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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Biblical Literalism as Heresy


Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy
 A Journey into a New Christianity 
Through
 the Doorway of Matthew's Gospel


Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

John Shelby Spong retired as Episcopal Bishop of Newark NJ in 2000. He is a strong voice for Progressive Christians.

In Biblical Literalism, Spong offers an easy to read commentary on Matthew's Gospel that reveals the Jewish roots of the stories, which are presented in the context of the Jewish calendar.

Spong opines that Christians who read the bible in a literal or near literal fashion and ignore Jewish culture cannot understand the gospel, which was written by a Jewish man for a Jewish audience decades after Jesus' ministry.

Spong reminds (or informs) readers that the story of Jesus in the New Testament begin with the early letters of Paul. Years later, we get Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. Paul's story of Jesus is limited and what he leaves out is significant. Mark's story comes much later and leaves out much added later by the other authors. But Matthew stands out to Spong as it appears to follow an order matching the reading of scripture in the synagogue.  People like Moses and Elijah figure prominently in Jewish life, in Matthew's gospel, and in Spong's understanding of Jesus. For example, Jesus' Red Sea experience occurs during his baptism and his shining moment, like that of Moses's meeting with God, occurs at the transfiguration.

If you read Biblical Literalism, I suggest creating a list of the Jewish holy days to track Spong's analysis of the gospel.

At times, Spong seems harsh in his reminder of the problem with fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible, including this gospel. Perhaps that is understandable in light of the attacks he has experienced from those who continue to read these texts in a literal way.

It is no secret that Christians are leaving the church. And that many youth consider believers "unChristian." This book may be a way for ex-Christians to find their way back to a meaningful understanding of faith. Spong's Biblical Literalism may also appeal to those whose intelligence rebels against the simplistic biblical quips reinforcing someone's view of what the Bible says.

I would hesitate to recommend Biblical Literalism to fundamentalist and conservative evangelical friends because I hypothesize it would evoke anger and defensive maneuvers, but then again, the gospel has always been divisive.

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