From the “Speaking Truth in Love 2017” conference, Dr. Phil Fernandes first defines and then refutes the “Jesus Myth” hypothesis. He shows how both skeptics and believers who understand the world of the first century find the idea of a real, historical Jesus the best explanation of the available evidence. In addition, Dr. Fernandes examines some of the theories used by popular level proponents of the Jesus myth hypothesis.
Papers and articles on apologetic topics by staff and friends of the Institute.
Recorded on April 20, 2017
First hour of the show today Kerby speaks with Dr. Phil Fernandes, senior pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship and president of the Institute of Biblical Defense. Frenandes will be speaking about The Jesus Myth Hypothesis.
In an age of uncertainty, can we still have confidence in the Jesus found in the Bible? Can we trust the New Testament text we have today? How do we know that Jesus of Nazareth was not just another myth or legend? Why aren’t the Gnostic writings in the New Testament? Why were they left out of the New Testament canon? Dr. Fernandes will respond to these recent arguments against the true Jesus of the Bible.
Streamed live on May 23, 2017
One of the arguments which those who reject the Christian faith use is the claim that Jesus never even really existed. Join us on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 from 7:30 – 8:30 PM CST as we look at the question “Did Jesus Really Exist” with Dr. Phil Fernandes
The Civil War
After decades of peace and prosperity, a battle began brewing between the two sons of Salome Alexandra, Queen of the Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom. Both Hycranus II and Aristobulus II claimed they were the rightful heir to the Jewish throne. Without outside interference, it was almost inevitable that this political schism would end in civil war. Such an internal war threatened to divide the Kingdom of Israel, undoing all the work accomplished by Judas Maccabee some 100 years earlier.
Officials in Rome saw a potential civil war as a direct threat to their partial control of the area. In response, Pompey the Great, the Roman general appointed to the area, sent spies to keep an eye on the kingdom. Seeing Rome as the deciding factor in the struggle for power, both brothers appeared at Pompey’s table pleading for his military support. In the end, it was Hycranus II who won the support of Pompey.
In 63 BC, (when Herod was 10 years old) Pompey and his Roman armies laid siege of Jerusalem. Both Antipater and Hycranus the High Priest supported the Roman take over of Jerusalem. Aristobulus II tried to hold out against Pompey in Jerusalem, but ultimately was captured and sent to Rome. He was later executed by Mark Antony at the request of Herod the Great. Hycranus II, Aristolbulus’ brother, continued on as the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Herod’s Family Seeks Power
It was into this that Herod the Great was born in 73 BC. He was the son of Antipater the Idumaean. Their family came originally from the area of Idumea just south of Judea. Although it had been an area populated by pagans, it had been converted to Judaism by force by Judas Maccabee during the Jewish revolt against the Greek Kingdom. This meant that the Herod’s were known, and even derided, as being half Jewish and half Edomite. And the Jews were no friends to non Jewish rulers.
This helps explain why Herod was so nervous about revolutionaries, but in order to truly understand why Herod would order the death of all the baby boys in Bethlehem, it is important to know about his father, Antipater, and how Herod followed in his father’s footsteps.
First, it is important to know that Antipater was power hungry. He saw Rome’s power grab in the middle east as a chance for him to gain political control of Judea. So Antipater and his family spent years developing a comfortable political relationship with the Romans.
By the time Hyranus II became high priest, Antipater already had a long track record of supporting Julius Caesar in his bid to gain political power in Rome. For example, during Julius Caesar’s campaign in Alexandria, Egypt, Antipater sent Caesar military assistance. Julius Caesar repaid Antipater’s ongoing support by appointing him Procurator of Judea. Caesar also declared that Hycranus II and his family would be High Priests over the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Herod Become Governor of Galilee
In 47 BC, as Procurator of Judea, Antipater appointed Herod Governor of Galilee and Herod’s elder brother, Phasael, Governor of Jerusalem. Both were backed by Rome and each set about consolidating their power in their own way.
Herod wasted no time, and in that same year he put down a Jewish resistance movement led by a rebel named Hezekiah. When finally captured, Hezekiah was dealt with the Roman way: He was summarily executed. This action immediately brought down the anger of the Jewish High Court. The Sanhedrin accused Herod of breaking Jewish Law by killing Hezekiah without giving him a fair trial. That was how pagan’s meted out Justice; God demanded higher standards.
The Trial Before the Sanhedrin
Soon, the Sanhedrin confronted Hycranus II the High Priest concerning Antipater and Herod. They told him to open his eyes. Antipater and Herod were the real rulers of Israel on behalf of the Romans and that Hycranus II was a political and religious leader of Israel in name only. Hycranus II took this to heart and eventually convinced Herod to stand trial before the Sanhedrin.
If the people weren’t already convinced that Herod was a pagan king, Herod marched into the court of the Sanhedrin in full military regalia. Herod elevating himself above Jewish law. In the minds of many, Herod was no longer a Jew. So it came as no surprise that, after a trial before the court, the Sanhedrin pronounced the sentence of death upon Herod.
Hycranus II, the high priest, advised Herod to escape before the Sanhedrin took action. Herod quickly escaped to Damascus. Herod’s father and brother convinced him not to take vengeance upon the Sanhedrin, but to continue in his role as Governor of Galilee.
In the next article, we will at Herod’s elevation from Governor of Galilee to the King of Judea.
Herod the Great
Article #1: Herod and Jewish Independence
The source of Herod’s trouble: The thirst for Jewish Independence
November 2016 witnessed the death of one of the last soviet era communist dictators, Fidel Castro. He was a man responsible for the death of nearly ten thousand people, most of whom simply wanted human freedom and independence. As with most 20th century communist dictators, Castro thought very little of the value of any single human life. So it should come as not surprise that, during his time as leader, it is estimated that up to 40% of Cuba’s population tried to flee. It was a terrible era that has now come to an end.
Two-thousand years ago, there was another wicked dictator who ruled over the land of Judea in what is modern day Israel. He was Herod The Great. Like Castro was a vassal of Soviet Russia, Herod was a vassal of the Roman Empire. He enforced their rules and kept the population at peace.
Still, what Herod the Great is most famous for is an event that happened around the birth of Jesus. Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and told Herod that they had seen a star in the East. This star, the said, signified the birth of a Jewish king and they had come bearing gifts for the “King of the Jews”. Herod was enraged! He was the only King of the Jews! That child must die!
Herod then calmly asked the wise men to let him know should they find the child. He had a gift of his own to present. God warned the wise men of Herod’s plan to assassinate the child, and the wise men returned home a different way while Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt. When Herod discovered he’d been tricked, he sent out soldier to kill all the children two years and under in Bethlehem.
So what kind of man would order the death of every young child in an entire town in a vain attempt kill the promised Messiah of Israel? In order to understand Herod’s actions in killing the baby boys of Bethlehem, we need to briefly understand the historical background leading up to the life of Herod the Great. We also need to take a brief look at the history of the Jewish struggle for national independence to understand Herod’s fear of the birth of this new Jewish King.
Jews Exiled to Babylon and Their Return to Judah – (586-536 BC)
In the early 6th century, the people of Judah were given into the hands of Babylon for their refusal to give up their idols. They were deported and left in exile in Babylon for 70 years. God gave them warning after warning through his prophets. Return to Him, serve your God, but they would not. So God said through the prophet Jeremiah that they would be sent into exile for a period of 70 years and then they would return.
That is actually extremely merciful of the Lord. He could have simply wiped the nation completely from the face of the earth for their disobedience. But God remembered his covenant with Abraham. It would be through his line that all nations would be blessed. Today we know that Jesus is the blessing he promised to all peoples and all nations. God was faithful despite Israel’s unfaithfulness.
As promised, when the 70 years was up, the exile ended. The empire of Babylon was overthrown by the empire of Persia. Cyrus, the head of the Persian empire, was used by God to fulfill the promise that he had made. Judah would only be in exile for 70 years. And so Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home.
The Greek Empire Rules Over Israel – (333 BC-167 BC)
For about two centuries (333-167 BC), the Jews were ruled by the Greeks. Alexander the Great had swept across the middle east and Asia, conquering all in his path. Greece fell; Egypt Fell; Babylon fell. Persia fell. In a few short years, Alexander had formed a great Greek empire that stretched from Egypt to Greece to India. Alexander and his armies conquered vast areas of land in his brief lifetime.
When Alexander died unexpectedly at the age of 33, his generals ended up ruling over an empire split into three pieces. Then the fight began to reunite the Greek empire under a single ruler. The land of Israel was ground zero for the war between the Egyptian Greek empire and the Persian one. By the second century B.C., Antiochus the fourth had become ruler over the eastern Greek empire, and he ruled Judea with an iron hand. As the book of Maccabees records, he was very oppressive to the Jews.
Maccabean Revolt – (167-142 BC)
By 167 BC, the Jewish people had had enough of Greek rule. Antiochus the fourth, angry at the rebellious Jews, wanted to carry out an early version of the Nazi “final solution” against the Jews. He tried to prevent the Jews from circumcising their children. He began a campaign to destroy Judaism, but the Jews could only take so much of this. They remembered how they had been exiled into Babylon by God because of the very sin of idolatry, and they did not intend on committing the same sin again.
One Jewish priestly family, the Hasmoneans, took up arms against Antiochus the fourth. It was Matthias and his five sons who led this Jewish revolt against their Greek rulers. Judas Maccabee was the eldest son and the first of the brothers to lead the Jewish revolt. This Hasmonean Independence movement won many military victories in the span of 3 years.
They eventually captured Jerusalem from the Greeks and rededicated the Jewish Temple on December 25, 164 (yes, the traditional date of the birth of Jesus). The Jewish people finally achieved full independence in 142 BC under the leadership of Simon Maccabee, the brother of the Judas Maccabee. The Jewish nation hadn’t been independent since the time of the Babylon conquest and he founded what is now know as the Hasmonean dynasty. The Hasmonean dynasty continued for generations through the descendants of Simon. This royal line would include Hycranus the first, Aristobulus the first, and Alexander Janneus. These men acted as both the political and religious leaders of this new Jewish independent state.
This arrangement worked for awhile. However, human nature being what it is, absolute power began to corrupt absolutely. Eventually, a queen rose to power over the Jewish state. She was Queen Alexandra. When it came time for her sons to rule, her two sons, Hycranus the second and Aristobulus the second, embroiled themselves in a bitter struggle for control of the empire. This was a full blown civil war.
The Romans had made an earlier agreement with Judas Maccabee to help him achieve Jewish independence. When civil war broke between Queen Alexandra’s two sons, Rome saw they were rapidly losing out on their investment on partial control of Judea, and decided to take full control of Judea. Thus began the Roman period.
In the next article, I’ll use this background about the thirst for Jewish independence to explain the actions of Herod the Great after he arrived on the scene as the principle stooge of the Roman Empire.
By Kyle Larson
Spong On Copernicus (1473—1543)
Throughout his writings and on his website, Spong lists several specific early modern scientists whom he believes sounded the death knell of orthodox Christianity. The scientists that Spong mentions are Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Darwin, Freud and Einstein. As Spong goes through each of these scientists, he highlights a specific scientific accomplishment of each one and then concludes that this is a scientific argument against Judeo-Christian theism.
In this series, we will take a brief look at the life of each early modern scientists, Spong’s spin for that particular scientist and a historical, scientific and theological refutation for each of Spong’s false assertions.
Life Of Copernicus
The first early modern scientist that Spong uses to debunk theism and Christianity is Nicolas Copernicus. Copernicus born in 1473 in Torun, Poland to parents both from wealthy merchant families. Unfortunately, his father died while he was still young, so his uncle took him under his wing.
Coperncicus started his education at St. John’s school in Torun. From there, he went on to attend the Cathedral School at a nearby town. This school prepared Copernicus to enter the University of Krakow. It was at the University that he began studying the Arts.
Later, he focused on various branches of astronomy and mathematics. He became fascinated with astronomy and collected a large number of books on the subject. Copernicus left the University of Krakow and later enrolled at the University of Bologna from 1496-1501. It was here that he became the student of one of the greatest astronomers of his time. It is also here that his interest in astronomy began to sour.
In 1497, Copernicus made his first astronomical calculations about the moon. In 1500, he traveled to Rome where he began another apprenticeship in astronomy. This led to him become a professor of astronomy. During this time, Copernicus also obtained a medical degree at the University of Padua from 1501-1503. In close connection with obtaining a medical degree, he also studied astrology. Both medicine and astrology were considered interconnected disciplines at this period of time.
Copernicus first began developing his heliocentric theory with his short book The Commentaries (sometime before 1514). He later published On The Revolutions in 1543. In 1533, the Pope’s personal secretary heard about the heliocentric theory and passed on the information to Pope Clement VII. At the time, the Pope had no problem with the theory.
Spong’s Conclusions About Copernicus
Spong states concerning Copernicus:
“There was a Polish monk named Nicolaus Copernicus, whose studies shattered the image of the earth as the center of a three-tiered universe, which also assumed that God who dwelled just above the sky, always looking down, always recording in the book of life the good deeds and the misdeeds of each person. The promise of reward with God in heaven or punishment from God in hell after this life constituted the central linchpin of a well-ordered human society” – http://johnshelbyspong.com/2015/12/10/charting-the-new-reformation-part-ii-the-burning-necessity/
“His calculations led him to a startling conclusion. The earth is not the center of a three-tiered universe! This insight, an incredibly great breakthrough in knowledge, also had severe religious consequences. The Bible, for example, was written from the perspective of a three-tiered universe and claims had been regularly made by the church that the Bible is “the inerrant word of God.” With the discovery of Copernicus, however, the inevitable conclusion was that the Bible was wrong! Copernicus did not publish his thinking widely so the hierarchy of the church just ignored his work, hoping that no one else would notice.” – http://johnshelbyspong.com/2015/12/24/charting-the-new-reformation-part-iv-building-the-case-for-the-death-of-theism-the-copernican-revolution
Spong also states a further consequences of following of Copernicus: “ … the earth could no longer be envisioned as the center of the Universe. God might not be so quite involved in the day to day affairs of human beings.” (Why Christianity Must Change or Die)
Where did Spong get the idea that if the earth is not at the center of the universe, then God has no special interest in humanity? This specific myth about Copernicus began about 100 years after his death. There was a concerted effort to show that man is no special creation by God, but simply a “power play” by humanity to show a self specialness to God that never existed. Cyrano de Bergerac asserted this very notion when he said, “The insupportable arrogance of mankind, which fancies, that Nature was only created to serve it.”
Another writer, Fontenelle, in his book Discourse of the Plurality of Worlds (1686) said that Copernicus had taken “the earth and throws it out of the center of the world … for his design was to abate the vanity of men who had thrust themselves into the chief place of the Universe”. (Danielson 57,58 in Galileo Goes to Jail)
Many things could be said in refutation of Bishop Spong’s statements on Copernicus:
- Spong fails to mention that Copernicus dedicated his book to the Pope Paul The Third because Copernicus wanted to make sure that he was not misunderstood as challenging the authority and legitimacy of the Papacy.
- Copernicus received the official approval of Pope The Third as well as the financial support of two top Cardinals for his book On The Revolutions. 1
- In addition to Pope Paul The Third, after he died, the next 9 Popes following him saw no heresy in what Copernicus was saying with his heliocentric theory.
- Spong has a twisted understanding of what the Bible says about humanity and its place in the cosmos. The Bible teaches the vastness of the cosmos and yet God cares for humanity. (Psalms 8:3,4)
- Some of the great thinkers of the ages saw earth’s centrality as a negative and not a positive. a
- Moses Mainonides: “in the case of the Universe … the nearer the parts are to the center, the greater their turbidness, their solidarity, their inertness, their dimness and darkness, because they are further away from their loftiness element, from the source of light and brightness.”
- Thomas Acquinas: In the Universe, earth – that all the spheres encircle and that, as for place, lies in the center, is the most material and coarsest of all bodies.
Many more quotes could be produced that directly refute Bishop Spong’s assertion that people during middle ages believed that because earth was in the center of the universe that that meant it had God’s special care over it. In fact, the opposite was true. Copernicus believed that because the earth revolved around the sun, this gave earth a “specialness to God”
Galileo, when commenting on how sun’s light upon the earth makes the moon shine brighter states: “The earth, with fair and grateful exchange, pays back to the moon an illumination like that which it receives from the moon … those who assert, principally on the grounds that it [the earth] has neither motion nor light, that the earth must be excluded from the dance of the stars. For … the earth does have motion … it surpasses the moon in brightness and … it is not the sump where the universe’s filth and ephemera.”
Even Johannes Kepler, whom Spong highly respects, states concerning man’s ability to contemplate says, “he [man] could not remain at rest in the center … he [man] must make an annual journey on this boat, which is our earth, to perform his observations … There is no globe nobler or more suitable for man than the earth. For, in the first place, it is exactly in the middle of the principles globes … Above it are Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Within the embrace of its orbit run Venus and Mercury, while at the center the sun rotates.”
Copernicus would find Spong’s assessment of himself strange because Copernicus was an ardent Christian theist as the following quotes from him show 1 To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.2
“Not the Grace received by Paul do I desire, Nor the good will with which Thou forgavest Peter, Only that which Thou didst grant the thief on the cross, That mercy I ask of Thee.”3
“For who, after applying himself to things which he sees established in the best order and directed by Divine ruling, would not through diligent contemplation of them and through a certain habituation be awakened to that which is best and would not admire the Artificer of all things, in Whom is all happiness and every good? For the divine Psalmist surely did not say gratuitously that he took pleasure in the workings of God and rejoiced in the works of His hands, unless by means of these things as by some sort of vehicle we are transported to the contemplation of the highest good.”4
In conclusion, the example of Copernicus as well as the remaining early modern scientists that we will look at show highly selective Bishop Spong is in what historical and theological conclusions that he is willing to draw for the benefit of his readers. Much of his readership comprises those who have already rejected the Christian Gospel and Bishop Spong wants to supply more reasons they can use to justify their rejection of the Gospel. No serious student of history, science or theology would be hoodwinked by Spong’s deceptive use of the facts.
3 That Copernicanism Demoted Human From The Center of The Cosmos—Myth 6 Dennis R. Danielson found in Galileo Goes To Jail And Other Myths About Science and Religion. Edited by Ronald L. Numbers Harvard University Press 2009
By Kyle Larson
Internet atheists and agnostics are well-known for pitting science against religion. They argue that science gives us facts while religion offers only fairy tales. Therefore anyone who believes in religion is denying science. They are rejecting the thing that gave us airplanes, mobile phones, and vaccines. Is this really how it works? Do Christians reject science?
Bishop Spong thinks so.
Before going into Bishop Spong’s post-modern version of Christianity as encapsulated in the twelve theses for his version of a new Christianity for a new world, it is important to look at the false scientific presuppositions Spong uses when recounting the scientific Revolution from the 1400’s through the 1700’s. To build his case for a non-theistic and anti-supernaturalistic Christianity, Bishop Spong relies on a series of specific scientific presuppositions which create a false impression of what happened in Europe in the 16th and 17th Centuries during what is known as The Scientific Revolution:
“In the 16th century, the authority of the church could no longer hold the minds of men and women in positions of obedience, so a rigorous challenge to this religious system arose for the first time. It was called “the Reformation.” During this time, the peace and security of Europe were shattered. The unifying truth by which its people and its institutions had lived was broken. Ancient claims of authority were overturned. Wars were fought seeking to restore the old order. It was a time of enormous upheaval Following that Reformation, the years rolled on and human knowledge exploded, cracking assumption after assumption made in the pre-modern world. Following that Reformation, the years rolled on and human knowledge exploded, cracking assumption after assumption made in the pre-modern world.”
Despite all the questions and the upheaval caused by the Reformation, there was no real conflict between science and Christianity. Most scientists were Christians. There were questions, certainly, but Christianity is a built on the ideas of truth and honesty. So, over the centuries, the ideas of Ptolemy and Aristotle were slowly abandoned in favor of new discoveries made by early scientists like Newton and Pascal.
The modern idea of a “conflict” between science and religion began in the mid 19th century. It was created by two authors: Andrew White (1832-1918) and William Draper (1811—1882).
Andrew White was President of Cornell. He believed early on in the fundamental conflict between science and Christianity. Many Christians in his day called him an “infidel” for establishing Ithaca College where science would be taught as supreme over Christianity.
In December 1869, White gave a speech entitled “The Battle-Fields of Science”. In it, he tried to use historical anecdotes to prove that Christianity has been an impediment to the advancement of science. White used two famous examples of where the Church of Rome supposedly opposed the advancement of science.
The first was the burning at stake of Dominican friar Giordano Bruno. White claims Friar Bruno was burned at the stake by the Church because of his scientific views rather than because of his unfortunately timed denial of basic Catholic doctrines during the height of the inquisition.
The second had to do with the torture and jailing of Galileo before being forced to recant his “heresies”. White claimed his persecution by the inquisition was for promoting the heliocentric theory of Copernicus rather than for publishing a book insulting the Pope and alienating his Jesuit allies with infighting.
White took his initial speech and expanded into a book entitled “A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom” (1896). This book forms the basis for much of what Bishop Spong says about the conflict between science and orthodox Christianity, though Spong does not openly acknowledge White’s contribution to his thinking.
In the same vein as White, William Draper was especially antagonistic towards Roman Catholicism for what he believed was its opposition to the advancement of science. It began when one of Draper’s children was very sick and close to death. His sister Elizabeth, who had converted to Roman Catholicism from Protestantism, hid his son’s Protestant prayer book until he died. This infuriated Draper. He asked his sister to leave the house immediately for her “unchristian behavior” towards his son. (Numbers 2,3) This led Draper on to his crusade of denigrating the Catholic Church for its opposition to the advancement of scientific knowledge.
This internal conflict that Draper had with Roman Catholicism led him to write his book “History of The Conflict between Religion and Science” (1874). Later reviews of Draper’s book showed the shallow historical scholarship behind it. (Numbers 3)
To put this in context, before the 1800’s historical records don’t show much conflict between the discoveries of scientists and the philosophy of theologians. As the 19th century wore on, however, battle lines between scientific theory and Christian theology began to form. Darwin offered evolution as an alternative creation account. The history of the Bible, and even Jesus, was called into question by historians. Archaeology began to question the accuracy of the places and events as read in the Bible. It was during this time that White and Draper made their arguments the Christianity had a history of holding back scientific advancement.
Historians today, of course, realize how historically inaccurate White and Draper were in their assessment of the relationship between the discoveries of science and Christian theology. Yet we can go much further than this and state that the Catholic Church had no part in stifling either innovation or scientific discovery during the Middle Ages. Instead, it was Islamic pirates and warring caliphates that kept Europe in darkness. And it was the Mongol hordes crushing the caliphate that freed them to enter the Renaissance.
So Bishop Spong has not given a fair and accurate retelling of the facts of history when it comes to Christianity’s historic relationship to science, especially during the Middle Ages. Below are some facts that Bishop Spong might want to consider. First, consider the following quote by John Helibon, a historian of science, in his book The Sun in The Church:
“The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and probably all, other institutions.” (Shrank 21)
Second, Bishop Spong needs to come to grips with the fact that the Catholic Church was responsible for the creation of the University. At the time, thirty percent of the average University curriculum concerned the study of the natural world. This includes the study of rediscovered Greek writings and ancient knowledge reclaimed from Arabic sources. So a University education, far from being anti-science, involved many branches of both ancient and current knowledge. (Shrank 22)
Thirdly, the vast majority of these Cathoic Church sponsored Universities never taught on theological or biblical subjects. Instead, they focused on secular areas of learning such as logic, natural philosophy, mathematical science as well as similar subjects. (Shrank 22)
Fourthly, the Catholic Church never issued a blanket condemnation for its Universities teaching the natural sciences. Any ecclesiastical condemnation we have record of was given by a local bishop towards a local University. If the condemnation held, that particular University would no longer teach one of the natural sciences. This was usually because of an apparent conflict between faith and science.
Even when this happened, both students and professors still had many other options when it came to Church sponsored Universities that taught any one of the number of natural sciences that both students and professors might be interested in learning. For example, Toulouse University was one such Church sponsored University. It drew students from the University of Paris because the University of Paris forbade the teaching of the life and works of Aristotle.
Based on these four key historical facts, along with the unveiling of how the myth of the conflict between science and faith as embodied in the writings of White and Draper, Bishop Spong is simply mistaken in his imaginary conflict between science and Christianity
Galileo Goes To Jail And Other Myths About Science And Religion Edited by Ronald Numbers Introduction by Ronald Numbers
Myth #2—That the Medieval Christian Church Suppressed the Growth of Science by Michael H. Shrank Harvard University Press 2009
By Kyle Larson
The writings of Bishop John Shelby Spong have been very influential in the life and thought of the modern church. He has made it his mission to reform the modern church and make it more relevant to a post modern American society. For all his noble intentions, something along the way went very, very wrong.
Bishop John Shelby Spong was born on June 16, 1931 in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a child, young John was exposed to two different forms of Christianity, one from each parent – both dysfunctional. His father did not have much interest in the Christian faith. His mother was a harsh, legalistic Calvinist. Neither set a good example.
Spong’s father would attend church only on Christmas, Easter, and on occasions where it was absolutely necessary. Spong recalls seeing his father kneel by his bed at night to pray. Beyond this, Spong later wrote wrote, there was no serious commitment to Christ. (Here I Stand. 13)
His mother came from a legalistic Calvinistic background. This also did very little to encourage Spong to see God as loving or tolerant. As a result, Spong grew up believing Christianity was some very legalistic form of Calvinism. He notes that John Calvin was mentioned so often in his home by his mother that he thought that Calvin was the fourth member of the God head. (Ibid. 13-14) Tragically, he saw a very hard and stern God in his mother’s Christian faith.
“God, as I was introduced to this Deity through my mother , was very much like a punishing parent, male to be sure. This God had heaven as a place of reward and hell as a place of punishment, and I was taught to fear him.” (Ibid. 13)
There was not much of the joy of the Lord in his house, but only a mindless list of religious duties that Spong had to perform to keep God happy and prevent him from being punished by this stern deity introduced by his mother.
In addition to these distortions of the Christian faith that he saw growing up, he saw the hypocrisy of racism. Racism was a given in the segregated south. Spong gives several examples of the racism that he saw growing up. He notes how all public parks, restrooms, motels were all segregated.
The one incident that stands out in Spong’s mind was when his father hired men to help him around the house. His father had always told him to address older men as “sir”; It was a common Southern hospitality at the time. However, to his shock, Spong discovered that this hospitality code did not apply to black men. One of the hired workers was an African American man. The worker asked young Spong a question. Spong, in his answer to this black worker, addressed him as “sir”. As related later by Spong, this was apparently an almost unpardonable sin to his father. He became very angry with his son for giving a respectable title to a black man such as “sir”. (Ibid. 16-18) Though Spong was young at the time this incident occurred, it made a lasting impact on him as he saw the hypocrisy going on within his own family.
The racism didn’t end there. Playing with black children was constantly forbidden. Even the school he attended was segregated. All these factors would influence how he would later view White Evangelical Christianity, not only in the South, but also throughout the country. Because he was cut off from strong biblical African American churches growing up, he may not have realized that both black and white evangelicals have common roots in a historic Christianity. Both have a history that goes back to the first century with the Apostles themselves. This includes the major creeds of the church that both black and white evangelicals adhere to.
In addition to the superficial commitment to the Christian faith that he saw in his father, his father had an additional problem: he was an alcoholic. Spong wrote vividly about the struggle his father had with alcoholism. Spong describes his father’s alcoholism as “episodic”. He could go for months without drinking, but once he started drinking, “there was no stopping him.” This episodic drinking binge had a devastating effect on Spong’s family, especially on its financial situation. Spong suffered the constant emotional “put downs” by his father when he was drunk when his father would say “You can’t do anything right”. Though his father never physically attacked his mother, he came close to doing just that. (Ibid. 24-25)
Spong’s father suffered a major heart attack shortly after the United States entered World War 2 in December 1941. Though this, along with other complications, should have made Spong’s Father realize that it would wise to stop drinking, this did not occur. His health steadily deteriorated from that point on.
In the midst of all the chaos with his father, Spong decided to get confirmed at his local Episcopal church in April, 1943. His confirmation preparation did not include much serious study of the faith beyond being able to give a simple definition of the word “confirm”.
Things started going seriously downhill for the health of Spong’s father as a result of his enlarged heart. Family members began gathering together to await the end of his life. During this time, as a result of his father’s constant put downs, Spong started making bargains with God that amounted to prayers to God stating “I’ll do this for you, God, you will do this for me.” A part of this bargaining with God had to do with Spong’s sense that he had inadequately prepared for his confirmation, and he wanted to make up for it. But more than that, he saw God as harsh and belittling as his earthly father had been, so he tried to strike bargains with God to gain the acceptance that he never got from his father. (Ibid. 27 )
On the night his father died, the first thing that entered Spong’s young mind was that he had forgotten to say his prayers, and that God was taking revenge by striking down his father in death. Again, Spong saw God as unmerciful and unyielding as his earthly father.
After his father’s death, his mother found a job to help with the family finances. Spong got a job at a local farm milking cows. That first Christmas after his father’s death was especially meaningful to Spong. He received two Christmas presents that year. One was a large picture of Jesus. The other gift was a large King James Bible. Spong states that from that Christmas Day, until now, he has missed very few days reading and studying the Bible. Even though he has developed a totally different understanding of the Bible from that of conservative evangelical Christians, he claims that he cherishes the words of scripture. (Ibid. 24-27)
Around the time of his father’s death, Spong also became more involved in his Episcopal Church. A new Priest came to Spong’s church, Robert Littlefield Crandall. He was a naval chaplain during World War 2. Crandall became like a second father to Spong and became a very stabilizing force in his young life. Crandall took Spong under his wings as he guided him in his spiritual journey.
Spong was very impressed by Mr. Crandall’s high church Episcopal rituals. These rituals included the donning of priestly garments with all the attending prayers, the proper movements and hand gestures for a proper high church Episcopal service as well as knowing the proper way to conduct an Episcopal service for the Eucharist. Mr. Crandall gave the young Spong all the outward forms of godliness and ultimately have him the desire to become an Episcopal Priest. Spong seems to have adopted many of Mr. Crandall’s way in his own life as an Episcopal Priest. One of the main ways that Spong sees himself in the mold of Mr. Crandall is in having the same general outlook on life, which Spong describes as “not pious, but rather secular in his outlook.” Bishop Spong has definitely succeeded in achieving Mr. Crandall’s secular outlook as is evident throughout his writings. (Ibid. 34,35)
Spong graduated from high school, and with the assistance of a college scholarship, was admitted into the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It might be of some interest to readers to know that this is where Dr. Bart Ehrman currently teaches New Testament studies. (Ibid. 45) It was at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, that Spong got his first dose of Protestant liberal theology. Spong had several University Professors at UNC that would help set the tone for his theological development for years to come.
One of these professors was, whom Spong describes as being “the first Darwinian Christian I had ever met” It was Dr. Jones who first convinced Spong of the theory of evolution. (Ibid. 49) It was another professor, Bill Protreat, who first introduced Spong to some of the pillars of Protestant liberal theology. These pillars included Immanuel Kant, Friederich Scchlermacher, Rene Descarte and Friedrich Nietzche. Besides Rene Descarte, who was an orthodox Christian, the other three people had various levels of belief concerning Christianity. Nietzche was an atheist who was very hostile to the claims of Christianity. So it is evident that throughout his undergraduate studies, Spong studied under university professors who were openly hostile to Christianity.
In 1952, Spong graduated from UNC Chapel with a degree in Philosophy, and beginning the following fall, went to Virginia Theological Seminary. Spong’s seminary training carried him farther and farther away from biblical Christianity. There were four professors at Virginia Theological Seminary who did much to form Bishop Spong’s theological thinking. These “big 4” were Clifford Stanley, Albert Mollogen, Ruel Howe, and Robert O. Kevin. (Ibid. 63) Clifford Stanley taught the history of Christian thought and had an especially strong influence on Spong’s theological development.
Clifford Stanley introduced Spong to the theology of Paul Tillich, whom Stanley had had as a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Tillich taught that God was not a personal being, but was the “Ground of Being”. This God was “unknowable, mysterious, without form.” Tillich’s God was more of an impersonal force than a personal being with whom someone could have a personal intimate relationship with. Spong latched on to Tillich’s view of God as a non personal entity. Spong was eager to shed his childhood image of God as a type of “Mr. Fix-it” (Ibid. 67,68) Spong writes concerning the liberal theologians who taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
“These theologians never had to deal with the reaction of ordinary folks who felt that their spiritual leader was destroying their faith. That would be the job of graduates like myself.” (Ibid. 68)
Spong then goes on to chide his fellow seminary graduates.
“Most graduates, I would learn, however, would not rise to challenge. They would graduate, pack up their seminary notes, and revert to the piety of their youth, undergirding their preaching with traditional religious understandings. They would claim the power to explain the ways of God to their congregations, thus encouraging the unbelievable concepts of a manipulative, invasive, this world-oriented Deity who governed the intimate details of people’s lives just beyond the sky. I vowed that I would be different when I finally became a Priest.” (Ibid. 68)
This one paragraph shows the danger of superimposing one’s parental upbringing on to the God of scripture. Yet it can be very difficult to have an accurate biblical portrait of the attributes of God when one does not see the basic attribute of love, which scripture defines as the essence of God, in one’s own parents. If one does not understand that “God is love” as the Apostle John writes, then none of the other attributes of God will make any sense.
Spong would continue on with a traditional liberal Protestant seminary education. The standard liberal Protestant seminary education consists of many of the same issues that the average man on the street gives for denying the truth of the Gospel, only in a much more academic setting. These shared objections of the liberal seminarian and the man on the street concern the historical reliability of the Gospels, especially trying to late date them as much as possible to put them out of the reach of eyewitnesses who could confirm or deny the accuracy of the reports concerning the ministry of Jesus. Along with this comes the denial of both the liberal seminarian and the man on the street that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses. Spong studied all this, and much more. He was a model liberal seminary student, which is why all his later books would sell so well with the masses.
After graduating from Virginia Theological Seminary, his first church assignment was at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Durham, North Carolina in 1955. (Ibid. 81) His church was a mixed congregation made up mostly of students from Duke University. Spong explains that many of the Duke graduate students came from “fundamentalists” homes but, as a result of pursuing their graduate degrees, found a traditional understanding of Jesus too confining for their expanding minds. These Duke students did not want to totally abandon their faith. They instead wanted a more intellectual faith. Spong started to research his sermon topics more deeply in order to reach these graduates. (Ibid.85.86)
It was also at St. Joseph’s that Bishop Spong had his first major “prayer crisis” which caused him to question the Biblical attributes of God. This questioning of God’s attributes came as a result of a counseling session with a young couple who had lost their child to “crib death”. This young couple had been raised on the solid biblical teaching of the attributes of God.
One of these attributes is omniscience, that God knows all things. He sees the past, the present and the future in his “eternal now.’ While we as humans may not know what God is doing, we can find rest in God, knowing that God knows all things and can bring good out of tragedy. These parents believed that the death of their child was somehow a part of God’s overall plan, even though they may never understand his plan in this life. Bishop Spong discouraged these parents from relying on the traditional biblical attributes of God, especially his omniscience. This was like throwing out a life preserver to a drowning man with no rope attached to it to pull him to a place of safety. (Ibid. 88,89)
This dismissing of the biblical attributes of God may have been due to Spong’s dysfunctional home life as a child. He had no family context in which for him to believe in the consistency of God’s love and dependability in the midst of life’s trials. There was no real emotional stability in his home growing up. He had also accepted Paul Tillich’s definition of God as a non personal being. A non personal entity, like water or electricity, has no will or purpose for people, thus, there is no reason to believe in God’s constancy and love in the midst of life’s tribulations.
In 1957, Bishop Spong was transferred to Calvary Parish in Tarboro, North Carolina. (Stand 97) Spong came into direct contact with the ugly reality of Southern racism and the Ku Klux Khan. The Klan had decided to hold a rally in a field near Tarboro, where Spong was the rector at Calvary Church. The Klan denounced Spong for his strong and biblical stance against segregation. The Klan accused Spong of having a light skin black woman as a lover on the side.
Spong relates in an earlier section of his autobiography how during the period of slavery and segregation, multitudes of black woman were raped throughout the South, thus producing children of various shades of black and white. The Klan tried to use this historical fact against Spong, but it did not stick. (Ibid. 103,104)
The schools in the Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem area became racially desegregated. This caused an emotional explosion in the area, as white parents could not conceive of their children going to school with black children. The threat of violence was a very real possibility.
Spong took a firm solid biblical position on the issue of desegregation of the schools. He reminded his congregation of what Paul taught in Romans about how Christians are called to submit to the governing authorities. Spong also quoted what Jesus taught about “Rendering to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This was a solid biblical stance. He was even willing to personally escort black children into their new school on the first day of desegregation. (Ibid. 109,110) As a result of this strong biblical stance, many parishioners within his own church wanted nothing to do with Spong.
As Spong continued to take a biblical stance against segregation, he started receiving serious phone threats from people threatening that they would find “the biggest black niggers” to rape Spong’s three little daughters. Though very frightened by these threats, he continued his biblical stance, as he continued to walk black children to a desegregated school.
In addition to his ongoing fight against racial segregation, Spong continued with his teaching ministry. He started being a “circuit evangelist” for liberal theology as he began speaking at Episcopal churches throughout the South. He started seeing more and more how “fundamentalism” was so deeply entrenched throughout the South and was determined to do something about that. He believed that his academic training in liberal theological institutions was vastly superior to Southern Fundamentalism. (Ibid. 122)
In the summer of 1969, in the midst of his ministerial duties at Calvary church and his lecture tours throughout the South, a search committee group from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lynchburg paid a visit to Spong. The committee wanted to know if Spong would be interested in being the new rector. (Ibid. 122) Spong accepted the offer, but would not be installed as the rector til the fall. He still had a long summer vacation ahead of him.
He and his family vacationed at Nag’s Head in North Caolina. During this summer vacation, he started reading Honest to God by John A.T. Robinson. Robinson had been an Episcopal Bishop in England who was totally absorbed in liberal theology. The main theme of the book is that Christians need to start talking about God in non-theistic terms. Robinson insisted that the traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of God as a personal being was under assault. If the traditional understanding of God as a personal being was under assault, so was the traditional understanding of Jesus as being the incarnation of God no longer possible.
As Spong continued reading Robinson’s book, he started coming to believe that the traditional version of Christianity and the Gospel was no longer viable in a modern scientific world. Robinson quotes liberal theologian after liberal theologian to prove his point. Christianity had to change or face certain extinction. (Ibid. 122-123)
In the fall of 1969, Spong continued his Adult Bible study class at St. John’s church that he had begun at Calvary Church in Tarboro, North Carolina. The main difference now would be that at St. John’s church, he would take his attack on the Gospel to a whole new level. He would, proudly and boldly, introduce the destructive Higher Criticism that had developed in liberal Protestantism over the last 150-200 years. He would not call it an attack on the Gospel, but this is exactly what it was nonetheless.
He felt that many of the people at St. John’s Church had a “Sunday-school” level understanding of the Bible. He made a determination to teach his adult bible study as though it was a graduate level seminary class in a mainline seminary. He made the specific decision that during the regular Sunday service, he would not raise any critical questions about the Bible or the foundations of the faith. He would do this only in his Adult Sunday School class, where people could come and go as they pleased. (Ibid. 134,135)
Bishop Spong gives a clear description of how he envisioned this class to be:
“I would allow every part of my faith system, its creeds, its Bible, its sacred traditions, to be examined and questioned honestly … No protective barriers, no claim for inerrancy, infallibility or divine relation would be placed around any symbol of Christianity, including core doctrines like the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Resurrection.” (Ibid. 135)
Spong glories in uncertainty about every aspect of the faith because, as has been said before, this mirrors his home life growing up, where uncertainty about everything was the norm. Spong taught on the Documentary Hypothesis, which simply stated, says that the stories found in the first five books of the Bible were legends and myths of the early Jewish people. That they developed over a long period of oral transmission and had no real basis in history. Such events as the fall of man from the garden of Eden, the flood and Noah’s Ark and the Exodus never really happened. (Ibid. 136-137) This class grew to enormous proportions as the class was being discussed during the week in businesses throughout Lynchburg.
After 4 years at St. John’s in Lynchburg, Spong moved on to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Spong continued his Adult Bible class at St. Paul’s Church. Up to this point, his adult Bible class focused on Old Testament Higher Criticism that had developed in the 19th and 20th Centuries. However, beginning at St. Paul’s, Spong began teaching destructive higher criticism of the New Testament. Spong taught that the Jesus of history was totally different from the version of Jesus that the early Christian church had developed over the years.
It was at St. Paul’s Church that Spong had his second major prayer crisis. Spong received a phone call from Cormelia Newton, a parishioner at his church who now find herself in a local hospital with cancer. Spong went to the hospital and had a long comforting talk with her. Cormelia was on chemotherapy and knew that, eventually, the cancer would take her life. After a long conversation with Cormelia, Spong prayed with her and then left the hospital.
On his way home, Spong reflected on the conversation and prayer with Cormelia, and came to the conclusion that prayer was not much benefit to anybody. Spong came to the conclusion that prayer was just “a fantasy”. He saw no personal being to talk to. In his system of belief God is nothing more than an impersonal force, so why bother praying?
As a result of this second prayer crisis, Spong began a sermon series on what he had concluded about prayer. This sermon series would ultimately form the basis of his first book, Honest Prayer, which was published in 1971. Spong wanted his book to be a sequel to John A.T. Robinson’s book Honest to God. (Ibid. 190-195)
From early on in his writing career, Spong wanted to explore the Jewish background of Christianity. He believed that the more Christians understood first century Judaism, the more they would understand their own faith. In 1974, Spong came out with his book This Hebrew Lord. As a result of this first exploration of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, Spong received a phone call from a local Rabbi Jack Daniel Spiro to invite him to a dialogue on the contents of this book. Spong saw this as a way of building a bridge between the Jewish and Christian communities in the local area.
In one of these dialogues between Spong and Spiro, the heart of Christianity, the incarnation, became the topic of discussion. Spong had the golden opportunity to give this Rabbi a clear biblical understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth really is. Unfortunately, this opportunity was rejected as Spong gave the liberal academia’s assessment of the identity of Jesus. In his explanation of the identity of Jesus to Rabbi Spiro, Spong recounts:
“I wanted people to know that incarnational thought and Trinitarian thought was not fully developed until the fourth and fifth centuries of the common era. Such claims were not in the original proclamation of the Gospel … The Jews, while not admitting to incarnational language were in fact able to point to people whom they believed spoke God’s Word and acted out God’s will. So I approached Christology from this point of view. I hoped that they might be able to see the original Christian claim, that in Jesus, the word of God was spoken and the will of God was being lived out, which then grew into incarnational language.” (Ibid. 239)
Spong then goes on to misrepresent what the doctrine of the incarnation is by using standard Jehovah’s Witnesses arguments.
- Since Jesus prayed to God, he obviously wasn’t praying to himself, therefore Jesus was not God.
- Jesus died, God cannot die, therefore Jesus was not God.
Spong failed to distinguish between the Persons of the Godhead. He believed that God is one person with three roles: the Father, Son and Holy Spirt. This is an ancient heresy known as modalism; It was roundly and rightly condemned at the Council of Antioch in 264 AD. Spong should have known this from his seminary days. He should have learned that modalism has its roots in another heresy called Arianism – which is basically a form of Unitarianism: God is singular in both person and in nature. Like modalism, it was rightly condemned by the early church.
One does not stand against heresy by introducing another heresy to cover up it up. Modalism was labeled heresy in 264 at Antioch and Arianism was labeled a heresy in 325 at Nicea. Yet Spong went even further than just the use of Jehovah’s Witness arguments against the Deity of Christ. At least the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was a pre-existent angel who was the first and greatest creation of Jehovah. Spong demotes Jesus even more than Jehovah’s Witnesses do. In his quest to be a good religious pluralist, Spong sees Jesus as a good man who was conscious of the presence of God in his life.
In his book A New Christianity for a New World, he states several times that Jesus is no different than the founders of other world religions. All the great religious leaders teach that we should all love one another, thus, Jesus is on the same level as all the other founders of the world religions. They’re all basically the same with mere superficial differences keeping them apart.
In 1975, Spong visited a retired Episcopal Priest familiar with Spong and his ministry. In a hospital room with the Priest, Spong submitted his name as a candidate for the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey. Spong made it very clear at each point of candidacy that he wanted to be a teaching bishop where he could teach the laity what he had learned in seminary.
In 1976, Spong was elected Bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Newark. After being installed as the Eighth Bishop of Newark, Bishop Spong set out on a huge educational program for the Newark diocese. His goal was to educate both clergy and laity in basic mainline Liberal Protestant scholarship and theology. He would do this through a forum called “The New Dimensions Lecture Series”. (Ibid. 274-276) In this lecture series, Spong brought together all the major liberal theologians of the day.
In his first lecture, Spong went so far as to teach that the resurrection of Jesus was a non-physical event. Overtime, Spong developed this non-physical understanding of the resurrection of Jesus and related it in a book called The Easter Moment.
By the early 1980’s, the Episcopal Church had issued a study in human sexuality. An Episcopal Church Commission was created to study the specific issue of homosexuality. Spong was a part of that commission. Bishop Spong affirmed homosexual relationships.
In the early days of his advocacy, Spong wrote a series of articles in the Episcopal Church’ national newspaper, The Episcopalian One. In the articles, he laid out the major reasons that he affirmed homosexuality. In short, it was due to his association with Dr. Robert Lahita of Cornell Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Lahita believed that homosexual behavior is rooted in brain activity. Since, according to Dr. Lahita, homosexuality is rooted in brain activity, the Bible is wrong in stating that homosexuality is a sin. Bishop Spong ran with this and became ardent advocate for gay ordination and gay marriage. Out of this controversy within the Episcopal Church, came his book Living in Sin?
Controversy erupted again in 1989, when Bishop Spong ordained an openly gay Bishop, Robert Williams. Spong had one condition for Williams to be ordained in the diocese of Newark: Williams must remain in a faithful and monogamous relationship with his same sex partner. This one stipulation by Bishop Spong on Williams is in and of itself unbiblical, but this was the agreement between them and Episcopal ecclesiastical authorities.
If you understand what the gay community in San Francisco was like at the time, it should come as no surprise that Williams specifically violated this one condition by having multiple same sex partners. The infamous bath houses of San Francisco offer ample testimony to this basic fact. Williams responded by complaining that Spong had no right to impose heterosexual standards of monogamous relationships on homosexuals. Having multiple same sex partners, he claimed, is the norm for homosexuals. After much wrangling between Spong and Williams over a sustained period of time, Williams finally resigned.
As the 1990’s rolled in, Bishop Spong changed the direction of his research and writing. He came upon the writings of Michael Goulder, a professor who had been a priest but later became an atheist. The writings of Professor Goulder’s offered evidence that, when the Gospel writers wrote their Gospels, they never meant for their readers to take the texts literally; Instead, the stories were meant to be non historical parables and metaphors. Bishop Spong saw Goulder’s work as a continuation of what David Strauss had done in the 19th century by labeling the Gospel miracles as myths.
Bishop Spong delved deeply into Goulder’s scholarship and, as a result,Bishop Spong wrote several new books on the subject. These books included: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth, 1992, Resurrection, Myth or Reality, 1994, Liberating the Gospels, Reading the Gospels through Jewish Eyes, 1996. By the late 1990’s, Bishop Spong had finally left the Christian tradition completely behind and became, like those authors he so respected back in the 1950’s, an apostate.
In conclusion, the life and literary work of Bishop John Shelby Spong show a man’s slow descent into apostasy. His cadre of literary works has created a serious challenge for orthodox Christianity. Because he is so successful at using “Christian lingo” with his own non biblical definitions, he has deceived many well meaning people into thinking he is a true Christian.
Even worse, Bishop Spong openly repeats the objections to Christianity that many people on the street have. Most people can’t articulate these objections the way Spong has, so Spong gives steet level objections an articulate voice. This makes Bishop Spong doubly dangerous to the cause of Christ.
For the two specific observations mentioned above, it is very important for Christians to know what they believe and why. He is the perfect Bishop for a Post Modern and Post Christian American society.
John Shelby Spong, Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love and Equality, Harper, San Francisco 2001
By Kyle Larson
Flavius Josephus was a well-known Jewish historian of the first century AD. He is remembered for his history of the Jewish people and a book about their struggle to free the land from Roman rule in the mid first century. He is also remembered for defecting to the Romans after a failed military campaign against them resulted in his surrender. At the time, many Jews called derided him as conceited and a traitor. Fortunately, history allows us a much more balanced picture of this historical figure.
Flavius Joesphus was born Joseph ben Matityaho in Jerusalem into a family in the line of the high priest; His mother’s heritage linked directly to the Maccabean dynasty. At a young age, he showed a thirst for knowledge; to know more about his Jewish heritage. As he notes, many of the Jewish Priests came to him while still a boy to ask him questions about the Jewish faith.
At 16, he became a Pharisee. Pharisees were a Jewish group that adhered very strictly to the written law of Moses as well as to the great body of oral tradition that had grown up around the written law. In 63 AD, at the of 26, he sailed to Rome to ask for the release of some Jewish Priests. The priests had apparently risen up in rebellion against Roman authority, had been captured, and were now in Rome as prisoners. Josephus ultimately gained the release of these Priests, and in the process, became good friends with one of the mistresses of Nero.
After returning to Judea from Rome, he found Judea on the brink of revolt against its Roman task masters. He tried to reason with some of the Jewish leaders trying to convince them that it was “suicide” to revolt against Rome. Rome had far superior military forces. His pleadings failed to convince any of the Jewish leaders.
Over the course of time, because of his eminence in the Jewish community, he was called into military service on behalf of the Jewish rebels against Rome in the siege of Gamala. Even at this point, he still tried to convince the Jewish rebels to lay down their arms against Rome. Josephus only went through the motions of supporting the Jewish rebels against Rome.
Later, at the siege of Jotapata, an overwhelming Roman force had Josephus and a number of other rebel leaders backed into a corner; There was no way out. In desperation, they entered into a suicide pact similar to that at Masada. However. Josephus was able to cunningly weasel out of the pact so that, in the end, all the other Jewish leaders committed suicide while he cheated death by suicide.
Ultimately, Josephus surrendered to the Romans and became a slave of the Roman general. He was in their service as translator. At the siege of Jerusalem, Josephus tried again to urge the rebels to lay down their arms. They would not and, as a result, Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple were destroyed. The city was sacked and the temple set on fire.
During the long siege, Josephus became good friends with Titus, the Roman commander against the Jewish rebellion. Fortunately for Josephus, Titus later became Emperor of Rome. After the rebellion, Josephus returned to Rome with Titus where he became the official historian of the rebellion.
Josephus, in his book Antiquities of the Jews, which gives a historical account of the Jewish people, mentions Jesus, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ half brother James. The original quote speaking of Jesus, strangely enough, made it sound as if Josephus was a Christian. This was not the case. Josephus was a Jew. The passage was the subject of much controversy for centuries. Comparing Greek and Latin texts, it appeared that some Christian interpolation had occurred during the second century AD, but no scholar could say how it was altered or by whom.
The answer came in 1971. A Jewish scholar in Jerusalem found a 10th century Arabic version of Josephus’ work translated by Christians living in Arab lands. He also found an 11th century Syraic copy. Comparing the versions together, the interpolation could be removed and the original passage from the point of view of Jewish historian came to light:
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”
In this much more historically accurate version, Josephus is basically reporting historical facts. He is not trying to get his fellow Jews to believe that Jesus is the Messiah which he himself did not believe. It’s a straight forward historical report which includes his neutral reporting that the disciples reported that Jesus appeared to them. Josephus says Jesus was a wise man and seriously wonders whether or not Jesus was the messiah, not that Jesus WAS the messiah.
This Arabic translation of Josephus’ “Jesus passage” is strong evidence that Jesus really existed and that the gospel narratives are correct.
Being chosen as a co-editor for a new book on Biblical inerrancy, Dr. Fernandes adds his own views to those of others in the field. What is Biblical inerrancy and why is it an important topic?
The following is taken from the official site at: defendinginerrancy.com
WHAT’S INERRANCY!? AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?
It’s been said that a table must have at least three legs to stand. Take away any of the three legs and it will surely topple. In much the same way, the Christian faith stands on three legs. These three legs are the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. Take away one, and like the table, the divine authority of the Christian faith will surely topple. These three “in’s” complement each other, yet each expresses a slightly different distinction in our understanding of Scripture.
Inspiration. The first “in” is inspiration and this deals with the origin of the Bible. Evangelicals believe that “God breathed out” the words of the Bible using human writers as the vehicle. Paul writes,
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (literally “is God-breathed”), and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Infallibility. The next “in,” infallibility, speaks to the authority and enduring nature of the Bible. To be infallible means that something is incapable of failing and therefore is permanently binding and cannot be broken. Peter said “the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Pet. 1:23-25) and therefore its authority cannot be broken. When addressing a difficult passage, Jesus said, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:34-35). In fact, He said, “one jot or one tittle will by no means pass away from the law till all is fulfilled” (Mat. 5:18). These speak to the Bible’s infallibility.
Inerrancy. The last “in,” inerrancy, simply means that the Bible is without error. It’s a belief in the “total truthfulness and reliability of God’s words” (Grudem,Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity, 2004, 90). Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). This inerrancy isn’t just in passages that speak about salvation, but also applies to all historical and scientific statements as well. It is not only accurate in matters related to faith and practice, but it is accurate and without error regarding any statement, period (John 3:12).
BUT IS IT REALLY IMPORTANT?
Yes, inerrancy is extremely important because: (1) it is attached to the character of God; (2) it is taught in the Scriptures; (3) it is the historic position of the Christian Church, and (4) it is foundational to other essential doctrines.
1. It’s Based on the Character of God
Inerrancy is based on the character of God who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2). God cannot lie intentionally because He is an absolute moral law-giver. He cannot err unintentionally because He is omniscient. And if the Bible is the written Word of God (and it is), then it is without error.
2. It was Taught by Christ and the Apostles
Inerrancy was taught by Christ and the apostles in the New Testament. This should be our primary basis for believing it. B.B. Warfield said,
“We believe this doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures primarily because it is the doctrine which Christ and his apostles believed, and which they have taught us.” (Limited Inspiration, 1962 cited by Mohler, 42)
To quote Jesus himself, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and “until heaven and earth pass away not an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18).
3. It’s the Historic Position of the Church
Inerrancy is the historic position of the Christian Church. ICBI produced a whole book demonstrating this point (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church, Moody). As Al Mohler pointed out (Mohler, 48-49), even some errantists have agreed that inerrancy has been the standard view of the Christian Church down through the centuries. He cites the Hanson brothers, Anthony and Richard, Anglican scholars, who said,
“The Christian Fathers and the medieval tradition continued this belief [in inerrancy], and the Reformation did nothing to weaken it. On the contrary, since for many reformed theologians the authority of the Bible took the place which the Pope had held in the medieval scheme of things, the inerrancy of the Bible became more firmly maintained and explicitly defined among some reformed theologians than it had even been before.”
They added, “The beliefs here denied [viz., inerrancy] have been held by all Christians from the very beginning until about a hundred and fifty years ago.” (cited by Mohler, 41)
4. It’s Fundamental to All Other Doctrines
Inerrancy is foundational to all other essential Christian doctrines. It is granted that some other doctrines (like the atoning death and bodily resurrection of Christ) are more essential to salvation. However, all soteriological (salvation-related) doctrines derive their divine authority from the divinely authoritative Word of God. So, epistemologically (in a knowledge-related sense), the doctrine of the divine authority and inerrancy of Scripture is the fundamental of all the fundamentals. And if the fundamental of fundamentals is not fundamental, then what is fundamental? Fundamentally nothing! Thus, while one can be saved without believing in inerrancy, the doctrine of salvation has no divine authority apart from the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.
IT’S AN ESSENTIAL
Inerrancy deserves high regard among evangelicals and has rightly earned the status of being essential (in an epistemological sense) to the Christian Faith. Thus, to reduce inerrancy to the level of non-essential or even “incidental’ to the Christian Faith, reveals ignorance of its theological and historical roots and is an offense to its “watershed” importance to a consistent and healthy Christianity. Inerrancy simply cannot be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.
IT’S UNDER ATTACK… RIGHT NOW!
The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) was founded in 1977 specifically over concerns about the erosion of inerrancy. Christian leaders, theologians and pastors assembled together three times over the course of a decade to address the issue. At the first meeting, a doctrinal statement was jointly created titled “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” (see full text here). This document has been described as “a landmark church document” created
“by the then largest, broadest, group of evangelical protestant scholars that ever came together to create a common, theological document in the 20th century. It is probably the first systematically comprehensive, broadly based, scholarly, creed-like statement on the inspiration and authority of Scripture in the history of the church.” (Dallas Theological Seminary, “Records of the International Council On Biblical Inerrancy”)
Despite this modern safeguard, in 2010, Dr. Mike Licona, an evangelical professor, wrote a book titled The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. In this book, he suggested that the account of the resurrected saints walking through the city might be “apocalyptic imagery” (Mat. 27:51-53). In other words, he suggested that the events did not actually happen, but that it was lore or legend. Subsequently, Licona resigned from his position with the Southern Baptists and at Southern Evangelical Seminary. What followed is rather alarming. Incredibly, some notable evangelical scholars began to express their support for Licona’s view, considering it consistent with a belief in inerrancy.
SCHOLARS TRYING TO REDEFINE INERRANCY
Of course, in order to defend Licona’s view they had to redefine inerrancy to include what were previously considered to be errors. Some did this by misinterpreting inerrancy as expressed by the ICBI framers.
Since 2011, more alarming statements from Licona have surfaced, including: (1) A denial of the historicity of the mob falling backward at Jesus’ claim “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (RJ, 306, note 114); (2) A denial of the historicity of the angels at the tomb recorded in all four Gospels (Mat. 28:2-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:11-14) (RJ, 185-186); (3) A denial of the accuracy of the Gospel of John by claiming it says Jesus was crucified on the wrong day (debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Spring, 2009); (4) A claim that the Gospel genre is Greco-Roman biography which he says is a “flexible genre” in which “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (RJ, 34). Amazingly, these views continue to gain support among the evangelical community.