "hundreds of thousands".

      December 30, 2011 at 2:20 am |
    • Small 'c' christian

      You're right, it doesn't mention them by name. But it does speak of all the animals of the earth. Platypus? A pair of Llamas? Penguins? They weren't mentioned, but they're still here, so they must have been on the Ark. Just how exactly Noah a- found them and b- cared for them for forty days and nights, then c- got 'em back to Antartica, Australia and Peru from Mt Arat is merely a minor detail that the writers left out, I guess.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:21 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      David is obviously brainwashed, possibly reading the bible since childhood, as he stated and now really does believe that anything which goes against any of the bible is false. He's brainwashed himself, or allowed someone else to play with his mind.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:26 am |
    • Observer

      Small 'c' christian,

      Since "evolution" supposedly doesn't exist, they all had to be there including all the types of dinosaurs.

      Can you imagine having to clean cages for hundreds of thousands of animals and feed them everyday? I'll bet Noah's family was exhausted every night.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      Gawd I can't believe you people are still debating the "Ark" story. That was so last decade. For people who are unfamiliar with "original sin" please look it up since Christianity is built on the concept. . .which totally relies on "Adam & Eve" committing the first sin, which supposedly brought death and suffering into the world (since the Judeo-Christian God would never allow the evils of death and suffering to exist without good reason). . .even though we now know that animals, long before the first humans died and suffered. . .in fact, about 99% of all the species that have ever lived were already extinct by the time "Adam & Eve" were supposedly "created".

      December 30, 2011 at 2:38 am |
    • david

      DeeCee1000, you are outdoing yourself now. My beliefs (or, rather, your narrow misunderstanding of my beliefs) seem so threatening to you that I must have been "brainwashed" or even "brainwashed myself". You call me a "screaming fanatic" who wants to "damn you to hell". Wow. You are doing a marvelous job convincing me that you have somehow evolved progressively from those ancient dessert folk of the Bible who taught me (or shall I say "brainwashed" me) to love my neighbor as myself and to not do to others what is hurtful to me. Nicely done. Please keep educating me.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • Observer


      So what's the story of Noah's ark? What explanation do you have that uses logic, science (physics, biology), etc.that people from thousands of years ago could understand as well as today?

      December 30, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      Ah David David, it is you my little religious fanatic who believes in a bible that damns people to hell, not I. It is fanatical followers of your religion and other religions who have forever tried to impose their fanatical beliefs on others, oftentimes in a very violent, inhumane way. Do you understand what I mean by "screaming"? Or is that too deep a concept for you?. . . who supposedly is a self-described expert on finding deeper meaning in things written.

      December 30, 2011 at 3:02 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      Observer, David doesn't like to be bothered by silly things such as fact and science. And if he actually accepts them, it's because he has twisted the meaning of what is written in the bible until the bible tells him its okay to believe in some scientific fact. He's a lost cause. He's totally brainwashed and made the bible his "God".

      December 30, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • david

      Observer, my belief is that there is more to "Truth" than logic and science. I believe deeply in logic and science, and I love Mathematics and Physics. Nevertheless, Science is not Truth; it is an approximation to Truth based on logical theories regarding empirical observations. There is more to Life than Rationality. Rational thought is hugely important in what makes us human beings, but it is not all there is. I believe deeply that the fundamental truths of our existence require modes of understanding that are supra-rational (you might call them "irrational", but you shouldn't be surprised that many folk will feel insulted by that term). I believe in miracles. Perhaps Noah's Ark was a miracle. I don't have any problem reconciling that miracle with my love of Physics. They are both a part of my reality. I'm not deliberately ignorant of your arguments; I just don't find them totally relevant (but they're not totally irrelevant either). It is a fact that the Bible spoke of the primacy of Light almost 3500 years before the post-Enlightenment physicists could demonstrate the same. It is a fact that the Bible postulated a physical universe that is limited in time and space 1500 years before the Greek philosophers said that the Universe was limitless in both space and time. Modern science agrees with the Bible and rejects the Greeks. It is a fact that many of the so-called rationalists and humanists in this discussion forum are making the most objectionable and insulting comments to groups of people who are NOT doing the same to them and who learned 3500 years ago that we should endeavor to love our neighbors as ourselves, and who try (albeit imperfectly at times) to conduct their lives accordingly. Hate, intolerance and fanatacism can come from anywhere - The so-called Bible thumpers are not the most fanatical voices that I have seen on this board tonight - although you seem reasonable enough 🙂

      December 30, 2011 at 3:30 am |
    • TR6

      David:” You are doing a marvelous job convincing me that you have somehow evolved progressively from those ancient dessert folk of the Bible who taught me (or shall I say "brainwashed" me) to love my neighbor as myself and to not do to others what is hurtful to me.”

      Here’s another little bundle of love for your neighbors straight from your bible

      "Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished." (Isaiah 13:15-16)

      December 30, 2011 at 3:42 am |
    • david

      TR6, Please tell us the difference between a prophecy and a commandment. Is your cherry-picked passage telling us how we should behave towards each other, or is it a prediction of something that will happen? I don't understand the point you're trying to make, and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to want to continue discussing it with you.

      December 30, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  14. Mbane

    There are a lot of misconceptions especially here in the USA mostly due to the evangelical church and a lot of ignorance. Anyone who has read the bible or studied the history of Christianity will know that the Bible is nothing more than a moral guide written 2000 years ago for the people of the time. The Catholic church will say as much. The funny think is that the Catholic church won't even dispute evolution but these evangelicals still insist on creationism. Additionally, newer, properly translated versions of the Bible eliminate the word hell completely. There was never such a thing in the original texts, but yet again, evangelicals still believe this stuff.

    December 30, 2011 at 1:41 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      Not sure which Catholic Church you are talking about, but the Catholic Church's teachings on the "Word of God" is that every word was inspired by "God" Himself and if you were to tell the pope that the bible should only be used as a guide, he would probably wish he still had the power to send you to a torture chamber and sentence you to death for heresy. The picture you are trying to portray of the Catholic Church is false.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  15. Atheist

    I believe the Universe as explained by science is far cooler, more beautiful, grander, and wonderous than the world portrayed in the Bible. For all the vastness of the universe, the Bible is rather small indeed. For all the things that are contained in the Bible, there is so much more that is never mentioned.

    December 30, 2011 at 1:32 am |
    • david

      There need be no inconsistency between modern science and a fundamental belief in Biblical Truth. If you haven't made a serious attempt to understand the beauty and depth of the Bible since childhood, you shouldn't be speaking to adults about it. The Bible spoke of the primacy of Light 3000 years before the Theory of Relativity quantified it for us. The Bible spoke of the beginning of the Universe (aka the "Big Bang") 1500 years before Aristotle tried to tell us that the Universe never began and would never end. Funny how all the "Rationalists" and "Humanists" don't laugh at and scorn Aristotle.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Observer

      The Bible and science have little in common. There's nothing in the Noah's ark story that agrees with science (especially physics) or logic.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:42 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      David you're living in a fantasy world where you wish to see and interpret words the way you wish to interpret them. Years ago the Bible's creation story (stories) in the Bible meant one thing, now they mean something else. You're still stuck on trying to make 2000 yr old knowledge into something it isn't.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:55 am |
    • david

      Well, DC1000, I don't believe you've actually read the Bible since you were a child - if ever. You certainly have never read it in the language in which it was written, and you've certainly never spent any time as an adult reflecting on its deeper levels of meaning. So being the committed rationalist that you are, and given that you would never want to be accused of hypocrisy or inconsistency, you can surely agree with me that it's illogical for you to comment one way or the other on the "meaning" of the Creation story or most anything else in the Bible.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:04 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      I'm so sorry David, but you are wrong again. I've read and actually studied the "Bible" quite a bit, although not as much as Sprong has. I've also studied Christian history. I've been told and shown that there are much deeper meanings in the bible texts and I really tried to accept them as THE Truth, but in the end, it's basically just a hodge-podge of stories that have been handed down through the ages. Sometimes it's hard to see things for what they really are, especially if we have much invested in them. You and other religious fanatics who still believe every word of the bible is true can continue screaming at the rest of us and continue damning us all to hell, but in the end, you are still relying on 2000+ yr old knowledge that is now outdated. . .unless of course you somehow manipulate the meaning of the words to fit your own purpose. Sad to see people in your position, but oh well. . .what else can we do? We tried to tell you the truth and you refused to accept it. My life goes on while the views and beliefs of religious fanatics fades away. Such is life.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:18 am |
    • david

      Ah yes, DC1000. You say, "Sometimes it's hard to see things for what they really are, especially if we have much invested in them." Now tell me, in your eyes do those words make a window or a mirror? You see me in those words, yet I see you. Continuing with your post, "You and other religious fanatics who still believe every word of the bible is true can continue screaming at the rest of us and continue damning us all to hell..." Hmm, have I been screaming? Have I cursed you at all, let alone "damn you to hell"? You speak a lot about Truth. Where do you go to look for it. My problem with your point of view is that you seem to stop your search at the very literal level. You disparage "2000 year-old knowledge" (it's actually 3500 year-old knowledge, but no matter) in a tone that suggests to the rest of us that your own perspective should be the normative mediator of "meaning". Why are you so sure that your own capacity to apprehend knowledge and understand truth is more evolved than people from Biblical ages? Why should your own belief in your own mental faculties seem any less preposterous to me than the story of Noah's Ark. Who chose you to be the measure of all things at all times? I sincerely believe that of the two of us, you are the fanatic.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      David, are you saying that religions and those who follow them do not try to impose their beliefs on others? Do understand what I mean by "screaming" now? Or do I have to literally spell it out for you?

      As for people in the 21st century relying on 3500 yr old knowledge, I think it's fair to say that only an idiot would choose to do that in this age of science.

      You believe in a bible which damns the non-believers and any human being that it considers a sinner who does not believe in the bible. If you believe that that bible is true then you believe that non-believers are damned to hell.

      I thought you were an expert on seeing more deeply into what is actually written, but yet, you failed to understand what I meant by "screaming" and damning others to hell. Hmm. Perhaps you're not quite as spiritual as you think, unless of course it fits your fanatical agenda.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • david

      Ok DeeCee1000, let's take 'em one at a time: "are you saying that religions and those who follow them do not try to impose their beliefs on others?" - I'm not aware of many Jews or Budhists, for example, who try to impose their religion on others. We live in a country with over 200 million Christians in it; most of them seem to be going about their lives without trying to impose their religion on anybody. Next: "Do understand what I mean by "screaming" now?" - No, I don't. Next: "As for people in the 21st century relying on 3500 yr old knowledge, I think it's fair to say that only an idiot would choose to do that in this age of science." - Do you actually believe that science is "True"? There isn't one actual scientist in the whole history of science who claims that what (s)he is doing is discovering "Truth". Science is what we call the act of theorizing about empirical measurements. It is an approximation towards Truth. It itself is not Truth and never can be. Next: "You believe in a bible which damns the non-believers and any human being that it considers a sinner who does not believe in the bible. If you believe that that bible is true then you believe that non-believers are damned to hell." This is all New Testament stuff; we've been talking about the Hebrew Bible. Nothing in there at all about non-believers and sinners being damned to hell. Next: "I thought you were an expert on seeing more deeply into what is actually written, but yet, you failed to understand what I meant by "screaming" and damning others to hell" - I don't consider myself an expert in much of anything, and I'm not sure why you consider me to be one. I didn't fail to understand what you meant by "screaming and damning others to hell"; I fail to understand why you are here in a public forum telling other people that I personally have been doing such things.

      December 30, 2011 at 3:15 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      Sorry dude, you're a lost cause. Not only do you contradict yourself as you ramble on, but you don't even know something as simple as the meaning of "science". If you believe that science does not obtain FACTS by means of (here's a new word for you) "scientific method" and math then you really are in the dark. See what happens when you make a 3500 yr old collection of books and stories your God? You end up living in the Dark Ages, rejecting what hundreds of thousands if not millions of human beings have devoted so much of their time to find the truth in things. You're a lost cause. Go back to burying your fanatical little nose in your "Bible". I have nothing more to say to you.

      December 30, 2011 at 3:26 am |
  16. Bible believer

    I am a bible believing Christian. Some people on here are making Christians look awful. I only have one simple statement. If all the atheist's and non-Christians are correct and everyone goes to heaven, or there is no life after death on this earth, etc. Then what have I lost as a Christian by living my life to the best of my abilities to God's standards. The answer is nothing. Now on the other hand, if we bible believing Christians are correct; and a faith in Jesus Christ seeking his forgiveness is the only true way to an eternity to heaven and not hell then what have you lost? Just something to ponder.

    December 30, 2011 at 1:30 am |
    • Atheist

      Pascal's wager. move on.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • Observer

      Here's something else to ponder.

      If you are wrong, you've wasted a lot of your life that could have been spent making the most of your time here. You could have traveled more or learned more or seen more or helped others more.

      If you are a hypocritical Christian who puts gays down, you have also hurt other people.

      If your religion makes your life better, then don't use it to make others lives worse (if you are doing that).

      December 30, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      If I were "God" I would not blame anyone for not believing to begin with. And if I were "God" I would not have written the Christian-Judeo bible as it is full of inconsistencies, violence, immorality, discrimination, hatred, bigotry and a number of other things I would not want my own kids to follow. I believe the "God" in the Bible is most likely just a product of the human mind and not the other way around.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:38 am |
    • Grant

      If Islam is correct, and you have been ignoring the final testimony of Allah, then you're going to burn in hell and all the Muslims will get virgins. If Norse mythology was the right choice, you'll never reach Valhalla because you were not a valiant warrior. If Judaism is correct and you're following a false messiah, then you've forsaken the Mitzvot and disobeyed El. If Buddhism is correct, then you'll probably be reincarnated as a snail for shutting your mind to enlightenment and dealing in false absolutes.

      If the God you're reading about actually made the Bible as a test to see who WOULDN'T fall for its B.S., and such a deity only actually rewards skeptics and nonbelievers, then all the atheists will be in heaven and you'll be the one sitting in a pit of eternal agony. If God doesn't exist at all, then you've wasted your whole life–the only one you'll ever get–believing complete nonsense and forsaking your privilege as a 21st-century human to learn some ACTUAL things about the universe. Pascal's Wager is a ridiculous false dichotomy, and you'd probably have a far more fulfilling life if you put down your book and started learning.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:47 am |
    • Bible believer

      To observer: I don't like those kind of Christians just as much as you. So called Christians such as Fred Phelps an his Westboro Baptist "Church" members make me sick. There are lots of Christians out there who talk the talk but don't take one step of the faith walk. As for myself I can still enjoy God's creation (earth+people, etc) just as much and have my faith. I have done missions work and medical missions also. So I have traveled, seen more, and helped the sick and needy. I am also a full time paramedic. So I help people daily as well in my job. As I stated earlier, the Christians who talk the talk but don't have a walk of faith are hypocrites. And that saddens me. But my life is more fulfilled with my faith then without it. And as for the last statement about using my faith to out people down; that's just wrong. I'm not better than anyone else. I'm simply saved by grace. I'm just as human and make mistakes just like anyone else. My faith simply enriches my life more than anything this world has to offer. And if you disagree with me then fine, you have that right to do so in this country. I just simply gave you and "Atheist" a question to ponder that's all.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • Pascal

      This may be slightly informative to the argument you are making.

      This is also important when considering 'You lose nothing by submitting to religion'
      You aren't submitting out of truth. You are submitting out of fear.
      I would honestly suggest trying to read through half of that article.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:55 am |
    • Observer

      Bible believer,

      You seem to be a real credit to your religion. I wish more people were like that. If all Christians were like you, there probably would be MUCH less tension between them and non-believers.

      If you practice your religion in your home and place of worship and don't try to force it on other people or use it to deny others equal rights, you have my full support. Good for you!

      December 30, 2011 at 2:10 am |
    • Bible believer

      Observer: Thank you for your comments. I do practice my faith as best I can, but I do not force it upon others. People have a right to worship as they please. To many soldiers and wars have been fought to people can have that right. You have just as much of a right to stand up for your beliefs as I do mine and it is good to see you stick to those and not straddle the fence as many do. Sometimes you have to just agree to disagree.
      To Pascal: I did read most of that article. And I have heard multiple arguments against the statement I made regarding that comment. Should people come to a religion out of fear? I don't believe so. But if that statement opens someone's eyes as to the possibility that it's true is that so terrible? Personally I let my actions do the talking. I try to live my life the best to my ability that I can for Christ. I fail and make mistakes; but my actions are driven by a love that was given to me by Christ when he died for my sins as well as the rest of the worlds. That alone drives me to go and do selfless acts of kindness and not expect anything in return. If someone asks me why I do those this I will tell them why, but I don't go and tell them at first this is why I'm doing this so make sure and watch. The bible states that "what is done in secret the father will reward you for". I am also an educated individual with multiple college degrees and I have done my research. I don't go blindly following the next person who says I've found the key to eternity and a happy life. I've looked at the stars and the universe and wondered how all of this could have just happened by chance. I can't simply believe it all just happens by chance, it just doesn't make sense. I also taught anatomy and physiology at a local college and can't get over how amazing our body is and the things it can do. And I also don't think that could have evolved over a period of time to be as perfect as it is. I can see where you get your points you've displayed, but what you call "chance" (formation of the universe, evolution, etc); I call a creation by an all mighty God. And that's ok that we differ.
      -And as for all the other religions, most other major religions can trace their origins to the bible. I research is done correctly, that is where you'll end up. Especially Islam.
      But that's simply the differences that make this country great.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • Observer

      Bible believer,
      "Too many soldiers and wars have been fought so people can have that right."

      I hope that when you hear fellow Christians putting down gays, that you remember that there have been many gay soldiers who have died and are currently risking their lives for that right. I think it takes a real ingrate to say that these heroes aren't worthy of the same rights we have while we sit here in safety in front of our computuers and fuss.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:46 am |
    • Bible believer

      Observer: I couldn't agree more. I grew up in that life with my father in the military for 26 years. Regardless of your faith and if you agree with someones lifestyle you still need to show them that respect for their sacrifice and honor what they have done for all of us to have the freedoms we have.

      December 30, 2011 at 3:20 am |
  17. tony

    The incredible beneficial power of prayer positively alters the health and longevity of good Christians. That's why the health insurance and life insurance industries give them so much better rates than those for sinners, atheists, etc. And why so many pastors live for a coupla hundred years at least.

    December 30, 2011 at 1:23 am |
  18. steffielyn

    Thank You Bishop Spong, for your wonderful words and teachings, and for helping out some many "alumni Christians" like myself. For the first time in a long time, I feel at peace in my heart and my soul. Finally things make sense, God is love...Jesus was a man who taught the important things of God....love, kindness, charity, becoming full human beings capable. People are not born sinners...don't need to be born again...I could go on and on. I love your books....I love the books of others you recommend. Thank you for opening my eyes and letting me see that I have not been alone in my thoughts and beliefs. God bless you, and your wonderful family.

    December 30, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • david

      Steffielyn, I am happy for you that you have found yourself. It is sad and somewhat shameful that Mr. Spong can't acknowledge all of us who find love, kindness, charity and our full human capabilities by believing the Bible as written Truth. I don't begrudge you the fact that you were aided by Mr. Spong's editorializing; please be as loving, kind and charitable to those of us who don't need his help.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      thank you steffielyn......and david, I found all that in santa but that doesnt make it true, just sayin.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • david

      yearightwwjd, I think it's wonderful that you found yourself in santa.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  19. theydidthisonegood

    Any way, all you folks have fun agreeing with one another that God is a fantasy. I have to go now, have a business to run in the am and kids that want to play another game tonight. I only wish I could be at every one of your death beds when that time comes, to hear you scream for forgiveness from the very person and God you have denied for so long. you know you will, you aint even gonna take the chance, when you know you are dieing, that he may not exist. you are going to cover your a ss es like stink on sh@@. Ha HA HA HA.. night night.

    December 30, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • Observer


      I'd say that people would like to watch you die too like you said, but I'm not that low of a person to do it.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • yearightwwjd

      Oh how very christian of you.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:19 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      See u next tuesday

      December 30, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • ashrakay

      Troll, christian or nutjob? Why is it so hard to discern which is true about these guys?

      December 30, 2011 at 1:53 am |
  20. smoothcompany

    Spong's devaluing of the oral tradition also glorifies his ignorance. Adam was direct from the hand of God. Recall for Adam, and recall for modern day man meant totally different things. Adam's recall was perfect (as was the recall of the early descendants). Their health was far different than ours. Keep in mind these people are living for 800 and 900 years. It is crucial to understand that their intellect endowed them with the ability to totally recollect their experiences. Spong is ignorantly judging oral tradition by today's standard which similar to Spong's logic is extremely faulty.
    The Bible has stood the test of time. It's always frustrating when people talk about how much they love something and then proceed to attack it. I suppose we only hurt the ones we love. God bless us all.

    December 30, 2011 at 12:58 am |
    • Peppermint Patty

      Hahahahahahahahahahahhahahahaha. And just when EXACTLY did that total recall trait die out ? What a f'ing moron. THIS takes the cake. OMFG. 600 years. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:02 am |
    • ashrakay

      Okay, I have to admit... I got a good laugh out of this one too.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • theydidthisonegood

      hey peppermint, the Bible tells us when God decided man would not live past 120 years. as it does most things in life,

      December 30, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • Observer

      "The Bible has stood the test of time."

      Yes, it has been shown to contain errors, contradictions, hypocrisy, and nonsense in addition to the morals.

      December 30, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • theydidthisonegood


      Hey peppermint,,,, Drinking a little too mush of that intelligence?

      Agreeance | Define Agreeance at Dictionary.comdictionary.reference.com/browse/agreeanceCached – Similar
      You +1'd this publicly. Undo
      a·gree·ance. /əˈgri əns/ Show Spelled[uh-gree-uh ns] Show IPA. noun Now Rare. the act or state of agreeing; agreement. ...

      Also, why is you guys always to go to burnt offering, you must be gay, they always do that for some reason, must be something about being gay??? as i said, it is wrong will always be wrong, in thought, in mind, and in spirit. But hey,,,, have at it girl! or man, you never know these days, do you?

      December 30, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • Godless

      So Adam was a Vulcan?

      December 30, 2011 at 8:25 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.