Category Archives: Background resources

Bishop Spong on the Gospel of John

fourthgospelAfter five years of study and writing, retired Episcopal Bishop John Spong has published a new book that argues that the Gospel of John signals in several ways that its author did not intend it to be read as a literal account of Jesus’ life and teachings.

Spong summarizes his conclusions by suggesting:

  1. John is a composite of writings from at least three writers, none of whom were John Zebedee or any other of Jesus’ disciples.
  2. Jesus probably didn’t say the things that are attributed to him in the gospel.
  3. Probably none of Jesus’ “signs” ever actually happened.
  4. Many of the characters in the book were invented by the author.
  5. The book itself ridicules literal interpretations.
  6. The author exaggerates details to signal that we are not dealing with literal reporting.

Clearly (and not unsurprisingly), this is a very different way of reading the Gospel of John than has been customary. What might change in our understanding of Jesus, the Gospel process, and the life of the church?

You can read more of Spong’s own commentary on his book at the Huffington Post. Or better yet, read The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic (HarperOne, 2013) and then tell us what you think.



A thought for Good Friday

From Diane Butler Bass

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a writer. I choose prepositions carefully. There is a huge difference between for and with. For is a preposition of distance, a word that indicates exchange or favor, it implies function or purpose. I do something for you; you do something for me. Notice: someone does something on behalf of or in another’s place. For is a contract. Jesus suffered for us–means that Jesus did something on our behalf, he acted on behalf of a purpose, in place of someone else. For always separates the actor and recipient, distancing a sacrificial Jesus from those for whom he died. At the Cross, Jesus is the subject; we are objects.

By way of contrast, with is a preposition of relationship, implying accompaniment, or moving in the same direction. Rather than something done for you, with makes you participate in the action or transaction. With is the preposition of empathy, of sympathy, of being on the same side, of close association, of companionship. “No, you needn’t go for me; I’ll go with you.” With is about joining in, being together.

For or with? Contract or relationship? Exchange or participation? Quid pro quo or friendship?

How does Jesus’ suffering connect with your own? Is his story something carried out so that you don’t have to do it or cannot do it? Or is his journey one that accompanies your own?

You can read the full meditation at The Huffington Post.

The Bible on TV you seen The Bible? It’s lead-up time to Easter and Passover, and, true to form, TV broadcasters are turning to Bible movies. New in the genre this year is a series on The History Channel, a 10 part miniseries produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Burnett suggested that one motivation for creating the series was to counter a growing Bible illiteracy among young people. In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor Burnett said, “In school, you have to know a certain amount of Shakespeare, but no Bible. So there’s got to be a way to look at it from a pure literature point of view. If it wasn’t for the Bible, arguably Shakespeare wouldn’t have written those stories.” Continue reading

Stories and truth

The story of the oil of the Maccabees and the stories of Jesus’ birth are great stories. To adapt a sentence from Norman McLean’s A River Runs Through It, they are not true stories, but they are stories that are true.

John S. Kloppenborg, Q scholar, in a discussion with Larry Hurtado and Alan Segal– “Jesus and the Gospel: What Really Happened” at

What makes a story true? Do you see a difference between a true story and a story that is true? How do you think of the stories of the New Testament? What difference does it make?

Interview with Marcus Borg

English: Marcus Borg speaking in Mansfield Col...

English: Marcus Borg speaking in Mansfield College chapel.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been a busy couple of months, and time for posting here has fled away- my only hope is that someone missed these notes from BibleWorkbench!

One of our favorite biblical scholars, Marcus Borg, is interviewed by Candace Chellew-Hodge over at Religion Dispatches. His latest book, Evolution of the Word, presents the New Testament texts in chronological order and serves to highlight the influence that communities had on the shaping of the text and tradition. For some, simply the title will be unthinkable- how can the eternal Word Of God be changeable, much less evolving?

Here’s a bit of Borg’s perspective:

There were vibrant Christ communities spread out around the Mediterranean world before any of the documents were written, so the documents give us glimpses, or windows, into what those Christ communities were like.

And they make clear that the New Testament as a whole, including the gospels, are the product of those communities, written to those communities, and in many cases written within those communities. So, we learn that it’s not that the gospels created early Christianity but early Christianity produces the gospels as well as the other documents.

You can find the full interview at Religion Dispatches.

Is a Bad God Better than No God At All?

In a recent blog posting, an old friend, Bruce Epperly, ponders whether some of our ways of imagining God need to be discarded:

Getup Get God

Getup Get God
(Photo credit: prettywar-stl)

Donald Trump is noted for telling people, “You’re fired!”  While I do not advocate religious uniformity and recognize the good faith of those who differ radically from me in theology and practice, I believe that some of our gods should be “fired” and replaced by healthier and more life-supporting visions of God.

A pluralist society in which people find ways to affirm diversity, reach compromise, and work together despite differences requires a different image of truth and divinity.  Briefly put, a healthy society requires religious and political humility, grounded in a clear recognition of the insights of those who differ from us and a confession of our own finitude, error, and imperfection.  The most important truth that can be uttered in religion and politics is “This I believe, but I could be wrong in parts” and “I differ from you, but there may be truth in your position.”

You can read more of his excellent comments over at

Why Christ’s Color Matters

Picture of Jesus with American flag

Picture of Jesus with American flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Radicalized Jesus always has a problem with Americanized Jesus. It reminds me of a speech given by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper where she made a distinction between the Christ of Calvary versus the Christ of Culture. Radicalized Jesus could speak to the economic situation and address the class issues as well. Radicalized Jesus would challenge the status quo and invite others to see how people on the margins and all working class peoples live. Americanized Jesus, on the other hand, stands with the status quo and protects the interest of the wealthy. We have visions and portrayals of Radicalized Jesus, but since many of them come to us in brown and black skin or with tattoos and locks, we tend not to take them seriously.

– Andre E. Johnson, professor of rhetoric, religion, and African American Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary, in a discussion of the book, The Color of Christ, by Ed Blum and Paul Harvey.

How has picturing Jesus as a white man shaped religious awareness in America? How has it been conscious or unconscious? And what difference does this history make in our supposedly “post-racial” times? You can find the full conversation “Mitt’s Jesus, Barack’s Jesus, and Why Christ’s Color Matters” over at Religion Dispatches.

How do you imagine Jesus? How does that shape the way you see the world? What does your image of Jesus say about what you value? What you overlook?