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The Virgin Birth and the Gospel of John: A Blast from the Past

As I've indicated on the Blog before, I tend to go to a Christmas Eve Midnight service with my wife Sarah (usually my one time in church during the year), and this year was no exception.  We were in Suffolk, England, in the town of Woodbridge, and attended the Anglican church there for a very nice service.  The Gospel reading was from John (1:1-14), a standard reading.  But I wondered whether anyone in the congregation realized that this passage in John says nothing about Jesus' being born of a virgin -- one of the very big points of the Christmas message today!   And just now I wondered if I had ever talked about that very interesting factoid on the blog.  It turns out, the answer is yes, precisely three years ago today.  This is what I said then. ********************************************************************* I have pointed out that our earliest Gospel, Mark, not only is lacking a story of the virgin birth but also tells a story that seems to run precisely counter to the idea that Jesus’ mother [...]

2020-04-03T01:41:15-04:00December 28th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Speaking in Tongues and Virgin Births: Readers’ Mailbag September 3, 2017

I will deal with two questions in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag.  The first has to do with why some conservative Christian theologians insist that the “gifts of the Spirit” (such as speaking in tongues and doing miracles) are no longer available to believers today (doesn’t the Bible indicate that they are?), and the second about whether the Gospel of Matthew mistranslates or misunderstands the passage of Scripture that allegedly indicated that the messiah would be born of a woman who was still a virgin. I need to unpack the first question before giving it, since it may not make sense on first reading.  The questioner is asking about the scene in the book of Acts, chapter 2, where, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit comes upon the apostles allowing them to speak in foreign tongues.   Peter explains to the crowds that this is a fulfillment of what had been prophesied in Scripture. Today conservative theologians are split on the question of whether the Spirit still empowers believers to speak in tongues and do other [...]

2020-04-03T02:03:05-04:00September 3rd, 2017|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Mythicists and the Virgin Birth: Readers’ Mailbag May 6, 2017

I’ve been devoting the blog to some autobiography recently, so in this Readers Mailbag I’ll make a shift to a couple of academic questions, one about Mythicist claims on the virgin birth and the other about the usefulness of ancient translations of the New Testament for establishing the original text.   QUESTION: I often read mythicists argue that Jesus was a mythological figure because he (allegedly) has many parallels in pagan gods. One of the parallels, of course, is him being born to a virgin. My question is: do mythicists realize that the concept of the virgin birth is a much later development?   RESPONSE: I have spent time with Mythicist groups, and have always enjoyed myself, finding the people friendly, eager to talk, cordial, and interesting.  But the general lack of basic knowledge about the Bible is shocking, even among the most outspoken among them.  What is shocking is not that they don’t know much about, say, the New Testament – that’s true of most people on the planet  -- but that they have [...]

Jesus’ Virgin Birth in Mark (Reader’s Mailbag February 26, 2016)

It is time for the weekly Readers’ Mailbag.  This week I will be dealing with only one question, one that I find particularly intriguing.  If you have any questions you would like me to answer, either in a comment or in the mailbag, let me know.  I can’t answer every question I get, either because I don’t know the answers (often enough!) or because I can’t get to them all.  But I take them all seriously and will do my best to get to yours! ******************************************************* QUESTION:  I've read of one NT scholar who is critical of your reasoning in How Jesus Became God. He says that your argument from silence is fallacious. For example, he says that just because the virgin birth is absent in Mark's gospel does not constitute evidence that the writer did not believe in the virgin birth.   RESPONSE:        Great question.  The first and most obvious thing to point out is that there is no way to know what another person believes (either the person who wrote Mark or [...]

Reader’s Mailbag on Virgin Birth: 10/29/15

  Many thanks to everyone who responded to my queries about how we could make the Blog better.  I received some very good ideas, and one in particular that I want to implement, starting with this post.  That involves a weekly Reader’s Mailbag.  I get a lot of questions each week, and usually can only devote an occasional post to them.  Otherwise, all I can do is give a one-sentence or so response in my Comments.   But the idea that several people suggested was:  why not have a feature where, in a short directed response, I address interesting questions people raise?  I could do this every week.  The comments would not be as long as a full post, let alone a thread, but much fuller than I can make in my Comments section. I think it’s a great idea.  So I’m gonna try it.  My idea is that the questions should be short and to the point.   They can be on any topic involving the New Testament, the history of early Christainity, or any related [...]

Arguments that Luke Did Not Originally Have the Virgin Birth

In discussing the voice of God at Jesus’ baptism in Luke – where he evidently spoke the words of Psalm 2:7 “You are my Son, today I have begotten you – I have mentioned the possibility that originally Luke’s Gospel did not begin with the account of Jesus’ birth, as found now in chapters 1 and 2.  I have broached that topic on the blog before, a couple of years ago (if you want to see that discussion, just search for “Did Luke Originally Have”).  But my sense is that most people on the blog either weren’t on it back then or possibly don’t remember what I said (as, well, I myself didn’t remember till I looked it up!).  So let me summarize some of the issues. The first thing is to re-emphasize that it would not be strange for Luke to lack an account of Jesus’ birth to a virgin mother in Bethlehem.  That account is also lacking in Luke’s source, the Gospel of Mark, as well as in the Gospel of John.   Moreover, [...]

2020-04-03T13:14:38-04:00October 22nd, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Did Luke’s Gospel Originally Have the Virgin Birth?

I have been discussing the intriguing textual variant found in Luke 3:23, where Jesus is said to be baptized.  When he comes out of the water the heavens open up, the Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove, and voice then comes from heaven.   But what does the voice say?  In most manuscripts the voice says exactly what it does in Mark’s Gospel: “You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.”  But in a few ancient witnesses it says something slightly but significantly different:  “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (or: “given you birth”). I am arguing that the latter may in fact be the original text of Luke, but that it was changed by scribes who were alert to the problems it posed.  But if that’s what the voice said, then doesn’t that indicate that it was at that moment (Note:  “Today”!) that Jesus became the Son of God? You may be able to figure out one objection to thinking that this is what Luke [...]

2020-04-03T13:14:45-04:00October 21st, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

The Virgin Birth and Jesus’ Brothers

I am now ready to end this thread of posts dealing with the stories of Jesus’ virgin birth – told differently in Matthew and Luke, not at all in John, and seemingly argued against in the Gospel of Mark. Earlier I should have given some terminology so that we could all be on the sam page.   There are different terms that are often confused: Immaculate Conception. This doctrine is *not* about Jesus’ mother conceiving as a virgin; it is about Mary’s *own* mother and how she conceived Mary.   Mary, in Roman Catholic thinking, did not have a sin nature.  Otherwise she would have passed it along to Jesus.  But how could Mary not have one, if she were born and raised like every other human?  The answer came in the medieval notion of the immaculate conception: Mary herself was conceived (by her mother Anna) miraculously: God did a miracle so that even though Mary was conceived through the sex act, she was not given a sin nature. Virginal conception. This is actually the view of [...]

2017-12-09T11:12:36-05:00January 3rd, 2015|Historical Jesus, History of Christianity (100-300CE)|

Widespread Claims of Pagan Virgin Births

I have devoted several posts to the issue of Jesus’ virgin birth, as recounted in Matthew and Luke.  As I pointed out, there is no account of Jesus’ virgin birth in the Gospel of John, and it appears that the idea is actually argued *against* (implicitly) in the Gospel of Mark.   Several readers have asked me (or told me) about the parallels to the virgin birth stories in pagan texts, where a son of God, or demi-god, or, well, some other rather amazing human being is said to have been born of a virgin.  Aren’t the Christians simply borrowing a widely held view found among the pagans, that if someone is the son of God (e.g., Hercules, or Dionysus, or Asclepius, etc.), his mother is always thought to have been a virgin? As it turns out, that’s not the case at all. I don’t know of any parallel to ... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, GET WITH THE PROGRAM!!! I don’t know of any parallel [...]

2020-12-26T00:24:55-05:00December 29th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

The Virgin Birth and the Gospel of John

I have pointed out that our earliest Gospel, Mark, not only is lacking a story of the virgin birth but also tells a story that seems to run precisely counter to the idea that Jesus’ mother knew that his birth was miraculous, unlike the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  It is striking to note that even though these two later Gospels know about a virgin birth,  our latest canonical Gospel, John, does not know about it.   This was not a doctrine that everyone knew about – even toward the end of the first century. Casual readers of John often assume that it presupposes the virgin birth (it never says anything about it, one way or the other) because they themselves are familiar with the idea, and think that John must be as well.  So they typically read the virgin birth into an account that in fact completely lacks it. As is well known, John’s Gospel begins ... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, REMEMBER: THE END [...]

2020-04-03T14:12:15-04:00December 28th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Does Mark’s Gospel Implicitly Deny the Virgin Birth?

It is interesting that our first canonical Gospel (which is our first Gospel, whether canonical or noncanonical), Mark, does not have the story of the Virgin birth and in fact shows no clue that it is familiar with the stories of the Virgin birth.  On the contrary, there are passages in Mark that appear to work *against* the idea that Jesus’ mother knew anything about his having had an extraordinary birth. There is a complicated little passage in Mark 3:20-21 about Jesus’ family coming to take him out of the public eye because they thought he was crazy.   It is a difficult passage to translate from the Greek, and a number of translations go out of their way to make it say something that it probably doesn’t say.   The context is that Jesus has been doing extraordinary miracles, attracting enormous crowds, and raising controversy among the Jewish leaders.   Jesus then chooses his disciples and they go with him into a house.  And then come our verses. In the Greek the passage literally says that “those [...]

2017-12-09T16:07:05-05:00December 27th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Why Was Jesus Born of a Virgin in Matthew and Luke?

A few days ago I raised the question of why anyone should think that you have to believe in the Virgin Birth in order to be a Christian.  The reality is, of course, that many Christians do not believe in it, but recognize that it is a story meant to convey an important theological point – a point that could be true whether or not the story happened – that Jesus was uniquely special in this world, not like us other humans, but in some sense the unique Son of God.   Just as the moral of a fairy tale is valid (or not) independent of whether the tale happened, so too with stories like this in the Gospels, whether you choose to call them myths (in a non-derogatory sense), legends, tales, or simply “stories intending to convey a theological truth.” It is interesting, and not often noted, that Matthew and Luke – the two Gospels (in fact, the two NT books altogether) that recount the story of the Virgin Birth – do so for different [...]

2017-12-09T16:07:12-05:00December 24th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Do You Have To Believe in the Virgin Birth?

This post will provide a brief respite from my discussion of the authorship of 2 Thessalonians. I went back “home” to Kansas last week to spend a few days with my mom here before the holiday season.  Dutiful son that I am, I took her to church.   I go to church about once every year or two, these days, and normally when I go it is to an Episcopal church on Christmas Eve.   This was a conservative evangelical Free Methodist Church – one that my mom has attended for many years.  It’s not really my style – I rather prefer centuries-honored liturgy to electric guitars and drums, myself – but I wasn’t there to satisfy my own aesthetic preferences.   (She doesn’t like the guitars and drums either, but we missed the earlier service with the choir). The sermon in that kind of church is very different from what one hears in an Episcopal church and is also very different from the kind of sermon I learned to preach when I was in my Masters of [...]

2017-12-09T16:07:39-05:00December 21st, 2014|Reflections and Ruminations|
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