How St. Luke's Church in Tarboro, N. C., Challenged My Racism

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 14 October 2010 0 Comments
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Thank you for your columns. I have been reading them for seven years and have enjoyed every one. I use them for reference in many discussions with other Christians and non–Christians or, as you say, "Church Alumnae." Having just finished a column about New Testament books, a thought occurred to me. Do you or other biblical scholars use any of the writings that were not adopted or canonized as New Testament material to determine the authenticity of those books that were accepted as New Testament material in the 4th or 5th century? I am speaking of the material discovered at Nag Hammadi. When you say that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a reference, could those groups that wrote that material have used for example the Gospel of Judas or the Gospel of Mary? Thank you for your time with this question.


Dear David,

Extensive studies have been made of non–canonical books by many scholars, including members of the Jesus Seminar who, for example, elevated the Gospel of Thomas into the Canon of the New Testament when they published their book, "The Five Gospels" — edited by Robert Funk and Roy Hoover. Professor Elaine Pagels of Princeton University has published a major study of Thomas entitled "Beyond Belief". Professor Karen King of Harvard has written a book on another of the non–canonical gospels, entitled: The Gospel of Mary Magdala.

Most of the material discovered at Nag Hammadi is considered later than the New Testament period and is not used to authenticate events in the life of Jesus so much as to throw light on the early development of Christianity or, as Professor Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina would say, "early Christianities" because there was clearly more than one until what we now call "orthodoxy" finally won out. I think we need to remind ourselves constantly that "orthodoxy" does not necessarily mean it is right, but it does indicate that it won.

Hope this helps.

~John Shelby Spong



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