The Birth of Jesus, Part XI. Matthew Weaves Together Proof Texts from Isaiah, Micah, Hosea and from an Unknown Source

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 11 April 2013 0 Comments
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Let me begin by saying I have a great respect and admiration for you. I have watched some of your debates, listened to your lectures and read some of your books. I can hear the voice of Christ in you. As a result, I know that I have come to a better understanding of the love of God, growing in truth, wisdom and joy.

However, I have a question with a few strands that I hope you can shine some light on as it is very perplexing to me.

I was re-reading the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis and observed that it appears that it was not the serpent that lied but God. I think if one is truthful and not blinded by tradition, that what the story says is the opposite of what tradition holds. In the mythical story, God creates Adam and Eve and tells them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because, “in that day thou shall surely die for God doth know in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil: (Genesis 3:4-5). My question is who is lying? God or the serpent? I have fasted and prayed abut this and I keep getting the same answer. The liar here is God. He even admits that the serpent is right when he confirms, “Behold, the humans have become as one of us, to know good and evil.” The promise of the serpent is therefore true. My question is how can this be and why? We are told God cannot lie, but scripture has shown this to be false. What is the story trying to tell us? Has it anything to do with the sins of Yahweh? It sure seems as if there is some sort of savage and evil God in the Old Testament and a gentle loving God in the New Testament.

I know this is controversial big time, but you are not new to controversy and won’t I hope sidestep my questions. Therefore I look forward to your early reply soon.



Dear Robert,

Thank you for your letter and for your affirming comments. My mother may actually believe what you say is literally true!

The issue you raise is not, as you suggest, “controversial big time” and I have never heard of any biblical scholars spending time on this subject.

What you are reading in the second chapter of Genesis is not the revealed word of God in which every phrase must be searched for meaning. You are reading a 10th century BCE folk tale designed to help human beings make sense out of the fact of evil. No conversation between Eve and the serpent ever took place because neither Eve as the presumed first woman, nor the serpent, which apparently walked on two feet and spoke perfect Hebrew, ever existed. The dialogue in that story is the dialogue that the original story teller employed. The serpent, as the tempter, was employing its understanding of God to buttress its argument. These are not God’s words, but a story teller’s words, so it matters little who is lying. The serpent is making God say what the serpent wants God to say in order to achieve its purpose. People do that all the time. That is how slavery, segregation, the diminution of women, the oppression of homosexuals, religious wars and religious persecution are developed. People quote God or God’s “Word” (the Bible) to place God on the side of a variety of issues.

So break the literal hold the Bible has on you and begin to study the scriptures for what they are--tribal tales through which people seek the meaning of God.

John Shelby Spong




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