John Shelby Spong Gives us “The 3 Biggest Biblical Misconceptions”

“The Bible interprets life from its particular perspective; it does not record in a factual way the human journey through history” – John Shelby Spong

So, I was surfing the web this morning and ended up on CNN’s religion blog. There I found something interesting. Interesting because even I, a 17 year old college freshman with no background in theology of Biblical history, could poke it full of holes and and it was on CNN but after doing a quick search, I found that no one had written anything on it and the comments on that page make me want to weep.

So, over the next few days, I will be responding to John Shelby’s “3 Biggest Biblical Misconceptions”. First, I recommend that you read it here and maybe take a look at some of the responses. This post will merely outline the article for easy study and reference. My rebuttals will come in the next few days

His post says there are three common misconceptions about the Bible. He does not attempt to justify the idea that these are common, probably because that is fairly obvious, but he does try to justify the idea that they are misconceptions.

Misconception 1: “people assume the Bible accurately reflects history”. According to Shelby, “That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it”.

Support 1: The stories about Abraham and Moses were circulated orally for hundreds of years before being written down 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… Do stories of heroic figures not grow, experience magnifying tendencies and become surrounded by interpretive mythology as the years roll by?”

Support 2: The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death in a language unspoken by any of his disciples and the evolution of the stories can easily be seen.

Misconception 2: that “the Bible is in any literal sense ‘the word of God.'”

Support: The Bible portrays God as immoral and contains immoral commands and actions.

Misconception 3: “that biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging”

Support: The prophets Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Malachi, etc introduced new concepts and understandings of God and Worship not previously revealed therefore changing the God of Israel from a bloodthirsty, tribal deity to a loving, universal one.

The above summary is my understanding of Shelby’s claims and tries to stay as true to his words as possible but I did write it on an empty stomach so feel free to correct me. His claims look wrong at first blush and even worse the more you think about them. At least, that’s the way it seems to me. What do you think about it?


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I’m Tracy

6 thoughts on “John Shelby Spong Gives us “The 3 Biggest Biblical Misconceptions””

  1. Dear Mr. Ferlans,

    Just wanted to mention that this outstanding theologian is referred to by his last name which is “Spong.” There is no need for you to be embarrassed.

    I have not read all of your post yet, but I will, I promise. Obviously, you are thinking!


    Grace Brame

  2. Mr. Ferlans,

    I am preparing a class at the moment, so I will be brief. I could write a whole chapter in
    response to your comments.

    Spong and Borg are my favorite present-day theologians because they see (as some others do too) that we need to recognize that explanation is built on experience. When explanation is
    built on an earlier explanation, conceived to be without error, we are in trouble. Since theology (which is explanation) is built on experience, it inevitably is a manner of personal
    interpretation. Yes?

    Your comments of support are useful. However, I think we need to recognize (and make it
    clear) that a God of Love has not “developed” or “changed” or “evolved” from a nasty,
    immoral divinity. My understanding is that human understanding saw the Hebrew god as
    a violent, very human god, but that that PERCEPTION changed gradually as human
    sensitivity to the divine grew, especially through the later prophets and, most especially,
    through the advent of Jesus. According to present scholarship, the Hebrew God, usually called Yahweh, committed 1000 recorded violent acts in Hebrew scripture. Yet Jesus, we
    should note, was a radical pacifist.

    Some of this, and much more, is in my latest book: THE CROSS: PAYMENT OR GIFT?,
    published by Charis Enterprises and available through Barnes and Noble and Ingram.

    Thank you for thinking and for caring.

    Dr, Grace Brame
    The Integration of Theology and Spirituality

  3. I would disagree with number 3 and number 2. I can agree with number 1 but if you look at the book of Jonah mentioned in number 3, Spong’s argument completely falls apart. We see a Jew deliberately distorting and misrepresenting God in it. The Jew is reminded that God is not for them only but is a universal God. Which refutes number 2 because it shows that it was the Jews who kept misunderstanding and falling short of God over and over again. Which means the God of the Bible is not bloodthirsty but rather misrepresented by his people.

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