Discussing Biblical Theology on CBS Television

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 2 May 2007 0 Comments
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Thank you so much for your series on the rise of fundamental

Christianity. I particularly enjoyed the essay that described the Five

Fundamentals and the one on the First Fundamental - the inerrancy of the

Bible. I have wondered whether the Bible itself ever claims to be the

inerrant word of God. I recognize the difficulty of this question, since

the Bible itself is a hodgepodge of many books that have been bundled

together over the ages. What I have found, however, is that discussing

biblical scholarship with fundamentalists usually gets me precisely nowhere.

They are unwilling to recognize that Moses could not have written the Torah,

or that the gospels were written years after Jesus' death. They continue to

believe that the books of the Bible arose more or less intact in that

particular order and mystically assembled themselves into a unit. They

insist that the obvious contradictions or factual errors are just our

misunderstanding of "the Word." They propose that the "texts of terror"

have been misinterpreted to justify the social evils of slavery, racism, and

sexism, or - worse - fundamentalists continue to quietly believe that these

social evils are indeed ordained by God! So, I want to take the argument

back into their court. I want to challenge the fundamentalists to prove to

me, via the Bible, that the Bible actually claims to be the inerrant word of

God. If the Bible itself doesn't claim it, why do they believe such an

outlandish claim? And my question to you is: does the Bible anywhere make

this claim?


The immediate and short answer is no, though fundamentalists

will quote various texts (like II Timothy 3:16) to prove it does. The

problem with that text is that when it was written there was no such thing

as the Bible as we now know it. The New Testament had not yet come into

being. The fact is that even to ask the question the way you did makes a

presupposition that is quite fundamentalist and thus plays right into the

hands of this absurdity - for even if a particular book of the Bible were to

contain that claim, the author of that book would have had no idea that his

work would someday be included in a book called the Bible. The various

texts that together we Christians now call the Bible were written over more

than a thousand years between about 1000 BCE and 135 CE. It was not a

single book by a single author but rather 66 separate books (and even more

if we count the Apocrypha), written by a variety of authors. None of these

authors believed that someday their words would be invested with either

holiness or inerrancy. When the authors of the books that we now call the

New Testament referred to scripture (Matt 12:10, 15:2,3, Luke 4:21, 22:27

and John 2:22, 7:38, 3:42, 10:35, 12:18, 17:12, 19:24, 19:28, 19:36-37,

20:9, and even the author of II Timothy to which I referred to earlier),

they are referring only to the Hebrew Scriptures, since at that time there

was no New Testament.

It is noteworthy that when the author of II Timothy wrote

that all "scripture is given by inspiration of God," he was referring to the

Old Testament since again, at that time, there was no such thing as the New


So the claim that the Bible is the inerrant word of God is

itself a non-scriptural term and indeed was imposed on the texts of the

Bible at a much later time to meet the need of church leaders to have an

ally in their struggles to clarify their authority. If the "Word of God"

agrees with me then clearly my position is the correct one. There arose

from that corruption of both truth and rationality the incredible number of

abuses about which I have spoken so often in this column from

biblically-endorsed racism, sexism and homophobia to biblically-endorsed

war, persecution, and torture. Hope this clarifies your concern.

John Shelby Spong




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