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The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love Hardcover – April 12, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

In the Sins of Scripture, Bishop John Shelby Spong takes on a thematic exploration of the Bible, carefully analyzing those passages that inform some of our key debates, like the role of women in the church and in society, and homosexuality, to name just two.  Beyond that he also looks at scriptures that have helped shape culture and history -- bringing to light the undercurrent of anti-Semitism he finds in the Gospels, for example.  The journey is particularly compelling because Bishop Spong believes in and values the good the Bible has brought to many through the ages.  His goal is not to define the Bible itself as something to be set aside, but instead to honor and value what he loves about it while still labeling what he dramatically calls "texts of terror" for what they are.

The true joy of the book is found in Spong's vigorous intellect, which he shines bright in an attempt to catch a reflection of the age, culture and circumstances in which the texts he examines were written.  Like an archaeologist working with ideas instead of tools, he removes the rocks, brushes away the sediment and reports on what he finds.  What were the roots and cultural realities behind the Scriptures that define the role of women in the church?  What were the hopes and fears driving the writers who condemned homosexuality in such stark terms?  What is the justification behind scriptures recommending "the rod of correction" (or as Bishop Spong simply labels it: "[t]he physical abuse of children…".)

Whether or not you agree with some of his musings along the way, many of his conclusions are hard to argue with.  Putting aside the issue of divine origin of the Bible, no one can deny passages have been used in service of very human ends.  Finally, the Sins of Scriptures can be seen as a careful observer of what those ends have been.  And when taken on those terms, it makes an interesting read, regardless of one's religious background.--Ed Dobeas

From Publishers Weekly

Spong (Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism), a retired Episcopal bishop and prominent spokesperson for liberal Christianity, focuses this book on "terrible texts" which have been used to justify such "sins" as overbreeding, degradation of the environment, sexism, child abuse and anti-Semitism. These biblical texts, according to Spong, are not the incontrovertible Word of God, but flawed human responses to perceived threats. An incendiary example of this is Spong's assertion that Paul was a closeted gay man whose anti-gay statements were motivated by little more than his own self-loathing. Spong does not stop there; in the course of the book he suggests that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married; that none of the supernatural events described in the Bible took place (including the resurrection); and that theism itself is a misunderstanding of God. Interestingly, readers who do not endorse Spong's radical reinterpretation of Christianity will still find much in this book they can affirm. His explanation of the roots of Christian anti-Semitism is fascinating and much less challenging to orthodoxy than many of his other claims. Unfortunately, Spong leads with his weakest section, which features a variety of poorly constructed arguments claiming, but giving inadequate evidence for, a strong causal relationship between biblical injunctions and both overpopulation and environmental problems. Nonetheless, this absorbing book has much to offer readers of all persuasions.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; First Edition edition (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060762055
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060762056
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #340,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey for twenty-four years before his retirement in 2000. He is one of the leading spokespersons for liberal Christianity and has been featured on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, FOX News Live, and Extra. This book is based on the William Belden Noble lectures Spong delivered at Harvard.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

173 of 192 people found the following review helpful By Jason M. Fitzmaurice on April 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Well the attacks have begun, a series of one star reviews that do not discuss the books content, but just attack Spong gnerally.

I sat and read ths book in one sitting. Like all of Spongs work it is the work of a seeker. Those who accuse Spong of being dogmatic are simply dishonest. Spong is careful to point out the number of things he doesn't know. This was made clear in his appearance on The O'Reilly Facto this Wednesday. He feels the presence of God, he finds God most clearly in Jesus, and he SEEKS to understand this presence. I don't always agree with him. He is pro-choice, I am pro-life. He is an economic liberal, I am an economic conservative. I do not entirely agree with his linking of fundamentalism to anti environmentalism; however, the important thing is that he is seeking the truth. He acknowledges he has not completely found it, he acknowledges that he never may, and as he often says he has no wish to change anyone's conception of God. He doesn't write for the fundamentalist or the theologically conservative. He writes for thos of us who believe, but can't accept what can be disproven, ie. Virin Birth, miracles, etc.

Like many of us he does not need proof to believe, but he does need something not to be disproven to be believed. If you are interested in looking beyond the literal words of scripture -which are often misleading, contradictory or proveably wrong- to the message and experiences behind it Spong is your man, if not.. then fine. If you are comfortable in your faith than neiher he, nor his supporters are seeking to change your mind.

Oh and as for the review pointing out that he does not engage more conservative believers in debate, rubish. He has held several public debates with scholars of other beliefs.
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125 of 139 people found the following review helpful By Jeffery D. Parton on October 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I have read this book and others by Bishop Spong. This is the first review I have written on Amazon but felt compelled to write after reading some of the hateful things that have been said about this book and the insults that have been hurled at Bishop Spong. I am reminded of a quote that was attributed to Gandhi. He said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Bishop Spong seems to be receiving blows from the "fight you" people now.

Several of the reviewers have called the book hate filled and demonic. I could not disagree more. If someone actually reads the book then it becomes evident that most of the one star reviewers probably didn't read the book and that their critiques are more hate filled than anything that the book remotely contains.

That said, I must praise the book. As Spong often points out in his writings, there is no such thing as liberal or conservative Bible scholarship. There is only responsible and irresponsible Bible scholarship. The truth is under neither conservative or liberal ownership. One need only look up the passages mentioned in this book, review the historical context of the period when the scripture was written, and see how the passages were used centuries later in order to soon realize that this book uses responsible Biblical scholarship.

Contrary to what some reviewers say, this book does not degrade the Bible. This book makes one think about the ways that people through the centuries have far too often misused the Bible for acts that are in direct conflict with Jesus' prime directive to love God and love each other.
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198 of 226 people found the following review helpful By Book Lover on April 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I got the following Amazon alert: "As someone who has purchased books by John Shelby Spong, you might like to know that "The Sins of Scripture. . . will be released on April 12, 2005." The attacks on this book started getting posted April 13. Somehow, I doubt that these "moral" "Christians" managed to buy the book of a man they despise instantly on release, and read it and digest it in 24 hours or less. Quite apart from the time frame, I doubt any of these people would pay money for this book, and it isn't available in libraries as I write this. Hmmmmm. I only got my copy at a local store last night. I find the book very thoughtful and careful in its analysis. I can find no heresy or "satanism" in Spong's belief that the Christian way should involve compassion for the poor and suffering in this world. What is there to complain about? The quotes he takes are directly from the Bible--he is not misrepresenting anything.

I suppose we ought to thank these people for being so ludicrously obvious about their close-mindedness and dishonesty. If they hadn't jumped the gun, they might have been more able to successfully pretend that they'd actually read what they are condemning.
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383 of 460 people found the following review helpful By Mark H. Drought on April 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Once again, Bishop Spong has hit the nail on the head. This book follows in the footsteps of his other notable attacks on Christian fundamentalism to show how a literal interpretation of the Bible, removed from the context in which it was written, can do more harm than good.

Bishop Spong touches on many of the areas in which a fundamentalist reading of the Bible has had adverse effects on mankind as a whole, and on the morality of Christianity in particular. From environmentalism to gay rights, women's rights and respect for human life, Spong relentlessly works his way through the Bible, demonstrating how immoral a person would be if he took seriously the brand of ethics that the Bible in its literal words recommends.

Obviously, the Religious Right will attack this book for its perceived "wishy-washy" brand of Christianity, but his logical progression through the absurdities that fundamentalism foists on believers contains sufficient scholarship to withstand such criticisms. Sadly, Bishop Spong is a voice crying out in the wilderness here, as his brand of Compassionate Christianity is running against the tide of the Taliban-style religion that is ever-increasing in popularity in the United States, just as its cousin, Islamic fundamentalism, is gaining ground in the rest of the world.

His attackers are likely to claim that Spong's writings are an assault on Christianity itself, but this book makes it clear that his objections are not with the spirit of Christianity, but rather with the extemists who've hijacked the religion and turned it into something hateful. I'm afraid Bishop Spong's words will likely go unheeded as harsh literalist religion gains ascension here in America, but this book will be a fitting epitaph for a dying breed of Christianity that will be sorely missed in the future.
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