Part XVIII Matthew - Matthew's Flashback to John the Baptist

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 3 April 2014 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


I have been listening to you for some time and enjoy you greatly. I just found a message of yours at a church in Florida that I haven’t heard so I thought I would give it a listen. And, once again, you start by saying how it’s wrong to think “God hated Egyptians.” I don’t have issues with your views, as I said, I listen often. But this one thing you harp on irritates me. If any people (not to mention a people “God loves”) were held against their will and suffering then why is it wrong for God to care? If it were blacks as it was and God smote America for the torture and captivity of Africans, would we say, “Oh, those poor slave owners?” Of course not.

Exodus isn’t about a people God loves versus a random people God hates. It’s about oppression, slavery and God’s justice, which in this case is mercy for an oppressed people. Why do you perpetually misrepresent this passage? Again, I’m not against you. In fact, I enjoy you very much. But if Exodus means anything at all, it’s not that God hates Egyptians and so, we can assume, God hates Egyptians now or any other people. The story isn’t about God hating anyone. But if I were held captive, I would want to know that God has seen the oppression of his people. I get the concept of “a tribal God” believe me, I get it. But this “poor Egyptian” point you make totally misses the point.


Dear David,

Thank you for your letter. I am sorry you experience “irritation” at my understanding of the biblical portrait of God’s dealing with the Egyptians as described in the book of Exodus. I suggest that you might want to read that Exodus account a bit more carefully. This is tribal literature – not the word of God.

First, the idea of a chosen people is bizarre. It assumes a tribal definition of God not a universal understanding. If you read the Torah carefully, you will discover that the Jews are not forbidden to own slaves, they are only forbidden to enslave fellow Jews. “You are to take your slaves from neighboring countries,” the Torah states. Second, if you read the Exodus narrative carefully, you will discover that several times during the reign of terror, that we benignly call “the plagues,” the Pharaoh is portrayed as coming to Moses with the willingness to let the Hebrew people go free if Moses will only ask God to stop the plagues. Moses agrees. Then the Bible says “God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart,” so that God could pound the Egyptians with further plagues. The final plague is God “murdering” the first born male in every Egyptian household. That is hardly the activity of a deity who is only concerned with stopping the oppression of the chosen people.

Of course, slavery and oppression are wrong. So is divine indiscriminate punishment and divine murder. The Bible does in fact portray God’s disdain not just for the Egyptians, but for Ammonites (remember God stopped the sun to give Joshua more daylight in which to slaughter more Ammonites) and the Amalekites. In I Samuel the prophet urges King Saul to go to war against Amalek and to conduct genocide against the Amalekites.

Through the ages, Christians have justified in God’s name their own prejudices against people of color, against women, against left-handed people, against homosexuals. Please separate the reality of God from the human portrait of God which fills the Bible. They are not the same.

My best,

John Shelby Spong




Leave a Reply