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Biblical Misconceptions?

I came across a CNN Belief Blog op-ed piece entitled “My Take: The 3 Biggest Biblical Misconceptions” by former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, John Shelby Spong. In it he purports three misconceptions  people have about the Bible that make it hard to understand.

First, he contends “people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it.” One reason Spong offers for this assertion is a liberal presupposition that the Gospels were written late, between AD 70–90, making them subject to mythological corruption. The fact, however, that the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament make no mention of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy concerning of the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in AD 70is one of several compelling reasons for dating the entire New Testament prior to AD 70. Moreover, even if we were to grant the liberal dating, there still would be no justification for worrying over the accuracy of the New Testament given the remarkable reliability of the oral culture within which the New Testament was produced to transmit history and teaching accurately.

The second misconception, according to Spong, is “the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense ‘the word of God,’ ” which he bases upon the apparent evil of Yahweh ordering the “genocide” of nations, and a fundamental misunderstanding of Old Testament imprecatory psalms.

Finally, Spong suggests people are under the misconception that “biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging,” which he bases upon the apparent difference between the “tribal deity” in Exodus who orders the death of every firstborn male and the God who commands people to love their enemy. The God of the Bible, however, does not change; rather, He progressively reveals different aspects of Himself in biblical history. He is both just, sending wrath upon sinful Egyptians for their mistreatment of others, but also merciful in teaching His people to love their neighbor.  

Is there any basis for Spong’s assertions? None at all. He is, as Hank Hanegraaff puts it, a “fundamentalist on the left.” Hank addresses and refutes Spong’s claims in his recent book, Has God Spoken: Memorable Proofs of the Bible’s Divine Inspiration (Thomas Nelson, 2011).

— Warren Nozaki

For further refutation of Spong’s claims,  see the following resources:

Is The Bible Myth?

Killing the Canaanites: A Response to the New Atheism’s “Divine Genocide” Claims

Was Revelation Written Before or After the Destruction of the Temple in AD 70?

Moses: The Author of the Pentateuch

How Do We Know That The Bible Is The Word Of God?

Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels

Facts for Skeptics of the New Testament

Does Homosexuality Demonstrate that the Bible is Antiquated and Irrelevant?

When Literal Interpretations Don’t Hold Water

Hateful Vindictive Psalms?

We also recommend the following bookstore resources:

Has God Spoken

Is God a Moral Monster?

The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ