The Sins of Scripture

The Sins of Scripture

3.6 22
by John Shelby Spong

View All Available Formats & Editions

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

…  See more details below


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.

Read More

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...”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
884 KB

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.

Read More

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 The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic; Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World; Eternal Life: A New Vision; 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.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
TrueStories More than 1 year ago
This book gives an in depth look into the story of the Bible and questions its integrity. The story is known to be incomplete and ocasionally contradictory. Filling in the incomplete story and exposing the contradictory story elements is the mission of this book. John Shelby is a Christian scholar and has put the time and effort into looking into this story with a critical eye toward spin control. There are modern relidious groups that are seen as "defenders of the faith" who seek to prevent critical thinking and the personal freedom to question religious dogma. If you wish to know the answers to the questions of what was missing in the stories in the Bible and how do we reconsile the state of faith with our knowledge of what is written then get this book. The author is clearly skeptical that the Bible was written with devine gudance from its rather diverse origens, internal political issues, and clear attempts to rewrite elements of the true story and cover up the truth. We have all encountered the closed mindededness of church officials and lay people seeking to limit our knowledge and confine our faith to match theirs. If you are comfortable having your options limited by the decisions of others and you don't want to know more, then don't read this book. Otherwise, enjoy the depth of Spong's studies and the insightful appreciations that he has written into this naritive. The history of the Christian church to dimish the value of the faith of outsiders, to create divisions and excommunicate their own people as heretics, and to revile others as hated even unto those that espouse their own origins as Jews is well documented. The debate over the issue in the Catholic church over pedophile preists is just a current debate over who is actually favored by the church and who is the despised minority. It is painfully clear that these ancient attitudes of sinful religious divisiveness continue even today. If we wish to eliminate the seductiveness of these sins from our future, we will have to learn to think clearly and with full knowledge of the situation. We will also have to continue to question rigid beliefs and to keep those beliefs that pass the test of time. I can assure you that God does not suffer from an insecurity complex and he will be happy to forgive you and keep his word to mankind in doing so. So, here lies more truth and some supposition about how the Bible was written. And a good deal of real world insight into troubling parts of the Bible. This is a very thoughtful read and should satisfy those of you who are thinkers about the derivations of the Bible without comitting yourself to reading the original in Greek.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a liberal in my Christian religious beliefs. I know there must be millions of people like me who are drifting away from the Christian church! For 30+ years I've been searching for 'like-minded' religious thinkers and questioners. Bishop Spong answers so many of my questions with reasoned, biblical-based explanations. I am amazed by the scope of his knowledge...of the Bible, of biblical history, of biblical languages, of archaeology, of other religions, etc. His chapters on Anti-Semitism were especially enlightening! I am eagerly awaiting his next book! With insights gained from reading the works of such writers as Bishop Spong and Marcus Borg, I can attend church services with an open heart AND an open mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was encouraged to consider scripture differently- this is good
zaotrav More than 1 year ago
This book is not for light of heart Christian. It will truly contest anything you have though whether you believe or do not believe in Christianity or Christ. There is so much validity, but it is also coupled with some areas for concern. John certainly puts his spin on it, but I would hope we can reform Christianity with more open minded, liberal, Democratic Christians alike. God bless this book. It is beautiful although challenging.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Sins of Scripture is the third book by Spong that I've read. The themes he covers are much the same: that the bible isn't the infallible Word of God that theism, where God is understood as a person-like being who interacts with the world, is no longer believable that we should focus on this life, instead of the life hereafter, becasue God isn't the kind of God who literally raises people from the dead and that the true test of a religion is its ability to engender love in a person's life. The bible, as Spong shows, is a cultural artifact written by humans at a paticular time and place they didn't know everything about the world and thus couldn't make 'absolute' truth statements for all time and space. The Jews held certain assumptions about the world and the human person that, in turn, shaped their theology and ethics. But we don't live in that first-century world anymore. If we take the bible literally--with its culturally conditioned ethical and theological pronouncements--we end up with a lot of absurdities, even immoral behavior. Since the world can no longer wear those old Christian clothes, Spong offers an alternative theism that he thinks is a better 'fit' for the world. Bishop Spong is a good man and a good theologian. I've met the bishop, even had dinner with him at Boston University. We talked for an hour, and even though our faith journeys have taken different routes, I still admire his honesty to say things that many Christians don't want to hear but that will eventually make the world a place that God wants it to be.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a breath of fresh air for those who want to keep Christianity as a viable religion into the 21st century. The author shows how morality evolved through the Bible and explains how and why the 'terrible texts of the Bible' are used to promote homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, and a multitude of other evils. Only by recognizing that these text exist in the Bible and coming to terms with the fact that they do not represent the unerring word of an unchaning God, but rather the efforts of a people growing over time, can we hope to find truths relevant to today's world in scripture. This is an excellent discussion of the Bible for Christians and non-Christians alike, but required reading for all believers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read three books by Bishop Spong. He tackles questions that many people are not willing to tackle. The Sins of Scripture shows that the Bible isn't the Word of God in any literal sense (as thought by Fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals). If this is true, then Christian doctrine and ethics will change. Many greet this with dismay, others with joy. Still, the conversation must happen--we've learned too much about the bible and the world and thus are unable to hold a literalist view of the bible, which often results in immoral behavior, both to other humans and the environment. The issue of biblical authority is a complex issue and must be dealt with patiently and seriously. This is a fine book and will add much to the ongoing conversation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This fascinating look at the abuse of the bible is well worth the price af admission. I feel the author makes a compelling counter argument to the hypocrites who have hijacked 'faith' and the good wishes of a lot of sincere people and twisted it to a dogmatic, bigoted end. I'm sure I'm sure Bishop Spong will be ignored or shouted down by the theocracy that has the bully pulpit
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book brings to 'light' everything I have felt about conventional religions, and the heterosexual societies, since the young age of five. Find out the true meaning of Jesus and set yourself free from all that GULIT that is spoken as The Word Of God. One God,One Love,One Race! John Shelby Spong... may the God continue to guide you on your journey surrounded with love and in good health. Light,love, and blessings, Melinda
revlb More than 1 year ago
Another enlightening book an a brilliant theologian working hard to keep Christianity relevant in today's world. So many prejudices continue to plague our daily lives due to absolute  authority of the literal belief in and reading of scripture. Thankfully theoloians such as Spong continue to educate laity and clergy alike with writings such as this. As a minister myself I find so much in these pages to help me address common attitudes and beliefs among my congregatin. However if I told them some of my information came from Spong their own prejudice against a liberal theologian would prevent their hearing. Thank you Dr. Spong for annonymously helping me offer information that might open minds and hearts to let a little more of God's love shine in the darkness. For those who choose not to read Spong's books and review them with 1 star because he is a liberal theologian, please try reading one first. God is bigger than the Bible you so fiercely believe you must defend and God might help you find something  within its pages to illuminate your faith while taking nothing important away. The Bible is not God and must not be worshiped as such. In these pages Spong has again helped me that God is more than all the words that have ever been written. Yet is words, as do those of beloved scripture, can give us glimpses of the Divine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In "The Sins of Scripture," Bishop Spong looks at Biblical passages that have been variously interpreted over the past two thousand years. Among the passages Spong covers are original sin, homosexuality, Christian exclusivism, and so on. Spong tries to show that these scriptures were written during a cultural epoch vastly different from our own and that as citizens of the twenty-first century, it's impossible to take these scriptures literally; to do so will invite disaster not only for men and women (especially women) but also for the earth. This book will be welcomed by those Christians who feel isolated from the faith and who are looking for a fresh way to understand the Bible in today's world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With great wisdom Bishop Spong continues to bring us intriguing insight into the Bible.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I did not quite get the point of this book. For saying that the bible is twisted and used wrongly today there sure is a lot of hypocracy seen here. There is truth and there is twisting the truth to fit an agenda. Some people dont like that they are wrong about the things that they do, but that doesnt give them the right to take the Bible, the Holy Word of God, and distort it. Sorry but this was a painful read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book ignores everything in scripture in order to validate the personal opinions of the author. It is a horrible book to give to anyone who takes the Lord seriously!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book better left on the shelf. Those wishing to know more about the Bible would do well to simply read it. If for no other reason, than to know that what the Bible says is 'One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bishop Spong's writings continue to substatiate the liberal agenda of the American Episcopal Church that has kept both him an his successor Bishop Griswold in the headlines. His new translations of the bible and it's intended message don't come close to most all modern scripture translators version of the intentions of the original writers. He speaks only for the Liberal portion of Episcopalians and definitely forgets the uproar of recent months that contradict his views and puts him at odds with Orthodox Episcopalians and the Anglican Communion. He is definitely outnumbered by the conservative views of most all Anglicans
Guest More than 1 year ago
I gave this book 1 star only because I didn't have the choice to give it a 0. A better score would be -100. Why do people insist on trying to re-create God? These 'liberal Christians' (I do believe that's an oxymoron) seem set on discrediting the Word of God because it doesn't agree with the way they want to live. I don't think the Creator of the universe is going to change His view of His creation just because it doesn't fit in with your whims. What part of '...the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.' don't you understand? It's odd, too, that Mr. Spong did whatever it took to attain the title of 'Bishop' and now turns on the very same belief system. Isn't that like someone who goes to college, earns a PhD, then starts doing everything in his power to discredit the school and his course of study? Wait a minute....he didn't help write 'The DaVinci Code' did he? Anyway, I'll be praying for you Bishop Sprong and for all those who believe the same, misguided way that you do. Remember Romans 12:2 - 'Do not be conformed to this world...' May the Holy Father of us all show you the way to Jesus: the way, the truth and the light.