Hurricane Katrina and American Priorities

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 7 September 2005 0 Comments
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"How can Christians believe that of Jesus' 46 chromosomes, 23
were contributed by a human and 23 by a non-human? If this
was true and Jesus was unique wouldn't that make all other
religions irrelevant? But "virgin births" are not unique to
Christianity. They are present in many mythologies. Isn't
the Council of Nicea's pronouncement on Jesus' divinity just
a pre-emption to provide security and control? I don't
believe there has been a single human being in the history of
the world that didn't have two human parents, including

Carlyle thought Jesus' father might have been a Roman
soldier. If Jesus were illegitimate, that would go a long
way to explaining his antipathy to his mother (see Mark
3:31-35, Mark 6:1-6, and John 2:1-11). Of course, you never
hear the Catholic Church quoting the passage in Mark in any
of its liturgies where Jesus replies to a question with, "Why
do you call me good? Only God is good (Mark 10:18)."


You raise a series of very good questions. Many Christians,
especially those in academic centers do not believe that of
Jesus' 46 chromosomes, 23 were contributed by a non-human.
If that were true it would mean that Jesus was not fully
human, which is half of the Christ claim traditionally made
by the Church. Virgin births are not unique to Christianity.
That was the traditional way ancient societies explained
their larger than life figures. No, I am quite convinced
Jesus had a human mother and a human father. Please remember
the Pauline claim that "God was in Christ, reconciling" was
written decades before the virgin birth story entered
Christian written history. A virgin birth was not part of
the original Kerygma. It was added to the Christ story in
the ninth decade of the Christian era.

First century people also did not understand genetics or the
reproductive process. These ancient ones, caught as they were
in an assumed patriarchy, did not see the woman as
contributing to birth anything more than her nurturing womb.
So if one wanted to speak of a person's divine origin, one
had only to get rid of the human father. There was no need
to get rid of the human mother, since her only function was
to "nurture the divine seed."

But in 1724, the western world discovered that women have an
egg cell and are, therefore, equal co-creators of every life
that has ever lived. So if you literalize the myth of the
Virgin Birth and pretend you are talking about biology, what
you get is a Jesus with half human and half divine
chromosomes. This would make him neither human nor divine
but a kind of monster or at least something akin to a

I do not know of a reputable New Testament scholar in the
world today, Catholic or Protestant, who treats the birth
stories about Jesus in Matthew and Luke as literal history.
You might find one at Bob Jones University, Liberty Baptist
College or Oral Roberts University. It also appears to be
true that no Roman Catholic scholar will draw the proper
conclusion from his or her scholarship and still be welcomed
at the Vatican. Raymond Brown was the master politician on
this subject prior to his death. The days of treating the
birth narratives as history are simply over in scholarly
circles and I think it is time we said so publicly.

I do not think that seeing the virgin birth as a mythological
and symbolic way of saying we have met in this Jesus a God
presence that human life could never have produced in no way
invalidates the claim we make that God was in Christ. It
does destroy the literalism in which we have bound him but I
regard that as good riddance.

— John Shelby Spong

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Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
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