The Origins of the New Testament, Part XX: Seeing the Crucifixion as Related Liturgically to the Passover

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 15 April 2010 0 Comments
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Runningwolf213, via the Internet, writes:

It seems to me that the gospels get more "incredible" as they progress because the powers-that-be realized they had to make the story more exotic in order to gain more power and "convince" more people to accept Jesus and therefore, them, as the sole arbiter of their souls which turned them into their sycophants. Of course, the powers were the most educated people and the masses weren't, so they were more vulnerable to superstition. It's amazing that this has carried on into the 21st century, but what is even more amazing is how much of the rest of the world is beginning to respect these beliefs. Americans are tending to believe in it more.


Dear Running Wolf,

I need to separate your issues. To the first, the evidence certainly points to your conclusion. The later the account of the beginnings of Christianity, the more miraculous the details have become. For example, in the writings of Paul (50-64) there are no miracles, no virgin birth and the resurrection is not understood as physical resuscitation. The miracles are added by Mark when the first gospel is written somewhere after 70 and probably before 72. The virgin birth is introduced by the second gospel to be written, Matthew between 82 and 85. The resurrection, understood as physical resuscitation is introduced, or at least strongly emphasized by Luke (88-93) and by John (95-100). These facts are elementary in reputable Christian learning centers, but for a variety of reasons this knowledge has not filtered down to those who sit in the pews of our churches Sunday after Sunday.

On the other issue, I am not sure that America is any different from the rest of the world. The fact is that fundamentalists are louder, but not necessarily stronger. Fundamentalists tend to come from specific pockets of our population like the Bible Belt in America or New South Wales in Australia or in those parts of the world where educational opportunities have been limited and where Christianity was planted by evangelical-fundamentalist missionaries following the flag of colonial conquest.

I believe I can still be a Christian and a citizen of the 21st century. I believe that I can embrace the knowledge revolution that has produced our modern world and still be a disciple of Jesus.

There is a part of Christianity that is willing to seek truth "come from whence it may, cost what it will." I encourage you to look for churches where that commitment is present.

John Shelby Spong



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