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The Virgin Birth in Matthew and Luke

Christmas is virtually upon us.  I’ve decided to return to a few posts I’ve given in years past, lost in the archives here or there, of particular relevance to the season.  This one continues a bit on the theme of the relation of our (only!) two birth narratives in the New Testament, reflecting on the significance of Jesus being born precisely to a *virgin* in Matthew and Luke.  As it turns out, they see the significance differently.

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Occasionaly I have 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 reasons and draw different conclusions from it.   The stories of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 are very different from each other, and appear to contain down right discrepancies.   I don’t actually teach this to my students.  I instead give them an exercise.  If you haven’t ever done this, you should try it.  I have them list everything that happens, event by event, first in Matthew 1-2 and then in Luke 1-2;  and then I have them compare their lists.  What is similar?  What is different?  And are any of the differences actual discrepancies that cannot be reconciled?

The differences are striking, and in fact – as I’ve pointed out on the blog before – some things cannot be reconciled …

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Did Luke Originally Tell the Birth Story?
Jesus’ Birth in Matthew and Luke: A Study in Contrasts

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Comments

  1. godspell  December 21, 2018

    I just finished reading “Jesus: A Very Short Introduction,” by Richard Bauckham, who I know you are acquainted with, and whose scholarship I know you admire, in spite of some very significant differences of opinion.

    I’ve been seeing these Very Short Introductions from Oxford cross my desk at the library for years now, and when I saw this, I was curious enough to read it. The idea is, somebody taking a class can quickly familiarize him/herself with the scholarship on this or that subject, then do supplemental reading from books suggested at the end by the introduction’s author. They’re mainly quite good, and are less about expressing the author’s own POV (though of course it’s there) than giving an overview.

    Bauckham is a fine writer, and it’s clear he knows his subject backwards and forwards. There are some illuminating passages here and there, mainly about Jesus’ teaching methods. And the book is a disaster. You could read it cover to cover, and have very little idea what scholars who study Jesus are talking about. It’s basically a very erudite religious tract. I would respect his right to pen one of those, might even find it worth reading, but he’s not covering the bases here.

    There is, for example, no discussion of what you’re talking about here, disagreements between the gospel authors. There is no discussion of high and low Christology. The Virgin Birth, believe it or not, is not even mentioned, and of course everybody knows about that, but Bauckham isn’t interested in going at it directly. He’s looking for arguments to prove Jesus considered himself God’s son in a way nobody else was. He’s writing around things. He’s avoiding the pitfalls, things that might be a threat to his beliefs about Jesus, which I respect and even partly share, but this is wrong.

    He clearly disagrees with fundamentalist Christians on a number of topics (he’s an Anglican), but the point of the book seems to be to try and salvage as much as possible of traditional Christian dogma about Jesus without straying too far from the actual information contained in the gospels.

    And hard as I looked at the back of the book, where he suggests further reading, I could not see your name anywhere. You’ve met, I believe? 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  December 21, 2018

      Yes, I respect his deep knowledge about many things, but I have very fundamental disagreements about many, many of his views. I have not read that book. He is indeed a conservative Christian and scholar.

      • godspell  December 21, 2018

        Scholars can disagree and still respect each other. But to me, refusing to acknowledge you at the end (when you have debated each other in public) was a bit dodgy. It’s not as if he doesn’t mention any scholars whose views on Jesus disagree with his own, but I got the impression he was shaping even that to his end, which is proselytization, not scholarship.

        He’s particularly bothered, I think, that his country is a place where Christianity is a diminishing force in society, even as it grows and prospers in many other parts of the world. The book reads like a rearguard action, trying to shore up the old shibboleths as much as possible. He’s too intelligent to pick fights he knows he can’t win (like the Virgin Birth), but the result is a very odd book, that devoutly ignores all the elephants in the room. Of course, it’s impossible to completely cover all topics in a short book, but he leaves some pretty important ones out.

        I did like the way he wrote about how Jesus was most concerned with the outsiders in his world, the powerless–I think the case he makes there is solid. He may be a conservative, but he is not a reactionary–and there’s no shortage of those now, not just in the world of religion. I get the impression he’s made enemies on the far right of Christianity as well, because he won’t tell them everything they want to hear. Because there’s no way scholarship can support that.

        You can stand up for what you believe while still acknowledging the beliefs and ideas of others. Jesus said “Be not afraid.” I think he is, a bit.

        Anyway, no more about it.

  2. meltuck  December 21, 2018

    The writer of the Gospel of Matthew connects the conception of Jesus with a prophecy from Isaiah which he quotes as “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” To understand the original prediction, it is necessary to read not just a few verses, but rather all of Isaiah chapters 7 and 8. The word which Matthew uses can mean “virgin,” but it can also mean simply “young woman.” In the case of Isaiah’s prediction, it clearly does not mean virgin, for the woman in question is the prophet’s wife and the prophet is the child’s father. This prediction was fulfilled many centuries before the time of Jesus. In his enthusiasm to portray Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew has not been careful about his use of evidence.

    In the religious tradition in which I was brought up, the virgin conception was asserted without any discussion of how this might have happened. It was as if Mary found herself pregnant without anything happening to cause it. This, however, seems contrary to what the Gospel of Luke says. When Mary expresses surprise at the angel’s announcement, saying “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” the angel indicates that something is going to happen to cause the conception. What that could be is rather vague. In the angel’s words, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Jesus was clearly a human male, so the X chromosome was supplied by his mother and the Y chromosome by his father, however that happened. Could it be that an angel arrived with the equivalent of a divine turkey baster and artificially inseminated Mary? Or is it easier to believe that the angel’s message meant that she was going to conceive as a result of sexual union with a human male, presumably Joseph, and that this conception would be specially blessed by God? That interpretation would still preserve what is really important about the story of the conception of Jesus, while not insisting that the traditional understanding of this event is the only way of seeing it.

  3. godspell  December 21, 2018

    Bart, a quick question–is there any hint of Original Sin in Luke? Obviously Matthew doesn’t care about that, he’s just interested in the fulfillment of prophecy regarding the Messiah. But Luke is suggesting that Jesus owes his power to his divine conception, which is of course an old idea in paganism, but this is different.

    Augustine laid it all out, centuries later. We are all infected with the sin of Adam and Eve, because we are all their descendants. Original Sin is an STD (nobody knew about DNA and inherited genetic disorders). Only accepting God’s grace can save us from our sinful heritage. But Jesus isn’t born from sin. Mary was merely a vessel for the Holy Spirit. He is not descended from Adam (of course this also means he can’t be descended from David, but Augustine isn’t concerned with that). Semen is what transmits Original Sin (nobody knows from ova), so Mary can give birth to the first sinless man since God created Adam.

    I know Luke couldn’t have thought it that far out, and would probably have thought Augustine had a few screws loose, but do you think Augustine’s idea is somehow implicit in Luke? That Jesus is a Superman because he was conceived without sin?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      No, I would say Augustine’s sophisticated and nuanced doctrine is not anything at all like Luke himself had in mind, even though Augustine appealed to Luke (and other NT authors) in support.

      • godspell  December 23, 2018

        That’s what I thought. The genealogy wouldn’t be there if Luke didn’t want to emphasize Jesus’ connection to sinful humanity, but of course he’s explicitly saying Jesus isn’t a blood descendant of David, and therefore not of Adam either. Merely a spiritual descendant, symbolically a member of that house. Augustine took that and ran with it, very very far from Luke’s original intentions.

        I think Augustine was a brilliant man, of course. But I’m more of a Pelagian. Posse, Velle, Esse. Merry Christmas, and thanks for the answer. 🙂

  4. AstaKask  December 21, 2018

    Merry Christmas!

  5. Joel Smith  December 21, 2018

    The Greeks had many stories about their gods being the sons of Zeus. In about 150 AD Justin Martyr, a prominent Christian, tried to convince Caesar to stop persecuting Christians because they were atheists. (Christians didn’t believe in the Greek/Roman gods and therefore were labeled atheists) In order to refute these views Justin wrote a letter & compared Jesus to the Greek/Roman gods. Justin’s concluding statement… “for all reckon it an honourable thing to imitate the gods.“

    Justin wrote: “And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter.

    For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all; Æsculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven; and Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils; and the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars? And what of the emperors who die among yourselves, whom you deem worthy of deification, and in whose behalf you produce some one who swears he has seen the burning Cæsar rise to heaven from the funeral pyre?

    And what kind of deeds are recorded of each of these reputed sons of Jupiter, it is needless to tell to those who already know. This only shall be said, that they are written for the advantage and encouragement of youthful scholars; for all reckon it an honourable thing to imitate the gods.“ —-Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter XXI.—Analogies to the history of Christ.

  6. indigo  December 21, 2018

    Bart, is there enough evidence to think that Jesus’ parents actually were a young woman named Mary and a carpenter/tradesman named Joseph, or do we have literally no idea? I mean, for all we know, couldn’t Jesus’ mom actually have been a 35-year-old nag named Hagar who’d already had five children and was known as the town gossip?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      It is multiply attested in sources that don’t appear to have a stake in the matter, so it seems likely that it’s historical.

  7. jhague  December 21, 2018

    “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…

    The Christians that I hear not only believe in the virgin birth but also believe that everyone must believe the same way as them. Seems like a salvation issue for most of them. This seems to be the most vocal group of Christians in the U.S.
    What group are the many Christians from that do not believe in the virgin birth?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      Many Christians, e.g., in the more liberal main-line denominations (esp. Protestant).

      • jhague  December 24, 2018

        The liberal main-line denominations seem to not have as loud a voice as the conservative groups. Do you find this to be true with your students?

  8. Kurt  December 21, 2018

    Off topic question-
    What countries were known to be part of the entire world back in the first century? Did they think the entire world was confined to the area around the Mediterranean? In Colossians 1:23 Paul says that the every creature under Heaven has heard the gospel and Romans 10:18 he seems to be saying the same thing but the context here isn’t as clear.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      Different authors meant different things, but usually anyone within the Roman empire is referring only to lands also in the empire.

      • Kurt  December 23, 2018

        Ok- so this is what I am trying to understand,

        Did Jesus, and Paul (based on the common knowledge of the world that they had at that time) know about China, the America’s, and other far away countries?

        If Jesus believed that the world would end within that generation, and that the whole world would need to hear the gospel before that would happen, then it seems that either, he (they) thought the entire populated world at that time was limited to what was described in Acts 2:9-11, or that our understanding of what Jesus and Paul meant by salvation is mistaken, since they would have known there would still be millions who wouldn’t have had a chance to hear and repent within a generation, thus leading to that longstanding question, what about those who haven’t heard.

        So, my main question is, did First century Jews Rome have knowledge of far away lands or did they believe the whole populated world consisted of what is decribed in Acts 2:9-11?

        Thanks

        • Bart
          Bart  December 24, 2018

          No, they had no idea. I knew people in Kansas who didn’t know about Rhode Island!

          • Sixtus  December 29, 2018

            “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Rhode Island anymore” doesn’t have quite the ring of the original revelation.

  9. fishician  December 21, 2018

    Another funny thing about the Isaiah 7 “prophecy” aside from whether it was referring to a virgin (no, when read in context): did Isaiah’s prophecy to King Ahaz come to pass or not? 2 Kings 16 suggests that Ahaz did survive the assault of the 2 kings, although the passage is brief and sketchy. 2 Chronicles 28 on the other hand is clear that the 2 kings successfully attacked him; in fact, it says God Himself delivered him into the hands of those kings (2 Chr 28:5,6). So studying the Isaiah 7 passage actually leads you to yet another set of discrepancies attached to the story. Overall, just an odd passage to use in reference to a future messiah.

  10. Meiguoji  December 21, 2018

    Dear Bart-

    This is my FIRST holiday season with historical Bible facts. I have been a seeker my whole life and of course, I noticed the various (obvious) discrepancies in the Bible and of course I read about them and asked about them over the years to no intellectual satisfaction until I read your works.

    I am a single mom by choice and I adopted my 2 daughters from China and I chose not to indoctrinate them in any kind of theology ( although I explained the various world systems of beliefs to them). It is SUCH a personal relief to me that they don’t suffer from the years of guilt from which I suffered over my own religious up bringing. ( Roman Catholic pre-Vatican II).
    Recently, I was speaking to a Unity Minister (who was taught from your books) about why the historical Biblical truth is not taught in churches- he said he believed people at large just don’t want to know the historical facts. He did tell me that Billy Graham knew the historical facts about the Bible but chose to be Evangelical anyway. It reminds me of the famous line uttered by actor Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”; ” You ( The Status Quo ) can’t handle the truth”.
    In my opinion, Unity (and perhaps many other more liberal “Christian” churches) are uniquely poised to teach the Biblical historical facts but even they do not do it. They would rather talk about a lot of new age things (in my experience) such as crystals, angels, G-d in inside of us, not outside of us nor outside our experience, the 12 disciples represent the 12 powers of mankind metaphysically speaking ( a product of Charles Fillmore), etc. rather than teach what is currently known and accepted in Critical Bible History. In other words, if such a church were built, no one would come.
    So, all this to say, thank you for your life’s work and for validating factually what I always felt intuitively that the Bible “facts” as preached to us as “gospel” for generations is in fact not historical fact.
    I think Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlev, was right on point: “G-d made man because he loves stories.”

    Happy Holidays to you and yours.

  11. doug  December 21, 2018

    If a book were inspired or dictated by God, one would think it would be very clear and consistent, so as not to lead to misunderstandings and skepticism. God (if he existed) would not be dependent upon the differing and sometimes dangerous interpretations by fallible humans to get his points across for him.

    • Pattylt  December 23, 2018

      Heck, the Bible itself declares that God is not the author of confusion. Nothing could be further from the truth today!😂

  12. fedcarroll77  December 21, 2018

    Professor,

    I was researching about jesus’s birth town. Both gospel indicate Bethlehem in Judea just outside of Jerusalem. I was reading some archaeological finds and came across another town named Bethlehem in Galilee. I guess this town was founded in 2000BCE and was inhabited during the time of Jesus. I know the motive of the writers was to place Jesus in Bethlehem of Judah to fulfill Micah. Now is it plausible that he was born in Bethlehem in Galilee but the writers mistook it as being in Judah? I guess this town is 10kil outside of Nazareth. What are your thoughts on this idea?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      It’s possible. But the only reason matthew and luke locate the birth in Bethlehem is because it is the birthplace of David; it is *not* because there is a traditoin that he was actually born in a different Bethlehem for a different reason.

    • godspell  December 23, 2018

      He wouldn’t have to be born in Bethehem of Galilee for the mere existence of a town by that name so close to his home town to have caused some confusion. Let’s say that at least a few Christians asked questions around Nazareth (perhaps they were traveling there for some reason, and of course they’d want to try and find somebody who knew him as a boy). Think about how confused elderly people can get about things that happened long ago. Think about how much early Christians DID NOT want Jesus to be born in Galilee. Any reference to a Bethlehem in Galilee could easily be conflated with the more famous Bethlehem (which was referenced in prophecy relating to the Messiah) and seized upon as proof. Just like that elderly relation of Barack Obama once said he was born in Kenya, then corrected herself, and the right-wing blog-o-sphere went mad about it.

      Times change. People don’t.

  13. brenmcg  December 21, 2018

    *The sign is that her son will not be very old before the political/military disaster is averted*

    But the sign is supposed to indicate to Ahaz that disaster will be avoided – the sign must come before the event.
    A young woman becoming pregnant isn’t a sign only a virgin conceiving and bearing a child would be. Which is probably why the Greek translators of the Septuagint agreed with Matthew.

    Also its only after Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign that the lord decided to give him one – so the sign was still to come in the future.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      You may want to read up on how “signs” are used in Isaiah otherwise.

      • brenmcg  December 23, 2018

        Is it not just the usual way? a portent of a future event?

        Isaiah 38:7 This is the Lord’s sign to you that the Lord will do what he has promised: 8 I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz. So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 24, 2018

          Yes, I’d suggest you look at all of them in the prophets. A number are quite banal and don’t seem “sign”ificant in our sense.

  14. crucker  December 21, 2018

    I recently read an article pointing out the fact that Luke 2:7 in the NIV translates as there being “no guest room available” rather than the more traditional “no room at the inn”. The author was arguing that “guest room” is the more accurate translation rather than “inn”, and it was Luke’s understanding this was all happening in a house: the guest room in the house was not available, and it was common to have animals in/near a part of the house so the manger would have been available.

    Do you think “guest room” is a better translation and what are your thoughts on the view of Luke assuming they were actually in a house?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      It literally says that there was “no place for them in the inn”.

      • fishician  December 23, 2018

        I’ll add this to my list of places where the NIV deliberately mistranslates to smooth out or hide problems in the texts!

      • Jim  December 24, 2018

        There is an article by Stephen Carlson that addresses the “inn” (Gk. katalama) translation which he asserts should be an annex to a local house, or a guest room. Where would anyone expect an inn to be located near Bethlehem anyway? There was no major road around Bethlehem to support an inn in late 1st century bce. The article is easily found by internet search.

        Try this …
        http://www.hypotyposeis.org/papers/Carlson%202010%20NTS.pdf

        • Bart
          Bart  December 25, 2018

          Stephen Carlson was my student, and over the years I’ve thought that almost everything he says is right! What gives me pause in this case (without having read his article) is that the verse refers to “the” kataluma, not “a” kataluma. In other words, it appears to have one specific dwelling place in mind, which makes sense if it means “inn” (but not if it just means someone’s annex). Of course it wouldn’t be a Days Inn or anything like a modern hotel. On the other hand, it’s not clear that an ancient author would realize that Bethlehem would be too small to have some kind of lodging place for travelers.

          • Jim  December 25, 2018

            I’m probably doing a sloppy job of representing Carlson’s point. From memory, he points out that Luke uses another word for an “inn” when he presents the parable of the Good Samaritan. I do understand your point about “the” and “a” guest room. On this, I would guess that Luke’s source referred to the family destination of his journey from Nazareth if Joseph’s journey was based on tradition and not altogether invented. I am inclined to think Judean migration into the Galilee around 100bce could be in the distant background of the story (e.g., Joseph the Judean previously had relocated to Nazareth now returns home to Judea with his new bride). But this is no more than my personal speculation; I lack the competence to evaluate Carlson’s argument. And I agree “Luke” is unlikely to know about the existence (or not) of a commercial inn near Bethlehem … your point makes perfect sense.

          • Enjoli Muthu  December 27, 2018

            Isn’t Bethlehem, specifically Migdal Eder, *the* manger where unblemished lambs were swaddled and lain so that they wouldn’t break a leg and become unfit for sacrifice? The indication of Jesus being born in this place and laid in *the* manger – the manger where sacrificial lambs were laid, is that he was the final sacrifice for all. And how did they come to lay the world’s Savior in this designated manger? Because they couldn’t find room in the inn in town, and took shelter in this significant place.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 28, 2018

            No, not to my knowledge.

      • JohnKesler  December 27, 2018

        While I’m certainly aware that the NIV can fudge its translation when Bible inerrancy is at stake, in this instance I don’t see that the NIV’s translation is so bad. The word translated “inn” in Luke 2:7 appears in two other places in the NT: Luke 22:11 and the parallel passage in Mark 14:14. Here is the NRSV’s translation of Luke 22:11, with the words in question in capital letters:

        11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the GUEST ROOM, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’

        Here is the NIV’s translation of Luke 2:7, again with the words in caps:

        7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no GUEST ROOM available for them.

        Why, then, is the NIV’s translation of Luke 2:7 offensive?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 28, 2018

          I’m not particularly offended! I suppose the problem is that “inn/guest room” has the definite article. Literally it would read, then, “for there was no place for them in the “guest room.” I guess that’s OK. But *what* guestroom?

          • JohnKesler  December 28, 2018

            I see your point. In the case of Luke 22:11/Mark 14:14, the definite article makes sense, since Jesus arranged for a particular room “upstairs, already furnished” (Luke 22:12) or “upstairs, furnished and ready” (Mark 14:15), while Joseph and Mary in all likelihood would not have had a particular guest room in mind in Bethlehem. Thanks.

  15. Liz Kavanagh  December 21, 2018

    As a scholar, when you come across similarities and differences in the Gospels do they indicate anything to you? For example, if all four authors write about a happening does it give that happening a higher chance of being an actual occurrence or agreed upon belief? Or if only one of the authors wrote about something does it make it less likely to be accurate?

    Or is it just a case by case thing?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      Yes, agreements between *independent* sources suggest a greater chance of historicity. But the sources have to be independent. If Mark and Matthew have the same information, that is one source, not two (since Matthew got a good deal of his information from Mark)

  16. Blaircb  December 22, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I was once a devout Mormon, but gradually became an atheist through biblical study and my scientific outlook on life. Very occasionally, I still attend a Mormon Sunday School class for adults. Most of the class is aware of my point of view, and they know I’m there to provide historical context rather than to debate theology. In 2019, the lessons will be based on the New Testament, so your post is timely.

    As preparation, I currently use The Harper Collins Study Bible, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, and the Oxford History of the Biblical World. Also, I’ve read some of your own material on the New Testament.

    Are there any other sources you recommend, and are there any drawbacks to the Oxford/Harper Collins sources? Thank you in advance.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      There are thousands. It depends what you’re looking for/wanting. A most thorough basic resource, e.g., is the six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary.

      • nichael  December 23, 2018

        Concerning the ABD:

        CBD (Christian Bible Distributors), is a mega-book sellers; as you might surmise from the name, most of their business deals with devotional bibles, “church-ish” books, etc., but they do carry a very good selection of scholarly books as well,

        Back when the ABD had been out for about a year, I attended one of their (massive) annual “clearance/warehouses sales”. My prize that trip was a new, unopened ABD which looked like someone had clipped the box with a forklift. The only damage was that the upper corner of about fhirty pages were dog-eared and I took it home for $40.00.

        I took it as a sign. 😉

        • Bart
          Bart  December 24, 2018

          Wow. Nice going!

          • SARABLISSMORRIS  December 25, 2018

            Hello,
            What Bibles do you suggest to someone who agrees with all your writings?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 27, 2018

            The same one I suggest to those who disagree! My preferred translation is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

  17. mkahn1977  December 22, 2018

    I know it is more a matter of faith/theology but I can never understand how someone cane be the son of god or a deity and also the deity itself (the trinity).

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      You may want to read my book How Jesus Became God, where I explain it all.

      • mkahn1977  December 24, 2018

        I’ll have to reread it- one of my favorite books!

    • brenmcg  December 23, 2018

      The son is not the deity itself but shares an essence or being with the deity.

      Jesus is Lord and the father is God but the most important principle of the old testament is that the Lord is God.

      • nichael  December 24, 2018

        Ah, but therein lies the rub.

        I agree that what you say makes sense, and probably describes the view held by the many members of mainline (Protestant) denominations. But the problem is that this is pretty much exactly the Arian heresy, I.e. that the Father and the Son are not co-equal Persons of the Trinity (the suppression of which was one of the primary reasons for Council of Nicea).

        (When I first started studying such things, for the longest time I had trouble understanding exactly what was meant by this thing they called”Arianism”. Then one day it dawned on me. It was exactly what they had taught us in Mrs Brown’s Sunday school class all those many years ago. 😉 )

        • brenmcg  December 25, 2018

          I think Arianism was just the belief that christ was not co-eternal with God – that he was begotten at some point in time. Other than that its hard to distinguish between arianism and trinitarianism.

  18. dankoh  December 22, 2018

    Any idea or speculation why this idea of a virgin birth became so important just then? There’s nothing about it in Paul’s letters (well, there’s almost nothing about Jesus’s life in general in the letters) and the presumptive oldest gospel, Mark, doesn’t go into the birth at all. Nor is it mentioned in the reconstructed Q gospel that I’ve checked.

    Is it possible that Matthew and particularly Luke were appealing to followers of Mithra or Dionysus (each of whom was sometimes said to be born of a virgin) as part of the outreach to the Greek world that was becoming the focus of the Jesus Movement by this time? (Origen list a number of reputed virgin births in c. Cels. and says they were all myths, except for Jesus, of course.)

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      I don’t believe there are any ancient reports that Mithra and/or Dionysus were born of a virgin. My sense is that the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth was originally important because (a) it was seen as a fulfillment of prophecy and (b) it showed that God was really, literally his father. It later took on additional meaning when it was recognized that it showed the importance of sexual continence.

  19. wje  December 22, 2018

    Good evening, Bart. I think you have mentioned that you were an ordained minister. Is that correct? If so, are you still considered a minister even though you came out of the agnostic closet a few years ago? I have an interesting question for you while you were preaching.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      I was a minister in an American Baptist church, but I was licensed, never ordained.

      • wje  December 23, 2018

        Good evening, Bart. Thank you for answering that post. What is the difference between ordained and licensed? But the more serious question. While you were a minister at that church, did you ever get asked about these issues that you are bringing up at this time? If someone asked you to clarify these contradictions about Jesus’ birth, what did you tell them?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 24, 2018

          Licensing is a temporary approval to preach and carry on the functions of the church, in my case for a year. Ordination is a much more rigorous approval/sanctioning procedure that is meant for life. I had the training to be a minister, but did not pursue it as a career.

  20. caesar  December 30, 2018

    I just started doing some more research on this, and I got stuck…one claim I have found from Christians is that in the Jerusalem Talmud 77:4, Mary is referred to as the daughter of Heli. If this is correct, it might corroborate the idea that Luke was giving Mary’s genealogy, not Joseph’s. I couldn’t find the Jerusalem Talmud online. I think you said you are out of the country and don’t have access to all your materials now, but are you familiar with this passage? If so, does it appear to refer to the same Mary, and is the translation accurate?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2018

      It was written several centuries after Matthew, and so would not be independent support. I’m not familiar with the Talmudic passage. It’s easy to find info on the Talmud online though. Just google Jerusalem Talmud.

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