I have sacrificed my adult life in pursuit of the truth when it comes to Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. I spent fifteen years deeply immersed in evangelical culture earning a Bachelor (Moody Bible Institute, Chicago) and Master’s (Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas) degree in theology from two reputable evangelical institutions. Upon graduation from seminary, however, my evangelical faith was beginning to unravel.
What started as a sincere effort to strengthen my faith by deconstructing and rebuilding it ended in a total abandonment of Christianity. The reason: Unbeknownst to me, I had unconsciously dropped my faith guard when I began to reexamine my faith. For the first time I was seeing the Bible objectively and what I saw astonished me. At first many tertiary teachings crumbled like The Rapture Theory, but soon more central doctrines like The Trinity and the nature of Jesus came under investigation.
Fast forward twenty-five years. To say my life has been consumed with researching the Bible, particular Jesus, would be an understatement. It has been my singular pursuit and everything else a distraction. I have paid the price for my obsession in emotional pain, failed relationships and a life with little to show for my efforts except intellectual satisfaction.
I have studied the life of Jesus extensively with rationalism and common sense as my guides. With unflinching scrutiny I have torn down the many misconceptions about who Jesus was and was not. Never wavering from my mission to let reason dictate truth free from faith bias, a clear and unassailable picture of Jesus has emerged.
Since Christmas is approaching, I offer a quick peek into my findings concerning the birth narratives.
Almost nothing about the Christian version of Christmas is factual other than Mary was the mother of a man named Jesus. Everything else falls into the category of religious fiction: The manger, shepherds, magi, slaughter of the boys from Bethlehem, escape to Egypt, angelic visitations and of course the miraculous conception of Jesus by God’s holy spirit.
Isaiah 7:14 serves as the bedrock of Christology. It supports Christianity’s claim of Jesus’ divinity and humanity as well as prophetic proof of his messiahship. A lot rests on the legitimacy of this verse as predictive prophecy. Time and space permit only a general review of relevant material.
14”Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”(Isaiah 7:14, NIV)
There is a mountain of evidence preventing one from using this text to “prove” Jesus miraculous birth was predicted eight hundred years earlier by Isaiah.
First, Isaiah is addressing an immediate threat to the kingdom of Judah posed by an invasion of their two northern neighbors, Israel and Aram (Syria). The “sign” the Lord will provide is a concurrent invasion by Assyria of these two countries thereby forcing them to retreat and tend to their flanks. “Immanuel” infancy will signal the start of the incursion.
Second, nothing in the passage indicates the miraculous birth of a child by God impregnating a virgin as depicted by Matthew and Luke’s gospel. If so, this would render that child also divine as Jesus was thought to be.
Finally, the gospel writers borrow from the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint (LXX) which makes two significant changes to the original text. First, they introduce a future verb (“will conceive”) where an adjective exists (“pregnant woman”). Second, they change the noun for “young woman” (‘almah’) specifically and restrictively to “a virgin” (‘parethenos’). These two alterations were co-opted by a Christian writer to create the miraculous conception narrative.
If we turn to the gospel accounts themselves and analyze and compare them in rigorous detail, we discover many flaws. It should be noted, those who hold to an absolute inerrantist view of the Bible, perfect in every detail, can and will rationalize away every challenge no matter how compelling. It is the nature of a supernatural faith predicated on a supernatural event orchestrated by a supernatural God and recorded supernaturally in the Bible to be able to devise explanations that strain every facet of reasonableness. Such thinking knows no empirical or rational boundaries, and the more preposterous and far fetched the resolution is, the more in keeping with a faith intended to test the limits of human comprehension.
- In Luke, Joseph and Mary visit Bethlehem for a Roman census where a very pregnant Mary gives birth in a manger to Jesus, thus fulfilling Micah 5:2 (“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans a of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel…”). Matthew, on the other hand, describes Bethlehem as their hometown, but they are forced to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod’s edict to kill the baby boys of Bethlehem two years and younger. They eventually end up in their new hometown of Nazareth after being warned by an angel not to return to Bethlehem where Herod’s evil son Archelaus now rules.
- On the subject of the census found in Luke, multiple problems in the biblical text suggest a later event was shifted forward ten years around which a story was fabricated: 1. There is no record of this census in Roman history. 2. Quirinius was not the governor of Syria until ten years later (6AD). 3. Judea was not a Roman province at this time so would not be subject to a Roman census. 4. Even if such a census took place, Joseph would not be required to travel to Bethlehem to register let alone bring his very pregnant fiancé.
- The dramatic tale of a guiding star and magi from the East to validate Jesus’ birth as “King of the Jews,” Herod’s murderous rampage, a flight to Egypt and refuge in Nazareth are used by Matthew to construct his narrative. It is interesting to note, according to his text, Herod predicted the messianic baby to be about two years old and not a newborn in a manger as described in Luke.
- The star which appeared to guide the Magi was not only capable of moving from North (Jerusalem) to South (Bethlehem) but also able to provide the exact location of where Jesus lived, an obvious impossibility for a star.
- The fact no mention of Herod’s egregious act can be found in Jewish or Roman history is telling. It is inconceivable to the rational mind, this notorious ruler could get away with murdering perhaps a few dozen messianic potentials and the Jewish nation not rise up in revolt. Attempts by Christians to downplay this event are unconvincing given what was at stake. Furthermore, Jeremiah’s prophecy fails to satisfy the necessary details of Matthew’s narrative most notably the geographical separation of Bethlehem and Ramah.
- Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence militating against the miraculous conception story is the sheer absurdity when examined practically. It is clear from all the gospels, Jesus’ arrival as prophet/messiah came as a surprise to everyone not the least of which were his family and residents of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-29). Yet the nativity stories seem to suggest his birth was widely proclaimed (Mt. 2:3, Lk. 2:17, 28-32, 36-38). How then did Jesus slip into obscurity for thirty years undetected, would not news reach Nazareth?
- Mary and Joseph would have had to keep this secret from family and friends which meant they would have been scandalized by the illegitimate birth of Jesus. Yet nothing in the gospels suggests they were sworn to secrecy nor should they choose to give the magnitude of Jesus’ birth. In fact, common sense would dictate they tell everyone to avoid the stain of impropriety especially as parents of the son of God.
- According to Matthew, Mary “was found to be pregnant” (Mt. 1:28, the verb ‘heurisko’ suggests the idea of a discovery). This results in a plan to “divorce her quietly” because he did not want to expose her to “public disgrace.” But wouldn’t her pregnant state as a now unengaged single woman not expose her to public shame? It seems Joseph’s sole concern is his own reputation as one “faithful to the law.”
- In Luke, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and informed of her future role as mother of the messiah through conception by “a holy spirit.” When conflated one wonders why Joseph is not told directly by Mary about this incredible news. It seems given their impending marriage, he should be the first to know, yet according to the text she departs to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the future mother of John the Baptist, who lives perhaps sixty miles south of Nazareth.
- It seems if this story were true, the couple would have to deceive all those around them into thinking Jesus was Joseph’s son as stated in Luke 4:22. Even Jesus’ immediate family seem oblivious to his true identity (John 7:5). On a related note, the glaring absence of his mother at the tomb to await his promised resurrection is another strong piece of evidence to suggest all aspects of his divinity started after the resurrection myth.
- Both gospels include a genealogical tree tracing Jesus’ lineage to David to establish his messianic credentials BUT Joseph has no genetic linkage to Jesus because of the miraculous conception rendering this connection irrelevant.
- One final issue is the overall perspective of these two accounts. It is unmistakable Jesus was thought to have been born as King of the Jews to provide physical salvation from Roman oppression. The Annunciation, Mary’s Magnificat, the angels’ message to the shepherds, John the Baptist’s ministry as revealed through Zechariah, the declarations of the prophets Simeon and Anna bear testimony to the political redeemer role of Jesus. Yet Jesus did not flex a single messianic muscle then, nor yet, to satisfy these expectations. Quite simply he failed to provide the nation of Israel with any significant benefit. His entire ministry was couched in the promise of an already arriving kingdom that never came. By appealing to an existential threat of divine wrath, he was able to scare some common Israelites into temporarily believing for fear of incurring God’s righteous anger. Pentecost saw a revival of messianic expectation as did the Fall of Jerusalem (68-70AD), but for all intents and purposes, Jewish Christianity was in the final throes of death. Were it not for the indefatigable efforts of a converted Pharisee named Paul, Christianity may well never have made it past the first century (The role of Paul as the true Savior of Christianity is for another article).
The obvious question is why anyone would fabricate these stories and the answer can be found in the prophetic spirit of the age. Those who created these and other stories believed they were being vouchsafed heretofore unknown historical fact via God’s spirit. So certain were they of Jesus messianic divinity, they scoured the Hebrew writings for clues about him. Looking beneath the surface or literal meaning of the text for prophetic gems, they were able to construct stories to support their claims with the help of God’s superintending holy spirit.
The above material represents a fraction of the research I have compiled over several decades. The fact several billion Christians believe at the very least in the resurrection is testimony to the place irrationalism still holds in people’s lives. Why do so many supplant their own mental capacity and defer to a collection of ancient superstitions thought to be divinely authored? Fear.
At the heart, not mind, of Christianity is fear of the unknown. Death and the uncertainty of the afterlife is the fuel of faith. Christians have subsumed this existential angst with eternal hope, and they are not about to give it up no matter how compelling the evidence is.
So why not let those who desire to reserve a small part of their brains for irrational hope continue to do so? Faith has consequences for those beyond believers.
Few would question the ascendancy of sacralism in America in recent years. The mixture of religion (evangelicalism) and politics has been deleterious for those who don’t subscribe to a faith where revelation rules over science. Evangelical ideology threatens the rights and freedoms of many not to mention the environment and political stability abroad. The prominence given to the Bible as a supreme authority must be fiercely resisted given the potential catastrophic consequences of allowing its continued reign.
It is time we stopped indulging the fantastical thinking of those who hide behind their own religious freedom to remove, restrict or reduce the rights of others. The moment “Jesus” decided to run for political office he became fair game for the most aggressive and brutally honest critique rationality could muster. We can no longer afford to let evangelical or conservative Christians keep him safely hidden behind the secure walls of their churches. If necessary, we must drag him into the glaring and unforgiving light of public scrutiny.
Christianity is a lovely and rich tradition founded exclusively on the imaginations of ancient men’s religiously addled minds.