Resurrection: A Reality or A Pious Dream, Part VII: Matthew Interprets and Expands Mark

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 11 June 2015 0 Comments
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Do you believe in the Prophesies of the Old Testament? Do you believe in prophecies in general? Do you believe in the Second Coming of Christ? Without prophecy, Jesus of Nazareth isn’t Christ but is a philosopher who believes in poverty, generosity, humility, forgiveness and nonviolence. He definitely isn’t the violent, racist and egocentric Jehovah. He definitely isn’t the leader or the instigator of the Apocalypse. Why is it so important to you to preserve the concept of “Christian” while the substance has evaporated from it?



Dear David,

I know of no way to say this gently so forgive me if my answer offends you. My answer to your questions is No! No! No!

I love the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, but they cannot be read as ecclesiastical Jeane Dixons. I regard that as an uninformed and unlearned perspective. The idea that the prophets foretold things that were then acted out or fulfilled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth is nothing but an expression of profound ignorance. The fact is that the gospel writers framed their memory of Jesus in terms of the messianic expectations present in Jewish history. The gospels were deliberately written with the books of the prophets open and at hand, so that the gospel writers could portray Jesus as the “fulfillment of the prophets.”

When Mark wrote the first narrative of the crucifixion, for example, he had Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 in front of him so he could create an interpretation of Jesus based on the Hebrew Scriptures. It was not until we get to John’s gospel in the 10th decade that the legs of Jesus are said not to be broken so that Jesus could continue to be thought of as either the New Passover Lamb or the New Lamb of Yom Kippur and thus “fulfill” the scriptures. The story of the soldier thrusting a spear into the side of Jesus was written by the author of the Fourth Gospel so that he could portray the scriptures as being fulfilled. Zechariah (12:10) had written that “they will look on him whom they have pierced.” Your statement that “without prophesy, Jesus is a philosopher,” reveals little knowledge of either Jesus or of the Hebrew scriptures. That is not what the prophets are about.

The Second Coming was an early Christian interpretation based on the fact that the crucifixion and resurrection did not bring about the Kingdom of God. When John writes, he clearly sees the coming of the Holy Spirit as the second coming of Christ.

I do not want to remove the content of Christianity, but I do want to counter the literalized and therefore distorted aspects of that content, for that is what, I believe, is today causing the decline and death of Christianity. Only when these literalized aspects of the Christian story are removed can the essence of Christianity live in the 21st century. Jesus reveals the God of life, calling us to live, the God of love freeing us to love and the Ground of Being giving us the courage to be all that we can be. That is what Christianity is about.

John Shelby Spong




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