The Sins of Scripture

The Sins of Scripture

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by John Shelby Spong

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In the history of the Western World, the Bible has been a perpetual source of inspiration and guidance for countless Christians. However, this Bible has also left a trail of pain. It is undeniable that the Bible is not always used for good. Sometimes the Bible can seem overtly evil. Sometimes its texts are terrible.

Bishop John Shelby Spong boldly

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In the history of the Western World, the Bible has been a perpetual source of inspiration and guidance for countless Christians. However, this Bible has also left a trail of pain. It is undeniable that the Bible is not always used for good. Sometimes the Bible can seem overtly evil. Sometimes its texts are terrible.

Bishop John Shelby Spong boldly approaches those texts that have been used through history to justify the denigration or persecution of others while carrying with them the implied and imposed authority of the claim that they were the "Word of God." As he exposes and challenges what he calls the "terrible texts of the Bible", laying bare the evil done by these texts in the name of God, he also seeks to redeem these texts, hoping to recover their ultimate depth and purpose. Spong looks specifically at texts used to justify homophobia, anti-Semitism, treating women as second-class humans, corporal punishment, and environmental degradation, but he also delivers a new picture of how Christians can use the Bible today. As Spong battles against the way the Bible has been used throughout history, he provides a new framework, introducing people to a proper way to engage this holy book of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Spong (Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism), a retired Episcopal bishop and prominent spokesperson for liberal Christianity, focuses this book on "terrible texts" which have been used to justify such "sins" as overbreeding, degradation of the environment, sexism, child abuse and anti-Semitism. These biblical texts, according to Spong, are not the incontrovertible Word of God, but flawed human responses to perceived threats. An incendiary example of this is Spong's assertion that Paul was a closeted gay man whose anti-gay statements were motivated by little more than his own self-loathing. Spong does not stop there; in the course of the book he suggests that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married; that none of the supernatural events described in the Bible took place (including the resurrection); and that theism itself is a misunderstanding of God. Interestingly, readers who do not endorse Spong's radical reinterpretation of Christianity will still find much in this book they can affirm. His explanation of the roots of Christian anti-Semitism is fascinating and much less challenging to orthodoxy than many of his other claims. Unfortunately, Spong leads with his weakest section, which features a variety of poorly constructed arguments claiming, but giving inadequate evidence for, a strong causal relationship between biblical injunctions and both overpopulation and environmental problems. Nonetheless, this absorbing book has much to offer readers of all persuasions. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Spirituality and Health magazine
“With prophetic vigor, Spong lays bare the evil done…in the name of God...[and] calls the Christian community to accountability....”
Boston Globe
“A valuable modernist manifesto for progressive readers seeking a response to the conservative theology dominating the news these days.”
New York Times
“This book is long overdue...”

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

The Sins of Scripture

Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
By John Shelby Spong

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 John Shelby Spong
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060762055

Chapter One

Why This Book,
This Theme,
This Author

The Bible is a subject of interpretation: there is no doctrine,
no prophet, no priest, no power, which has not claimed
biblical sanctions for itself.

Paul Tillich

It is a mysterious book, this Bible. It possesses a strange kind of power. It has been the best-selling book in the world every year since printing began. It comes as no surprise to recall that when the Gutenberg press was invented, it was the Bible that first bore the imprint of its metal letters. There is hardly a language or a dialect in the world today into which the words of the Bible have not been translated. Its stories, its words and its phrases have permeated our culture, infiltrating even our subconscious minds. One thinks of motion picture titles that are direct quotations from scripture: Lilies of the Field (Matt. 6:28), a 1968 film that earned Sidney Poitier an Oscar for best actor; Inherit the Wind (Prov. 11:29), the classic film about the Scopes trial set in the Tennessee of 1925 with Spencer Tracy starring as Clarence Darrow and Fredric March as William Jennings Bryan; and Through a Glass Darkly (1 Cor. 13:12), an Ingmar Bergman masterpiece. Beyond these titles there havealso been motion pictures dramatizing biblical epics, frequently in overblown Hollywood style: The Ten Commandments, Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, Barabbas and in more recent days The Passion of the Christ.

Beyond overt references, biblical allusions are constantly used in literature. Without some knowledge of the sacred text, many expressions in our language would be meaningless. John Steinbeck's novel East of Eden comes to mind, along with Exodus by Leon Uris, The Green Pastures by Marc Connelly and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Vicente Blasco Ibanez, which became a motion picture directed by Vincent Minnelli.

The words of the Bible enrich our everyday speech whether we are aware of it or not: "for crying out loud," which refers to Jesus on the cross; "land of Goshen," a reference to that section of Egypt which housed the Jewish slaves; "sour grapes," a phrase which derives from Jeremiah 31:39 that is widely used to explain behavior; and "the olive branch" as a sign of peace, which comes from the story of Noah. Far more than anyone realizes, all of Western life has been deeply shaped by the fact that the content of this Bible has washed over our civilization for more than two thousand years. Biblical concepts are so deeply written into our individual and corporate psyches that even nonbelievers accept them as both inevitable and simply a part of the way life is.

In the history of the Western world, however, this Bible has also left a trail of pain, horror, blood and death that is undeniable. Yet this fact is not often allowed to rise to consciousness. Biblical words have been used not only to kill, but even to justify that killing. This book has been relentlessly employed by those who say they believe it to be God's Word, to oppress others who have been, according to these believers, defined in the "hallowed" pages of this text as somehow subhuman. Quotations from the Bible have been cited to bless the bloodiest of wars. People committed to the Bible have not refrained from using the cruelest forms of torture on those whom they believe to have been revealed as the enemies of God in these "sacred" scriptures. A museum display that premiered in Florence in 1983, and later traveled to the San Diego Museum of Man in 2003, featured the instruments used on heretics by Christians during the Inquisition. They included stretching machines designed literally to pull a person apart, iron collars with spikes to penetrate the throat, and instruments that were used to impale the victims. The Bible has been quoted throughout Western history to justify the violence done to racial minorities, women, Jews and homosexuals. It might be difficult for some Christians to understand, but it is not difficult to document the terror enacted by believers in the name of the Bible.

How is it possible, we must ultimately wonder, that this book, which is almost universally revered in Western religious circles, could also be the source of so much evil? Can that use of the Bible be turned around and brought to an end? Can the Bible once again be viewed as a source -- even an ultimate source -- of life? Or is it too late and the Bible too stained? Those are the themes I will seek to address in this volume.

My qualifications for telling this story are twofold: first, I have had a lifetime love affair with this Bible; and second, I am a church insider, who yearns to see the church become what it was meant to be. I will not give up on the Bible or the church easily, but I will insist that the Bible be looked at honestly in the light of the best scholarship available and that the church consciously own its historical destructiveness.

I do not know exactly when my love affair with the Bible began. Perhaps its first seeds were planted when I was a child and began to notice that the family Bible was displayed prominently on the coffee table in our modest living room. I do not recall my parents ever reading it, but there was no question that it was revered. I did see it used to record the family's history in a special section that bore titles like "Births," "Deaths" and "Marriages." Nothing was ever to be placed on top of that holy volume -- not another book, not a glass or a bottle, not even a piece of mail. This sanctified book could brook no cover, nor could it be seen as secondary in any way to any other entity ...


Excerpted from The Sins of Scripture by John Shelby Spong Copyright © 2006 by John Shelby Spong. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

John Shelby Spong, the Episcopal Bishop of Newark before his retirement in 2000, has been a visiting lecturer at Harvard and at more than 500 other universities all over the world. His books, which have sold well over a million copies, include Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy; The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic; Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World; Eternal Life: A New Vision; Jesus for the Non-Religious, The Sins of Scripture, Resurrection: Myth or Reality?; Why Christianity Must Change or Die; and his autobiography, Here I Stand. He writes a weekly column on the web that reaches thousands of people all over the world. To join his online audience, go to He lives with his wife, Christine, in New Jersey.

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