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Spong On Matt. 27:53 People Rising From The Dead When Jesus Died


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That's John Shelby Spong, retired Anglican bishop, served fifty years, retired in 2000. He doesn't really go into this single verse all that much but he mentions it (see below) along with some of the other events listed in Matt. 27:50-53:

50
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
51
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
52
And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53
And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

In this video, just over halfway through, Spong asks:

Were those literal earthquakes, or was he speaking poetically? The gospel says that at twelve noon on that first Good Friday darkness covered the whole earth until three o'clock. Was that a literal darkness--perhaps an eclipse of the sun--or was that a poetic reference to what it meant to watch this love of God die? .... Matthew says...that when the death of Jesus occurred...the earthquake opened up the graves and people who had been long dead came up out of their graves and walked around in Jerusalem and were seen by people. Is that literal? Or is that poetic language?

#_ftn2That's my transliteration in case there's any mistakes in it. He's in a debate with William Lane Craig at Bethel College on March 20, 2005, on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. This is the first time I ever hear a minister of any type speaking on this verse and I'm quite sure I'm not alone in this so I figured I'd share it.

 

He leaves the question hanging and goes on to talk about angels who can "ride on the wings of the wind" to "announce the resurrection" and who "strike guards" so they were "put in a state of unconscious stupor," angels who then "roll back the stone." Feel free to share any thoughts, ideas, insights, etc. He's a rather unique kind of person and I think more of us might still be Christians if there were more of his kind around. He is introduced as having been awarded Humanist of the Year in 1999.

His description of the resurrection (comes later than the above quote) agrees more with Dan Barker's in Godless than with any fundy preacher I've ever heard. Spong is the second speaker. When he gets up, first he thanks the college for letting him share a podium with an eminent scholar like Craig and congratulates Craig for quoting him so well (Craig quoted from one of his books). After these formalities, the very first thing Spong makes is a definite statement that he is a Christian and that Craig got it wrong re his position.

 

He makes it very seriously clear that the resurrection is central for him. In this, obviously, he is very different from Dan Barker. My definition of a Christian is "a person for whom Christ and/or Christ's teachings are central to life"; I let the Christian interpret what this means to him or her. It means something different to Craig than it does to Spong, and yet they have something in common that, so far as I know, they could not get in any other religion or life philosophy, i.e. Christ as a god-man who gave himself for human salvation. Somehow, I now find the very thought repugnant. Maybe I would not be a Christian anymore, after all, who knows.

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It seems to me that Matt 27:52-53 is an attempt to embellish a story in order to add credibility to the main character(the messiah Jesus).

The author of Matthew wasn't at all shy about tossing in out of context quotes from the Hebrew scriptures to enhance the validity of Jesus.

I suspect Matt 27:52-53 is a another example of a manufactured prophecy fulfillment by Matthew, specifically:

 

Isa 26:19

Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing in triumph, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is the dew of the morning, and the earth shall cast forth the dead.

 

Dan 12:2

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame, to everlasting contempt.

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He's a rather unique kind of person and I think more of us might still be Christians if there were more of his kind around.

The church is full of people just like him. For me, the people were the least of my concerns in the church, they shared a part in my deconversion, but they were not totally responsible for it. The message of salvation, church history, and the creation of the OT and NT as 'God's word' are what finally drove me from the church. The phony stories, such as the one mentioned in Matthew of the resurrection of the Saints, made me reevaluate my beliefs. Every time Christians encounter a story in their babbles that is criticised, such as Matthew 27, they claim either the story is an allegory or the critics just don't have the Holy Spirit to guide them in their interpretations. I believe it is because Christians do not want to consider the fact their holy books spent several years being rewritten to suit the doctrine of the early church, I believe all of them to be fabricated by authors unknown. it doesn't matter to me if the church is filled with 20 million Spongs, the message of the babble is the same, to believe without question what those in authority tell you because they carry the word of God and they will tell us stupid people what that will of god is for us. BS is BS no matter how it is wrapped and presented.

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Centauri, thanks for your input and for those references. I didn't know about them. It makes a lot of sense. I had always been bothered by that passage in Matthew. It comes across to me as so gruesome. I mentioned it once to my mother and she brushed it off as one of those things we don't talk about. (There seemed to be so many of those things.) If the preachers used that chapter they always skipped over those verses. Spong is the first Christian I ever heard talking about it.

 

People here on exC were the first people ever that I heard talking about the passage. Just hearing/seeing people talk about it felt so good. Maybe I wasn't crazy, after all, in finding the passage weird.

 

He's a rather unique kind of person and I think more of us might still be Christians if there were more of his kind around.

The church is full of people just like him.

 

I don't know what you're getting at here but I met none of them.

 

For me, the people were the least of my concerns in the church, they shared a part in my deconversion, but they were not totally responsible for it.

 

I think where you and I differ is that you had a great deal of education and I had only eight grades of elementary school. Also, we were at opposite ends of the social spectrum with all the advantages and disadvantages that go with both. You were a minister, which is a highly visible position with considerable power over the laity. I was one of the laity, whom the rest of the laity pushed out of sight so as to keep me out of mind. You and I would have seen "the people" from opposite directions. If I remember correctly you were a missionary in Africa. As such, would you have looked to the people of your congregation for interpretation and insight on scripture? My guess would be no, but I am not at all familiar with mission work, given that my people did not believe in it at all. I looked to my fellow congregants all the time because we had no access to literature--and did not trust any that the more liberal churches put out, so all we had was each other.

 

The message of salvation, church history, and the creation of the OT and NT as 'God's word' are what finally drove me from the church.

 

This is where the education factor plays into the situation. I don't know enough church history to have a problem with it (except the local situation which is enough to drive anyone nuts) and I haven't a clue how the Bible was put together. But the plan of salvation made no sense from the first time I heard it as a child.

 

The phony stories, such as the one mentioned in Matthew of the resurrection of the Saints, made me reevaluate my beliefs. Every time Christians encounter a story in their babbles that is criticised, such as Matthew 27, they claim either the story is an allegory or the critics just don't have the Holy Spirit to guide them in their interpretations.

 

So long as I had no answers to the foremost burning questions, namely about how Jesus' death could help souls get to heaven and how we know God exists, the rest mattered little. Once I had opportunity to get some education in theology under my belt, some of the urgency decreased and I was better able to come to a conclusion. That first year at the Lutheran seminary was such an eye-opening experience. They allowed me to accept the Bible as it presented itself. My challenge had been to rise above the harmonizing and cut-and-pasting I had learned to do and to get back in touch with the child I had once been who had first read the stories and encountered the inconsistencies.

 

The Lutherans taught that the inconsistencies in the text as we received it were real and that the job of the biblical scholar was to figure out what the authors had actually said, what was interpolated, and what it meant for us today, etc. I don't remember hearing too much about depending on the Holy Spirit for guidance but there were a lot of intellectual tools. It all made so much sense.

 

Of course, they had their magic rites that made no sense and they insisted that humans are depraved. They were so strong on the depravity of humans. Were it not for this, I would have very likely converted to the church many of them attended.

 

I believe it is because Christians do not want to consider the fact their holy books spent several years being rewritten to suit the doctrine of the early church,

 

You're being kind. The author we studied for OT suggested it was religious and civil politics that "inspired" the writing of the OT.

 

I believe all of them to be fabricated by authors unknown. it doesn't matter to me if the church is filled with 20 million Spongs, the message of the babble is the same, to believe without question what those in authority tell you because they carry the word of God and they will tell us stupid people what that will of god is for us. BS is BS no matter how it is wrapped and presented.

 

What I like about Spong is that he seems not to see human nature as utterly depraved. I will never know at what conclusion I would have arrived if I had met Christians who did not as a matter of fact preach that humans were in need of salvation, but who interpreted salvation as a psychological process (as Spong seems to do). I did meet one or two individuals who seemed to lean that way but I would not know where to find an actual church where this is the subject of sermon and instruction. I think that is because in this part of the country there is a heavy mix of conservative religion and people who will not tolerate hell fire theology. That results in sermons of very little substance so as to offend no one. At least, that is how I sum it up after a number of years of absence.

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I don't know if I'm all that educated. I've just had this stuff pounded into me since I was born!

 

The reason I said, the church was full of people like Spong is that most are friendly--to your face. When it comes to individual rights--does Spong accept homosexuals as they are or does he preach they are an abomination? Is he prochoice? These may be 'moral' questions but important ones about equality, which is something Christianity is in short supply of. Spong may be a very nice guy and I'm sure he is. But that is what I meant by the church is full of Spongs, they all have different ideas about scripture, but are devoid of any sympathy for personal human rights. And, as Christians, they have to have an answer for any question put to them. That is the reason for apologetics. If they don't know an answer they may feel the holy spirit is testing their faith and they do not want to fail the test of interpreting scriptures.

 

They believe the bible is true and without error so they cannot fathom stories in the bible that may be false, such as the one in Matthew about the mini resurrection, and so they want to claim it is allegorical, or poetic, because they have no answers as to what happened to those who were supposedly resurrected. Keep in mind, the bible teaches one life, one death, ONE resurrection of the dead, so if the people rose from the grave when Iesus was crucified, how can there be another? The Disciples of the time believed Iesus, I use Iesus more than Jesus cuz Iesus was his name 'O', the disciples believed Iesus would return with the kingdom in hand in their lifetime. They did not plan on a two thousand year vacation--a day to god is as a thousand years Christians will say. So in the Christian time frame, Iesus has only been dead about two days now. Since church leaders can't answer every question, they come up with their own ideas about fiction. Did those who were resurrected die again another day and if so, where and when, where were they reburied? Who were the people they appeared to? The bible prides itself on dropping names but doesn't mention the name of one single saint or one single person they appeared to. Did Spong mention any names and if so, how does he know who were raised from the grave? Did Moses get up? The bible said the saints rose, well who were they? Wasn't Moses the Jews favorite saint? David? Daniel? The girl who was sacrificed to God by her father?

 

The resurrection is central to Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and judgement, so naturally Spong would love the stories of the cruci-fiction and resurrection. Darkness in an eclipse could not have happened because the Passover is during a new moon, which is not the same as an eclipse. Isn't it amazing that no other culture or country records a bizarre solar eclipse when Iesus died? I think so. Jews were not the only people present, yet the only the story of a darkened sun is in the bible! One might imagine that a new moon could cause an eclipse when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun and its shadow would fall on Earth causing a solar eclipse. However, this is totally impossible because the plane of the Moon's orbit around the Earth is tilted by about 5 degrees with respect to the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun, so that when new and full moons occur, the Moon usually lies to the north or south of a direct line through the Earth and Sun. There is absolutely no way the moon could have been in the correct alignment to cause an eclipse at any time during Passover because Passover is only celebrated during a new moon phase. If it were possible, then every time there was a new moon we would have an eclipse. But we don't. Spong's argument of an eclipse is totally illogical and unfortunately shows his ignorance of the natural order of the universe and our solar system. The sun could not darken on its own without the rest of the world seeing it.

 

What is Spong's argument concerning original sin?

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The reason I said, the church was full of people like Spong is that most are friendly--to your face. When it comes to individual rights--does Spong accept homosexuals as they are or does he preach they are an abomination?

Actually,he does accept homosexuals as they are.

they all have different ideas about scripture, but are devoid of any sympathy for personal human rights.

It's kinda the other way around in Spong's case.

The resurrection is central to Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and judgement, so naturally Spong would love the stories of the cruci-fiction and resurrection.

What is Spong's argument concerning original sin?

Don't know about this one.

p.s.

A bit of offtopic: " All Videos > Entertainment > Eschatology > ... " Eschatology is entertaining! :)

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Heretic, I've listened to quite a few sermons, lectures, and debates by Spong. Raul is right. About original sin, Spong does not believe in it. See

(4 min). Nor does Spong accept the Bible as true and without error. Listen to his
lecture, given Nov. 18, 2004. Spong is anti-sexist, pro-life, and accepts homosexuals as they are with open arms. He was awarded Humanist of the Year in 1999 (Eschatology--William Lane Craig vs John Shelby Spong). For an overview of Spong's theology, see This atheist's favorite Christian is..... The person who makes this video seems to be doing it in the middle of taking care of young children and ends up just reading her notes into the camera. But she demonstrates having read or listened to more of Spong than I have. I think it's worth listening to if you don't have time for in depth research yourself. Spong is a guy whom the fundies hate almost more than they hate atheists. That should tell you something.

 

I did a write-up on Spong on my forums and we had a discussion on exC a while ago, if you have time and interest to research him in more detail:

I'll copy a few things here. Re Spong's position on original sin, I don't see him believing in it but you can check it out for yourself in the links of my following entry:

 

"God is not a Christian!" John Shelby Spong says in this video,
. He thinks heaven and hell were invented by the church to control people. He thinks the doctrine, "Ye must be born again" is used to keep people from growing up and from taking personal responsibility. Here's a brief quote:

 

Our problem is not that we are born in sin. Our problem is that we do not yet know how to achieve being fully human.

 

The function of the Christ is not to rescue the sinners but to empower you and to call you to be more deeply and fully human than you’ve ever realized there was the potential within you to be. Maybe salvation needs to be conveyed in terms of enhancing your humanity, rather than rescuing you from it.

 

An atheist gives a summary of Spong's theology in This atheist's favorite Christian is.... (about 5 min.) It's not very well done. She seems to be a mother who is doing this in the middle of taking care of young children so she's kind of harried and ends up just reading her notes into the camera. However, her summary is good. She demonstrates having listened to or read more of Spong than I have, and knows more of his theology than I do. I think the video is worth listening to for anyone who wants a quick overview of Spong's theology.

 

Heretic said:

 

Darkness in an eclipse could not have happened because the Passover is during a new moon, which is not the same as an eclipse. Isn't it amazing that no other culture or country records a bizarre solar eclipse when Iesus died?

 

Heretic, in the context of the debate, I think Spong was saying it was not an exclipse; it was poetic language. Your charge that Christians will say it's an analogy when they can't explain something, might apply here. The same goes for the earthquake, the rending of the veil, and the rising of the dead. At least, that is the way I understood Spong to mean it--as poetic language to get at a deeper understanding of what was happening. I think you would be justified to apply the "analogy" charge.

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I think I may be on my to becoming a Spong fan too, after hearing his explanation of hell as an invention of the church. He does come across as a free thinker. It is marvelous to hear someone in the church speak as Spong does, and actually mean it too. I will be studying Bishop Spong. Thank you for the posts!

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Spong is one of my favorite christians.

 

I read a couple of his books when I first started deconverting about ten years ago. I had just come to the conclusion that the bible ISN'T the literal, infallable word of god and Spong's take on things was refreshing. I do remember thinking he had gone too far, tho, when he suggested that the virgin birth wasn't historical!

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I think I may be on my to becoming a Spong fan too, after hearing his explanation of hell as an invention of the church. He does come across as a free thinker. It is marvelous to hear someone in the church speak as Spong does, and actually mean it too. I will be studying Bishop Spong. Thank you for the posts!

 

You're welcome! :)

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They believe the bible is true and without error so they cannot fathom stories in the bible that may be false, such as the one in Matthew about the mini resurrection, and so they want to claim it is allegorical, or poetic, because they have no answers as to what happened to those who were supposedly resurrected.
While I think there are instances where religious believers try to re-interpret scripture in light of scientific evidence, I don't think the whole concept of interpreting scripture metaphorically is some new concept that liberal Christians invented. St. Augustine believed for example that the book of Genesis was an allegory and this was way back in the times of the early church before the whole evolution came along. There are also some instances in the bible where allegory is clearly used such as how Jesus uses allegory when he teaches his parables in order to teach a spiritual message, so it isn't as if this is some sort of new concept that's being made by cherry picking Christians. As for Spongs' beliefs, Wikipedia has a list of what he believes regarding the bible taken from one of his books
1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.

 

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

 

3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

 

4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.

 

5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.

 

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.

 

7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.

 

8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.

 

9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.

 

10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.

 

11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.

 

12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

From what I've seen of his videos, I don't think the way Spong sees the bible is much different than the way AM sees it expect Spong self-identifies as a Christian and AM doesn't. Richard Dawkins also mentions Spong in The God Delusion. At one point in The God Delusion, Dawkins quotes a line from one of Spong's books where Spong says any Christian that claims to believe the bible is the word of God has never read it, and he mentions Spong as an example of a Christian who's beliefs are so advanced, they would be unrecognizable to the masses. It's open minded and inspiring people like Spong why I can't hate all Christians. I also saw another video where they mentioned Spong was almost once shot at by a "true" xtian.
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