Sunday, December 1, 2013


Fundamentalist Christians probably hate Bishop John Shelby Spong's Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. But if you have always wondered what the Bible is, who wrote it, how it came to be, how “factual” it might be, this could be the book for you.

Spong is a retired Episcopal Bishop.

Most probably know that the Bible is a library of books covering many literary genres. Some may not know that many of the books had several writers. The Bible's compilers often mixed genres in the same book.

And for some of the books (maybe most), the whole thing was re-edited, changed greatly by later users.

Which prophet could have been most helpful to those in the Holocaust? Spong hazards an informed guess and tells you why.

Which strains of the first five books of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) supported which political parties? Certain writers wrote to support David's Kingdom. Other writers wrote to support the Northern Kingdom. Later writers, Luke, for example, tried to say God loves all. (Second Isaiah is a big one for this. And according to Luke, Second Isaiah powerfully influenced Jesus.)

Why did authors, sometimes writing several hundreds years apart, write on the same scroll?

It is these kinds of questions (and others) Spong tries to answer. Generally he explains carefully how scholars came to their conclusions, and generally, his descriptions are persuasive.

To me, one weakness of the book is that it does little to treat the Bible as a devotional resource. I'd guess Spong would say that is for another day.

It is not that Spong is without controversy (to put it mildly). Along the way he expresses informed opinions about controversial things. He thinks, for example, that the Apostle Paul may have been a repressed homosexual. (I found Spong's argument on this issue inconclusive, maybe even weak.)

To enjoy this book, you probably have to be the kind of person who likes to read strong less-doctrinal facts and opinions and to decide for yourself whether to factor them into your faith. So, if you have always wondered what the Bible is (historically and literally) you might like this book. 


I still find in the words of this book a sense that all life is holy, that all life is loved and that each of us is called to all that we are capable of being. Those are the biblical themes I hope our world never loses.
This creation story was designed, not to inform people about what happened at the dawn of creation, but to make the Jewish observance of the Sabbath the original rule and defining mark of Judaism.
[Speaking for God in the citidals of power] was destined to become the single most important factor that made the Jewish nation different from all other nations in the ancient world.
….the New Testament containing the life of Jesus was understood in combination as a new and transformative expression of the ongoing Jewish story.

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