John Shelby Spong's "The Sins of Scripture"

John Shelby Spong isn't getting any younger, and his books aren't getting any better, and it's not a lock as to which of those would be easier to reverse. This book is little more than another long sermon in which Spong combines his talent for mixing together poorly documented anecdotal evidence with his poor reading of Biblical texts which he never left behind when he otherwise left fundamentalism. Some comments by section, besides what we've dealt with on this site before...

  • "The Word of God" -- Spong questions as to whether the Bible was printed in small type like a dictionary to encourage people not to read it [7]. Here's a more simple reason: The expense of printing such a large book. Even today Bible pages are much less robust than those of a Danielle Steel novel.

    Spong is also working out his guilt over having been taught that the Bible supported his views as a white male [9]. For one who is beating himself over the head on this, Spong remains ironically without knowing [24] of the growth of Christianity in the Third World as documented by Jenkins.

  • "The Bible and the Environment" -- Publishers Weekly even manages to see this as Spong's weakest chapter, and it is. Spong barely cites Scripture in this one, relying mainly on a creative understanding of Gen. 1:26-8 that he supposes has encouraged us to pollute, but he can find no one who reads the texts in such a way other than one obscure official in an Australian mining operation, and his only other main example is a woman whom he admits suffered from depression. How these prove that the Bible itself encourages the ravishing of the environment and irresponsible stewardship is not explained.

    Otherwise the chapter does not follow its own implications; if Spong is indeed worried about killing animals for meat, we'd like to remind him (as Berke Breathed would) that he is at this very moment massacaring hundreds of thousands of microscopic creatures with his breath, and his own book has likely rendered many forest animals homeless.

    Spong fills the chapter with anecdotes of alleged environmental problems, but he cites no reputable scientific sources for any of his claims, merely a popular work by a non-expert. He deals with opposition to these views by mere accusation of being "self-serving politicians and business leaders" [50]. I can say no more than this, as this is not an area of my expertise, but Spong has clearly made no effort to look into these matters deeply enough to endanger his point of view.

  • "The Bible and Women" -- little new here; let it speak for itself that Spong still hasn't done the sort of research needed to tell him how to properly interpret 1 Cor. 14:34 [102] as Paul answering an opponent, for example, and Spong also still has not learned about ritual purity. He goes on about alleged "male fear" of menstrual blood [95] in the OT law but apparently failed to notice that seminal emissions are also "feared" the same way (that is, it isn't "fear" -- it is ritual purity).

    It is not certain where Spong got his theory that circumcision started as a way for men to imitate menstruation [99] but it is decidedly tragic-comic in outlook. His further idea that the woman who dried Jesus' feet with her hair was committing an "erotic act" and so must have been his wife [105] seems to have been a fact that the social science commentaries missed.

    It is again ironic that Spong, who thinks himself a vanguard against bigotry, takes the bigoted view that Mary Magdalene could only have been following Jesus if she were a wife of a follower or a prostitute [106]; this is simply false, as the Greco-Roman world knew of women perfectly capable of running their own enterprises. Spong's claim that "Magdala" was not a place because it has not been found and is not mentioned in Jewish or Roman records is downright erroneous; it is mentioned several times in the Talmud (see here) so there is no grounds for Spong's esoteric reading of "Magdala" as a nickname.

  • "The Bible and Homosexuality" -- nothing to report we have not seen on this site before.
  • "The Bible and Children" -- Ditto. Spong thinks we are not sinful but rather frightened and insecure [173]. That's rather unrealistic psychology.
  • "The Bible and Anti-Semitism" -- Nothing new here either; Spong is wrongly universalizing his experiences as a child who was taught to "hate Jews" [193].
  • "The Bible and Certainty" -- All I need to ask here is, is Spong certain that certainty is a sin? It speaks for itself as well that Spong still sees the Trinity as invented at Nicea [227] (not so). He also has no conception of Jesus making his strong statements of divinity to his ingroup [234] who would not, contrary to what he thinks, automatically consider him insane.

    And that's all from Spong this time: No scholarship to speak of, no critical exegesis.