Sins of The Scripture

By Bishop John Shelby Spong

This book was written by a very religious man, who remains a devout believer in Christianity. The title of this book is a misleading attempt by the publisher to sell more books. The author, John Shelby Spong, a Bishop of the Episcopal Church in N.J. who retired in 2000, has read the Bible “cover to cover 20-25 times” and is a deeply committed Christian and a world-renowned protagonist of progressive Christianity; he has taught at Harvard and at the Graduate Theological College at Berkeley, California, and has lectured all over the world. His books include A New Christianity, Rescuing the Bible and half dozen others. The startlingly inflammatory title (Sins of the Scripture) is the publisher’s marketing-ploy, but it springs from the author’s quotations from the Christian Bible itself. That is, when the Bible urges us to “kill” a child for insulting his/her parents or for violating the Sabbath or to stone adulteresses to death, and the like, to Bishop Spong, the Bible, itself, “sins”, as it urges us to do things are heinous felonies under today’s Western laws. A greater “sin”, the author avers, is accepting such admonitions as “The Word” of God. Our God, the author maintains, never had such intentions, and these “sins” should not be imbedded in the impressionable minds of our young. The God of Jesus was a loving God; the Bible’s God is erroneously presented as often vengeful and cruel. The Bible’s abundant words of love, patience, and forgiveness are the words which we must teach our young, while repudiating the urgings to commit criminal acts.

Bishop Spong’s years of studying and teaching the Christian Bible have convinced him that this ancient and well-intended text -- when spoken or written by largely illiterate clergymen (who lived in much more violent cultures ranging from 1,700-3,000 years ago) -- is burdened with so many errors and contradictions (as Dr. Bart Ehrman demonstrates with thousands of such errors in Misquoting Jesus) that it is being misused to mislead many today, particularly those with political agendas and by unscrupulous clergymen who use fear to expand their ministries. In the past millennium alone, the Bible has been used to support The Inquisition, to condemn Galileo, Darwin and thousands of learned scientists, to condone anti-Semitic behavior (even the Holocaust), to denigrate women as second-class citizens, and to override Christ’s message of love with one of prejudice, hostility, violence and death. To disrupt the evil trends, he urges us to take a new look at the Christian Bible and to embrace its positive elements but to reject the erroneous, violent negatives.

Bishop Spong objects to many passages. For example, the Bible would have us “kill” others for many things, some of which aren’t even misdemeanors under today’s laws: e.g., taking The Creator’s name in vain (Lev.24:23); worshiping another The Creator (Ex. 22:18); blasphemy (Lev. 24:17); insulting parents (Ex.21:17); cursing parents (Lev.20); cursing others (Lev. 24:13-14); harming one’s parents (Ex. 21:15); working on the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14 and 35:2); adultery (Lev.20); having sex or for attempting to have sex with family members (in-laws, too) (Deut. 13:7-11), or with animals (Ex. 22:18); idol worshipping (Ex. 32:27 and Num. 25:5); practicing witchcraft (Lev.20), anyone who attempts to “divert you” from The Creator (Deut. 13:7-11, 17:12-13, and 13:12-16). Even Christ is made an accomplice in such atrocities, where Gospel-writer John attributes this statement to Jesus: “If a man abide not in me…[he shall be] burned.” (John 15:6). For many other examples, see also, The End of Faith by Sam Harris, Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell, Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine.

Above all, the author abhors bigotry in all of its forms. Prejudice invariably evokes violence. Whether it is President Bush invoking God when he unleashes missiles against Iraq or the President of the Southern Baptist Convention telling Larry King live-on TV, “God almighty does not hear the prayers of a Jew” or Mel Gibson telling a police officer, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars of the world”, or the Sunday school teacher quoting the Bible as support for women’s obligatory subservience to men. Se, for example, 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 or 7:17-24 or 14 or 1 Tim 2:11-15, to the effect that women are inferior to men or that slaves should not be set free stereotypes and bigotry lay the foundations for intolerance and, ultimately, for violence. The Jews, of course, invoke God when they invade the Gaza Strip. The Muslims’ Koran, which is based on the Christian Bible, preaches “kill the infidel” (or non-believers) over and over and over again, and, no surprise, many Muslims (who believe that their Seven Heavens await martyrs for such actions) are determined to do exactly that, which, of course, is precisely what Christians and Jews did to infidels in centuries past. For example, see 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 or 7:17-24 or 14 or 1 Tim 2:11-15, to the effect that women are inferior to men or that slaves should not be set free

These Biblical sins raise questions of authorship, which have so troubled Biblical scholars in recent centuries: Moses, while given credit for the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) was illiterate and most believe that the Torah was first reduced to writing some 300-400 years after Moses’ death (despite the fact that Jesus gives Moses credit for them in multiple places in the Gospels, as can be found in Mark1:44, Matt. 8:4, 19:7-8, 22:24, and in Luke 5:14, 20:29 and 24:27); indeed, in his last book, Deuteronomy, Moses admonishes his listeners to write down his words. The Psalms are now believed to have been written some 600 years after the alleged author, King David, died. In the New Testament, almost half of which is credited to one man, St. Paul (a charismatic evangelist and an epileptic), many believe that Paul’s letters (13 of which are books of the NT) were written or at least re-written by others. In Galatians, Paul tells us that “man and women are one” in God’s sight, but in I Timothy, which is also credited to him, he urges that they be subservient to men – suggesting a significant change of heart or, more likely, a different editor/author. Regardless, the credit and/or blame should likely be attributed to unknown authors.

Bishop Spong cites Genesis 1:27 to support his view that prejudice and hatred are wrong: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them.” Men, regardless of race, etc., were created equal, and women were not created inferior, and Paul agreed in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for all of you are one in Jesus Christ.” John confirms (4:8), “God is love,” and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (Matt. 5-6) is full of love, turning the other cheek, the Golden Rule, the Lord’s Prayer, forgiving neighbors, etc. The book of Hosea makes love the central meaning of God; Amos urged that the poor should never be allowed to be invisible again; Micah admonished that the Lord requires that we be just and loving and walk humbly with God (6:8). This is the sort of positive message that justifies our endless reading of the Bible and our reliance on it. So, the author concludes, whether we believe in talking serpents, arcs with all the planet’s species on board, virgin births, endless miracles, resurrections, ascensions, etc., or not, is hardly the point; the goodness of the Bible should be observed, but the time has come to uniformly reject the admonitions to violence, cruelty and crime. Such chastising is no longer necessary to maintain order in today’s society. It is time to reform the Bible, expunging its exhortations of violence, and move forward with all of its loving messages.

As mankind has learned not to worship many gods or to sacrifice their young on alters to gods or to worship “graven images” or to accept patently false beliefs (e.g., the earth is the center of our solar system or that the universe is comprised only of our galaxy or that mankind was created 10,000 years or so ago), mankind can surely learn to reject violence, whether it is commanded in The Koran, the Christian Bible, or any other text. Wrong ideas and the wrong words that convey them still remain wrong, and it is time to reject them and move on. It is encouraging to read such rational thinking from a renowned man of the cloth.