In an attempt to satisfactorily answer this post, I am going to italicise Peter’s original comments, thereby avoiding any confusion over what he wrote, and my replies.
The New Testament seems to contain many events about Jesus that on the surface are easy to understand, but when you try to tie up events, begin to unravel.
One of these strange inconsistencies that I would like to talk about Jesus’s birth. Now we have two separate accounts of Jesus’s birth from the Bible and in addition, two genealogies. Both Luke and Matthew are apparently genealogies according to the books themselves and both agree that Joseph is a decedent of King David. To quote:
Matthew 1:16 "...and Matthan begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ."
Luke 3:23 "...the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat..."
Now ignoring the fact that both accounts end the genealogy differently, they do both trace back to Solomon, then King David. This is the important part as it is used in proving Gods existence by pointing to the prophecies in Psalms and Isaiah, and declaring them as fulfilled in the Matthew and Luke account. This is seen as evidence of Gods existence – that an event was foretold that came to pass. Any good Christian should be vaguely aware of some of the prophecies of the messiah.
Now on the surface this seems to tie up (ignoring the mistakes of the genealogy as they are fairly unimportant) and give us good evidence for a prophecy.
The two genealogies are approached in a very different manner, as Matthew, writing as a Jew to the Jews, concentrated on the generations from Adam to Joseph, thought to be the father of Jesus, where Luke, regarded by modern historian as a great historian, gives a different account, as he is writing to the, mostly Greek, church. Also, as an educated man, a physician, he would have looked at it differently. This is the reason he also works backward, from Jesus to Adam.
However, this in fact actually gives us a major problem. If Jesus had a virgin birth, then he is NOT decedent from David, and thus not in fact the Messiah. In fact the apostle Paul also seems to be aware of this problem as he wrote in Romans:
Romans 1:3 "concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh"
The key here is the term ‘…born of the seed of David according to the flesh.’ According to Jewish law, an adopted son was part of the lineage of his father, thought to be Joseph, and as Joseph was his adoptive father, He would then have, quite rightly have been referred to as the Son of David.
Now if he had been of David’s seed, then the prophecies would be true, but as a central tenet of Christianity is in fact that Jesus has a virgin birth, then this puts us at odds, first with the prophecy, and second with Pauls own writings on Jesus.
Now you might think that perhaps Paul makes a mistake in his writing and overlooked for a moment that the birth was a virgin miracle, but this is in fact not the case. Or rather, if it was the case, Paul never feels the need - in any of his writing of his 13 books - ever to mention the virgin birth. Neither apparently does the book of Mark or John – two other Gospels. In fact when Paul rebukes the foolishness of the Galatians for their faith, asking them to re-examine their beliefs, instead of pointing to the miracle birth, he simply has this to say:
Galatians 4:4 "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law"
So mundane is the account given, that I question if Paul is even aware of the virgin birth at all.
There is no question that Paul could have been unaware of this, as his many writings on the subject of original sin state that by works of the flesh no-one can be saved, and he wrote that Jesus was the second Adam, meaning he was aware He issued from God and not man. And he mentions Jesus was born of a woman, which is, of course, true. But nowhere does he mention his father Joseph. He does call Him the Son of God, however.
The events surrounding the birth become ever stranger as we begin to consider them.
For example in both Matthew and Luke, an account of how an Angel appears in a dream to Joseph and tells him that Jesus will do great things, and save people from their sins is given.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Is one example of the dream he receives.
Despite the details of what the Angel saying being slightly different, there is a larger point I wish to make.
Consider also the events surrounding the birth. You need only look at a nativity play to know that his birth coincided with a Star over Bethlehem, and wise kings from afar lavishing the baby Jesus in gifts and blessings and shepherds leaving their flocks among other things. Matthew gives us the importance of the account:
Matthew 2:2 “… and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Now you might ask what’s strange about that - and ignoring the miracles, nothing really. What is strange is that these events seem not to have had a large effect on Mary and Joseph if at all. We all know the story about how Jesus is left behind at a Temple, and Mary and Joseph only seem to notice a day later:
“”but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.”
I believe it to be perfectly reasonable to expect the parents who knew they were watching over the son of God, to possibly be slightly more aware of his daily wonderings.
When people went to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices, they travelled in a caravan, the men together, and the women and children separately. Israel was not a feminist society. The older boys, those approaching their Bar Mitzvah, would often travel with the men in order to learn from them, or the women, when they annoyed the men too much. With so many children, it could easily happen that they would not miss Jesus for a day, Mary thinking he was with Joseph and vice versa.
What I find even more surprising and astoundingly strange is that Jesus’s own account of his parents is fairly blasé. He tells us in Mark:
Mark 6:4 "But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.”
So it appears even his own family did not pay him much attention or respect. Does it not strike you as odd that with all the fanfare of his birth, the miracle of it, the events that surround it, why did Mary and Joseph firstly not bother to remember any stories about him beyond one time they left him at a temple? And furthermore, why they never seem to make much ado about him at all, including his prophecy?
In spite of this, his brother James, one of his chief critics, became one of the pre-eminent Apostles and died a gruesome death for his faith in Jesus. His mother never treated Him in any way short of total respect, and later worship.
You have to realise the society in which they lived. She believed the prophecies concerning Him: after all, she played a central role in these prophecies, but even John the Baptist, who knew who He was, became confused when He did not rescue Israel from Roman domination, as was expected of the Messiah.
I find this a monumental challenge to any reasonable person.
The bible is purported to be a book of answers. In it I find only more questions, the genealogy of Jesus is inconsistent, the prophecies unfulfilled, the most important apostle of all – Paul - is not even aware of a virgin birth. The actual birth accounts do not agree and Jesus’s parents seem to take no special care of the most important Child born, despite multiple visions and miraculous events, to the extent that Jesus himself is complaining he has no respect in his own household.
Perhaps we should look at the evidence, and see what conclusions we can reasonably draw from it.
So if we do examine the evidence, what do we find?
The Gospels were regarded by Professor Simon Greenleaf, the leading authority on judicial evidence at the time, as being compellingly truthful. He wrote the authoritative ‘Treatise on the Laws of Evidence’, and the less well-known ‘Testimony of the Evangelists’, in which he staged a mock cross-examination and concluded that the evidence he heard had to be true, because of the differences. It was obvious, he said that there was no hint of collusion, but all four were describing the same story from different vantage points.
As an aside, a while ago, I posted a piece critical of evolution and was quite roundly excoriated, as I do not know enough about the subject to criticise it fairly. My knowledge is that of a layman, and a well-read layman, but that is all. Were they right to criticise me as vigorously as they did? They probably were, as some of the people who post here are biologists and, whether or not I agree with them, know more than I do.
The New Testament has more textual support than any other ancient document in the world, yet is more vehemently criticised than any other document that has ever existed. So although your questioning was valid, your lack of expertise on the subject is largely akin to mine on the subject of evolution.
This does not mean I’m going to pour scorn on you or your article. It does, however, ask that you examine the evidence in greater depth. And having read what you’ve written up to now, I think it’s a fair request.
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