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My Take: The 3 biggest biblical misconceptions
The Bible presents us with an evolving story, writes John Shelby Spong.
December 29th, 2011
09:10 AM ET

My Take: The 3 biggest biblical misconceptions

Editor’s note: John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, is author of "Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World."

By John Shelby Spong, Special to CNN

The Bible is both a reservoir of spiritual insight and a cultural icon to which lip service is still paid in the Western world. Yet when the Bible is talked about in public by both believers and critics, it becomes clear that misconceptions abound.

To me, three misconceptions stand out and serve to make the Bible hard to comprehend.

First, people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it.

The facts are that Abraham, the biblically acknowledged founding father of the Jewish people, whose story forms the earliest content of the Bible, died about 900 years before the first story of Abraham was written in the Old Testament.

Actually, that's not in the Bible

Can a defining tribal narrative that is passed on orally for 45 generations ever be regarded as history, at least as history is understood today?

Moses, the religious genius who put his stamp on the religion of the Old Testament more powerfully than any other figure, died about 300 years before the first story of Moses entered the written form we call Holy Scripture.

This means that everything we know about Moses in the Bible had to have passed orally through about 15 generations before achieving written form. Do stories of heroic figures not grow, experience magnifying tendencies and become surrounded by interpretive mythology as the years roll by?

My Take: Bible condemns a lot, so why focus on homosexuality?

Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion, and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.

Are the gospels then capable of being effective guides to history? If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written - that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then by Luke and ending with John - we can see exactly how the story expanded between the years 70 and 100.

For example, miracles do not get attached to the memory of Jesus story until the eighth decade. The miraculous birth of Jesus is a ninth-decade addition; the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative.

In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side.

Perhaps the most telling witness against the claim of accurate history for the Bible comes when we read the earliest narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark’s gospel and discover that it is not based on eyewitness testimony at all.

My Take: Yes, the Bible really condemns homosexuality

Instead, it’s an interpretive account designed to conform the story of Jesus’ death to the messianic yearnings of the Hebrew Scriptures, including Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.

The Bible interprets life from its particular perspective; it does not record in a factual way the human journey through history.

The second major misconception comes from the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense “the word of God.” Only someone who has never read the Bible could make such a claim. The Bible portrays God as hating the Egyptians, stopping the sun in the sky to allow more daylight to enable Joshua to kill more Amorites and ordering King Saul to commit genocide against the Amalekites.

Can these acts of immorality ever be called “the word of God”? The book of Psalms promises happiness to the defeated and exiled Jews only when they can dash the heads of Babylonian children against the rocks! Is this “the word of God? What kind of God would that be?

The Bible, when read literally, calls for the execution of children who are willfully disobedient to their parents, for those who worship false gods, for those who commit adultery, for homosexual persons and for any man who has sex with his mother-in-law, just to name a few.

The Bible exhorts slaves to be obedient to their masters and wives to be obedient to their husbands. Over the centuries, texts like these, taken from the Bible and interpreted literally, have been used as powerful and evil weapons to support killing prejudices and to justify the cruelest kind of inhumanity.

The third major misconception is that biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging. Instead, the Bible presents us with an evolutionary story, and in those evolving patterns, the permanent value of the Bible is ultimately revealed.

It was a long road for human beings and human values to travel between the tribal deity found in the book of Exodus, who orders the death of the firstborn male in every Egyptian household on the night of the Passover, until we reach an understanding of God who commands us to love our enemies.

The transition moments on this journey can be studied easily. It was the prophet named Hosea, writing in the eighth century B.C., who changed God’s name to love. It was the prophet named Amos who changed God’s name to justice. It was the prophet we call Jonah who taught us that the love of God is not bounded by the limits of our own ability to love.

It was the prophet Micah who understood that beautiful religious rituals and even lavish sacrifices were not the things that worship requires, but rather “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” It was the prophet we call Malachi, writing in the fifth century B.C., who finally saw God as a universal experience, transcending all national and tribal boundaries.

One has only to look at Christian history to see why these misconceptions are dangerous. They have fed religious persecution and religious wars. They have fueled racism, anti-female biases, anti-Semitism and homophobia.They have fought against science and the explosion of knowledge.

The ultimate meaning of the Bible escapes human limits and calls us to a recognition that every life is holy, every life is loved, and every life is called to be all that that life is capable of being. The Bible is, thus, not about religion at all but about becoming deeply and fully human. It issues the invitation to live fully, to love wastefully and to have the courage to be our most complete selves.

That is why I treasure this book and why I struggle to reclaim its essential message for our increasingly non-religious world.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Shelby Spong.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (6,068 Responses)
  1. Alex

    Wow. Really, really, really bad history. This kind of journalism is insulting to the intelligence of those who read the news.

    December 30, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  2. AGuest9

    I like the points he makes. I asked those questions while in school, and was very unpopular because of it. The church was able to fool the supersti.tious, uneducated masses for centuries with fantastic stories. Grow brains, sheeple, it's the 21st Century.

    December 30, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  3. JLackey

    Just another example of where we are left to interpret the clear, while the author intentionally attemps to confuse the message. Remember who the author of confusion is and you will better understand where the inspiration for this writer comes. If we are so unwilling to pick up and read the Bible, but are happy to read any author who claims former clerical status, it is not surprising we will be led down any path that is set before us. Let me leave you with two clear, historically sound and consistent messages: Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40 KJV). The first commandment comes before the second, so remember this as you attempt to counter the Word of God – the most historically accurate account acording to leading and reputable historians.

    December 30, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Bob

      Bullcr@p, Lackey. Hardly anyone in North America hasn't read your bible, that sicko book of god tales. We get it pushed at us from early childhood and it's not a hard read. It's just pretty boring fiction. The Harry Potter series is more entertaining, a better source of moral guidance, and more popular than your babble too.

      December 30, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Russ

      @ Bob: as I posted earlier... a Seminary professor who loves Harry Potter... and why...

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxySk24J_bs&w=640&h=360]

      December 30, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Bob

      Russ, some vintage Carlin back at you.
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o&w=640&h=360]

      December 30, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • fred

      Bob
      A Holy God made the first and the final sacrifice so that we could have eternal life and be reunited with God in Christ. It’s all about unity and purpose. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Do we need more than that? It is God’s creation not ours and by love which we cannot understand God gave us the opportunity through Christ be part of that Glory.
      You ask why blood sacrifice? That is what God demanded for the price of sin which is rejection of God. In the Garden it was God that made the first sacrifice when man rejected God. God killed an animal to cover the nakedness of man (sin that was exposed; desire for that which is not of God). A Holy God will not be in the presence of sin so God covered their sin. The people of old due to lack of intelligence or whatever (we are not told) used repeated rituals of blood sacrifice for sin as they repeatedly would violate the laws and reject God. The entire scene point out the ridicules nature of mans, ceremonies, priests, religions, laws and stubborn pride. When presented with the Messiah of their own Scripture they rejected Christ as they did God in their continued blindness and crucified him. In short man could not atone for sin God must atone for sin.
      Why, take a close look at what sin does to man and what it looks like to God. That bloody unrecognizable pulp hung on a cross mocked and ridiculed by man, secular and religious leaders of the day united in evil for all to see. That is why sin brings about death and that death is separation between man and God. The people of old knew that life was in the blood of an animal and blood must be shed for the atonement of sin. Sin is serious and there are consequences.

      December 30, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Bob: I appreciate George Carlin. Funny, honest about hypocrisy – but even in this piece, he's using humor to dodge the central point.

      Jerram Barrs: what is so moving about Harry Potter is self-sacrificial love.
      George Carlin: everything is BS, so you might as well look out for yourself.

      December 30, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  4. Drew

    WOW... man you are missing the point completely. But that is ok. We will continue to debate what the Bible means and doesnt mean forever just like we have in the past. That is part of the fun. I read a verse and get a different meaning from it depending on what God wants to teach me that day. What this guy doesnt get is that God reveals meanings for that person based on the Bible when He wants them revealed.

    December 30, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Bob

      Sounds like your "god" needs a better mar-comm department, and maybe he's a flasher, too,with all that revealing.

      Now get back to your daily goat sacrifice or god will smite you and torture you forever. At least, that's what the bible says you must do, in lurid gory detail. In the mean time, ambidextrous god with his spare bandwidth will go off and murder another whole race because he didn't like the actions of a few members.

      No thanks. You can keep your sicko religion to yourself.

      December 30, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • J.W

      How do you manage to turn every article into something about goat sacrificing?

      December 30, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Bob

      It helps in keeping the stupid Christians focussed so that they don't try their usual dodges.

      December 30, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • fred

      J.W
      Bob received a bad grade in school when he failed to do his homework. Bob told the teacher a goat ate his homework. The teacher asked Bob why would you say a goat ate your homework and not a sheep? Bob said in the Bible he read the Hebrew used the goat as atonement for sin (such as not doing homework and lie about it) and would put their blood on the goats head and send the goat outside of town thus the sin was removed. The teacher being a christians said Bob, goat sacrafice is not required under the New Covenent because Jesus died and rose again on the third day in atonement for all sin. Bob, we don't need goats to cover our guilt anymore. Bob screamed out I am an atheist your Jesus is garbage. To which the teacher replied, Bob then your sin is not forgiven and gave him an F. Bob has never been the same since and blames Jesus and goats for all his misfortunes

      December 30, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Bob

      fred, now try actually replying with substance instead of personal attacks and made-up stories. FYI, I was top of the class all the way through school, and I have a Ph.D. from a university that you probably wouldn't even be admitted into.

      Now get back after that goat, stupid fred, or your vicious sky fairy will smite you and burn you forever.

      December 30, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Bob

      Let's see if we can get stupid fred to think his way through answering a question.

      fred, why was the (senseless and needless) animal sacrificing ever demanded by your god? You know it's there, in lurid gory detail in your babble.

      Stop squirming and answer the question.

      December 30, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Rick

      fred: on the other hand, some people carry around guilt

      December 30, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • fred

      Bob

      A Holy God made the first and the final sacrifice so that we could have eternal life and be reunited with God in Christ. It’s all about unity and purpose. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Do we need more than that? It is God’s creation not ours and by love which we cannot understand God gave us the opportunity through Christ be part of that Glory.
      You ask why blood sacrifice? That is what God demanded for the price of sin which is rejection of God. In the Garden it was God that made the first sacrifice when man rejected God. God killed an animal to cover the nakedness of man (sin that was exposed; desire for that which is not of God). A Holy God will not be in the presence of sin so God covered their sin. The people of old due to lack of intelligence or whatever (we are not told) used repeated rituals of blood sacrifice for sin as they repeatedly would violate the laws and reject God. The entire scene point out the ridicules nature of mans, ceremonies, priests, religions, laws and stubborn pride. When presented with the Messiah of their own Scripture they rejected Christ as they did God in their continued blindness and crucified him. In short man could not atone for sin God must atone for sin.
      Why, take a close look at what sin does to man and what it looks like to God. That bloody unrecognizable pulp hung on a cross mocked and ridiculed by man, secular and religious leaders of the day united in evil for all to see. That is why sin brings about death and that death is separation between man and God. The people of old knew that life was in the blood of an animal and blood must be shed for the atonement of sin. Sin is serious and there are consequences.

      December 30, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • fred

      Rick
      Yes, and what great news the Gospel is that we are free from guilt. No more goat sacrafice as Bob likes to point out.

      December 30, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  5. Joanna

    Thank you for this article. Awesome.

    December 30, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  6. steven bryner

    I am happy to see another scholar pushing the REAL message of this fine literature. I have strayed away from the literal and have found love instead. This is the true definition of God and all of his followers. Thank you kind Sir.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Russ

      @ steven: Spong & the *real*, clear, central message of the text are decidedly opposed...
      here's just a couple among many more examples:

      "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31)

      He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." (Lk.24:44-48)

      December 30, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  7. daniel

    I respect all points of view, seeing as how we are all on a journey of seeking the truth. Notwithstanding all the points made by the Apostle Paul (supposedly) in his writings that I can't quite buy into, I do love the tenet that we all "see through a glass darkly." None of us has it all figured out. I don't think Bishop Spong would claim to, not should those here vehemently disagreeing with him...Whether we be among those who must adhere to scientific reason and practicality, or in the camp of those who accept things purely by faith, if we have love in our hearts, we're in the best place...I most enjoyed the paragraph pointing up Micah's claim that true worship consists of nothing more than to "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God" and that the so-called Malachi saw God as "a universal experience transcending all national and tribal boundaries." That is something that every person of faith can latch onto.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Bob

      The weak-minded and stupid will "latch onto" just about any supersti-tion that lines up with their fancies, no matter how incredible, cruel or self-contradictory. Christian doctrine is all three.

      December 30, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Russ

      @ Daniel: Micah 6:8 comes after 5 chapters of how the people fail to do that. The message in context is not "hey everybody, just be nice more." As Micah 5:1-5 (which is quoted about Jesus' birth) points out, we need a Savior exactly because we keep failing.

      Spong misses the message of the Bible because he makes it all about us (what we should do).
      The Bible is primarily about Jesus & what he has done (as he points out in Lk.24:27, 44).

      December 30, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  8. RichM

    The biggest misconception in my view is that morality cannot exist without religion. Morality is simple; do good, try not to do harm. Religion is highly complex and always up for interpretation. It seems to have arisen primarily as a tool to legitimize crimes against political opponents.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  9. cat

    I am new to Christ and and this is so confusing to me!!

    December 30, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Jim

      As I mentioned earlier, faith is belief without proof. If you want to be one of the faithful and avoid confusion, don't read articles like this, and don't read the entire Bible with a critical eye. However, if you choose to take the red pill...

      December 30, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Russ

      @ cat: here's a great resource from the guy Newsweek called 'a CS Lewis for the 21st century' – Tim Keller. great biblical insights for honest questions... an invaluable resource, especially for a new Christian.
      http://www.questiongod.info/index.php

      December 30, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Bill

      Hi Cat, I'm a pastor. I don't have the space here to respond to you and explain the many ways that the author of this post is terribly terribly wrong, but please don't let it hurt your faith. I recommend finding a good pastor of a good church and asking him to talk with you about this article. Also, anyone who says that you can't be a Christian and think deeply about your faith and the Bible does not realize that many highly educated men and world-class philosophers do exactly that. Following and studying the Bible isn't about closing your eyes to the real world, it really opens them for the first time (I once was blind but now I see).
      God bless you.

      December 30, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • BoldGeorge

      Welcome to God's kingdom, it won't be an easy journey but Christ will see you through. One thing you can definitely stay away from is blasphemous and distorted biblical statements like the one this author states in this article. If this article is so confusing to you, that's because it is. And one character that the bible labels as the lord of confusion and a liar is Satan. Please careful!

      December 30, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • jc

      This guy must be FOR all the things God is against. Like JUSTICE. PEACE. REVERENCE TO OUR CREATOR. HOLINESS. God made rules for man to follow, and when man did not follow these rules, justice was served. "They have fought against science and the explosion of knowledge."–I had to laugh at this one, like God is to follow what scientists believe? "The Bible is, thus, not about religion at all but about becoming deeply and fully human."–He just said, in other words, that Jesus was a man that reached god-hood–that is his theology! I think there's a 'warm' bench waiting for him 'somewhere', but he won't be comfy.

      December 30, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Bob

      You have to buy the secret decoder ring.

      December 30, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  10. lino

    Amazing how he does not mention Jesus or the Cross of Christ and what he did there.

    Our only way to salvation and to a victorious life is through Jesus Christ and what he did on the Cross.

    If you are looking to works or to men or to the church you will not find fulfillment there, only through the Cross

    He alone gives us victory over the wickedness of this world, over sin which destroys the soul, and over Satan who's goal is the destruction of human kind.

    Beware the church, trust in Jesus and what he did on the cross, Read Romans 6, 7, 8

    Deny Self pick up the Cross and follow him. JSM.org

    December 30, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • JohnQuest

      That can't be true, there are plenty of successful people that are not believers. The majority of the population are not Christians and many are very happy. In contrast there are plenty of Christian that are unhappy and overall not doing well. Seems to me that in real life it makes no difference if you believe or not, belief in a God has no bearing on real everyday life, So what's the point in believing in a God?

      December 30, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • JA

      I would rather believe in someone that promises everlasting life, than to believe that when I die, nothing happens.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Jim

      @JA, I understand your feelings, but that line of thinking can get you into trouble. That is how Bernie Madoff fleeced his investors, with promises of huge returns for their trust and money now. I would rather believe in a lot of things that promise big payouts later. But I have found that living my life in the here and now, improving the real world a little at a time and raising my kids to be responsible,m skeptical people is enough. And when I die, I die, I only hope I had a good run.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Ja
      Me too. That's why I hope to die gloriously in battle so that Odin might send me to Valhalla.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • D

      Interesting reading! People going back and forth as to whether the Bible was god inspired and historically correct. The problem with this kind of discussion is that the brainwashed believers are arguing / conversing from a purely emotional standpoint – not a rational one therefore the discussion is meaningless.

      For all the rational people making their case above I commend you.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • JA

      @Jim

      What the point of living without a good payout as in reward. Not like a money reward but more like a celebration? you may not believe in the after life, but in the terms of here and now...why would someone work their whole life without retirement as a reward?

      December 30, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • One one

      @JA. But if you buy into the story you must accept the possibility of going to hell. But not to worry, neither heaven nor hell exist, they are just myths. When you die you will end up in the same place you were before you were born.

      December 30, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Jim

      A retirement is not a reward, it is something you earn. It is not given to you for for your absolute belief, it's a recent invention necessary because science has allowed people to live long enough to retire. If you feel that you are incomplete without the supernatural, than by all means, continue believing. But to embrace a world view based on what makes you feel good simply doesn't make sense to me.

      December 30, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Godless

      JA wrote: "What the point of living without a good payout as in reward."

      Seriously? There's no point to life if there isn't something even better afterwards? You mean this life isn't good enough for you? Dude, if that's how you're approaching your life, you're doing it wrong.

      December 30, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Ja
      I find it disheartening that you need to be bribed into living a fulfilling life.
      The idea of an afterlife setup for us by an anthropocentric God is reassuring, but it is also exceedingly unlikely.
      There is no evidence whatsoever of any type of afterlife, be it the elysian fields, valhalla, heaven, hades, limbo, purgatory, summerland, the fields of aaru, niflhel, sheol, jannat, the river styx or the chinvat bridge.

      December 30, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • JP

      @JA
      Regarding rewards: Personally, I work to provide for my family and myself, and along the way I try to contribute something positive to society. Having a fulfilling, meaningful life is its own reward, not some promise of heaven or hell afterwards. It is the journey that provides the meaning. Just living your life for some personal reward at the end is a poor and selfish motivator, IMHO.
      Regarding heaven: Choosing to believe in a fantasy because you don’t like dealing with reality is living a lie. The honest person seeks the truth and lives by it, no matter the consequences or emotional payoffs.
      Besides, if I wanted to believe in an imaginary place to go when I die, I could do a lot better than heaven. For example, check out the Flying Spaghetti Monster (http://www.venganza.org/) – he promises beer and striippers! 😉

      December 30, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Debra

      Whatever!! I used to believe in the Bible fairy tales, too. But then I actually started doing some critical thinking and realized the complete craziness that is all religion. And guess what? After realizing that the Bible isn't true, I became a happier, more fulfilled person. Why? Because I wasn't trying to live up to someone else's interpretation of how I should be. I am a good person, a moral person, all on my own! Wake up, people! Start thinking for yourselves!

      December 30, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  11. James S.

    I am Ordained and have a degree in Biblical Studies from Carolina University of Theology. The basics of what this guy says is true, his OPINIONS on the other hand are in my estimation – GARBAGE. They are TYPICAL of what a SECULAR "news group" would put out about the Bible. Its easy to find ANY Tom, Dick or Harry who's on the far LEFT that has "HIS OWN" interpretation of the scriptures and biblical history.

    Whether it was 15 generations or 45 generations – the Bible is the HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRED WORD OF THE LIVING GOD...without error.. this clown Spong will REGRET his statements when he's standing before the King of Kings ATTEMPTING to excuse his STUPIDITY..

    December 30, 2011 at 8:08 am |
    • MIrosal

      Theology, mythology.... same difference .. now go out and get a REAL job instead of living off of other people's "contributions" to your livelihood.

      December 30, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • MIrosal

      Threats like yours are as effective as thunder from Thor's hammer, or a lightning bolt thrown from the hand of Zeus.

      December 30, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • JohnQuest

      James S. are you saying that everything in the Bible is true and that You base your life on every word in it regardless of the outcomes?

      December 30, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • okgo

      the bible is just a bad version of the telephone game kids play at school where you start out with a sentence and by the time it reaches the end of the line that sentence is distorted to the point where it is a completely different sentence...if that happens with people in a room with one sentece and a 5 minute game imagine it with 15-30 generations of people passing down the so-called "word of god" by the time it reached the first guy who was smart enough to make a best seller by writing these stories down they had been overly exaggerated

      December 30, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • Jim

      If the facts Mr. Spong presented here are true, and you concede they are, they should have no effect on your faith. Faith is defined as belief not based on proof. There is no proof for the supernatural parts of any religion, believers should know that. If they choose to believe anyway, they are using faith. There is no need to become defensive and threaten judgement.

      December 30, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Chuck Padgett

      It's great to see someone who stands by the Bible as the inerrant word of God, James. Good for you! As such, take a moment to revisit Luke 6:30 and then please transfer all funds from your bank account to mine. I know you will follow His wishes, lest ye be labeled "stupid" or a "clown." Thanks!

      December 30, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Fluffy, the gerbil of doom

      Whatever. The Bible is what it is, no matter what anyone says about it, "ordained" or not. BTW, I am an "ordained Wizard. Bow before me, Whoo whoo. Those who say it is "inspired" and "the word of god" :
      a. never define their terms, and just use those crappy words because they as'sume we all hear them, and they mean something. In fact they really mean nothing, other than "The Bible is Magical", therefore you must believe it, and
      b. do not even know the historical context when those phrases began to be used, and how those meanings CHANGED over time. It's ALL BS.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Patrick

      @James S.
      Whether it was 15 generations or 45 generations – the Bible is the HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRED WORD OF THE LIVING GOD...without error.. this clown Spong will REGRET his statements when he's standing before the King of Kings ATTEMPTING to excuse his STUPIDITY..

      So you are saying regardless of fact/physics/time you will believe just cause? IF the bible is without error why do theist keep correcting it with new translations?

      December 30, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • it ain't true

      James S... is this one of those..."My school of theology is better then yours?" You need to go back and study the Council of Trent and see for yourself why many of the things that are contained in the Bible are there. Assuming that you are not Catholic you should find it disturbing at the least.

      December 30, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Zak

      @James S – All right, we get it. You're highly religious. You're one of those people that is consumed by it. That's fine. I mean, I don't like it, but I'm not going to CONDEMN you for it – like you seem to be doing with us non-believers. Nice forgiveness there, Mr. PsudoJesus. Anyway, someone mentioned something very valid when I was reading through this. They said that faith is belief without proof. Which is the actual definition of faith. So, you can't fight that. The point that I'm trying to make is – when you're spouting off at the mouth like you're holding THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH, when it's actually based off of faith – you sound like an arrogant fool. I know, I know, "I went to school for this, who does this guy think he is?" I think I'm a person who's pragmatic and able to recognize when an ego is INFLATED. (Yes, I'm using your CAPS approach to poke fun at you). It's all just a cry for personal attention because you love your beliefs and you want to BE HEARD because your thoughts are MORE VALUABLE due to your "higher" EDUCATION. You know that's all pretty meaningless, right? And if there is a god and you're in line to get into heaven – don't you think he'll ask you why you had to be so unforgiving towards people who disagree with you? Doesn't seem like your ticket to heaven is going to get punched...Aw, 😦

      December 30, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Patrick

      @ Zak
      Thank you sir. Believe it or not I’ve actually had theists argue that is not the correct definition. I’ve gone as far as to copy/paste the definition for them and the link to the dictionary. I know this shouldn’t surprise me but that’s just my reason talking.

      @Uncouth Sheep
      See above comment from Zak

      December 30, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • JP

      James S., I notice that you don't even attempt to discuss or refute the points that Spong made; you just spout epithets at him. I think Spong's points are pretty iron-clad, but I am certainly open to learning something new here. Perhaps you have something meaningful to contribute to our understanding of the Bible? Or do you acknowledge that his points are correct, it's just that you don't like hearing them?

      December 30, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Rick

      James: Spouting out empty proxy threats just makes you look stupid

      December 30, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  12. Reality

    Putting the final kibosh on religion to include Mormonism in less than 500 words:

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available.

    December 30, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • James S.

      Mr. "Reality"... I will PRAY for you... You NEED IT..

      December 30, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Ralph

      Nice and what do you have to offer in terms of hope.

      NOTHING!

      Just another heathen full of empty words, no hope, no joy, no peace, in anything you said. I choose Jesus!

      December 30, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • lolwut

      Don't go wearing yourself out there James...

      December 30, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • TR6

      @tedman: “The bible is the most accurate written account of history in existence”

      You need to loosen up your tin foil hat, It’s starting to cut off the oxygen to your brain

      December 30, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Fluffy, the gerbil of doom

      James, pray all you want. Do you actually think god is somewhere, thinking "well, I WOULD save Reality, but I just haven't got enough prayers yet, so I better stick him in the 'waiting group'..when they get it up to enough prayers, then I will check him out again. Right.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Patrick

      @Ralph
      Thank you for proving one of the Atheists points. You choose to believe because it makes you feel better, period. Facts, evidence and reason need not apply.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  13. tedman

    The author is wrong or inaccurate on almost every point.
    The bible is the most accurate written account of history in existence and he dismisses that it isn't written by man but by God. It's an extraterrestrial message http://www.khouse.org/6640/BP041/ with provable authority
    http://gracethrufaith.com/category/selah/the-bibles-authority/

    December 30, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • Reality

      Only for the those interested in a religious update:

      1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

      “New Torah For Modern Minds

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

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

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

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

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

      earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

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

      Current RCC problems:

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

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

      Current problems:
      Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

      3. Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

      This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, and the Filipino “koranics”.

      And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

      Current crises:

      The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

      5. Hinduism (from an online Hindu site) – "Hinduism cannot be described as an organized religion. It is not founded by any individual. Hinduism is God centered and therefore one can call Hinduism as founded by God, because the answer to the question ‘Who is behind the eternal principles and who makes them work?’ will have to be ‘Cosmic power, Divine power, God’."

      The caste/laborer system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence are problems when saying a fair and rational God founded Hinduism."

      Current problems:

      The caste system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence.

      6. Buddhism- "Buddhism began in India about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The people living at that time had become disillusioned with certain beliefs of Hinduism including the caste system, which had grown extremely complex. The number of outcasts (those who did not belong to any particular caste) was continuing to grow."

      "However, in Buddhism, like so many other religions, fanciful stories arose concerning events in the life of the founder, Siddhartha Gautama (fifth century B.C.):"

      Archaeological discoveries have proved, beyond a doubt, his historical character, but apart from the legends we know very little about the circu-mstances of his life. e.g. Buddha by one legend was supposedly talking when he came out of his mother's womb.

      Bottom line: There are many good ways of living but be aware of the hallucinations, embellishments, lies, and myths surrounding the founders and foundations of said rules of life.

      Then, apply the Five F rule: "First Find the Flaws, then Fix the Foundations". And finally there will be religious peace and religious awareness in the world!!!!!

      December 30, 2011 at 8:05 am |
    • billafu

      Have you any factual evidence? Anything that can be proven by disinterested third parties? Data?

      December 30, 2011 at 8:05 am |
    • MIrosal

      Using a bible to teach history is as effective as using a chemistry book to teach Phys. Ed. Find me ONE, just one, Egyptian hieroglyphic that mentions Moses, or the Jews, at all. Find me some historical reference to Solomon, or David, WITHOUT using your bible. Find me ANY physical evidence of a world-wide flood.

      December 30, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • James S.

      AMEN BROTHER! They neglected to read "WIDE is the Gate to destruction and MANY enter into it, but narrow is the way of life".

      December 30, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • julomat

      hahahahahahahahahaha, nice troll attempt.

      December 30, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  14. dp

    The bible inaccurate? Stop the presses!

    December 30, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • MIrosal

      but ... but .. but .. I was told it's true because the book itself says so!!! You mean the book lied to me all those years? Whatever shall I do now? Guess I'll just have to ask the Oracle at Delphi, maybe that will be just as accurate 🙂

      December 30, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  15. Reality

    Bishop Spong follower of the wife-slayer, Henry VIII, forgot to mention the Infamous Angelic Cons:

    To wit:

    Joe Smith had his Moroni.

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

    Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

    Added details available for the asking.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    December 30, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  16. Palmer Holt

    If the Bible can't be trusted, why are you a Christian? Why not become a relativist or a Universalist? You're talking out of both sides of your mouth and engaging in self idolatry - creating God in your image instead of having been created in HIs.

    December 30, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • DEK

      Finally! An intelligent response. If Mr. Spong would have done a little research, and not meerly posted his opinion, surely he would have mentioned that the Dead Sea Scrolls support the accuracy of the Bible.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Patrick

      Because they were born into a Christian family. They are victims of geography. These people would be Hindu if born in India, Muslim if born in Iran.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Jim C.

      The Dead Sea Scrolls only show that the later translations of transcriptions we know as the canon mostly agree with earlier versions. You can't gain truth by comparing something to an earlier version of itself. It has to be verified from independent sources.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  17. Mr. Myxlptlxk

    "...is a former Episcopal Bishop....in New Jersey..." Well, that makes sense! What an idiot! I guess I never realized how laid-back and un-evangelical the Episcopals were. Too bad a whole bunch of people will read this and say " Well, guess i don't have to read THIS anymore!" and toss it in the trash...

    December 30, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • billafu

      Episcopalians

      December 30, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • liz

      Did you even read the whole article or just see something that didn't agree with your beliefs and find excuses to toss it all out? True believers are not threatened by historical examination, they can look past the problems and see the core beliefs of love, tolerance and acceptance that Jesus preached.

      December 30, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Liz
      If only more people were able to emulate Jesus' character instead of insisting that everybody revere His supernatural aspects, the world would be a much better place.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Fluffy, the gerbil of doom

      Whatever you do don't let the facts get in the way of your ranting. (He's retired you f'ing idiot.)

      December 30, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  18. billafu

    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)

    Mmmmm.....dessert.

    December 30, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  19. Fredex

    I am glad Bishop Spong wrote this article and started such an active dialogue. I recommend that you go watch a few of his video discussions on U Tube or read one of his books before you completely dismiss his points being made in this article. I have found his thoughts and perspectives to be enlightening and refreshing.

    December 30, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  20. Joe Jackson

    I am amazed that this article made a national, well read, and, predominant company like CNN. Sir, your views are your own, but they do not match history or even many Bible Scholars let alone "EVERY" Bible Scholar. CNN please remove this article that is written on a man personal opinion and not on facts or even with basic journalism skills. I wish you well, and hope that an article of this poor quality never graces the pages or camera's of CNN again.

    December 30, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • Joe Jackson needs a good b itch slap.

      You did not even read the article. It was well researched and written.

      December 30, 2011 at 7:49 am |
    • liz

      It is an opinion piece in the belief section. If you are too dense to see that, how could you possibly understand the rest of the article. The information is spot on, he did his research and knows his information. The facts being inconvenient to your beliefs does not make them less factual.

      December 30, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • billafu

      I guess you missed this part at the end – "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Shelby Spong."

      December 30, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Shawn

      If you had read the entire article you would have notice the comment at the bottom that states "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Shelby Spong". It's an opinion piece, not a news article. That being said, I found it very well written and insightful. I am also personally acquainted with several bible scholars who agree with much of what Mr. Spong has written.

      December 30, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • beelzebubba

      Well Joe, most of the public probably wishes CNN would remove your comment, but fortunately for you, the larger society we live in (unlike the small world of self-appointed, self-taught religious 'scholars' who brainwash their flocks with bizarre dogma... such as 'slavery is part of gods plan') encourages free speech. As you excercise your right of free expression, remember that the world does not revolve around what you think, no matter how ardently your might believe so. Show some respect for those god created.

      December 30, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • Fluffy, the gerbil of doom

      "I am amazed that this article made a national, well read, and, predominant company like CNN."
      What ? This article did not "MAKE" CNN. What is a "predominant" company ? Did you ever take an English class ?
      You just made a complete fool of yourself.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:42 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.