Part VIII Matthew: What is the Meaning of the Virgin Birth?

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 21 November 2013 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


I have just begun to read your latest book: The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. Before beginning Chapter Two (I took your advice and read carefully the preceding pages) I thought it might be fun, and perhaps of interest to you, to get some ongoing feedback. Obviously, I have not read enough text to object, on the contrary, I am eager to hear what you have to say.

The Fourth Gospel has left more questions than answers for me. My own personal fascination and continued awe of the scriptures as revelations of God for the past 50 years now stands for me as the greatest proof of the reality of the Love of God. God both keeps me thirsty and continually satisfies my thirst. Still! Is that not miraculous in and of itself? I have wondered why “Christians” ignore the Jewish roots of their faith, their God. At one time I studied Kabbalah and personally experienced some of the wonders of that teaching. Christians seem to fear mysticism. Or anything not approved of by whatever denomination they were born into or whatever church they finally settle into that does not require thinking. I literally would eat the letters of the Bible if that were possible. The longer I live the more grateful I am for their Truth. Not the translated and misconstrued doctrinal teachings rampant in church circles but the Truth that has never yielded to humanity’s wishes for a convenient weapon or a doable law. I have studied and read studies of the Bible since I first picked up a Bible at age 20, not to find God, but to read what all the God-fuss was about. I read every single unintelligible word (so not to miss anything, as I never intended to read it again) and somewhere in the book of Deuteronomy, I fell in love with Truth. I am still in love, but I continue to be uncomfortable with John and have all these years failed to find a reason for what is presented as the Gospel of John. Thank you Dr. Pastor Father Bishop John Shelby Spong for loving God and for sharing your passion and your found treasure with the rest of us who are busy doing other things.


Dear Pamela,

Thank you for your letter and for sharing your pilgrimage with me and my readers. My hope is that the Bible, the creeds and church life itself point me beyond each of these human forms to both God and truth. My conviction is that none of these forms can actually capture this truth or embrace it fully. They are all human creations not divine revelations.

Your story reminds me of my own. I started reading the Bible at age 12. I too read it all. One cannot read it all and still believe it is either “the Word of God” in any literal sense, or that it is “inerrant.” Some passages are simply awful. Religious leaders depend on biblical ignorance to keep their authority intact. Even the fact that most Bibles are printed in two columns, like telephone books, dictionaries and encyclopedias sends out a subtle message that this is a book with authoritative answers. The way most churches treat the Bible, elevating it in procession, calling it the “Word of God” makes a critical study of its pages very difficult.

Churches that dare to study the Bible in classrooms where questions are not just allowed, but welcomed, however, are emerging and they are growing. That should tell us something. I hope my book encourages that. In the church I attend a new emphasis has now been placed on adult education and our brilliant rector has launched this congregation into a radically refreshing new study of the Epistle to the Romans, so we have had to deal with Paul’s rather convoluted understanding of human sexuality in chapter one to his very different understanding of both sin and grace in chapters 1-8. I watch pre-modern Sunday school images crumble in the light of this study.

I hope by now you have finished your journey through my book and have discovered that your thirst for truth and God will never be satisfied by human words written in any human source. Words point to truth; they do not capture it.

Live well!

John Shelby Spong




Leave a Reply