Reading the Bible through the Lens of Your Desire
by J Warner Wallace
John Shelby Spong (retired American Bishop of the Episcopal Church) recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post, promoting his new book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. Spong made several dramatic claims about the Gospel of John:
1) There is no way that the Fourth Gospel was written by John Zebedee or by any of the disciples of Jesus.
2) There is probably not a single word attributed to Jesus in this book that the Jesus of history actually spoke.
3) Not one of the signs (the Fourth Gospel’s word for miracles) recorded in this book was, in all probability, something that actually happened.
4) Many of the characters who appear in the pages of the Fourth Gospel are literary creations of its author and were never intended to be understood as real people, who actually lived in history.
5) John’s Gospel seems to ridicule anyone who might read this book as a work of literal history.
6) The Gospel also exaggerates its details to counter any attempt to read it literally.
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These are emphatic and theatrical claims. Spong concludes his article with this revealing statement:
The Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. leaned on the Fourth Gospel as literal history in order to formulate the creeds and ultimately to undergird such doctrines as the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity. The texts used to support that creedal development, my studies have led me to affirm, have nothing to do with an external God entering humanity in the person of Jesus, but are rather attempts to describe the experience of the human breaking the boundaries of consciousness and entering into the transformation available inside a sense of a mystical oneness with God. If that is so, then the Fourth Gospel has the potential to become the primary biblical source upon the basis of which Christianity can be changed dramatically to speak with radical freshness to the 21st century. Christianity is not about the divine becoming human so much as it is about the human becoming divine. That is a paradigm shift of the first order.
Spong ends his article with a paragraph that betrays the way he started his investigation. It’s difficult to understand how any plain reading of the New Testament Gospels (any of the Gospels) would lead one to believe “Christianity is not about the divine becoming human so much as it is about the human becoming divine.” But if this is your starting point, it’s possible to twist and distort the history of the text to make a case (even if that case is unreasonable). This is precisely what Spong has done…
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