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John Shelby Spong, bestselling author and popular proponent of a modern, scholarly and authentic Christianity, argues that this last gospel to be written was misinterpreted by the framers of the fourth-century creeds to be a literal account of the life of Jesus when in fact it is a literary, interpretive retelling of the events in Jesus' life through the medium of fictional characters, from Nicodemus and Lazarus to the "Beloved Disciple." The Fourth Gospel was designed first to place Jesus into the context of the Jewish scriptures, then to place him into the worship patterns of the synagogue and finally to allow him to be viewed through the lens of a popular form of first-century Jewish mysticism.
The result of this intriguing study is not only to recapture the original message of this gospel, but also to provide us today with a radical new dimension to the claim that in the humanity of Jesus the reality of God has been met and engaged.
If he's written it once, Spong (The Sins of Scripture), like many Biblical scholars, has written dozens of times: do not take the Bible literally. He is adamant that readers must not take the Gospel of John as history. Spong, the high-profile former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, stands on solid scholarship with these ideas: the Gospel of John was written over decades by several authors; Jesus did not speak the words ascribed to him in the book of John; none of the miracles happened; most of the book's charac-ters, the Marys and Nicodemus and Thomas, are just that -- literary characters, not literal men and women. More important than the negatives to the profoundly persuasive author is the unburnished pos-itive: divorced from latter-day fictions, John is one powerful gospel. To prove its base in Jewish mys-ticism, Spong paces through the signs, the farewell discourses, the passion narrative, and resurrection stories. The Fourth Gospel, Spong argues, calls on the faithful to believe that Jesus achieved "the mys-tical oneness with the God who is the source of life...."