Category Archives: Historical criticism

How to write a biblical fairy tale

Fantastic Landscape With Mushrooms. Illustration To The Fairy Tale "Alice In Wonderland"

(image courtesy

By Spencer D Gear PhD

WriteShop gives this advice on how to write a fairy tale:[1] Kim, on this blog, states a fairy tale contains these elements:

The fairy tale genre needs to include certain basic elements. Otherwise, it may not be a fairy tale at all!

These characteristics mark a story as a fairy tale:

  • It usually begins with “Once upon a time,” “Long ago,” or “Once there was a …”
  • The story takes place in a distant or make-believe land.
  • It features imaginary characters such as dragons, fairies, elves, and giants.
  • Things happen in threes and sevens (three bears, three wishes, seven brothers).
  • Wishes are often granted.
  • A difficult problem is solved at the end of the story.
  • Good triumphs over evil.
  • The story has a happy ending.

In addition, a fairy tale will often include:

  • Royal characters such as kings and princesses
  • Talking animals
  • Magical elements such as magic beans, fairy dust, enchanted castle

J.J. Sunset’s Blog gives these steps:[2]


clip_image003 Step 1

Decide what lesson your fairy tale is going to teach before you write it. At their core, fairy tales are morality tales from the horror of stepmothers to not talking to strangers. They are generally teaching something and yours should do the same.

clip_image003[1]Step 2

Create a good character. A fairy tale needs someone to root for. They don’t have to be perfect. Just think Jack in “Jack and the Beanstalk” or Red in “Little Red Riding Hood” but your readers should like them and want them to succeed.

clip_image003[2]Step 3

Devise an evil character. A fairy tale must have an evil character that works as an antagonist to the good character. The evil character usually has special powers of some sort and they must use those powers in a way to cause the good character pain.

clip_image003[3]Step 4

Design a magical character or object to write into the fairy tale. The magical character can be the evil character but many fairy tales have both good and evil magical characters that work to off-set the other’s influence.

clip_image003[4]Step 5

Identify what obstacles your good character is going to have to face. Whatever the obstacle, it should seem insurmountable and genuinely require a bit of creativity by your good character and a little magical assistance.

clip_image003[5]Step 6

Cute Cartoon Castle. FairyTale Cartoon Castle. Fantasy Fairy Tale Palace With Rainbow. Vector IllustrationWrite a happy ending. A fairytale isn’t a fairytale unless it has a happy ending. Your good character must succeed and your evil character must lose and lose in a big way so you can write your “happily ever after.”

I gave these two examples of how to create a fairy tale because sometimes scholars state the Bible is a fairy tale.

How to pick fiction from nonfiction

Matt Grant explained:

For writers and readers alike, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction. In general, fiction refers to plot, settings, and characters created from the imagination, while nonfiction refers to factual stories focused on actual events and people. However, the difference between these two genres is sometimes blurred, as the two often intersect.

He further made the assessment that nonfiction is factual, based on true events such as histories, biographies, journalism and essays. If fiction has “a few smatterings of fact” in it, that does not make the nonfiction true. However, “a few fabrications” in nonfictions “can force that story to lose all credibility.”

Here are a few indexes to use to determine the historical reliability of an historical writing.

Indexes (criteria) of historical trustworthiness[3]

These include:

1. Early Multiple Attestation

Multiple Attestation refers to a fact or event that appears to have been preserved down multiple lines of independent tradition is more likely to be true than one that is only preserved down a single line.

2. Dissimiliarity

The ‘criteria of dissimilarity’ . . . essentially contains two different criteria, that of the ‘criteria of distinction from Judaism’(CDJ ) and ‘Criteria of distinction from Christianity‘(CDC) [Swales 2008].

3. Embarrassment

A fact or event that appears to cause embarrassment to the theology of the gospel authors is less likely to have been invented by them than a fact or event that bolsters their theology.

For example, since the Jews had a low view of women, the women who were waiting for Jesus at the empty tomb, makes the account more credible.

4. Coherence

Coherence: A fact or event that appears to be consistent with our present understanding of the historical context is more likely to be true than one which appears to be at odds with it.

5. Semitisms

This criterion states that the historicity of a New Testament sentence p is more probable if it contains traces of an Aramaic or Hebraic origin. Since the New Testament was written in Greek and Jesus spoke Aramaic, traces of Aramaic in the Greek of the New Testament argue in favour of a primitive tradition that originates in Jesus. We see this, for example, in Paul’s quotation of a creedal tradition in Corinthians. “I delivered to you,” he reminds the Corinthians, “what I also received,” suggesting the transmission of an oral tradition. Paul then recites a list of eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus which, as Habermas and Licona point out, contains numerous hints of an Aramaic origin that would seem to vouch for its authenticity—including the fourfold use of the Greek term for “that,” hoti, common in Aramaic narration, and the use of the name Cephas (“He appeared to Cephas”) which is the Aramaic for Peter (Miles 2018).


I’ve shown how to write fairy tales in that genre. We are being absolutely unreasonable with language and research if we want to turn biblical research into making fairy tales. The Gospels are stoutly historical – based on the indices of authenticity applied to them.

Works consulted

Mines, Ben 2018. Thinking Matters, “The Criteria of Historical Authenticity,” 4 February, accessed 8 October 2021,

Swales, Jon 2008. Theological Ramblings, “The Quest for the Historical Jesus: Criteria of Dissimilarity,” 10 March, accessed 8 October 2021,


[1] Available at:, accessed 8 October 2021.

[2] Available at:, accessed 8 October 2021.

[3] These are based on: Ben Mines 2018. The criteria of historical authenticity, Thinking Matters (online), 4 February. Available at: (Accessed 5 August 2019).

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 08 October 2021.

Are camels recorded in Genesis ridiculous?

(image courtesy, (Google, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to hear or read the secular media hacking into biblical Christianity.

Near the beginning of 2014, some of you may have been exposed to what seems like a tirade of derogatory comments in the mass media about camels recorded in the Book of Genesis; Genesis can’t be trusted, and the Bible is unreliable. This is a sample of what I’ve read:

  1. Camels had no business in Genesis‘, New York Times, 10 February 2014.
  2. Camel bones suggest error in Bible, archaeologists say‘, Fox News, 6 February 2014.
  3. Earliest Camel Bones Contradict Bible, Archaeologists Say‘, (Nature World News, 5 February 2014).
  4. Camel bones discovery suggests biblical inaccuracies‘ (Statesman, 6 February 2014).
  5. Camel archaeology contradicts the Bible‘ (The Times of Israel, 5 February 2014).
  6. ‘Will camel discovery break the Bible’s back?’(CNN, 11 February 2014)

From these articles, there are statements such as these:

clip_image002 ‘There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place’.

clip_image002[1] ‘One should be careful not to rush to the conclusion that the new archaeological findings automatically deny any historical value from the biblical stories’.

clip_image002[2] ‘Archaeologists from Israel’s top university have used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the arrival of domestic camels in the Middle East — and they say the science directly contradicts the Bible’s version of events’.

clip_image002[3] ‘In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes’.

clip_image002[4] ‘Scientists say a new discovery involving camel bones is calling the accuracy of the Bible into question’.

clip_image002[5] ‘The more precise dating puts domesticated camels in Israel “centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David,” according to the researchers’.

clip_image002[6] ‘A scientific report establishing that camels, the basic mode of transportation for the biblical patriarchs, weren’t domesticated in Israel until hundreds of years after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are said to have wandered the earth’.

We could go on and on with examples trying to disprove the accuracy of the Bible. But, what’s the truth? Should we chuck out the Book of Genesis as an unreliable piece of literature that should be treated as containing myths? Or should we treat it as Jesus did? You’ll find some of Jesus’ evidence in the articles,

clip_image004Jesus, the New Testament and Genesis‘;

clip_image004[1]The use of Genesis in the New Testament‘; and

clip_image004[2]Genesis: Real, reliable, historical‘.

I recommend equipping yourself for a rebuttal of these mass media anti-Genesis views by becoming acquainted with the issues in these articles:

But there were camels in ancient Egypt

clip_image005Lita Cosner’s article, ‘Camels and the Bible‘ (Creation Ministries International, 11 February 2014) provides evidence to contradict the Israeli archaeologists. I’m grateful for those who know their Bible and the scientific literature and have material available to demonstrate the futility of the anti-Genesis charges.

Cosner wrote,

The first mention of camels in Scripture is in Genesis 12, after Pharaoh took Sarai into his palace. “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels” (12:16). Job, widely regarded as living around the same time as Abram, had 3,000 camels at the beginning of the book, and twice as many at the end. He lived in Uz, which was in Arabia.

So the biblical evidence is that there were camels in Arabia around 2000 BC, and that Pharaoh had some too. This matches what we see from the archaeological record. A paper titled ‘The Camel in Ancient Egypt’ stated, “The proposed time of camel entry into Egypt after its domestication in Arabia was found between 2500 and 1400 BC”.[1] So not only did domesticated camels exist, they were in Egypt when Abraham was there. So this fits the biblical account perfectly.

(image courtesy Google, public domain)

clip_image005[1] See another refutation of the anti-camel stance in, ‘Camels in Genesis Prove Old Testament is ‘Very Accurate,’ Professor Claims as He Refutes Archaeologists’ Findings‘ (Christian Post, 16 February 2014). It stated:

“What these archaeologists are doing… is when they read about somebody like Abraham having camels, they’re saying, “Aha! The Bible is saying that camels were widespread in Palestine during this period of time, and there’s no archaeological evidence for that,” Dr. Andrew Steinmann of Concordia University-Chicago tells Issues, Etc., a Christian radio station….

Steinmann agrees there’s no archaeological evidence for widespread use of camels in Palestine at this time, but adds that that’s not what the Bible is saying.

Amy Hall, a staff with the Christian group Stand to Reason, has transcribed the professor’s interview on her blog.

“What it is showing is that somebody who originally came from Mesopotamia, like Abraham, he did have some camels,” she quotes the professor as saying. “And then the other mentions of camels in Genesis and in the early part of the Bible have to do with either people related to Abraham that were living in the Arabian Desert (for instance, the Ishmaelites…have camels when they come and buy Joseph and take him down to Egypt), or other peoples like that, associated with the Arabian Desert-the Amalekites…who live on the edge of the Arabian Desert are mentioned a number of times having camels. But there’s no mention of Israelites owning camels….”

Here is some more evidence in support of camels at the time of Abraham:

clip_image007Theology professor counters claim that camel bones disprove Bible, explains Abraham owning camels‘ (Global Dispatch, 17 Feb 14).

clip_image007[1]Abraham, Camels and Egypt, or, Where did Abram get his Camel from?Genesis 12:1‘ (

clip_image007[2] ‘Is the Bible Wrong about Camels?’(Stand to Reason).

I pray that you will be equipping the people in your church to provide a defence of the Christian faith when this kind of opposition comes. Here I’ve attempted to provide enough links to get you started with a few opportunities for equipping. We are blessed that there are equipping ministries who have researchers and writers to deal with these issues – and provide us with ready information to pass on to our church people.

In addition, these ministries make their material freely available on the Internet.

Again, it’s the problem of [the archaeologist’s] assumptions’ (Stand to Reason)


[1] Saber, A. S., The camel in ancient Egypt, Proceedings of the Third Annual Meeting for Animal Production Under Arid Conditions 1:208–215, 1998, p. 208.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 July 2018.

How to destroy a Christian denomination

By Spencer D. Gear PhD

Presbyterian Church in USA Logo.svg

(image courtesy Wikipedia)

If your denomination lost 100,000 members in a year, wouldn’t you think that this would be enough of a ‘hint’ to investigate why this is happening?

You may be interested to see the effect of theological liberalism on a denomination. What happens when a denomination gives up its commitment to the integrity of Scripture and seeks another view of the Bible? What is the effect of a denomination giving up its evangelical faith for something else? What happens when a denomination is promoting a politically correct agenda rather than a biblical agenda?

Take a read of what this has done and is doing to the Presbyterian Church (USA): ‘2012 statistics show dramatic decrease in PCUSA membership, congregations‘. Here you will learn that

Membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) declined by more than 100,000 last year, according to the 2012 statistics released recently by the denomination’s Office of the General Assembly. It is the single largest annual membership decline since the PCUSA was formed in 1983….

[Mateen] Elass said that the explanation from Parsons “boils down to two things: 1) All the mainline churches are in decline; the PCUSA is a mainline church; therefore it is in decline. 2) Our culture is increasingly resistant to affiliating with religious institutions — how can we help it if people today don’t want to sign on the dotted line …? Both these reasons, whether true or not, show a desire to excuse the leadership from responsibility rather than a passion to turn things around. There are certain churches that are growing in this environment. Why not study them and invest the denomination’s significant resources in retooling itself to become a more effective proponent of the gospel? Why not return with passion to the heart of the Biblical Gospel rather than giving itself over to causes that are ancillary to the church’s true mission?”

He continued, “On the other hand, the denomination is leaking like a sieve when it comes to membership retention. The number who transferred out to other denominations by certificate was up 126 percent from 2011 (52,064 compared to 23,082). The number lost through ‘other’ means (cleaning the rolls, usually) was up about 4 percent (from 95,613 to 99,067). The only category showing a slight decrease in losses from that of 2011 was in number of deaths. This is small consolation.”

For some diagnoses of what is happening in the PC(USA), take a read of these:
designRed-small The end of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Mark Roberts
designRed-small Fighting the wrong battle in the PCUSA, Calvin Fox
designRed-small The Road to Gay Ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Donald Fortson III
designRed-small 13 Differences Between the PCA and the PCUSA, Andrew Webb

Mateen Elass, a former PC(USA) pastor, gave his assessment in ‘A Long Oblivion in the Same Direction’. Part of his assessment reads:

I have a few suggestions for Gradye and other PCUSA leaders seeking to reach more Americans with the gospel and reverse the decline of the denomination:

1) In the name of racial diversity, invest more effort in reaching out to white Anglo-Saxon Americans. This is still the largest segment of American society, but the group that is fleeing evangelical and mainline churches in largest numbers. On the other hand, failure to do this will at least lead the PCUSA to perhaps reach an expired GA goal of 20% minority membership by 2010. As more WASPs leave the church, and minority numbers hold steady, overall minority percentages will increase dramatically. Not what was originally envisioned, I’m sure, but hey, at least it’s a goal to check off.

2) Since Jesus said to go where the fields were white unto harvest, and since the Pew report indicates that those most likely to affiliate with religious institutions are the politically conservative, begin a top to bottom house-cleaning of social, political and economic endorsements that lean leftward, and replace them with ones that lean right. This will attract those most likely to affiliate and give you a chance to welcome larger numbers into membership. Right now, you’re pitching your message to those least likely to respond. Isn’t that a waste of time and energy?

3) Since the unaffiliated (that fastest growing segment of the younger American population) is turned off by power-grabbing, money-grubbing religious institutions, and since you obviously want to reach this segment of society, rein in all the presbyteries and synods and GA entities that are lording it over individual congregations seeking to leave the PCUSA. Instead of ignoring or secretly encouraging them as they abuse their institutional power to cause as much pain as possible and extract as much money as they can in exchange for permission to legally become part of the body of Christ in another denominational structure, why not remove the property trust clause from the Book of Order, or declare that all churches are free to leave, no strings attached, no fees assessed? Any wishing to stay will do so voluntarily, and all unaffiliateds will see that the PCUSA is in fact not a money-grubbing, power-obsessed institution. Perhaps in observing such Christian grace, they will begin flooding into the new PCUSA.

These suggestions are, of course, made with tongue in cheek, though they each contain a kernel of truth worth considering as the denomination reels with its losses.

For some of my assessment of what happens when theological liberalism invades churches and denominations, see:

blue-satin-arrow-small Is liberal theology heresy?

blue-satin-arrow-small What does historical-critical theology do to the Bible?

blue-satin-arrow-small Is theology important?

blue-satin-arrow-small Spong’s deadly Christianity

blue-satin-arrow-small John Shelby Spong & the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia)

blue-satin-arrow-small Spong’s swan song — at last!

blue-satin-arrow-small Why would a Presbyterian denomination reject Jesus’ atoning sacrifice as propitiation?

blue-satin-arrow-small The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong

That should be enough to get you thinking about core elements of the Christian faith and what to do about spiritual surgery – cutting out the diseased stuff in any church or denomination.

First Presbyterian Church of Houston

(Courtesy Wikipedia)


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 August 2018.

Woman caught in adultery: In or out of New Testament?



By Spencer D Gear

Are there chunks of the Bible that should not be there? Even to raise this topic may cause some some conservative Christians to doubt my salvation: ‘How dare you suggest that you know better than what is in the Bible’,a small number have said to me. What they fail to realise is that they are accepting what is in their English Bible (for many it is the KJV) as the authentic word of God – all of it. They treat their Bible version as the original, inspired text.

However, like it or not, there are issues with a few small sections of Scripture as to whether they should be in the Bible or not. One such example, which I will discuss here, is John 7:53-8:11 which deals with the woman caught in adultery.

The latest edition of the New International Version states at the beginning of this passage: “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53” (BibleGateway).

For the English Standard Version, latest edition, immediately prior to John 7:53, there is this statement, ‘The earliest manuscripts do not include John 7:53-8:11’ (BibleGateway).

Should this passage of John 7-8 be included in the New Testament or not? Let’s look at the evidence. There are two sides to the discussion. Yes! and No! Firstly, let’s those who support the retention of this portion in the NT.

1. Support for John 7:53-8:11 to remain in the NT

Who are the supporters of this passage remaining in Scripture?

1.1 Supporters of the Majority Text of the NT

What is the Majority Text? Michael Marlowe explains that

The “Majority Text” is a statistical construct that does not correspond exactly to any known manuscript. It is arrived at by comparing all known manuscripts with one another and deriving from them the readings that are more numerous than any others. There are two published Greek texts which purport to represent the Majority readings — Hodges & Farstad 1982 and Pierpont & Robinson 1991 (in ‘What about the Majority Text?’).

The Majority Text is the Greek text behind the King James Version and the New King James Version of the Bible – New Testament. The text of modern Bible translations for the NT is known as the ‘Received Text’. This is the text behind the RSV, NRSV, ESV, ERV, ASV, NASB, NIV and NLT to mention a few. Michael Marlowe gives an excellent assessment of the issues and his summary is reasonable:

The idea that the majority of existing Greek manuscripts (i.e. the numerous medieval copies) somehow represent the original text better than any of the oldest manuscripts known to us is an idea that is very hard to defend intellectually. One would suppose, even on common-sense grounds, that a consensus of the earlier copies is likely to be closer to the original text. Against this, it is said that perhaps all of the early manuscripts known to us have derived from a deviant kind of text which gained currency only in the area around Alexandria, where these very old manuscripts were preserved on account of the dry climate. But this hypothesis fails to account for the readings of the ancient versions (e.g. Latin and Syriac) which frequently agree with the older Greek copies against the later ones. We cannot reasonably suppose that the Latin and Syriac versions were based upon manuscripts that were not circulating in Italy and Syria. And then there are the scripture quotations from ecclesiastical writers who lived outside of Egypt, which likewise often support the earlier manuscripts. It is very hard for a Majority Text advocate to overcome this evidence, and certainly it cannot all be brushed aside with an hypothesis about “Alexandrian” deviations. For this reason, very few competent scholars have argued in favor of the Majority Text.

1.2 Dean John Burgeon

Dean John Burgeon supports its inclusion in the NT. See his arguments in John 8:1-11. They include:

  • The historical circumstance and burden of proof lies with those who challenge its authenticity;
  • The Gospel context – John 8:1-11 is an integral part of the immediately antecedent and following narrative;
  • The content and meaning – it ‘carries on its front the impress of Divine origin’;
  • Style and diction – it is ‘woven on a heavenly loom’;
  • Alleged textual evidence against – in spite of the trail of opponents, ‘these twelve verses exhibit the required notes of genuineness less conspicuously than any other twelve consecutive verses in the same Gospel’.

Burgeon explains further:

Section 9: – Evidences Re-Examined: The Old Latin
Section 10: – Patristic and Versional Support

Sidebar: – The Ferrar Group (Family 13)

Section 11: – The Cause of the Omission
Section 12: – The Ancient Lectionary Tradition
Section 13: – Silence of Early Commentators Explained
Section 14: – The Voice of the Early Church Identified
Section 15: – Critical Theories Fail to Explain Facts
Section 16: – Spiritual Bankruptcy of the Critical Position

1.3 Peter Ruckman

Another promoter of this passage in John 8 to remain in the NT is long-term KJV-onlyism advocate, Peter Ruckman of Pensacola Bible Institute. See Ruckman on ‘James White’s Seven Errors in the King James Bible’. See James White’s reply, ‘A response to Dr Ruckman’.

1.4 Trinitarian Bible Society

The Trinitarian Bible Society has a statement in its Constitution:

This Society shall circulate the HOLY SCRIPTURES, as comprised in the Canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, WITHOUT NOTE OR COMMENT, to the exclusion of the Apocrypha; the copies in the English language shall be those of the Authorised Version.

1.5 Gail Riplinger

See Gail Riplinger’s website, ‘Authorized Version Publications’ for her view of keeping the section on the adulterous woman in John’s Gospel.

2. Support for John 7:53-8:11 to be excluded from the NT

But there is support for excluding this passage from the NT.

D. A. Carson wrote:

“Despite the best efforts of Zane Hodges[1] to prove that this narrative was originally part of John’s Gospel, the evidence is against him, and modern English versions are right to rule it off from the rest of the text (NIV) or to relegate it to a footnote (RSV). These verses are present in most of the medieval Greek minuscule manuscripts, but they are absent from virtually all early Greek manuscripts that have come down to us, representing great diversity of textual traditions. The most notable exception is the Western uncial D, known for its independence in numerous other places. They are also missing from the earliest forms of the Syriac and Coptic Gospels, and from many Old Latin, Old Georgian and Armenian manuscripts. All the early church Fathers omit this narrative: in commenting on John, they pass immediately from 7:52 to 8:12. No Eastern Father cites the passage before the tenth century. Didymus the Blind (a fourth-century exegete from Alexandria) reports a variation on this narrative, not the narrative as we have it here. Moreover, a number of (later) manuscripts that include the narrative mark it off with asterisks or obeli, indicating hesitation as to its authenticity, while those that do include it display a rather high frequency of textual variants. Although most of the manuscripts that include the story place it here (i.e. at 7:53-8:11), some place it instead after Luke 21:38, and other witnesses variously place it after John 7:44, John 7:36 or John 21:25.[2] The diversity of placement confirms the inauthenticity of the verses. Finally, even if someone should decide that the material is authentic, it would be very difficult to justify the view that the material is authentically Johannine: there are numerous expressions and constructions that are found nowhere in John, but which are characteristic of the Synoptic Gospels, Luke in particular.

On the other hand, there is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred, even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books. Similar stories are found in other sources. One of the best known, as reported by Papias (and recorded by the historian Eusebius, H. E. III. xxxix. 16)[3] is the account of a woman, accused in the Lord’s presence of many sins (unlike the woman here who is accused of but one). The narrative before us also has a number of parallels (some of them noted below) with stories in the Synoptic Gospels. The reason for its insertion here may have been to illustrate 7:24 and 8:15 or, conceivably, the Jews’ sinfulness over against Jesus’ sinlessness (8:21, 24, 26) [Carson 1991:333-334].

Bruce Metzger’s (1971:219-222) assessment is:[4]

[John] 7.53-8.11 Pericope of the Adulteress

The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming. It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as Papyrus66.75 Aleph B L N T W X Y D Q Y 0141 0211 22 33 124 157 209 788 828 1230 1241 1242 1253 2193 al. Codices A and C are defective in this part of John, but it is highly probable that neither contained the pericope, for careful measurement discloses that there would not have been space enough on the missing leaves to include the section along with the rest of the text. In the East the passage is absent from the oldest form of the Syriac version (syrc.s. and the best manuscripts of syrp), as well as from the Sahidic and the sub-Achmimic versions and the older Bohairic manuscripts. Some Armenian manuscripts and the old Georgian version omit it. In the West the passage is absent from the Gothic version and from several Old Latin manuscripts (ita.l*.q). No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospels do not contain it.

When one adds to this impressive and diversified list of external evidence the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the pericope differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel (see any critical commentary), and that it interrupts the sequence of 7.52 and 8.12 ff., the case against its being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.

At the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western church and which was subsequently incorporated into various manuscripts at various places. Most copyists apparently thought that it would interrupt John’s narrative least if it were inserted after 7.52 (D E F G H K M U G P 28 700 892 al). Others placed it after 7.36 (ms. 225) or after 7.44 (several Georgian mss.) or after 21.25 (1 565 1076 1570 1582 armmss) or after Luke 21.38 (f13). Significantly enough, in many of the witnesses which contain the passage it is marked with asterisks or obeli, indicating that, though the scribes included the account, they were aware that it lacked satisfactory credentials.

Sometimes it is stated that the pericope was deliberately expunged from the Fourth Gospel because it was liable to be understood in a sense too indulgent to adultery. But, apart from the absence of any instance elsewhere of scribal excision of an extensive passage because of moral prudence, this theory fails “to explain why the three preliminary verses (vii 53; viii 1-2), so important as apparently descriptive of the time and place at which all the discourses of chapter viii were spoken, should have been omitted with the rest” (Hort, “Notes on Select Readings,” pp. 86 f.).

Although the committee [that is, the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament] was unanimous that the pericope was originally no part of the Fourth Gospel, in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage a majority decided to print it, enclosed within double square brackets, at its traditional place following John 7.52.

Inasmuch as the passage is absent from the earlier and better manuscripts that normally serve to identify types of text, it is not always easy to make a decision among alternative readings. In any case it will be understood that the levels of certainty ({A}, {B}) are within the framework of the initial decision relating to the passage as a whole.[5]

My conclusion

Since I accept that the MSS that are closer to the originals are deemed to be the most accurate (see the arguments above), I accept that John 7:53-8:11 is an addition to the original MSS and should not be included in the NT.

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Metzger, Bruce M 1971. A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament: Acompanion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (3rd ed). London / New York: United Bible Societies.


[1] BibliothecaSacra 136, 1979, pp. 318-372; 1980, pp. 41-53.

[2] Carson’s footnote at this point was, ‘For a convenient summary of the evidence, cf. Metzger, pp. 219-222. He is referring to Metzger (1971).

[3] This was in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16, available at: (Accessed 14 May 2012).

[4] Available at: (1) Bible Research, ‘The story of the adulteress in the eighth chapter of John’, available at: (Accessed 14 May 2012); (2)

[5] The last paragraph was not in the URL. I copied it from the actual text.


Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.



What does historical-critical theology do to the Bible?


(image courtesy of ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not surprising to hear theological liberals, who deny the authority of Scripture, come out in defence of critics who denigrate the Bible. I encountered this recently on Christian Forums, the largest Christian forum on the www.

A person was commenting about the evidence for Jesus and about that evidence, for sceptics, that is located outside of the Bible.[1] An orthodox Christian wrote:

The only “question marks” come from the higher critics whose sole purpose in life is to deny the Bible as God’s truth. He who has a preconceived agenda has no real interest in the scholarship required to prove or disprove the literature in question. He has already reached his conclusion, and facts just get in the way.[2]

A contributor, who generally has a reputation of posting comments more in line with liberalism than evangelical Christianity, wrote:

I suggest your statement too much of a generalization. The purpose of higher criticism is not to deny the Bible but to gain a better understanding of just what is God’s ‘truth’ by cutting through the smoke and mirrors.[3]

How should we respond to such a view of higher criticism?[4]

Wayseer was building a straw man logical fallacy. He must be living blind-folded to the presuppositional bias against the supernatural of Scripture in the works of much of higher criticism. The purpose and outcome of much of higher criticism has been to deny the authenticity and reliability of the Bible. He has to be blind to what historical critics are doing to make that kind of statement.

Eta Linnemann, a former insider, exposes higher criticism

imageEta Linnemann: 1926-2009 (Wikipedia)

Eta Linnemann (1990:17) was a student of the radical demythologiser, Rudolf Bultmann, as well as the liberals, Ernst Fuchs, Friedrich Gogarten and Gerhard Ebeling. She was baptised, immersed, convinced, indoctrinated in historical criticism. Since she rejected that worldview and its sceptical premises, she has written, Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology.[5] She knows historical criticism from the inside out and these are some of her statements about that discipline of liberal theological scepticism:


Linnemann’s statements of some presuppositions of higher-critical theology

1. In her chapter 6, “The Study of the Historical-Critical Theology”, she stated that ‘research is conducted ut si Deus non daretur (“as if there were no God”). That means the reality of God is excluded from consideration from the start…. The standard by which all is assessed is not God’s Word but scientific principle’ (Linnemann 1990:84).

2. ‘Underlying the historical-critical approach is a series of prejudgments which are not themselves the result of scientific investigation. They are rather dogmatic premises, statements of faith, whose foundation is the absolutizing of human reason as a controlling apparatus’ (Linnemann 1990:111).

3. ‘Whoever maintains that the Bible can only be made understandable with the methods of critical historiography is putting a thoroughly atheistically conceived science in charge of the treasures of divine revelation…. This atheistic, anti-Christian science is recognized by historical-critical theology as furnishing the only proper access to God’s Word, so everyone who wishes to be regarded as theologically educated should endorse this outlook’ (Linnemann 1990:116).

4. Kummel’s[6] historical-critical statement is that ‘the Bible must be historically investigated as the work of human authors in order to understand its actual meaning’. Linnemann’s assessment of this statement is: ‘That is not first demonstrated; it is, rather, presupposed from the outset. And that is not the private opinion of Kummel; it is, rather, the common assumption of historical-critical theology…. They are not permitted to cross-examine in any meaningful way the assumptions of historical-critical theology’ (1990:118, 119).

5. Kummel, using his historical-critical theology, stated, ‘It is easy to see that it is basically impossible to confront the writings of the New Testament as a man making judgments in research and at the same time as one who hears in faith’ (in Linnemann 1990:122).

6. ‘Since the inspiration of Scripture is not accepted, neither can it be assumed that the individual books of Scripture complement each other’ (Linnemann 1990:86).

7. ‘Since the content of biblical writings is seen as merely the creations of theological writers, any given verse is nothing more than a non-binding, human theological utterance’ (Linnemann 1990:86).

8. ‘The undeclared yet working basic principle of Old Testament and New Testament science is: What the text clearly states can, by no means, be true’ (Linnemann 1990:87).

9. ‘For historical-critical theology, critical reason decides what is reality in the Bible and what cannot be reality; and this decision is made on the basis of the everyday experience accessible to every person. Nothing is accepted as fact unless it is generally held to be possible. That which is spiritual is judged using fleshly criteria. Experiences of God’s children are totally disregarded. Due to the presuppositions that are adopted, critical reason loses sight of the fact that the Lord, our God, the Almighty, reigns’. As for miracles, ‘the theologians write them off as popular religious drivel’ (Linnemann 1990:88, 89).

10. ‘In its own eyes, historical-critical theology wants to lend assistance to the proclamation of the gospel through an interpretation of the Bible that is scientifically reliable and objective. There is, however, a monstrous contradiction between what it says it wants to do, on the one hand, and what it actually does on the other. In the light of all I have already said, it should be patently obvious that the manner in which historical critical theology handles the Bible does not further the proclamation of the gospel, but rather hinders it – in fact, it even prevents it’ (Linnemann 1990:89).

11. ‘But worse yet, it is by no means clear that we are dealing here with an approach that yields objective and scientifically reliable interpretation of the Scripture as it claims. It is simply not true that historical-critical theology has replaced subjective impressions with a well-grounded discovery of the truth through careful weighing of arguments’ (Linnemann 1990:89).

12. ‘If one assumes that the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) was not spoken by Jesus himself, but rather that it arose in the early church, then one places it in a different context. It gives information, not about Jesus, but about the early church. To analyze it one compares it to what is known of the early church, not to what is known about Jesus’ (Linnemann 1990:93).

13. ‘If one assumes, on the basis of the differences between John’s Gospel and the three other Gospels, that the author of John is not John the disciple of Jesus, then a series of inferences naturally flows: In this case the author himself did not personally experience what he asserts about Jesus. He must have modeled his presentation on earlier sources. This raises the questions about the nature of these earlier documents. And this in turn raises the further question of how John’s Gospel is distinct from the sources it is based upon’ (Linnemann 1990:93).

14. ‘Basic assumptions are placed on the same level as fact, not theory, of course, but certainly in practical application. That is, one makes use of them as if they were facts. Anyone who incorporates these basic assumptions into his thinking is influenced and ultimately changed by them’ (Linnemann 1990:96).

15. For these historical-critical scholars, ‘Christian literature from Bible-believing authors is practically taboo. The productions of some publishers are not taken seriously and cannot be listed in the bibliography of a formal term paper, unless one is prepared to get a lower grade for doing so. The professor is not really familiar with these works either’ (Linnemann 1990:97).

16. As for the prophetic future, for historical-critical scholars, ‘there is no such thing as a knowledge of future things given by God’ (Linnemann 1990:110).

17. Linnemann’s assessment, based on her many years of indoctrination by the historical-critical method, is that Kummel’s compromise solutions do not justify ‘his groundless contention that it is a fact that believing reception of the New Testament message can occur only through the hearing aid of historical-critical theology…. But Kummel subsequently sets forth the thesis once more: “Hence there is no other access to the understanding of the New Testament writings than the method of historical research, which is valid for all antiquity”‘ (Linnemann 1990:122).

18. Linnemann’s assessment of her genuine Christian conversion from the historical-critical liberalism is: ‘I am so grateful that Jesus’ blood has washed away my errors! I was no better; in fact I was worse, and I likewise made such irresponsible statements. And whoever gets involved in historical-critical theology will end up in a similar situation. One can no more be a little historical-critical than a little pregnant’ (Linnemann 1990:123).

19.  Read Eta Linnemann’s testimony of her conversion to Christ after years of dedication to theological liberalism, HERE. See Eta Linnemann’s, ‘Historical-Critical and Evangelical Theology’.

In the midst of this kind of evidence from one who was involved deeply with the historical-critical method, wayseer had the audacity to state: ‘The purpose of higher criticism is not to deny the Bible’.

That is a plainly false statement as any examination of the historical-critical writers will demonstrate. He has a sub-standard understanding of the historical-critical method to conclude that its purpose is not to deny the Bible. My reading of historical-critical writers demonstrates that for many of them the purpose is to deny the authority and integrity of the Bible – BIG TIME.

I’m in the midst of working my way through the presuppositions of the historical-critical ideology of John Dominic Crossan in a doctoral dissertation (so I can’t share them at this stage) but Crossan is but another example of the desire to denigrate the Bible, whether that be by modernistic or postmodernistic presuppositions. An example would be Crossan’s statement (1991:423), the nineteenth century dream of ‘uncommitted, objective, dispassionate historical study’ is ‘a methodological screen’. Instead, he challenges the readers through his method and historical hermeneutics as they presume ‘that there will always be divergent historical Jesuses’ with resultant ‘divergent Christs’. The structure of Christianity, for Crossan, will be, without variation, ‘This is how we see Jesus-then as Christ-now‘ (emphasis in original).

Theological liberalism is inundated with historical-critical presuppositions, thus creating an ideology that tries to destroy the integrity of the Bible.

And have a guess what? When it is promoted in any denomination, it destroys that denomination as a Gospel-presenting church. We see that with much of the Anglican church in Australia (except for the Sydney diocese, some of the Melbourne diocese, and the occasional other evangelical Anglican churches like the one near me in Petrie, Qld).

The ‘cutting through the smoke and mirrors’ (wayseer’s language) of historical-critical methodology, is really the imposing of a secular worldview on the biblical text and making it mean what the critic wants it to mean, and that is generally contrary to the intent of the biblical text.

On the popular level, the theological liberalism promoted by John Shelby Spong, is an example of how he sets about to destroy the Bible – and losing 40,000 people in the Episcopal church diocese when he was bishop of Newark, NJ. See ‘Spong’s deadly Christianity‘.

There are presupposition of the historical-critical method that force historical-critical scholars to eek sources outside of the Bible. This often means a downgrading of the historicity of the NT.

One of the criteria for historicity that these historical scholars like to use is multiple attestation and not single attestation. If it is attested (stated) once only in the NT, that is not good enough for historical veracity for many of these historical scholars. What I’m finding in assessing the methodology of John Dominic Crossan is that he does not maintain this criterion of multiple attestation with complete consistency. There are times when one record of a Jesus’ action is accepted by him.

However, most scholars using a framework of historical criticism that I have assessed, denigrate the Bible and elevate their own (or another scholar’s) human reason as more authoritative than the Bible.

Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, stated:

The aim of the quest [for the historical Jesus] is to set Jesus free. Its purpose is to liberate Jesus from the scriptural and creedal and experiential prisons in which we have incarcerated him (1996:300).

That’s what we are dealing with when we see historical-critical study inflicted on the Scriptures. Funk’s and the Jesus Seminar’s views are more important than the scriptural version of Jesus.
Also see I. H. Marshall’s, ‘Historical criticism’.


The historical-critical method is destructive of biblical Christianity.

The Word of God is homogeneous and unified; it is entirely and totally God’s Word. To classify its various parts according to our own evaluation system is insolence. It is, nevertheless, standard procedure in historical-critical theology to accord different levels of validity to different portions of God’s Word (Linnemann 1990:149).

Works consulted

Crossan, J D 1991. The historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Funk, R W 1996. Honest to Jesus. Rydalmere, NSW: Hodder & Stoughton.

Kummel, W G 1973. The theology of the New Testament. Nashville: Abingdon.

Linnemann, E 1990. Historical criticism of the Bible: Methodology or ideology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.[7]

Linnemann, E 1992. Is there a synoptic problem?: Rethinking the literary dependence of the first three gospels. Tr by R. W. Yarbrough. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Linnemann, E 2001. Biblical criticism on Trial: How scientific is ‘scientific theology’? (online). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, also available (online) at: (Accessed 20 November 2010).


[1] ebia #5, 25 March 2012. ‘Did Jesus Really Exist? Proving Jesus without the Bible’, Christian Forums. Available at: (Accessed 3 April 2012).

[2] WinbySurrender #9, ibid.

[3] wayseer #10, ibid.

[4] I responded as OzSpen#49, available at: (Accessed 3 April 2012). I have rewritten a few phrases to make it in the third person.

[5] See the other writings of Linnemann (1992, 2001).

[6] Linnemann is referring to Kummel (1973). See Linnemann (1990:114,  n. 1).

[7] This book is now published by Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Books, 2001.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.


Spong’s deadly Christianity

Bishop John Shelby Spong portrait 2006.png

J S Spong 2006 (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

I read the article, “An Evening with John Shelby Spong,” in the Uniting Church of Queensland’s, Journey magazine, online (28 September 2007). Then, I read the positive letter towards Spong’s Christianity by Noel Preston.

1. Dear editor

I wrote this letter-to-the-editor of Journey:[1]

Letters to the editor,
Sent 27 Oct 2007 to:
[email protected]

Dear Editor,

It is with sadness that I must disagree profoundly with Noel Preston’s assessment of  Bishop Spong as having “the positive impact . . . on behalf of Christian faith” (Journey, Letters, Nov. 07).    While Spong was Bishop of Newark, NJ, the Episcopalians voted with their feet.  Membership dropped by more than 40%.  That redefines “positive impact.”

Spong throws out core Christian beliefs such as the atonement, calling it an “offensive idea.”  He denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, yet still wants to say: “I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I believe passionately in God. This God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions” (A New Christianity for a New World, pp. 3, 10, 64, 74).

Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of NT & Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes.’  Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.  He remains defined by the literalism he so doggedly battles” (The Real Jesus, p. 33).

Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and former Oxford scholar, N. T. Wright, takes Spong’s view to task in, Who Was Jesus?

Another has described Spong as “Mr. I-am-a-bishop-who-believes-nothing-of-the-Gospel”.[2]

Yet, Rev. Preston wants to link Spong to professing “his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs.”  Which Jesus?

Spong’s denial of central Christian beliefs makes him heterodox in his theology.  To call his ministry “prophetic” is an abuse of the word.  Spong’s Jesus is no more than regurgitated 19th century liberalism.

“Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?” Rev. Preston asks?  Yes it did, but not for an anaemic Christ stripped of his essence by bishops like Spong.  Spongian “christianity” is deadly to church life.

Spencer Gear,
Hervey Bay

2. The pro-Spong letter

This is the Noel Preston letter to which I was referring:

Spong again[3]

I write to commend you for the October Journey.

I was especially appreciative of the three commentaries on Bishop Spong’s public meeting in Brisbane.

I do not dissent from the impressions reported and share with Bruce Johnson a measure of disappointment that the address I heard from Jack Spong was short on the detail of “a new approach” to theology, though I have great admiration for the positive impact the Bishop has had on behalf of Christian faith throughout a courageous ministry lasting decades.

Your editorial on the subject mused over what it is that causes such a reaction by many to the 78 year old Bishop.

I suspect its intensity has something to do with his determination to profess his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs, moral codes and institutional norms which have been dubiously confused with the essence of the Gospel.

Perhaps his detractors might opine: “If he could just stop pretending to be a disciple it would be easier to tolerate him!”

This is not an unusual story.

As some of your readers would recognise, attempts to be prophetic from within a religious tradition often bring forth a vehement reaction.

Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?

Noel Preston

3. The edited letter

If you have written letters to editors of newspapers and magazines, you will know that an original letter can be edited to eliminate some of the original material. This is what happened with my letter.

This is how my letter appeared in Journey, December 2007, p. 19.

Spong again

It is with sadness that I must disagree profoundly with Noel Preston’s assessment of Bishop Spong as having “the positive impact on behalf of Christian faith” (November Journey).

While Spong was Bishop of Newark, the Episcopalians voted with their feet. Membership dropped by more than 40%. That redefines “positive impact”.

Spong throws out core Christian beliefs such as the atonement, calling it an “offensive idea”.

He denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, yet still wants to say: “I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being” (A New Christianity for a New World).

Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of New Testament and Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes’.

Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.

To call his ministry ‘prophetic’ is an abuse of the word.

Spong’s Jesus is no more than regurgitated 19th century liberalism.

“Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?” Rev Preston asks.

Yes it did, but not for an anaemic Christ stripped of his essence by bishops like Spong.

Spongian ‘Christianity’ is deadly to church life.

Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay

a. Please note what was edited from my letter

blue-satin-arrow-small The page reference numbers for Spong’s A New Christianity for a New World (Spong 2001) were eliminated. Not including these prevents others from checking out my quotes with ease. But that is inconsequential compared with other more substantive issues that were edited out.

blue-satin-arrow-small  This is what I stated about Luke Johnson, ‘Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of NT & Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes’.  Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.  He remains defined by the literalism he so doggedly battles’ (The Real Jesus, p. 33). How was it edited in my published letter?

Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of New Testament and Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes’.

Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.

The Journey publication of my letter reads as though I wrote the last sentence. That sentence was not created by me. It is a quote from Luke T Johnson (1996:33). This is unacceptable editing when I am made to say something another author wrote. It makes it look like plagiarism when that is not the way I presented it in my letter.

blue-satin-arrow-small What I stated from Anglican scholar, N T Wright, was excised. I wrote: ‘Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and former Oxford scholar, N. T. Wright, takes Spong’s view to task in, Who Was Jesus?

It was important to note that Wright provided a refutation of Spong in Wright’s book, Who Was Jesus? (1993). This is because both Spong and Wright are Anglicans but reach radically different conclusions concerning Jesus. Wright’s scholarship is regarded by many scholars as more substantive than Spong’s, and there are reasons for this.

Wright challenged Spong:

In particular, talk of ‘my Christ’ is the kind of thing that, as Spong must realize, leaves him wide open to the charge of sheer subjectivism – especially when it is combined with a continual downplaying of historical truth. How do we know that Spong’s ‘Christ’ is the real Christ?…

Spong has, in short, cut himself off from serious historical study. The world that he has opened up is a world which he himself calls midrash, however inaccurately. It is a world where the modern exegete can reconstruct a fantasy-history in the interests of a current ideology (Wright 1993:67, 91).

4.  A theologian’s critique of Spong

Gerald O’Collins, Professor of fundamental theology, Gregorian University, Rome, reviewed Spong’s book, Resurrection: Myth or reality (1994). In the first paragraph of his review, O’Collins stated that Spong ‘seems a caring, prayerful person. But a kindly heart and lots of fine rhetoric cannot make up for the lack of scholarship and critical judgement shown throughout this book’ (O’Collins 2000:112).

He wrote of Spong’s inaccuracy as a scholar:

What is said about a key verb St Paul uses in Gal. i:15f. shows that the bishop has forgotten any Greek he ever knew….

Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer are listed among those unfortunates who have “found themselves removed, silenced, harassed, or compromised in some way”. This is news to me. Fr Brown has been and Fr Fitzmyer is a member of the papal biblical commission. Is this a Machiavellian way of compromising them?

Later in the book both turn up again in company with 15 other “New Testament scholars”, who all allegedly join with the bishop in “rejecting

the literal narratives about the Resurrection” as no more than “Christian legends”.

They and some others on that list might well consider bringing a legal action against the bishop and/or his publishers for professional defamation.

Brown and Fitzmyer have repeatedly gone on record as accepting the historicity of the burial by Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’s post-Resurrection appearances and the discovery of his empty tomb – all of which Spong rejects.

In a curious fashion the bishop talks of his seventeen “New Testament scholars” in the present tense: “we who are convinced”, “we who reject”, and so forth.

Half of them (like William Albright, Rudolf Bultmann, C. H . Dodd, E. C. Hoskyns and Karl Rahner) are long dead and have no chance of dissociating themselves from Spong and his views.

Some of them, such as Karl Rahner, Hans Kung and Edward Schillebeeckx, cannot be classified as New Testament scholars in the proper sense of the term. Does the bishop really care about accuracy and truth? Or is all this part of what he calls floating with him “on a sea of timelessness”? (O’Collins 2000:112).

So what is O’Collins estimate of Crossan’s scholarship?

His work simply does not belong to the world of international scholarship. No genuine scholars will be taken in by this book. But ordinary readers who are not too familiar with modern biblical studies could easily be impressed by Spong’s title of “bishop” and his pretended scholarship (O’Collins 2000:113).

5.  Spong’s shoddy Greek knowledge

Wphthe vs. apokalupsa

What was O’Collins’ complaint about Spong’s use of Greek in relation to Galatians 1:15? He did not present details in his review but it becomes obvious with an examination of what Spong wrote, if one has a introductory knowledge of NT Greek.

Galatians 1:15-16 states, ‘But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood’ (RSV). The RSV was the version used in Spong (1994).

Spong stated of Gal 1:15-16a,

The word for ‘reveal’ in this text is ?phth?, the same word used in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the appearances of God (theophanies) or angels of God (angelophanies). The Septuagint uses ?phth? to describe a theophany to Abraham: ‘then the Lord appeared [?phth?] to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land”’ (Gen 12:7. What was the nature of the theophany? Was it really ‘physical’? What was the means of hearing God’s voice speak? Was it audible to any ear? Was it capable of being recorded or objectified?…

?phth? means to have one’s eyes opened to see dimensions beyond the physical. It means to have a revelatory encounter with the holy. It relates to the nature of visions, but not so much subjective hallucinations as seeing into that which is ultimately real, into God or God’s inbreaking future.

Luke used this same word when he had the disciples say Jesus ‘has appeared to Simon’ (Luke 24:34) [Spong 1994:53-54].

Spong’s shoddy understanding of Greek comes to the fore here. He is completely wrong with the verb he names and then expounds in Gal 1:16a. The word used in this verse is not ?phth?, but apokalupsai, which is the present tense, middle voice, subjunctive mood verb of apokalupt?.

Spong named the wrong Greek verb and set about expounding a wrong verb in Gal 1:16a that did not exist in that verse. This accounts for O’Collins’ sarcastic comment ‘that the bishop has forgotten any Greek he ever knew’. So what Spong said about the verb for ‘reveal’ in Gal 1:15-16a was wrong because that was not the verb used for ‘reveal’ in Gal 1:16a. How could an author, published with a major publisher, make such a basic error I his knowledge of NT Greek?

6.  Further objections to the edited letter

  • The letter that I sent to Journey, stated: ‘Another has described Spong as “Mr. I-am-a-bishop-who-believes-nothing-of-the-Gospel”’. This was eliminated from the published letter, but this is only a minor point of editorial deletion.
  • However, this statement by me was a signification deletion in my published letter: ‘Yet, Rev. Preston wants to link Spong to professing “his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs.”  Which Jesus?’ Why not publish this statement? I was challenging Rev Dr Noel Preston’s positive support for Spong’s unorthodox teaching. Spong’s Jesus is not the Jesus revealed in the New Testament. So to ask, ‘Which Jesus?’ is a valid inquiry. Spong’s view of Jesus versus that revealed in Scripture should be exposed, whether in a letter or in an article.

These articles discuss the demise of liberal Christianity:

7.  Conclusion

John Shelby Spong is promoting a radical agenda of ‘another Jesus’ who is not revealed in Scripture. Spong’s Jesus is that of liberal, historical-critical Christianity that has proceeded to empty churches for more than a century.

It is important to review the content of a letter-to-the-editor published when compared with the original. Take opportunities to write again to that newspaper or journal to take up the editorial censorship/deletions by the editor of letters. If this second letter is not published by way of correction, use online facilities to correct it – as I’ve attempted to do here.

For my other exposes of Spong’s unorthodox (heretical) teachings, see my articles:

Works consulted

Johnson, L T 1996. The real Jesus: The misguided quest for the historical Jesus and the truth of the traditional Gospels. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

O’Collins, G 2000. What of the Spong song? “Resurrection: Myth or reality”, A bishop’s search for the origins of Christianity; Review by Gerald O’Collins (online), [4]112-113. Apologia: The journal of the Wellington Christian Apologetics Society (Inc.), vol 7(2/3). Available at: (Accessed 21 November 2013).

Spong, J S 1994. Resurrection: Myth or reality? A bishop’s search for the origins of Christianity. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Spong, J. S. 2001. A new Christianity for a new world. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Wright, N T 1993. Who Was Jesus? Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.[5]


[1] This letter was published in ‘Letters’, Journey, December 2007, p. 19, available at:

[2] Amazon review by ‘matt’ of N T Wright’s, Who was Jesus? (1993, Eerdmans), available at: (Accessed 21 November 2013).

[3] The following letter is in “Letters,” Journey, November 2007, p. 15. Journey is published by the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod. This is available online at: (Accessed 21 November 2013). However, on 1 December 2015 it was no longer available online.

[4] This republishing of the article stated that it was ‘First published in the Tablet (London) (10 September, 1994). Republished in Welcome (September 1994, No. 101)’ [O’Collins 2000:112].

[5] This was first published by SPCK, London, in 1992.


Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 October 2015..