The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt - Part 1

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 16 June 2004 0 Comments
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What do you consider the Bible to be? Is it uniquely inspired by God? Is it different from other literature? Is it authoritative? If it is not all authoritative, how do you determine the parts that are? If the Bible is not divinely inspired, where do moral truths come from? Are moral values eternal and universal for all cultures?


All of your questions are good but each of them reflects a view of the Bible that conservative Christians always try to preserve. I don't believe that view can be preserved.

The Bible was written between 1000 B.C.E. and 135 C.E. It has in it transcendent and inspired insights but it also has in it tribal prejudices, ancient ignorance and a pre-modern worldview. I think it is important not to confuse these negativities with God. God does not endorse slavery or war or the second-class status for women or the execution of gay people. Yet the Bible attributes all of these things to God.

God surely knows better than to think the earth was created in six days or that the earth is the center of the universe or that sickness is a punishment for sin. Yet all of these ideas can be found in the Bible.

The Bible is a human book written by human beings, who were trying to understand who they are and who God is. That is what makes a sacred text. It expresses the human yearning for the divine. It is not itself divine.

I take none of the Bible literally. I take all of it seriously. I study it daily and have done so for sixty years. My hope is that I might help my generation write the next chapter in the sacred story of human life in search of the holy. I read the history of my faith story so that I will profit from the experience of my ancestors in faith.

The attitudes your questions reflect are the attitudes with which I grew up. That was the traditional view of the Bible 200 years ago. However, in 1835 the biblical scholarship that had been stirring in academic circles for some time finally went public in a book by young University of T




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