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Reading the Bible

June 11, 2020

I grew up in the 1930s in a Protestant Christian culture in Massachusetts in which the local churches were a significant part of our society. My father was a Methodist minister, so I went to church every Sunday (but doodled on the bulletin with a pencil during his sermons.) My father had two theological graduate degrees (Boston University School of Theology), and was of the more liberal theological thinking. So I didn’t grow up with a fundamentalist and literal approach to the Bible. This was reinforced when I took my first Bible course in my high school years at Mount Hermon School in western Massachusetts. And in college, although I majored in Math and Physics, I took an in-depth course in “Synoptics”, an intense study of the structure of the first three Gospels that gave me the base for my later reading and study.

Four books have been key to me in my attempts at articulating my own understanding and experiencing of God. The first one, Honest to God, by Bishop John A.T. Robinson (1963), became a classic, but upset even his own Anglican Church at the time. Then in the 1990s I discovered the weekly column and then the books of Bishop John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey (1979-2000). He articulated for me a theology that I had been trying to express and understand. Three of his books have been particularly meaningful to me: the first one, Jesus For the Non-Religious – Recovering the Divine at the Heart of the Human (2007), the second one, Liberating the Gospels – Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes (1996), and the third one, The Fourth Gospel – Tales of a Jewish Mystic (2013). The last two are for me the clearest explanation of what the four Gospels are all about. His interpretation makes sense to me.

In Liberating the Gospels, early “Christians” were Jews in their Synagogues reading their scripture (OT) and retelling the stories as now applied to Jesus. They were initially for liturgical use in a synagogue, but by the time the Gospels were written, they were becoming increasingly separated from the synagogues. As written, they clearly reflect the chronology of the Jewish festivals. But their Jewishness was soon lost as the Christian Church became Gentile. And the stories became more and more interpreted literally.

In The Fourth Gospel, Spong has given me a whole new way to read the Gospel of John. The author of John did not write it as history or biography, but presents The Christ as Jesus interacts with a series of characters that are all metaphorical, even though some have familiar names He gives me a new way of understanding why this Gospel is so different from the other three.

Loren Bullock

May 3, 2020

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