The Ambivalent Church

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 9 August 2006 0 Comments
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Recognizing that the Bible consists of many books by

many authors over a 1,000 year period of time, and assuming that

no major additions to the Bible have been attempted since the

King James Version was published 400 years ago or so, and further

noting that a stupendous amount of information about changes in

the secular world, which seem to be accelerating, are now before

us do you think a major addition, such as another "testament" or

"New Testament No. 2" or an authorized supplement to the Bible

(other than modern era re-translations that have been printed

even in the 20th century, and which appear to be entirely

self-serving) is in order? If so, might such an addition help

theologians reduce the irrelevance of their teachings and answer

many of the questions raised by your latest book, "The Sins of


If so, who could write it, who could publish it, and

who could be induced to read it? Who, of all our religious

leaders now in positions of power would be in support of such a

development and could be induced to accept it inasmuch as,

surely, they would see it as a threat to their power? It might

be the only way to make religion relevant again as it once was in

ancient times, in my opinion. What do you think?


Thank you for your letter and your question. Let me

first clarify an issue you raise. The King James Version was a

translation of the Scriptures not an addition to the Scriptures.

It was a very important piece of work that utilized the best

knowledge available to Christians at that time of history. The

study of both language and texts and the discovery of many things

about that biblical period of history have served, however, to

make the scholarship that underlies the King James translation

much less respected in academic circles that it once was.

The other issue you raise is far more important.

That whether or not it was proper to close the Canon of scripture

when the Church did and to suggest thereby that the revelation of

God and God's purposes ended about 135 C.E. when II Peter,

generally regarded as the last book of the New Testament, was


Was there no new insight to come out of Christianity

after it was recognized by Constantine in 313? When Augustine

related Christianity to the thoughts of Plato in the 4th and 5th

centuries, was none of that worthy of being incorporated into the

Canon of Christian scripture? When Thomas Aquinas rethought

Christianity in the 13th century in terms of the thoughts of

Aristotle, was not some part of that work worthy of inclusion?

Were there no voices out of the Reformation that rose to the

level of scripture? When liturgies were shaped in the 13th

century, should not the account of that have been incorporated

into our sacred story? If the book of Acts that chronicled

events in the first century or epistles that addressed issues in

the Church in the first century were thought of as sacred

scripture, why not events and issues that shaped Christianity in

other centuries?

Next there is the issue of the voices that were

excluded from the Bible by our prejudices. No voices of women

are heard in the Bible. Did 50% of the human race never think a

thought or say a word that we might call "The Word of God?" There

are no voices of ethnic minorities. Does the word of God come

only through Middle Eastern males? Should Martin Luther King's

"Letter from a Birmingham Jail" be read as an epistle to the

Church? I consider it a tragedy that the Bible was closed to all

new additions in the early years of the second century, when

Christianity had just begun its journey through history.

There are two ways to remedy this. One is the way

you suggest. We could supplement the Bible with many things.

You have identified some of the problems of this approach. Who

would write it? What would be included? Who would publish it?

Who would read it? Given the divisions in Christianity today, I

cannot see how agreement or consensus would ever be achieved. In

another way, we would simply be lifting other writings into our

version of scripture. This approach would also continue the

present trend to view the Bible as the authoritative Word of God

as the new additions began to be viewed with the same authority

claims that we have applied to the old.

Another way to proceed would be to attack overtly

that biblical idolatry by which people seem to worship the Bible

in general and the New Testament in particular instead of God.

We need to cease investing this book with claims of inerrancy and

recognize the Bible for what it is: a compilation of human

attempts to describe and interpret the meaning found in the

critical moments of our spiritual development, for that is what

the Bible is.

If we de-emphasized the texts of the scriptures so

that those books then became important expressions of a special

time in Christian history but not the inerrant or infallible

'words of God,' then other works could be elevated to stand with

equality beside the books of the Bible in our unfolding faith


I believe that approach has promise.

John Shelby Spong




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