The Origins of the New Testament, Part VII: Paul's Early Epistles, I Thessalonians and Galatians

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 3 December 2009 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


Donna Fettig from Omaha, Nebraska, writes:

Do you sometimes relate your evaluation of the Bible as a living, progressing document to the Constitution of the United States?


Dear Donna,

Fundamentalists come in many forms. There are in fact biblical fundamentalists and constitutional fundamentalists. When I hear someone say that potential judges for the Supreme Court are only to be the interpreters of the Constitution rather than "legislating from the bench," it sounds to me very much like a fundamentalist Christian saying that every word of the Bible is the inerrant word of God and therefore must be followed literally.

Both the Constitution and the Bible were written by human beings. None of the authors of either work were all-wise, all-knowing or able to see beyond the limits of their own time and place in history. Did the original Constitution guarantee equal rights of all people? Of course not! It defined black people, for example, as three-fifths of a human being for counting the population to determine the number of seats awarded to each state in the House of Representatives. It had to be amended in 1920 to allow women to vote in presidential elections.

Judges have reversed themselves in such cases as Dred Scott and in effect reinterpreted the Constitution in the process. I support intellectually and emotionally the decisions made by the Supreme Court in both Brown versus the Board of Education in 1954 and in Roe versus Wade in 1973. Yet both decisions were greeted with great animosity and with cries that the justices were making law, not interpreting it. I believe they were simply interpreting it, but in a far more enlightened direction than even its writers could ever have fully understood.

The same thing is true of the Bible. Christians in the 2000-plus year history of the church have time after time set aside the words of a literally understood Bible to overcome the slavery that the Bible was quoted as supporting and to set aside the biblical definition of a woman that suggested that women are the property of men. We are as a society at this very moment setting aside the ignorance and fear found in the Bible about homosexual people.

I treasure both the Bible and the Constitution, but both will always be subject to interpretation in the light of new learning, new realities an new levels of consciousness.

Thank you for your question.

John Shelby Spong



Leave a Reply