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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 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 …


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Year in Review 2017!
Did They Crucify the Wrong Guy? Jesus’ Identity Switch.



  1. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  December 28, 2017

    Before reading your work, and that of others, I never realized how much jumping from book to book and author to author Christians did to harmonize the account and create a one large gospel and that Christians do take issues, or beliefs, and read into, or project onto, the gospels thing that are not there.

    This leads to my questions. I have been watching/listening to your debates on YouTube (just listened to the two part debate with Timothy McGrew who does this frequently) and I wonder if those that do Biblical Scholarship (or display knowledge/interest in the subject) and are also Theologians, it seems to create a conflict of interests. Can one be a Biblical Scholar and a Theologian? That seems like a recipe to produce Christian Aplogists. Not saying one cannot be a believer but it does muddy the waters. I think it puts believers in a precarious position when Scholarship challenges orthodoxy. I think that creates a False need to harmonize and reconcile discrepancies and McGrew is a prime example of one who does that.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 28, 2017

      Answer: there are biblical-scholar/theologians and there are biblical-scholar/theologians. Very conservative evangelical biblical scholar theologians see no contradictions/discrepancies/mistakes in the Bible and doing theology involves synthesizing the various biblical views of this that or the other thing into a consistent whole; non-evangelical biblical scholar theologians (most of my friends: e.g., Dale Martin; Joel Marcus; Jeffrey Siker; Elizabeth Johnson; etc. etc.) see the Bible the way I do and have a very critical view of it (Paul did not write the Pastoral epistles; John’s Gospel is not historically accurate; the book of Acts is historically problematic; it’s hard to know what the historical Jesus said and did; etc. etc. etc.) Their job is to figure out how God speaks to his people and what his message is, since obviously it is not in an inerrant revelation of Scripture. Scripture is still *used* (along with other things — such as your head and the tradition of the Christian church throughout history); but it is used critically. THere is no easy one-line statement that can summarize how it is done: it is a sophisticated undertaking by believing Christians who are, at the same time, serious historical scholars.

  2. Avatar
    joncopeland  December 28, 2017

    When you go to a Christmas eve service, do you sing the songs? Or just hum along?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Ha! I sing! I love Christmas carols. But I don’t say the prayers, etc.

      • Telling
        Telling  December 31, 2017

        Someone should put Biblical inconsistencies to song, arranged to flow perfectly with the music, example lyrics:

        “We three kings, or are we four, or six, twenty-four or twelve, are bearing gifts …. etc”.

        Now that you confess that you sing, perhaps you’ll post “The Bart Ehrman first fully accurate Christmas Songbook” as. an audio file. I would do so, surely, but I don’t sing.

  3. Avatar
    jdmartin21  December 28, 2017

    “For example, you could imagine that the human sperm emitted by Joseph was replaced by a divine sperm.” I realize that people anthropomorphize God all the time, but if God is a spiritual (non)being, he has neither the testes to produce a human sperm nor the requisite plumbing to emit one. The only way he would have to acquire a human sperm would be to appropriate one from a human man (Joseph?) or create one out of nothing. Since Christians seem to be locked in on that “begotten, not made” bit in the creed, the second option seems to be out of bounds. I don’t see how the biologically literal “Son of God” claim works.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  December 30, 2017

      You’ll never understand this until you get yourself out of the 21st century! Greek/Roman religions were full of demigods and demiurges, half-man half-god. Here’s just one list. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_demigods

      If your favorite demiurge created the universe, do you think he would have any trouble making a human woman pregnant? Even the usual way? Why would you think the gods have less pleasure than humans?

  4. Avatar
    4Erudite  December 28, 2017

    You mentioned in the intro to this blog that you attended a church service…now I know you stated it was one of the few times a year you attended a service…but I was wondering, when you find yourself listening to a sermon or in an environment where someone is discussing the NT and/or a stories related to scriptures, gospels, etc…do you ever feel like jumping up and saying, “excuse me, close but not exactly”…I would think it is hard to just listen in such a situation when you know there is so much more to the story…of course, there is a time and place for all things and I am sure you act in a socially acceptable manner based on the situation and pick and chose when to offer education and/or a debate…but sitting through a Christian church sermon, I would think you have to sit on your hands and keep your tongue between your teeth.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      I never feel like jumping up and saying it, but that’s always what is going on in my mind.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  December 30, 2017

      I’m not Bart, but for me, that’s the norm. I don’t challenge a sermon during the service. I usually don’t bother challenging it at all, because generally, they don’t care. They’re stuck in their ideological rut. But I will speak up in a class that allows participation. I don’t attend a class that doesn’t allow participation. I’ll make a point simply, clearly, and concisely, providing as much background material as people care about. It’s rare that I change anyone’s mind about anything.

      • Telling
        Telling  December 31, 2017

        We should be careful about laughing at the simplistic views of others.

        At one time, people thought the earth was flat because it looked flat.

        Now people “know” it isn’t flat, it is round because when we step into outer space the earth looks round.

        But new theories indicate the earth is probably not round, it is, rather, a strand of consciousness. The “new” idea is known only to the West; eastern philosophies have known this since recorded time.

        A “strand of consciousness” world is a game changer; all of what we know probably just isn’t true. But “we” know the earth “really” is round. We’re not dumb like the rest. And who believes those crazy eastern philosophies anyway, when we already know everything?

        And here’s a possible hint: The physical eye is a lens, and lenses, as we know from cameras, make everything appear a little round.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  December 28, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, this is the exact type of hole-filling that I find so suspicious about the gospels. And all the gospels are replete with such hole-filling — I would argue the vast majority of all the gospels are made up of this type of hole-filling. (The technical term for this “hole-filling,” which I’ve brought up many times on the blog over the years, is a retcon; that stands for retro-active continuity, and it’s often used to retroactively fill in the holes in a narrative or to reconcile contradictions or inconsistencies in the narrative. One of the most famous retcons in history is when George Lucas decided to make Darth Vador Luke’s real father, an idea he originally abandoned in the first Star Wars but wanted to revive in the Empire Strikes Back, so he basically shoe-horned it in. Anyway…)

    One clear example of this retconning in the gospels is the empty tomb narrative. It’s clear that when the first Christians started preaching the resurrection of Jesus, they were being asked (reasonably) how they knew Jesus’ body wasn’t simply taken from the tomb. So the Christian apostles introduced the retcon of having guards posted by the tomb. And why would Pilate feel the need to post guards? Well, because he was concerned that Jesus’ body would be stolen, obviously. And why would Pilate have such a concern? Presumably because he was worried that Jesus’ disciples would claim…that Jesus had risen from the dead? And so A) why would Pilate be concerned about that (presuming he thought such a freak occurrence was somehow significant), and B) who would have put such a random concern in his mind to begin with? And here’s where we get to the serious retconning. When confronted with such reasonable questions, the first Christians couldn’t simply admit that their belief in the resurrection was nonsensical and ridiculous (because of “faith” and “hope”). They had to justify it somehow, so they simply made Pilate subject to the whims of the Jewish priests (which is itself ridiculous, but the gentile proselytes didn’t know that) and since the priests knew about the prophecy of the risen Messiah (for some convenient reason) they forced Pilate to place guards in front of Jesus’ tomb in order to thwart said resurrection. But, aha! Jesus got the last laugh on all of them, because as rose and emerged from the tomb he blinded the guards with his divine radiance and ascended into the heavens!

    See what I mean? I would say you can’t make this stuff up, but, yeah, someone made this stuff up.

    Which brings me to the Virgin Birth narrative. The very same type of retconning happened in the construction of that narrative. Christian Apostles were going around saying Jesus is the “Son of God”. Well, in the Jewish context, they could simply have meant that Jesus is the Messiah, because the Hebrew Bible regularly describing the king of the Jews, and thus the Messiah, as a “son of God” — in the metaphorical sense, not the literal sense. But those gentiles to whom the apostles were preaching didn’t know that. They didn’t understand the metaphor of a Jewish king being something like the adopted son of a god. They took it literally. Jesus was literally the offspring of the God of the Jews! So how does that happen? Well, God obviously impregnated Mary the same way Zeus and the other gods impregnate women. But this image was not acceptable the to first Christians, because it forced them to imagine a presumably immaterial god (the “living” God of Israel was definitely immaterial) having a penis with which he could inseminate Mary, and that was clearly ridiculous. So they had God impregnate Mary via an immaterial means, and conveniently they had the Holy Spirit ready to do the job.

    Okay, so where am I going with this? Now imagine you’re a pagan Greek listening to this message by some Christian apostles. What’s going to be your first question? Of course, you’re going to ask how these Christians know that Mary was impregnated by this Holy Spirit thing, rather than the old fashioned way? Well, if you’re a Christian apostle, the obvious answer is that Mary was still a virgin when she conceived with Jesus, so the ONLY explanation is that the God of Israel must have impregnated her, right? Classic retconning. You start off with the belief that Jesus is literally the son of God, but as inconvenient questions get asked, exposing holes, inconsistancies and contradictions, you have only two options: you can change your mind (“Well, I guess Jesus isn’t the literal son of God then”) or you can try to resolve the problems by retroactively adding new details (“Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus, so it must have been God who knocked her up.” i.e. retconning).

    This process is so blatant in the gospels that I’m regularly amazed that everybody doesn’t see it.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  December 30, 2017

      Thank you for presenting and defining retcon (retroactive continuity). Good to know it’s a recognized paradigm. You have added value to this blog.

      That’s an example of why the synoptic gospels are such under-appreciated literary masterpieces. It’s a kid explaining on and on about why he shouldn’t be punished for a particular act, blended with a political stump speech, crafted into a story worthy of Homer.

      The authors go to great lengths to explain why the ideas of Christianity, especially later Christology, were unknown during the lifetime of Jesus. If Jesus really was who Christians say he was, then how come no one ever heard of him? No one wrote of him. Only Christians talk about him. The diarists offer many explanations.

      The idea doesn’t even occur to us. Today, everyone has heard of Jesus. Other exaggerations in the gospels show his fame spreading far and wide. The authors had to reconcile this apparent contradiction. Perhaps he was well-known as a sage of Second Temple Judaism in backwoods Galilee, but the Christian ideas were hidden. Or the disciples were dense. Or they were told not to tell anyone. Or it was not yet time. Or Jesus didn’t reveal it even to his disciples until after his death. The defense attornies flail madly about as they try to refute evidence from the prosecution.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  December 30, 2017

      I, too, tend to think that the first rumors circulating were that Jesus’ body was stolen. You’ve noted that Pilate has guards placed at the tomb in Matthew’s gospel. What’s interesting in Mark’s gospel is that Joseph of Arimathea seals the tomb up with a stone. Then Mark creates a conversation with the women saying, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” As if to say it was impossible for the body to be stolen because of the heavy stone rolled over it. (Never mind that Joseph put the stone over the entrance by himself but the three women have no idea how they’re going to manage it.)

      A few sources I’ve read say that the custom was to *not* seal up the tomb for 3 days—“The tomb, however, was not immediately closed over the dead. During the first three days it was customary for the relatives to visit the grave to see whether the dead had come to life again (Massek. Sem. viii.; see Perles, “Leichenfeierlichkeiten,” p. 10, and Brüll, “Jahrb.” i. 51). http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3842-burial

      In your comment, “This process is so blatant in the gospels that I’m regularly amazed that everybody doesn’t see it.” You have an education and background with this stuff, but as the everyday layperson, I don’t think we’re part of the norm for what the average person knows for biblical topics. I see a lot of commenters on various sites who say all the time, “Why can’t Christians see these contradictions? Why do Christians smash the gospels together?” When I was a believer, my mind naturally pulled them together couldn’t see any contradictions.

      I firmly believe that education is key to helping future generations apply critical thinking skills for understanding the Bible, and it needs to start at an early age. There’s a few states that have begun teaching the Bible in high schools as an elective. What’s really important are the Standards. Standards are the law for every public school teacher in the U.S. The SBL is responsible for this, so if they set loose Standards, then teachers will be free to do what they want, and they WILL do what they want with them. The problem is, I don’t think the SBL realizes just how important it is for them to create Standards that follow the consensus of critical Biblical scholarship. They also need to provide professional development training to those who will be teaching these classes. They can’t expect teachers to do a good job without the proper training. I hope someone realizes this before more states become involved and the whole thing becomes a huge mess because I’ve looked at the Standards, and they’re way too generalized. Certain Christian teachers are having a hay day with these Standards right now.

    • Telling
      Telling  December 31, 2017

      Some people say the same about macro evolution.

      And spirits in “heaven” are amazed (I’ve read and studied this) that we think a baby born into the world having all the abilities and resources that it has, is a brand new being, popping in from nowhere.

  6. Avatar
    Abdullah Ahmad  December 28, 2017

    Behold! The angels said: “O Mary! God gives you good news of a WORD from Him, whose name will be Christ Jesus, son of Mary, held in high honor in this world and the hereafter, and he will be one of those nearest to God. He shall speak to the people in his infancy and in his adulthood, and he shall be among the righteous. She said: “My Lord, how can I have a child when no man has ever touched me?” He replied, “Even so, God creates what He Wills. Whenever He Wills a thing to be, He simply says to it: “Be!” and it will be.” He will teach him (Jesus) the Book and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel. And will make him a Messenger to the Children of Israel, saying: “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord.” [Quran 3:45]

    “(The creation of) Jesus in the sight of God is like (the creation of) Adam. He created him (Adam) from dust; then said to him, “Be!” and he became (into existence).” [Quran 3:59]

  7. Avatar
    Tony  December 28, 2017

    Some NT scholars hold the view that the virgin birth sets Christianity apart from other Pagan religions with dying and rising gods. Fortunately, we know exactly where the Christian virgin birth comes from.

    Mt 1:22-23, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son”, quotes Isa 7:14. Matthew, (and the other Synoptic’s), mined the Greek Septuagint for prophesy fulfillment’s and more. The original Hebrew version (OT) read, “young woman,” instead of virgin. It also tells us that “Matthew” lived in the Jewish diaspora and was likely unable to read Hebrew. Nevertheless, Matthew hit the jackpot by combining a prophesy with a miraculous virgin birth!

    Enter “Luke” who liked Matthew’s virgin birth very much, but decided to write his own version, (as with the Matthew’s birth narrative). Luke skips the prophesy argument altogether and in Lk 1:26-38 has an angel talk to Mary directly – instead of informing Joseph first – as in Matthew.

    The virgin birth was the result of an overzealous Septuagint prophesy miner. Nothing more.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  December 30, 2017

      How interesting is it to see my comment, then Abdullah Ahmad’s comment, then Tony’s comment in succession? You couldn’t get three more different approaches and conclusions to the same material. Fascinating.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  December 30, 2017

      There were plenty of others to choose from. This particular mistranslation / misinterpretation of Isaiah was to claim that the miraculous birth of Jesus was predicted by Jewish prophecy. Therefore Christianity is really a Jewish religion. Therefore it should receive respect as an ancient religion, and perhaps even religio licita legal protection.

      • Avatar
        Tony  December 31, 2017

        Yes, there were plenty to choose from, and using them they did!


        Paul uses the term “according to the scriptures” in 1 Cor 15:3 and, particularly Matthew, took that advice to heart. The use of Isaiah 7:14 had some remarkable long term term results, but so had the Bethlehem birth from Micah. Obviously, creating prophesy fulfillment was the major objective. Through my skeptical 21st century mindset it seems like a cheap trick, but it worked, then and now!

  8. Avatar
    HistoricalChristianity  December 28, 2017

    This misses the point of the author and his demographic. He refers to logos, the Greek philosophical concept, hijacking it to say that this force materialized on earth in the form of Jesus. It’s not referring to Genesis or anything Jewish.

  9. Avatar
    Candlestickone  December 28, 2017

    Imo, the virgin birth was what was supposed to have happen in the gen. Account,sparked by the tree of life, they instead procreated physically ” the fall ” and so all of us were born of ” the original infraction” or original sin as some would say

  10. Avatar
    Steefen  December 29, 2017

    Have you done a post on Paul referencing “my gospel” in the authentic Pauline Letter Romans (Romans 2: 16) and 2nd Timothy (2 Timothy 2: 8) which isn’t one of the authentic Pauline Letters.

    Do scholars use these two verses as proof Paul had access to oral gospels or even written gospels, perhaps Q?

    Paul had some acquaintance with James and Peter, are we to conclude even with his disagreements with James or Jame’s disagreements with him, he adopted their lessons about Jesus to him as “his gospel”?

    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      The term “gospel” simply means “good news.” Paul used it to refer to his proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was only many decades later that the term came to refer to a kind of book, a narrative account of Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  December 31, 2017

        I’m familiar with announce news of [angello, the verb in the etymology] ]an outcome of a military engagement (good or bad?)
        What would it be if it was bad outcome of a military engagement, if evangelize is good news?

        So, it was his news to share/evangelize.

        In Jesus’ ministry, his news to share/evangelize, his gospel was more tell John, the lame are healed and sight given to the blind, your God isn’t the scary God of the Torah but a loving Father; and good news is proclaimed to the poor.

        What is the Greek at Matthew 11:5 “good news” is proclaimed to the poor? Is it the same Greek term producing “gospel” or Paul has “his gospel” but Jesus has “good news”?

        Thank you.

  11. Avatar
    ardeare  December 29, 2017

    I like to imagine how it would turn out if different groups wrote my biography. My immediate family (John) would certainly have a unique story to tell and one that only comes from living with me. My closest friends (Matthew) would have a similar view as family, but there would be stark differences. Coworkers (Luke) would have a similar storyline but again, there would be distinct differences. Finally, acquaintances (Mark) and fence-line neighbors would have a different story to tell based more on observation than any intimate or regular verbal exchanges.

    Is combining the four stories the best way to re-tell my story?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      That would be a good way if the four people who wrote all knew you and had different takes. If instead the four authors are people living decades later who are relying on earlier oral traditions that have been floating around for so many years, and earlier written materials also written by people who were not eyewitnesses but were basing their accounts on oral reports — well, that would be a different situation entirely.

      • Avatar
        AnotherBart  January 11, 2018

        Well said. I’d been taught, had read, and believed the 2nd view (oral tradition, 40 years later, anonymous authors) for a very long time (nearly 30 years), as Dr. Ehrman does. I still hold to documentary hypotheses for the Old Testament, but my understanding of the New has, to my own surprise, moved to the first view (they…. wha?… they actually knew each other?!!!)

        The key is Acts 17-28, Ist & 2nd Thess, 1st & 2nd Corinthians & Romans.

        Listen to them narrated about 50 times. Use the map. put every name mentioned in a spreadsheet. See who is in what city, with whom and when. Put it into a timeline.

        Together, their weight, like an elephant on a see-saw, sends the synoptics sailing overhead from modern scholarship’s post 70 AD date of authorship to land squarely on the pre-side of 60 AD.

        • Avatar
          HistoricalChristianity  February 5, 2018

          That’s relevant only if you consider Acts an accurate historical account. I don’t think that’s true.

  12. Avatar
    seahawk41  December 29, 2017

    I’ve heard it said explicitly by some that you must interpret scripture in the light of other scripture. There aren’t/can’t be conflicts between different authors, books, passages etc., so you use one passage to “clarify” another, rather than letting each speak for itself.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Yes, that’s a view that “works” if there is only one (infallible) author (e.g., God) behind each of the books.

  13. Avatar
    DavidBeaman  December 29, 2017

    Speaking of the past … 🙂 my way of segueing into this question, have you noticed that the image of Jesus on your book, THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIANITY, resembles you?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Nope! It’s an artist’s rendition based on the Shroud of Turin!!

    • Telling
      Telling  January 1, 2018


      For the record, Bart didn’t quite exactly answer your question.

      Just to be clear, Bart may be correct in saying he hasn’t noticed that the shroud resembles him, and he may be correct in saying it’s an artist’s rendition based on the shroud. But he does come short of saying the image is not a picture of him. I’m not trying to say the shroud was superimposed on his own image to obtain the artist’s intended result. I’m not _trying_ to say that.

      • Bart
        Bart  January 1, 2018

        Oh, I’m happy to answer it! The answer is no. The artist doesn’t even know me! He was working from a different model.

  14. Avatar
    godspell  December 29, 2017

    It’s obvious that John doesn’t see Jesus as human, and I almost wonder why he even mentions Mary (not by name), since she was not necessary to anything. He places her at the scene of the crucifixion, where she quite certainly would not have been in reality, something no other gospel writer does.

    Obviously Mary was remembered and revered by Christians of that time (some of whom would already believe in the Virgin Birth), but that in itself doesn’t explain John including her. He wants Jesus to have a mother, even though the Incarnate Word of God requires no mother, virgin or otherwise.

    Perhaps just so that he can bestow the ultimate honor upon ‘The Disciple Jesus Loved’ by saying “This is your mother now”?

    What strikes me most about this fascinating article you’ve written is that John’s conception of Jesus actually comes closest to Paul’s. Both saw Jesus as a pre-existent divine being, waiting through eternity to be incarnated in the flesh for a few short years.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  December 30, 2017

      I agree, though the case for Paul’s belief is much weaker. You don’t see it emphasized or elaborated until Colossians, which is likely not Paul.

      • Avatar
        godspell  December 31, 2017

        In How Jesus Became God, I was struck by Bart’s suggestion that Paul thought of Jesus as an angel in human form. That really does explain how Paul could write about Jesus as if he were more than human, while at the same time talk about how he’d met people who knew Jesus as a man. To him, Jesus wasn’t a person, because he never knew Jesus as a person. Just as we today often deify certain real people who we only know by reputation. Lincoln comes very close to being a god for many Americans. We even go to our nation’s capital to pay reverence to a huge statue of him. (Paul wouldn’t think much of that. Idolatrous.)

        I’d say that wherever Paul refers to Jesus directly, you get that feeling from him. That in his mind, even though Jesus walked around in a human body, and interacted with other people, he was never really one of us. Mark’s Jesus is a man. Luke and Matthew are on the fence. John isn’t. He fully embraces the Pauline conception, and takes it to the next level.

        • Avatar
          HistoricalChristianity  January 1, 2018

          Where does Paul say he met someone who knew Jesus as a man? What does Paul say about Jesus other than his death and his role as a universal sacrifice?

          Americans don’t deify Lincoln. I’ve never met anyone who thought Lincoln was supernatural.

          • Avatar
            godspell  January 3, 2018

            Paul says he met Peter and Jesus’ brother James (who is also attested to by Josephus, in a passage the authenticity of which has never been contested).

            You can try to explain those references away (as some have, unconvincingly), but to just not be aware of them? Have you even read the Pauline epistles? Or have you just read very narrow interpretations of them from people who want to cast doubt on the historicity of any aspect of the gospels? Sorry to tell you, but there is real history in there.

            Pontius Pilate. for example, is not a fictional character–but he was also someone we had no direct evidence for until recently, other than the mentions of him in the gospels. Then an inscription was found, identifying him as the Roman governor of Judaea. The gospels remembered him, but history didn’t, because a great deal of Roman history was lost when the empire fell.

            Paul did not know Jesus, almost certainly never saw him in the flesh, but he met people who met Jesus.

            A lot of people think Lincoln had prophetic dreams where he foresaw his own death. There is no hard evidence of this (anecdotes, which can’t be substantiated, and all of them told after Lincoln was killed) but it’s something you can’t avoid encountering when you read a lot about Lincoln. Which I’m guessing you haven’t. Honestly, if you want to discuss history, READ history.

            Or do you just want to be told what you already want to believe. To have your prejudices confirmed as fact, even when they’re not?

            I think that’s what at least some people mean when they claim to be religious.

          • Avatar
            HistoricalChristianity  January 6, 2018

            In Galatians 2, Paul refers to “James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars.” That’s a very limited acknowledgement, but it’s not a claim that any of them had met Jesus, or that it was any specific set of people by that name.

            In his Antiquities, Josephus mentions “and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” This refers to a James who was a brother to Jesus (and presumably not “Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest” mentioned later in that same paragraph.

            It’s not necessarily the same James, though tradition says it is.

            “Paul did not know Jesus, almost certainly never saw him in the flesh, but he met people who met Jesus.” — The subject is historicity, thus the request for evidence for this claim. The sentence in Galatians would not be considered by a historian to be evidence of that.

  15. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  December 29, 2017

    Those who cannot wrap their heads around the idea that God can be incarnate in carnally produced human flesh might consider the mind-body or body-soul dualism I suspect is the default view of most people even now. Mom & Dad produce the body in the way of all flesh, but God creates or inserts the soul, we know not when our how. Well, popes know when, but not how. And no body or soul can make even pseudosense of where one ends and the other begins. Bonne anée!

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 30, 2017

      My human friends that my late dog made for me are not in the main religious people. Some are outright atheists. And sometimes, when we talk about bad breeding practices (for dogs), and how this or that dog we love because of his or her ebullient spirit is physically unhealthy because of such practices, I’ll say something along the lines of “The breeder doesn’t put the soul in the dog” and everybody always thinks that’s very true and NOBODY says “There’s no such thing as the soul, we’re all just a collection of evolved chemical-electronic impulses.” Nobody who has loved a dog can ever believe that of them. Humans, maybe. 😐

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  January 1, 2018

      Yes, Jewish (Philo) and Christian (Augustine) philosophers worked to incorporate Platonic Dualism into their respective religions.

  16. Avatar
    jhague  December 29, 2017

    “In the controversy that Jesus has with his Jewish opponents in John 8, they make a comment that is often taken to be directed to Jesus paternal lineage, when they say “WE (emphasize the “we” here) were not born from an act of fornication” (8:41).”

    What is your thought on what the Jewish opponents are saying here?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Yes, I think they are referring to the rumors about his illicit birth to an unwed woman.

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    RonaldTaska  December 29, 2017

    Little has impacted me more than the Trump phenomenon. I often channel surf between CNN and Fox News. The different perspectives presented on the two channels about any Trump story are amazing. Both channels seem to be reporting the “truth,” but what a difference. Hence, how in the world do we know which channel, if either, is presenting the correct news? I think most of us, myself included, follow our confirmation biases.

    So, what in the world does this have to do with different Christian stories? Well, I think it suggests that different traditions and cultures can produce very different accounts and people can fervently and honestly be convinced that their preferred account is the correct one and that such confirmation bias is part of being human and has been going on since ancient times. That is my two cents worth….

  18. John4
    John4  December 29, 2017

    It is not at all clear to me, Bart, that Luke did in fact believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. Rather, Luke’s view appears to be that the Holy Spirit impregnated a virgin (Luke 1:35) who then, as a result of this deflowering by a divine being, conceived and gave birth to Jesus.

    Am I missing something here?

    Many thanks! 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      I’d say it’s ambiguous what Luke has in mind. In any event, it does not appear that the Spirit took on human form with male genitals and used them to get Mary pregnant, the way, say, Zeus or Jupiter did on occasion.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  January 8, 2018

        If Mary’s question in verse 34 were missing, do Gabriel’s words alone imply a virgin birth?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 9, 2018

          They might suggest it, but no, probably not definitively.

          • tompicard
            tompicard  February 14, 2018

            are their any textual variants where verse 34 is missing?
            are there any reasons to believe verse 34 could be an interpolation?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 15, 2018

            No, there are found in all our manuscripts.

  19. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 29, 2017

    Would John’s Gospel even be consistent with the idea that Jesus simply *appeared* on earth, as a mature man? With a body that was *real*, but had come into existence miraculously?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Some scholars have read John this way, that it is more or less “naively docetic.” But there does seem to be a reference / allusion to his illigitimate birth in 8:41, and he does have a mother and brothers. So the author does seem to think he was born some how….

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    Pattylt  December 29, 2017

    When discussing the Bible with literalists, they insist that the Bible must be interpreted by mashing the various gospels together to get the full picture (and always using the word “context” in there). I now realize more fully why they are doing this! Question: Has this mashing together method always been used or is it a more recent development in response to critical scholarship?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Yes, it’s been around as long as Christians have realized there was more than one Gospel.

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