Debating a Fundamentalist in Orlando

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 22 November 2006 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


Thank you for inspiring me to think! Your message is very

relevant to the teens I teach.

You mention that Jesus did not die for our sins (I agree). My

teens believe that Jesus died for the resurrection to happen. What are your



I am not sure that anyone can say why Jesus died. The fact is

that he did and it appears to have been violent. It left his disciples with

many questions about the meaning of both his life and his death.

In seeking to answer these questions, the formation of Christian

doctrines began; Paul started us on the track of saying Jesus "died for our

sins in accordance with the Scriptures.' Mark built on that idea by

referring to Jesus' death as a "ransom."

Behind both of these understandings was the Jewish Day of

Atonement (Yom Kippur) when a lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the

people, to ransom them from the punishment that their sins required. It

probably made sense in that Jewish world for it expressed the human yearning

to be at one with God and to face liturgically that deep sense of human

alienation. When Christianity left its Jewish world, those ideas got

understood in terms of a legal contract and God became an ogre who demanded

a human sacrifice and a blood offering. Jesus became the victim of an

abusive heavenly father and you and I became burdened with the guilt of

having been responsible for his death. Jesus died for my sins became the

mantra of Evangelical Christianity and the Mass as a re-enactment of Jesus'

sacrifice on the cross became the center of Catholic liturgy. Part of what

is going on in Christianity today is that these literalized concepts have

reached a point of revulsion.

It is also not quite right to say that Jesus died for the

Resurrection to happen. That is also to ascribe literal purpose to an event

of history. At the very least, the Resurrection became the lens through

which the death of Jesus became to be understood.

The meaning of the Resurrection is in my opinion far more than

just that, but that is clearly a part of it. I discuss the resurrection of

Jesus in great detail in my book "Resurrection: Myth or Reality."

Unfortunately, in a question and answer format, I cannot do more than point

you to that source.

Thank you for your letter.

John Shelby Spong




Leave a Reply