The story of Jesus’ birth is the greatest story ever told — also the fakest!
SPOILER ALERT: For those not interested in wading through pages of textual analysis and commentary, I offer my conclusion at the start.
Without the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus, there is no resurrection. It is the foundation upon which the resurrection rests. The foundational text upon which the entire superstructure of Christian belief has been erected is Isaiah 7:14. It is around this text, Matthew and Luke spin their narratives.
14”Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call him Immanuel.”(Isaiah 7:14, also quoted in Matthew 1:25)
Note: Throughout this article, all biblical references are from the NIV. All underlined and bold text has been added for clarity and emphasis.
Taken completely out of its literary and historical context, grammatically altered and imbued with Christian theology, it became the basis for the unification of both Jesus’ divine and human natures and proof of the miracle of predictive prophecy. At the same time it raises multiple issues for Isaiah’s day.
However, when studied objectively in its strict context, all the pieces of the puzzle fall neatly in place. The only thing out of place is Matthew’s interpretation of the divine virginal conception of Jesus. Instead we have the woman with child designated by Isaiah who will give birth to a boy named Immanuel. Before he reaches a few years of age, the Assyrian army led by Tiglath-Pileser will attack Northern Israel and Syria, thereby relieving Judah who was currently suffering under their combined forces.
Imagine for a moment Isaiah intended “virgin” as Matthew did. This would also require a divine conception via God’s spirit without male participation effectively giving birth to “another” Jesus who was both divine and human, named Immanuel. He would also be immortal. If you change the meaning of “virgin” in Isaiah, you must change it in Matthew and vice versa. The moment both prophecies are interpreted differently, one cannot then be used as “proof” of prophetic fulfillment. You cannot invent a new interpretation (Matthew) to fit a preconceived idea about Jesus, and then validate it by referring to an earlier prophecy (Isaiah) with only a vague resemblance to Matthew.
If the sign centered on Immanuel’s virgin conception, this would have been the focus of the prophecy and not simply his age.
In the end, you can never use the New Testament as a hermeneutical key to interpret passages of the Hebrew Bible no matter
I would strongly encourage those who are truth seekers to make a pact with themselves before proceeding further: To read the biblical texts under review multiple times for familiarity and context. And to approach all material with an open and critical mind free of a faith bias.
Introduction and brief overview
Some may think it’s too early for Christmas, but according to Luke, the birth of Jesus took place in the late spring or early summer when “shepherds living out in the fields [were] keeping watch over their flocks at night”(Luke 2:8). Early Christian traditions saw Jesus birth and death occurring on the same day of the year —Passover.
So, Merry Summertime Christmas!
This article contains a lot of data for consideration whether you agree with my conclusions or not. Believing in the infallibility of the Bible is not intuitive. Anybody who defends biblical inerrancy, must do so from a rational position that does not start and stop at personal experience. At some point, logical and reasonable evidence must be presented to support one’s faith claims.
The scope of this article is twofold. It will compare in precise and at times excruciating detail the two gospel narratives considering congruence, consistency and logical plausibility. Then it will move to a rigorous examination of the classic Christmas text in (Isaiah 7:14) using other relevant Hebrew texts.
So vital is this text to Christianity, it must undergo extensive analysis before being unequivocally accepted as a central Christological pillar. We have become so conditioned to a Christianized reading of this text, an accurate reading seems unnatural and foreign.
The nature of such a study invites many “rabbit holes” of inquiry. I believe many of these must be explored if only briefly lest the reader assume I have made determinations without considering all attending possibilities. I have attempted to include new topic headings throughout the material to separate these “distractions” from the main body of work. If this causes the study at times to devolve into entertaining tedious subtopics, I apologize. My motivation was to “show my work” to the reader, so he or she may never accuse me of treating such an intensely personal and controversial topic without sufficient data. The reader is free to skip to sections that deal specifically with textual exegesis if he or she feels inclined.
We will begin with a quiz in hopes of exposing some misconceptions surrounding the biblical understanding of Christmas.
A Christmas Quiz
(according to Matthew and Luke’s gospels)
True or False:
1. Jesus was born in 1 A.D. (“Anno Domini” or “the year of the Lord”), and his birth marks the start of the Gregorian calendar which we use today.
2. The wisemen and shepherds visited Jesus in the manger at his birth.
3. The little drummer boy had no gift for the baby Jesus so played a simple song to show his adoration.
4. The shepherds followed the Star to Bethlehem to see the babe.
5. There were three wisemen who were told of Jesus’ birth by an angel.
6. A choir of angels sang to baby Jesus.
7. After Jesus birth, Mary and Joseph immediately returned home to Nazareth where thirty years later Jesus would begin his public ministry.
8. Jesus birth was a time of great celebration in Jerusalem for all Jews and Gentiles.
9. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem and hid in the manger to escape King Herod’s edict to kill all the children in Nazareth?
10. After Jesus birth, the people of Jerusalem rejoiced in the birth of their newborn king.
11. Isaiah prophesied about Jesus divine virgin birth conceived by the holy spirit eight hundred years before it happened.
The Myths of Christmas
Answers: ALL are False
1. Jesus was actually born during the reign of Herod the Great who died 4 BC, therefore Jesus had to have been born near or before his death, likely between 6BC to 4BC.
2. Only the shepherds visited the baby in the manager; the wise men came a few years later to visit the child Jesus at his home.
3. There was never a drummer boy in the gospel records. It is based on a twentieth century song and has become a Christmas tradition without biblical basis.
4. The shepherds were told of the birth by a chorus of angels, the wise men did not follow the star. The star appeared in the east to inaugurate the birth of Jesus. They came to Jerusalem about two years later without astral guidance, but once there were led to the house of Mary and Joseph by that same star. The question is, “How does a star guide one to a specific residence?” Furthermore, Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem and stars travel (the earth’s rotation making them appear to travel) east to west. This would mean the star could actually “move” but how does a star of massive proportions position itself over a single home?
5. The number of wise men, actually magicians, is unknown but there were at least three who bore gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.
6. No angels at the manager but they play a significant role in both narratives appearing to multiple people (Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Shepherds).
7. The timing of their return to Nazareth is problematic when merging the two accounts. Only Luke describes the actually birth of Jesus in the manger. Matthew assumes it (“But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus,” Mt. 1:25). He picks up his narrative with, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” (Mt. 2:1) which is followed by a flight to Egypt during the night to escape Herod’s decree to kill the innocents.
8. The accounts conflict with Matthew citing Herod’s murderous antipathy while Luke paints a picture of celebration and proclamation throughout Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
9. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to register for the census according to Luke, but lived in Bethlehem according to Matthew who does not mention a census or manger scene.
10. They fled during the night being warned by an angel of Herod’s evil plan to kill the babies; whereas, Luke not only has them residing comfortably in their hometown of Bethlehem but they present Jesus in the Temple for his consecration according to the purification rites of the law a month later. This is incompatible with Matthew who has them fleeing to Egypt.
11. This is one of the most glaring fallacies about the nativity stories and will be explored fully below. Isaiah seems to be talking about an event (“a sign”) with immense significance specific to his day. It would have no bearing or importance to his hearers otherwise. Furthermore, no mention is made of a birth conceived by “the” holy spirit which would be necessary if no male participant was implied. And even if we concede this last point, this would mean “another” divine child was born at this time named Immanuel! The only other option is “virgin” means something else, which is does, “a young woman of marriageable age.”
(Note: Perhaps there is not greater theological sin committed by Christians than, The Holy Trinity. It is a tradition not a biblical doctrine. Jesus was seen as divine but not co-equal to God and the holy spirit was an impersonal extension of God not a separate personal entity (more on this to follow).
The “Facts” of Christmas (according to the Bible)
1. Mary was a virgin until after Jesus was born (Mt. 1:25).
2. Jesus was about two years of age and described as a “child” by Matthew ( ‘paidion,’ Mt. 2:8,9,11) not a “baby” (‘brephos,’ Lk. 2:1) when the wisemen visited him in his home (Mt. 2:11), not manger, in Bethlehem. Also, Matthew begins his narrative with, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” (Mt. 2:1). Furthermore, Herod asks the magi when the star appeared which signaled Jesus birth. Based on this, Herod calculated the approximate age of the messiah and issued his infamous edict, “To kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” (Mt. 2:16b)
3. Matthew describes Herod as “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3), whereas Luke records that after the shepherds saw the baby Jesus in the manger, “they made known the statement which had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). Then eight days after his birth, Jesus is brought to the temple in Jerusalem, “to present him before the Lord” (Luke 2:22). Matthew, on the other hand, has the couple fleeing during the night to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to kill the children (Matthew 2:13).
4. Matthew describes Bethlehem as their home with no mention of the manger (Matthew 2:10), whereas Luke calls Nazareth their home (Luke 2:39, comp. with Matthew 2:23) and has them visit Bethlehem to take part in an empire wide census decreed by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1).
5. John the Baptist and Jesus are cousins. Luke describes an angel telling Mary of her impending pregnancy via “a” holy spirit and that her “relative” (Luke 1:36) Elizabeth (John’s mother) of Aaronic lineage is also going to have a child in her old age. If true, Mary is not of Davidic descent which would invalidate Jesus’ Davidic lineage as she is the only one genetically connected to him.
Having the freedom and resources to study the Bible is the greatest privilege Christians enjoy, yet few take advantage of it. It belies their true interest which is a free ride to heaven not intellectual rigor.
It is astounding, to me how uniformed and misinformed about Jesus and the Bible the vast majority of Christians are despite its prominence both in society and people’s lives. On the fundamental doctrine of inerrancy, the overwhelming majority of conservative Christians have never studied the many issues that undermine belief in the supreme absolute authority of the Bible. Perhaps because it requires a considerable investment of time, formal training and mental energy to gain the proficiency to do so. Or perhaps because most consider it unnecessary relying on their own personal study for edification (This is a tragic by-product of regarding the holy spirit as one’s personal teacher, John 14:26). Others defer to their pastors, ministers and Bible teachers and speakers and as sufficient and trustworthy to impart biblical “truth.”
The BIG question: How can so many be so insistent on the divine inerrancy and authority of the Bible having never fully studied it?
My own truth journey
When I became a born again evangelical Christian, I knew nothing about the Bible yet I was one hundred certain it was the Word of God. My conviction was based on the undeniable power it had in my life which could only come from God. The further along I went in my theological education, the less convinced I became. Studying the Bible honestly and objectively leads one to the inexorable conclusion it is a perfectly imperfect book created by men not God.
If the reader takes away one undeniable fact from this article it is this: A plain and natural reading of Isaiah’s text in literary (within the book itself) and historical (the period of history in view) context offers a completely reasonable interpretation that cannot be legitimately used by Matthew to establish the divinity-humanity of Jesus via miraculous conception. Immanuel’s birth in Isaiah heralded brief relief for a small segment of Judah’s population but signaled Israel’s suffering which is antithetical to Jesus’ messianic role. In fact, in about fifteen years, Assyria would erase Israel from her existence in the land, hardly reflective of Jesus who would “shepherd [his] people Israel” (Mt. 5:6).
The primary focus of this article is Isaiah 7:14, which is considered by most Christians to be the classic Christmas text prophesying Jesus’ virgin birth via the holy spirit.
14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”(NIV, Isaiah 7:14, LXX)
22”All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[Isaiah 7:14] (which means “God with us”).”(Matthew 1:22,23)
The magnitude of this verse cannot be overstated. Arguably, it is the most important verse in Hebrew prophecy for Christians eclipsing Psalm 110 in importance. If this was Isaiah’s original intention, it carries immense theological weight. It establishes the union of Jesus’ divinity and humanity, thereby qualifying him as the perfect substitute for our sin. It also proves predictive prophecy and establishes Jesus messianic credentials. We will examine the flaws in Matthew’s interpretation both historically, textually and logically.
Without the knowledge of Christianity’s theological tradition, Matthew’s interpretation seems far fetched and outlandish if not ridiculous.
This text is deeply embedded in a specific historical context provided by the writer which cannot be ignored. Plucking a single text from its literary environment because it seems to fit a preconceived idea, is irresponsible and sets a dangerous precedent even if you’re a gospel writer. It opens the door to flagrant misinterpretation and baseless claims. Therefore, we must examine its place in Isaiah’s work with utmost care and contextual precision despite its central place in Christology.
Every Christian commentator no matter how conservative admits the Immanuel “sign” has a specific historical reference which is plainly delineated in chapters seven through nine. This is undeniable. The question is, “How does it fit into Matthew’s context almost eight hundred years later?”
Christians cannot dismiss Isaiah’s original use so they postulate a “Dual” or “Double Fulfillment” theory which suggests Isaiah knowingly or unknowingly was providing two prophecies. The first was partially fulfilled by a human child during Isaiah’s time (imminent), while a second fuller fulfillment took place when the Savior of the world was born to a virgin via the holy spirit (distant). The problem with this theory is the two prophecies are vastly different.
First, it is impossible Isaiah was describing “another” child born miraculously via God’s spirit to a virgin without male participation. This first Immanuel would also be divine. Second, it is equally impossible for a child to be born of a virgin without male participation except through divine conception, but this changes the entire force of the passage as understood by Christians. Either virgin means divine conception during Isaiah and Matthew’s time or neither. For Christians it must necessarily mean the former which means a Jesus-like child named Immanuel was born ca. 735BC. The ramifications of which are incomprehensible.
Furthermore, Immanuel signaled Assyria’s attack on Israel not her salvation, while Jesus was thought to restore Israel. As we shall see, Immanuel’s birth started a countdown to Assyria’s attack on Israel. In fact, Assyria would ultimately be responsible for Israel’s cessation as a nation not long after (722BC) which may be intimated in these prophecies. The die had been cast. It would be Israel’s last Christmas.
The above statements are logically irrefutable. Nobody believes there was a divine child named Immanuel who was born during Isaiah’s time. He would be “another” Jesus if this was the case. Nor did this child usher in a period of peace or serve as political messiah of Judah. And nothing in the text suggest a miraculous conception. Therefore, its original meaning must be vastly different from its use by Matthew unqualifying it as a proof text.
Initially is was spoken ca. 735BC as “a sign” heralding a countdown to when Assyria would attack the alliance of Damascus (Aram or Syria) and Samaria (Israel) whose combined forces were assailing Judah. In doing so, these nations would have to withdraw from Judah to contend with the foreign occupation of their own land. The birth of “Immanuel” was to signal the imminence of Assyria’s invasion.
With this interpretation in view, any idea of a virgin conceiving through divine intervention is nowhere to be found in the passage, implied or otherwise. If a virgin was intended, it was only as one who had not had sexual intercourse until she conceived the child by her husband. Thus the loss of her virginity was contemporaneous to the conception of the child. Any attempt to force more into this text stretches it well beyond its scope.
Also, there seems little justification for protecting Ahaz and Jerusalem given their wickedness (Isaiah 1:10, 21; 3:8,9; 5:3,4, 2 Kings 16:1-4, 2 Chronicles 28:1-4). The land of Judah was not spared by Assyria’s participation as Israel and Syria’s incursion had left most of her cities vulnerable to subsequent attacks by the Philistines and Edomites (2 Chronicles 28:5-21).
Christian commentators have been misleading readers of the Bible for centuries, albeit it in sincere ignorance, by altering the text as Matthew did. First, by supporting the LXX translation of “virgin” in place of “woman of marriageable age.” Second, by changing the reading from “the” virgin to “a” virgin, it makes it less specific to Isaiah’s time. Third, there is no future verb, “will conceive.” Instead an adjective (‘harah’) which means “with child” and agrees with “the virgin” would suggest a woman already pregnant at the time of the prophecy. It is used as a present condition throughout the Hebrew Bible.
The next question to answer is whether this “new” reading is supported historically.
By making the woman already pregnant, the prophecy becomes more imminent and more specific. Now Ahaz can actually see a pregnant woman before his eyes who Isaiah identifies will soon deliver (a woman would have to be obviously pregnant for the prophecy to have the dramatic impact it needs) signaling Judah’s “deliverance.”
The Gospels: Historical fictions
If one were to read the two gospel accounts without any Christian preconceptions, they would encounter numerous difficulties both textual and logical making their historicity untenable. They would be viewed as historical fictions full of angelic imagery, gripping suspense, wondrous miracles, compelling intrigue and profound drama perfectly suited to ancient imagination.
Apart from this misinterpretation of Isaiah 7:14, the two gospel accounts are not compatible. Matthew locates Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem as residents, whereas Luke has them as visitors. According to Matthew, they flee their hometown to escape Herod’s slaughter of the boys and go to Egypt, perhaps implying a second Moses (see Isa. 11:11,16). Later they return but because of Herod’s son Archelaus, are told by an angel to go to Nazareth instead. Luke tells a different tale. They are living in Nazareth and go to Bethlehem to register for a census although Mary is only days away from delivering. Jesus is born in obscurity in a manger in Bethlehem marking his messianic birth (Micah 5:2). The presence of shepherds is perhaps an homage to David’s beginnings as a shepherd boy. Shortly thereafter, they return to their hometown of Nazareth.
The most plausible natural explanation is these first Christians were so convinced of Jesus’ heavenly messiahship, they were driven (or prompted by God’s spirit) to the Hebrew writings (actually written in Greek) to find textual treasures hidden in the prophetic text around which to construct their narratives. The liberties they took when it came to interpretation is attributable to an esoteric approach which freed them from literalness. Below the plain literal surface meaning lay gems of truth discoverable to those to whom God revealed them.
Matthew, for instance, writing to a predominantly Jewish audience who would demand prophetic validation of Jesus Messianic credentials, uses five references around which he builds his story of Jesus. The two most critical details shared by both gospel writers are the miraculous virgin birth and Bethlehem as the birthplace.
If we accept both accounts as perfectly true in all details, and attempt to harmonize both, one glaring absurdity emerges which is hard to reconcile.
Either Mary and Joseph shared their glorious news with their family, friends and townspeople of Nazareth, or they did not. Both possibilities pose immense questions when examined against Jesus’ later public ministry as prophet/messiah.
Common sense would suggest they had to tell everyone to avoid the stench of scandal. Mary was after all pregnant while engaged to Joseph with someone else’s baby. They couldn’t lie as righteous Israelites and say it was Joseph’s baby. Such deception would be unbecoming to the messiah’s parents. Also, knowing it was the messiah, they could not risk the stigma of a child born out of wedlock. Jesus was the perfect messiah. Last, nothing in the text suggests this miraculous event was to be kept secret.
Both narratives make no attempt to hide Jesus’ identity while in Bethlehem. Nothing suggests those shepherds or prophets who witnessed John or Jesus’ birth are to remain silent. If we accept this premise, we would expect Nazareth to have been the focal point of messianic expectation for thirty years. Israelites would have come from far and near to see Israel’s future redeemer wondering when he would inaugurate the kingdom. The four gospels provide overwhelming evidence the people of Nazareth and Jesus’ own family had no idea who Jesus was. In fact, they displayed less faith than other towns (Mt. 13:57, Mk. 6:4, Lk. 4:24, Jn. 4:44).
The text below suggests Jesus’ brothers regarded him as making his public debut. Nothing in a life spent knowing him gave them any indication he was anything but someone beginning his ministry, whatever it may be.
3”Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”(John 7:3-5)
We are forced to assume based on the narratives, Joseph and Mary (and Jesus) kept his true identity a secret. Why? What purpose could there possibly be to conceal Jesus’ messiahship? This means Mary was considered unrighteous throughout her life as one who got pregnant with “another man’s” child other than her fiancé. Jesus would go through his life viewed as a bastard child whose reputation would be forever besmirched.
What about those who had witnessed John and Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and the Temple? Surely, news of the birth of the prophet coming in the spirit of Elijah and preparing the way for “the Lord,” and the miraculous birth of the messiah would spread throughout the land. Simeon and Anna were witnesses of God’s “salvation.” The shepherds had also attended the spectacle.
The secrecy theory makes no sense but the proclamation theory has no biblical support. The logical conclusion is both are literary fictions created with a specific intention. It was critical when Jesus was declared heavenly or divine messiah, to validate his claims from the Hebrew writings. His ascension to heaven required the additional component of divinity which Isaiah’s Greek text seemed to accommodate. Jesus’ residence in Nazareth was well known so it was essential to establish his Bethlehem birth. Two separate traditions arose which we see represented in Matthew and Luke’s gospels.
We must remember these writings originated decades after Jesus death. Few who read them were even alive when Jesus was born. Nobody could authenticate these stories or refute them. They contain enough established facts to increase their believability such as Herod’s well known obsession with cruelty and a Roman census around the same time. Most important of all, many Christians claimed to have a prophetic gift which allowed God to vouchsafe divine revelation to them directly. As such, they were privy to past truths no one else was as they scoured the ancient writings in search of secret knowledge with which to construct their narratives.
An emotional not rational faith
The vast majority of evangelicals (and most Christians for that matter) accept the faith before ever having thoroughly examined it. Their lives become a matter of persuading themselves what they believed as children is rationally viable. The alternative is to lose their place in heaven.
Obviously, many evangelicals and conservative Christians will bristle at the mere suggestion the birth of Jesus is a myth. Their reason, however, will be little more than untested faith in the Bible which was inherited from their parents. Most begin with a childhood faith which is solidified through indoctrination and socialization within the evangelical culture until it becomes cemented in their psyche. It becomes part of who they are emotionally.
Facts, logic, reason and common sense have little place in the world of faith. Which is not to say, Christians can’t be reasonable, logical and sensible. However, when it comes to challenges to their faith, they often shut off their critical faculties and default to a blind acceptance of Christian dogma.
The presumption of truth pervades evangelicalism and finds its source in the hearts not heads of believers. Ultimately, when pressed, an evangelical invariably will resort to a personal faith experience as proof of their faith and the Bible’s authority as affirming it. A supernatural experience with God becomes the single most convincing argument in the divine inspiration of the Bible and therefore all it contains. The primacy of emotion is paramount and supersedes rationalism.
The possibility of arguing an evangelical Christian out of their faith is almost impossible. The door of doubt opens from within and is securely locked. It is my goal to plant seeds of uncertainty in hopes a believer might begin an honest and critical examination on their basis of belief, the Bible, to determine its credibility and reliability as the supreme source of truth.
I stand atop a mountain of evidence which points to the Bible as a perfectly imperfect book. That is to say, every word of the Bible is exactly as one would expect from a book written entirely by imperfect men about their perception of God and nature without the benefit of scientific perspective.
The bar of inerrancy is high and demands an impossible standard to clear. Once you accept the fact of biblical finiteness, it makes perfect sense. When you look at the Bible as the inerrant and absolute word of God, it makes no sense. It is full of contradictions, inconsistencies, incongruences and implausibilities not to mention absurdities. It promotes tribalism, sectarianism and religious elitism. It ignores social and scientific advancements. It celebrates sexism, racism and bigotry. It reflects two religions which never should have made it out of the Middle Ages. The fact they did, is a testimony to our fear to let go of God and embrace reality regardless of how difficult and frightening it might be.
I offer this challenge and a word of caution. It is one thing to profess a reasonable faith but another thing to be able to back up that claim. Assuming the Bible is absolutely accurate without having examined the hundreds of textual, chronological, logical and plausibility issues, is a false confidence. Trusting in what your pastor or professors tell you about the Bible is blind allegiance. Those heavily invested in the faith like ministers, missionaries, teachers, speakers and authors are unlikely to entertain even the possibility their faith may be irrational and baseless. Is it really worth scuttling your entire life for intellectual honesty? Other believers may be inclined to NOT want to know the truth because it means losing one’s eternal hope and security. In short, there are many reasons why believers will not take an honest unbiased look at their faith but it mostly fear of losing what they desperately want to believe is true.
Faith means never having or wanting to know the truth
When given the option of challenging something without being forced to, most will not. I acknowledge this and accept it with one condition.
For those who believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible without having thoroughly investigated the basis of this belief by utilizing critical tools — keep your faith private! Don’t inflict (infect) your children or anyone else with fantastical thinking about ancient superstitions. Don’t make unfounded statements about the “evidence” behind Jesus’ resurrection or any other biblical statement that runs contrary to science, rationality and common sense.
I have devoted four decades to exhaustive research on Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. I have spent thousands of dollars on theological training in evangelical institutions. I have sacrificed the bulk of my time and energy on painstaking study and analysis of the Bible in an effort to learn the truth. I have endured countless hours of sleeplessness as I struggled to resolve the many issues I encountered along the way. All this has made it abundantly clear Jesus was simply a man, the Bible is simply a book and Christianity is simply a fabrication of well intentioned ancient men driven by spiritual experience.
The rest of this article explores some of these matters in greater detail and examines others not discussed in this overview. It falls to the reader to undertake the task of critiquing his or her faith to test its validity.
I believed for fifteen years the foundations of my faith were rationally solid because I desperately wanted to. I filtered the world and all its influences through my biblical grid. I made it conform to my ideology which was easy since I was dealing in the realm of the supernatural which has no empirical or logical boundaries. Think about that for a moment. Anyone who believes in an intimate spiritual world as proffered in the Bible can reinterpret this world to fit their ideological mold, thereby seeming to reinforce it. Most religions do this to validate themselves. It is pure subjectivism fueled by experientialism.
Until and unless groups like evangelicals restore confidence in their own mental faculties to critique, evaluate and appraise what is reasonable and what is not, they are doomed to enslavement by the very thing that claims to emancipate them.
31”To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(NIV, John 8:31,32, emphasis added)
6”Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14:6)
Most religions want their adherents to think, theirs is the one and only true path to truth. Exclusivity has been a hallmark of religious systems not because of elitism but because of survivalism. It was essential members of the same tribe or confederacy believe their god(s) were superior to that of their enemies when going to war. Much like a football team praying for their god to give them victory over their opposition. Soldiers and warriors went to into battle buoyed with confidence their god(s) would protect them and ultimately defeat their enemies. This tribalism among religions continues to this day and has contributed to religion based conflicts for millennia.
The religiously minded of today must bravely break free of the tyranny of fear and embrace their minds is the only real and reliable source of discerning what is true and what is false. To do otherwise is intellectual suicide.
Before we begin
A word of caution and a challenge
Mental indifference is not a substitute nor an excuse for faith. Imagine in a courtroom setting, if the jury had made up its mind before the trial began and refused to consider the evidence. It would be a travesty of justice, yet evangelicals have already made up their minds about Jesus and the Bible without ever hearing the other side present its case.
If one is going to make the claims the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, Jesus is the eternal son of God and evangelicalism is the most authentic and biblically based representation of Christianity, they had better have done their homework. Sunday school and sermons are not a theological education. There is a mountain of material to sift through, interact with and analyze without prejudice. All of which must be considered before reaching a conclusion. Blind untested faith makes one a gullible victim easily exploited and manipulated. The evidence must support the claim or be rejected as spurious nonsense and superstition.
You seldom find what you’re not looking for, nor look for something you don’t want to find
Like most people, I thought the Christmas stories were contemporaneous (to one another) and compatible. They are neither. I graduated from eight years of theological training and never saw what is so obvious to me now. Why? Because I wasn’t looking for problems in a “book” I thought was divinely inspired. After all, it had transformed my life. How could it be anything but from God!?
I had no reason to suspect this or any other part of the Bible contained contradictions or fallacies because I had been conditioned to think otherwise. Inerrancy taught me the Bible was God’s Word containing God’s truth and was beyond finite human criticism. Why should I doubt this? My professors who possessed advanced theology degrees never mentioned contradictions in the Bible. My daily experience with God confirmed the Bible was a supernatural work superintended by the holy spirit so how could there be mistakes?
12”For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”(Hebrews 4:12)
21”For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”(2 Peter 1:21)
The Trial for Truth: the challenge to be patient and to be impartial!
As we begin to examine the text, I implore the reader to temporarily view it as a sceptic or at the very least a nonbeliever. I’m not asking you to reject God, simply to pretend you are looking for inconsistencies and incongruences. If the Bible is absolutely true, it should be able to withstand the most withering scrutiny; otherwise, it can’t be true. I understand most will consider the mere thought of questioning it as tantamount to rebellion and an insult to God.
Doubt is the friend of truth. It drives one to search deeper and look harder. Doubt is the enemy of lies* because it exposes it to the unflinching and glaring light of reason.
Note: I want to be careful with using the word, “lies” when referring to the biblical writers. They were sincere but sincerely wrong. They were not intentionally trying to deceive. Their motives, at the time, were noble. They wanted others to share their convictions and avoid divine chastisement or worse. This especially applies to the resurrection story. The power of a mystical experience with the risen Jesus was as compelling and affirming if not more than a mere physical encounter.
I have tried to convey to the reader beforehand the enormous amount of data available to those seeking to thoroughly investigate the foundation of biblical inerrancy. Perhaps this is why Christianity has existed for so long. This trial for truth will not be short. If it was a matter of a few arguments nobody would be a Christian. It is precisely because of the wealth of information and the complexities of analyzing and synthesizing it which allows Christianity’s continued survival.
I mentioned previously many Christians are too heavily invested in the faith to even consider the possibility of rejecting it. Others lack sufficient formal training to be able to effectively evaluate all the data. Non believers are unlikely to devote a lifetime to studying “a book” they do not believe. Liberal biblical scholars are regarded as anti-supernaturalists seeking to strip God’s word of its divine essence. Atheists and agnostics are discounted as tools of Satan. And on top of this, almost all information purporting to tell you what the Bible “really teaches” is from Christians. Who’s left to be heard and be trusted?
The unsuspecting public suffers an almost daily barrage of misinformation about who Jesus was and what the Bible is. Their clamor drowns out the few faint voices of reason. This and other articles are attempts to penetrate the noise obscuring a rational understanding of the Bible.
Why Me and why now?
I had no reason to reject Christianity. I had every reason to reject evangelicalism. I only wanted to follow the right biblical path, so I began to deconstruct and reconstruct my faith from the foundation (Jesus) up.
My motivation as a biblical critic is unique. As mentioned, I used to be about as committed to Jesus and the Bible as anyone could be. I was truly grateful for what God had done in my life and I had dedicated my life to serve him. To use gambling parlance, I was “all in.” I gave up everything in pursuit of this goal because that’s what a Christian is supposed to do.
34”Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”(Mark 8:34)
Perhaps it is fitting and at the same time ironic, my supreme desire to know the truth of the Bible is what ultimately led me to reject it. My insatiable thirst for biblical knowledge kept driving me to learn more and in doing so the aura of mystique surrounding the Bible began to fade.
I was immensely dissatisfied with evangelicalism both on a practical and theological level. I saw half hearted hypocrites wherever I went. I saw huge theological flaws in many of its core doctrines. I knew I had to reevaluate my faith and find a suitable replacement. My search would begin with a fresh, unbiased study of the Bible and Christian tradition in an effort to reclaim my faith.
It is not the time to rehearse my background as an evangelical, other than to say, I have earned the right to be heard. I have paid the price. I sacrificed my fifteen years of my life, thousands of dollars, my youth and my career as a devout believer. I finished seminary having earned two degrees in theology and my evangelical faith was in shambles. This was only the beginning. I was determined to find the answers to questions I had thought were already answered. I began a vigorous re-examination of the Bible and Christianity in hopes of finding the truth. In the end, I did but it meant abandoning Jesus entirely.
Now decades later, I continue to pay the price for a faith in which I no longer believe. Perhaps my mistakes and discoveries will help others avoid a similar peril.
The Kingdom of Reason
I am still preaching a gospel of sorts. It is the “good news” of a kingdom that has already arrived. It is the kingdom of reason and it inaugurated and characterized the Age of Enlightenment. It means availing oneself of all relevant and available data. It is available to everyone who wants to be free of ideological tyranny like evangelicalism which cripples the intellect and makes one emotionally dependent. Unfortunately it doesn’t promise escape from hell and the hope of heaven because both are religious constructs intended to scare people into believing and keep them trapped in the faith.
It is astonishing we live in a world where knowledge has never been greater, more available or easily obtained, yet few seem interested in accessing it. For most of its history, Christians were unable to read the Bible. Ignorance and illiteracy put them at the mercy of the clergy and Rome. Today’s Christian is intellectually unhampered to explore and study the Bible for him or herself independent of ecclesiastical constraints. The fact they don’t shows they are hampered by an internal faith defense mechanism that prevents objectivity and free thinking.
18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[Isaiah 29:14]
20Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
26Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[Jer. 9:24](1 Corinthians 1:18-31)
14”The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”(1 Corinthians 2:14)
I quote this extensive passage because it is often appealed to by evangelicals when the scientific community “boasts” a finding that compromises the authority of the Bible or when philosophers challenge the existence of God. It is a readymade defense of the unsubstantiated and unprovable presupposition of God’s existence based purely on experience (Paul had no evidence of Jesus’ resurrection other than his mystical encounter on the Road to Damascus).
The Hebrew and Christian Bibles are religious propaganda or “advertising” if you prefer. The writers’ sole purpose is to persuade their readers what they are saying is God revelation. They constantly appeal to God as the source of their “truth.” Their motive is sincere and no doubt their profound personal experience of God is equally powerful. They believe obedience leads to blessing and disobedience to punishment. However, accepting these claims unquestionably makes one a victim of blind trust.
We now turn to the scriptural text.
The pre-conception of Jesus
The story of Jesus birth begins before he was conceived with the birth of John the Baptist, his forerunner. Matthew makes no mention of this birth nor the relationship between and Elizabeth, John’s mother, who is of Aaronic descent (Lk. 1:5 comp. with vs. 36). This would suggest Mary is likewise descended from Aaron which would preclude her David descent. Joseph’s Davidic lineage is stressed in both genealogies (Lk. 1:27, also Mt. 1:1-16, Lk. 3:23-38), although technically he provides no genetic link to Jesus his “son.” These genealogical lists may have originated from a separate Jewish tradition which did not include the divine conception. Or, as will be discussed with Isaiah’s text, Jesus’ conception via God’s spirit did not preclude Joseph’s connection to Jesus.
Jesus: God and man?
It is noteworthy, the Christian consensus is Jesus existed as the eternal “word” (‘logos’) prior to his birth (Jn. 1:1). The amount of ink spilled over the centuries concerning the relationship of Jesus divine and human natures is dizzying. Men of deep faith battled over this question resulting in many being labelled heretics. Because this doctrine is contrived, nothing approaching a reasonable explanation exists. The fact the early church took centuries trying to find consensus on this delicate topic is testimony to its incomprehensibility. Simply trying to resolve how the earthly Jesus functioned both as finite perfect man and infinite God, as later tradition maintains, traffics in the bizarre.
Two natures which are both at the same time independent and distinct yet perfectly unified defies common sense and belong to the realm of abstract metaphysics. How many wills did Jesus possess? Was he capable of being tempted? How could he be local and omnipresent simultaneously? Did he really die if he is God? What was his consciousness as a newborn? Does he currently reside in a glorified body as Jesus of Nazareth while also exercising control over the created universe?
Christians find it all to easy to defer to the “mystery” defense where God’s truth is beyond mortal comprehension. And everything will be made plain once we get to heaven. I would contend, the simplest explanation is the true one. Christianity was ever evolving and changing in its bid to survive. It was natural for the conception of Jesus to ultimately progress to the level of God once Christianity broke free from the fiercely monotheistic Judaism. No longer under these constraints, it was free to come of age theologically.
John the Baptist: Forerunner and Preparer to the Lord
1”The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” [Malachi 3:1] —
3“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ” [Isaiah 40:3]
4And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”(Mark 1:1-4)
We may speculate why Luke devotes so much space to the events surrounding John’s birth. The importance of John to Jesus’ ministry is indispensable. Without John there is no Jesus. His historical place and importance is uncontested. He was preaching of the coming kingdom and preparing the way for the “Lord” long before Jesus came to him. Christians validated Jesus by attaching him to John’s message as “the Lord” in view. John launched Jesus ministry, while Jesus’ role as heavenly messiah minimized John’s significance. The new spirit baptism initiated at Pentecost reduced the efficacy of John’s baptism. John offered temporary forgiveness from the coming wrath while Jesus, as the heavenly Christ, provided eternal life.
We cannot afford to get bogged down in a discussion of the relationship of these two men here. Luke’s inclusion of John’s birth account, which is also fictitious, seems to add further credibility to Jesus’ position as political messiah. John’s prophetic role was widely accepted. Thus by making Jesus, not Yahweh, the object of his preparatory work, Jesus messiahship is legitimized.
3”A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord [‘Yahweh’] ;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God”[‘elohim’].(Isaiah 40:3, MT)
The original passage is unmistakably a reference to Yahweh not a future messiah. To suggest somehow Jesus is pictured here is to blur the clear demarcations of the Trinity doctrine and approach Monarchianism. The use of the Greek version obscures this differentiation.
The birth of a myth: Fiction wrapped around facts
5”In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.”(Luke 1:5-7)
1”After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod…”(Matthew 2:1a)
[Note: All quoted texts are NIV. Bold and underlined texts used throughout have been added for emphasis.]
Matthew and Luke’s narratives are constructed upon two historical and two theological pillars. The first of which is Jesus’ birth took place during the reign of king Herod (73-4BC). While this is likely true, the census described in Luke was later and historically irrelevant. Luke seized the opportunity to bring this event forward as a way to necessitate Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem since they were known to be from Nazareth.
1”In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while a Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to their own town to register.
4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”(Luke 2:1-5)
Luke’s reference to a census under Quirinius is fraught with problems:
- No record of this universal (Roman Empire) decree exists other than here (not found in Josephus or Tacitus).
- Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 10 years after Herod died (ca. 6AD, cf. Acts 5:37).
- Even if there was such a decree, Joseph would not have been obligated to travel to his birth city let alone to bring a very pregnant fiancée.
- Palestine was not a Roman province at this time negating involvement in a “Roman” census.
It is doubtful Luke’s readers would have access to this information or would “fact check” him. Nor would many if any have been alive who lived during this census which took place almost seventy years prior. However using an event that was known to have occurred “around” that time would easily have escaped precise analysis by those who were largely illiterate, uneducated and uninterested. Why question what you already believe? Also, it must be stressed, the details were inconsequential to the kernel of truth being taught.
The people of Nazareth should have been Jesus’ first and biggest fans
For thirty years, Jesus, the eternal son of God lived among the residents of Nazareth. Presumably, he was different. If the townspeople had originally questioned Jesus identity when reported by Mary and Joseph returning from Bethlehem, Jesus’ perfect life and wisdom would end these doubts. What could make those who lived here prouder than to know it was the home of God’s messiah who would redeem Israel. The biblical data contradicts this theory.
We may further speculate as to the reason the gospel writers specify Jesus did not do miracles in his hometown. After the resurrection story, claiming Jesus was the heavenly messiah, people would go to Nazareth inquiring if Jesus did indeed show signs of his divinity. Would be followers would flock to Nazareth to learn what great feats he performed. These passages provide cover for Jesus reputation by asserting it was lack of faith not ability that prevented him from performing miracles.
Was Bethlehem or Nazareth Jesus hometown?
26”In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit* will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37For no word from God will ever fail.”
38“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.”(Luke 1:26-38)
*Grammatical Note: The gospel writers do not include the definitive article, “The” in their narratives when referring to “a holy spirit” (rf. Mt. 1:18,20; Lk.1:15,35,41,67; 2:25,26). This is a deliberate attempt by later Christian translators to retroactively inject Trinitarian concepts into the text. In fact, this would infer “the holy spirit” is the father not God (the Father) which the text explicitly precludes (Lk. 2:49). Furthermore this would violate Trinitarian theology becoming dangerously close to Monarchianism. Israelites understood there were many common spirits/winds/breaths but only one “holy” spirit/breath/wind from God. In this regard, it was special and superior to natural wind as an extension of God but not a separate personal entity.
19”After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.”(Matthew 2:19-23)
The second historical pillar is Nazareth as the hometown of Mary and Joseph. According to Luke it was always their hometown, while Matthew identifies it as a place of refuge. After fleeing to Egypt from Herod’s slaughter of Bethlehem’s infant boys, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus are bidden by an angel to avoid their hometown of Bethlehem where Herod’s son Archelaus now rules and instead go to Nazareth.
The divine conception and birthplace of Jesus
The two theological pillars which are indispensable to Jesus’ heavenly messiahship are Mary’s conception via the holy spirit (Isaiah 7:14) and Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the city of David. The first establishes Jesus’ divinity which was necessitated by his ascension, the second fulfills Micah’s prophecy.
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, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”(Micah 5:2, cf. Mt. 2:5,6)
We will treat both narratives as original to each writer, although it is more likely each “borrowed” an existing tradition and adapted (redacted) it to suit his theological purpose. The gospel writers were more collectors and editors than literary creators (see Luke 1:1-4).
I would contend, and history would support it, nobody seriously critiqued these accounts for compatibility. The fact two thousand years have elapsed and they remain largely believed by Christians and non Christians is testament to the authority of tradition. For example, the presence of the wisemen at the manger is almost universally accepted yet has no biblical basis. Therefore, we will be far less generous in our unquestioned acceptance of these traditions.
As soon as she learns she is about to conceive,“Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk. 1:39,40).
Now if we switch to Matthew’s record, we notice some critical differences.
18This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20But 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. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” [Isaiah 7:14] (which means “God with us”).
24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”(Matthew 1:18-25)
At first glance one might not notice anything unusual but a closer inspection tells a different story.
If we believe the biblical accounts at face value…
… Joseph and Mary both learned of Mary’s divine conception separately by an angel. When Mary learned of this news, her immediate impulse was not to tell her husband (we will also consider the possibility she did tell Joseph) but to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judea for about three months (Luke 1:56), a considerable trip.
According to Matthew, Joseph discovers Mary’s pregnancy and is about to secretly divorce her to spare her shame but is prevented by an angelic visitation in a dream. We may infer by conflating these accounts, Mary never told her husband the most incredible news she had ever heard forcing him to consider divorce, instead she told Elizabeth.
To those who might counter she told her husband but he did not believe her, more problems arise. First, this is an argument from silence since no such indication can be found in the text. We could assume Mary would vigorously profess her innocence but this is not in keeping with the spirit of Luke’s account. Matthew seems to imply Mary had to have known she was pregnant without having had intercourse (How could she not?), but made no attempt to inform Joseph leaving him no option but divorce. Assuming for the moment she had been visited by an angel as recorded in Luke, why didn’t she tell Joseph immediately. She had no reason to keep silent and every reason not to. Nothing would prove her innocence more than telling Joseph before she was pregnant she was going to get pregnant. Nobody announces a future affair and pregnancy before it happens. Did they not trust one another?
Furthermore, by this time Elizabeth has already had her own miraculous birth. Any doubts Joseph had could be allayed by visiting her to confirm Mary’s story. Surely, news of his miraculous birth would spread throughout the country especially his hometown. However, there are far greater problems with this story.
The narratives discuss Mary and Joseph as highly favored and faithful to the law (Mt. 1:19, Lk. 1:28). It is indisputable their reputations would have to be blameless as parents of the heavenly messiah. Furthermore, so there is no doubt the baby was God’s not Joseph’s, he does not have intercourse with Mary until after Jesus is born and they are married (Mt. 1:25). According to Luke, Joseph takes Mary with him to Bethlehem days before she is due to give birth while still being engaged (betrothed) to him and not yet married. They then return to Nazareth unmarried with the newborn Jesus.
4”So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son…”(Luke 2:4-7)
The big question is: What, if anything, did they tell their family, friends and townspeople? The optics on this were horrible for a young righteous couple who were betrothed to be married. Mary was pregnant with not Joseph’s baby while engaged to him. He waits until after the baby is born to marry her instead of doing the noble thing, thereby confirming it isn’t his child. Why else wait unless you have shared the truth of the birth? These details are imperative for later Christian tradition to avoid any speculation the baby was genetically Joseph’s and not God’s. Realistically, if true it causes more problems than it solves.
The two would be ostracized by the religious community for Mary’s indiscretion at the very least, since Joseph would appear innocent. But why marry her? The father’s identity would not be revealed since Joseph would obviously have married her prior to the baby’s birth if it was his. For thirty years Mary and Joseph would live in shame refusing to divulge her secret for no discernible reason.
There is nothing in the narrative to suggest God swore Mary, Joseph or the many witnesses to secrecy. In fact, for all the reasons just mentioned, we should expect Mary and Joseph to proudly proclaim their honor of being divinely selected to bare God’s divine son and bring redemption to Israel; otherwise, when Jesus did come out publicly as messiah, his reputation would have been tarnished. He would be seen as the illegitimate child of Joseph and Mary and therefore unworthy of the office.
Instead, they would have shouted it from the rooftops and would have the testimony of the shepherds, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simon and Anna to confirm it, not to mention the “chief priests and leaders of the law” (Mt. 2:4) who also were aware of the messiah’s birth. Israelites from around the Roman Empire would monitor Jesus’ development wondering when he would begin his messiahship as, “The one who has been born king of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2). Expectations would grow year by year for the restoration and redemption of Israel. Nazareth would be the undisputed focal point of Israel where the messiah lived (Note: According to the accounts, he was born the messiah, so it is a question of when he activates this role). Yet there is not a trace of evidence anybody knew anything about Jesus during this time, in fact, the opposite.
14”Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16He went to Nazareth,where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Isaiah 61:1,2]
20”Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
23Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”
24“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”(Luke 4:1-30)
Is this how a city treats its royal divine son?
5For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”(John 7:5)
This passage provides indisputable proof, Jesus lived in his home town “where he had been brought up” and the people had no idea he was the messiah. They may have accepted he was now possibly a prophet who needed to prove his office, but clearly he was not given the respect of, “King of the Jews.”
Of all the places Jesus ministered, his hometown should have shown the most faith not the least. For thirty years Jesus had regaled them with answers (Lk. 2:47). The entire town would have been intimately aware of his miraculous birth and messianic calling, right?
52”And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”(Luke 2:52)
What happened from the time of his glorious birth to his return to Nazareth as a prophet? Is it probable his parents, John the Baptist’s parents and the people of Jerusalem together kept the secret? When Mary was pregnant and had Jesus before being married to Joseph, as the Bible states, what did they tell their parents, relatives, friends, acquaintances? Both were devout Israelites and yet they had a child out of wedlock. Wouldn’t their reputation be besmirched? Nobody would accept an illegitimately born messiah, but there is no indication, their secret was revealed. Why?
The Christmyth story: The birth of a legend
Jesus divine virgin birth in Bethlehem never happened. It was a birth that never was.
The nativity stories are fictions created long after Jesus had died (ca. 72-75AD) to bolster his messianic credentials. The townspeople behaved exactly as we would expect those who had no idea of Jesus’ royal birth, nor Mary’s miraculous pregnancy out of wedlock, and most of all, nor did Jesus. He left Nazareth a common everyday Israelite seeking John’s baptism of repentance and returned claiming he had been anointed and appointed as a prophet to preach the gospel in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (see above). There was nothing remarkable about Jesus until he returned after his baptism as a self proclaimed prophet of the Last Days.
Like so many stories about Jesus, it is unimaginable Jesus would be treated this way if he were indeed the eternal son of God living in Nazareth for thirty years. He would have been perfect, unique and obviously special. His brothers and sister would know he was different. It would be impossible for the eternal son of God to conceal his full identity if not at least arose suspicion which was then confirmed.
Word about his miraculous birth would have spread and those in Nazareth would have heard. Mary and Joseph would tell everybody their news especially to avoid shame on them and Jesus. God never told them to keep quiet about Jesus, so why would they? They were the only ones who knew the greatest truth mankind had ever known and they didn’t say a word.
53When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” 58And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”(Matthew 13:53-58, also Mk. 6:1-5)
We would expect those in Nazareth to have their suspicions of thirty years finally confirmed but they act completely astonished at Jesus’ abilities.
All aboard the logic train
There are two kinds of problems found throughout the Bible, the factual and the probable. For instance, there are internal contradictions, chronological errors, scientific falsehoods which are objectively false. But there are also issues involving common sense and plausibility which also undermine confidence in the authority of the Bible as will be discussed. Together, they should preclude the proposition of divine inspiration.
To state it bluntly, the world of academia does not contain those who admit the Bible must be the inerrant Word of God but choose not to become Christians regardless. At best there are those who entertain Christian beliefs but compartmentalize them separate from their secular lives, or who valiantly try to adapt them to their lives through compromise. Faith is an essential pre-requisite which obscures objectivity. Critical objectivity applied to biblical data will never yield a Christian belief in inerrancy. The roads of logic all lead to the same place.
I’m non partisan. My interest is in following the facts wherever they may lead. I had no reason to scuttle my faith. I have invested fifteen years in training and ministry. I finished seminary and could have gone into full-time ministry but my conscience would not allow me. Too many unanswered questions needed resolving. I was a man of sincerity and integrity. I was not about to teach people something of which I was not certain. At the time, it was the evangelicalness of my faith I questioned, not the foundation.
Here’s but one example of many concepts that make no sense plausibly if you take the Bible literally and unequivocally.
Mary becomes pregnant via God’s holy spirit. She goes to visit Elizabeth who is six months pregnant through divine anointing with John the Baptist. She stayed with her for about three months.
Did she tell Joseph about her amazing news before leaving?
Yes, but he obviously didn’t believe her because he was going to divorce her anyway until an angel told him what another angel had told Mary. He thought her a liar and a cheat at first.
No, which would arouse huge suspicion when she returned already pregnant and informed her husband who obviously didn’t believe a woman who had left abruptly for three months.
If true, it is hard to imagine her not telling him before he found out. Where did she tell him she was going if not to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant despite being beyond child bearing years. Nobody admits to an affair and pregnancy before committing it. Furthermore, Elizabeth could easily corroborate her story.
What did Mary and Joseph tell friends, family and acquaintances when Mary got pregnant before getting married?
Everything: Mary and Joseph were never commanded not to share their good news, so we would expect they did, for many reasons. First to avoid the stench of scandal for getting pregnant before marriage with someone else’s baby (assuming Joseph admitted it was not his). Second, to avoid bringing shame on the messiah. Third, to let all Israel know the messiah had been born.
Nothing: They kept it a secret seems to defy common sense. Not telling has no benefits whatsoever and only creates problems when Jesus announces his messiahship thirty years later.
Note: Two verses bare mentioning.
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”(Lk. 2:19)
”But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”(Lk. 2:51b)
Some might suppose these texts resolve the issue of Mary’s silence. We may surmise those who lived in Nazareth were questioned by skeptics about Christian claims to Jesus messiahship. The inhabitants would confess Mary said nothing about Jesus being the messiah, so Christians would deduce she kept it a secret. But here again, while solving one problem it creates multiple other ones.
What evidence does the biblical text provide to clarify the answers to these questions?
If we take the biblical text at face value, nobody in Nazareth knew of Jesus’ true identity which means neither Joseph, Mary or Jesus told their secret. This means for thirty years Jesus was thought to be the illegitimate child of Mary and Joseph was considered his father. It begs the supreme question, “Why keep silent?” It makes the family look bad and one would hardly consider Jesus the messiah given the details surrounding his mother’s pregnancy.
The solution to all these problems is simple. The nativity stories are mostly fiction. Jesus had a normal birth, childhood and adolescence. He had no designs on being a prophet or a messiah. He lived a humble life in relative obscurity. His life changed dramatically after his baptism and things progressed and escalated culminating in his death as a king who never took the throne.
Overview of the conception and birth of John (the Baptist) and Jesus, the Messiah
As usual, we will assume verbal, plenary divine inspiration of the gospel accounts surrounding Jesus birth. They will be considered factual for the purpose of comparison, synthesis and evaluation. Furthermore, besides internal contradiction, plausibility will also be heavily weighed in light of common sense.
The story begins with the birth of John the Baptist who “precedes” Jesus to prepare the way for him both literally and ministerially.
5”In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.”(Luke 1:5-7)
While serving in the Temple, Gabriel, “The angel of the Lord” appears to Zechariah to inform him his prayer has been heard and his wife Elizabeth will bare a son named John.
14”He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(Luke 1:14-17)
There are several notable things in this paragraph which bare highlighting. John’s status as a prophet and impact on Israel is indisputable. His ministry will be anointed by God (“Filled with the Holy Spirit) and center on repentance.
17”And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(Lk. 1:17)
This aspect of John’s ministry is confirmed when Jesus is baptized. It is implied Jesus is “the Lord” for whom John is preparing the way by the gospel writers. A question for later consideration will be, “Did John (and Jesus) fulfill these expectations?”
Zechariah, as could be expected, wonders how this birth will come about since both he and Elizabeth are old. Gabriel strikes him with temporary muteness because he, “Did not believe my words” (Lk. 1:20). The theological reason for this is uncertain except perhaps to illustrate the penalty for lack of faith in God’s promises. It should be noted, Mary’s similar incredulity went unpunished (see Lk. 1:34 below).
As will be discussed, the legitimacy of John’s divinely anointed birth is critical because he endorses Jesus’ as messiah (according to Christians).
Mary is selected as the mother of Jesus
26In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”(Luke 1:26-28)
Mary was specially selected from every other Israelite woman. Her reputation must have been spotless. Mary was entrusted with carrying God’s eternal son. No honor could have been higher. Mary, though troubled, is reassured by Gabriel.
31”You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 33and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”(Luke 1:31-34)
Mary’s queried about how she can give birth as a virgin is odd given she is about to marry which will present the opportunity for pregnancy. She is young and about to marry. What’s the mystery?
Mary’s reaction is one of befuddlement. However, is such a response realistic? The angel is telling her she “will conceive” not she is already pregnant*. Furthermore, it is plausible she would have assumed her initial sexual encounter with her new husband, Joseph, would have been blessed (anointed) by God via his spirit thereby resulting in the conception of God’s chosen messiah. All would be in the realm of believability if visited by an angel. A pregnancy from consummating a marriage is hardly a rarity.
*If Matthew had explicitly provide the moment of Mary’s conception, it would have clarified many things. As we will see in the next article, Samson’s mother seems to have conceived when visited by an angel of the Lord. Instead we are left to speculate when it took place.
Gabriel provides five descriptions of Mary’s son (vs. 32,33), Jesus, which offer a complete picture of his future. It is unmistakable Jesus is God’s chosen messiah whose kingdom is everlasting.
The stage is now set. John is to prepare for the coming of Jesus the Lord and son of God. Back to the question we asked earlier, “Did John and Jesus satisfy these expectations presented by Gabriel?”
If Christianity were authentic, it would be celebrated in a synagogue not a church
The hard truth of Christianity is it was never supposed to leave its Jewish context. Neither Jesus nor his disciples had any interest in Gentiles who did not convert. It was a religion by a Jew, for the Jews about the Jews. A converted Pharisee named Paul hijacked it and stripped it of its Judaistic encumbrances and offered it freely to Gentiles. The nativity narratives reveal the true nature of John and Jesus’ ministries.
1”This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham…”(Matthew 1:1)
A cursory reading of the birth narratives reveals a uniquely Judaistic flavor.
First, John the Baptist’s birth is predicated on his role as preparer for the Lord.
16″He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(Luke 1:16-17)
Likewise Jesus’ birth is to benefit the nation of Israel.
31”You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”(Luke 1:31-33)
Mary’s Magnificat also reflects this theme
54He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
55to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”(Luke 1:54,55)
Zechariah’s song is packed with prophetic import
68“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69He has raised up a horn c of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”(Luke 1:68-79)
After Jesus was consecrated in the temple, Simeon praised God for allowing him to see, “The Lord’s Messiah” before he died.
29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”(Luke 2:29-32)
A prophetess name Anna, “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”(Lk. 2:38)
Finally, king Herod was visited by the three magicians from the East who announced they were looking for “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2).
It must be stated emphatically, these utterances are not abstract concepts of spiritual salvation but actual political deliverance from Roman oppression and national restoration. This was the expectation of the coming messiah who would initiate God’s righteous judgment on Gentiles. There is not the slightest hint here of the cross, resurrection or eternal life. These passages make it clear, the Judaistic traditions of John the Baptist and Jesus anticipated political emancipation from Rome during their lifetime not some Millennial kingdom two thousand years in the future.
Second, there is no indication of Gentile inclusion. Jesus and John operated exclusively within Judaism. Simeon’s reference (above) to, “In the sight of all nations” and “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” is often misconstrued as presaging Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.
These words echo passages found throughout Isaiah (42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3).
6“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,7to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”(Isaiah 49:6,7)
Contextually and theologically these texts refer to Israel’s deliverance from Babylonian captivity. Though initiated by the Persian King Cyrus, the Yahwist community saw nothing less than God’s sovereign hand, as they did with most things (see Isa. 10:5; 13:17; 14:26,27). As these Israelites made their way home from throughout the lands, Gentile nations would recognize God’s glory. If there is any hint of conversion in these, it is proselytization to Judaism not Gentile Christianity.
Side note: (Discussion on Paul’s use of Isaiah to justify Gentile inclusion to follow article in excursus)
I would be remiss in failing to mention Paul’s (mis)use of this text to justify his outreach to Gentiles. It is improbable Paul saw this interpretation prior to his “revelation” (Gal. 1:12) to bring the gospel to the Gentile nations. Like others, it was ambiguous enough for Paul to refashion it to suit his theological purpose.
46Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“ ‘I have made you [sg] a light for the Gentiles,
that you [sg] may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”(Acts 13:46,47)
On an exegetical note, though an unpopular interpretation because it strips this passage of messianic potential, the obvious meaning is the prophet “Isaiah” (a disciple of the school of Isaiah) was describing his own divine appointment. Tendencies to sanitize and romanticize the text to fit Christian ideals obscures the natural rendering. This prophet was probably the first to announce Cyrus’ decree to those with him in captivity. As God’s divine mouthpiece he was given great honor by those who heeded his call and returned to the land.
The split of Christianity into a Jewish and Gentile branch is of immense significance to a proper understanding of the New Testament. It is unfortunate Christians see them as compatible when most Jewish Christians, especially Jesus own disciples, did not (Acts 15, Galatians 2). While for various reasons they allowed Paul to continue his ministry to the Gentiles unmolested, the Judean Christians remained largely in opposition. There are strong Jewish Christian traditions found throughout the gospels that reflect this disunity. The texts we have just considered are examples of Jewish expectations that did not include Gentiles.
Jewish Christianity died because Jesus repeatedly failed to fulfill his messianic obligations. He never returned. Paul manufactured a doctrine to explain why Jews en masse were rejecting the gospel. It seemed to support his “remnant theory.”
5”So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”(Romans 11:5)
11”Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”(Romans 11:11)
25”I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
27And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”[Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34](Romans 11:25-27)
In Paul’s mind, Jesus would arrive any minute. If this were true, “All Israel [would] be saved” because he would descend through the clouds with the host of heaven. Paul was obviously mistaken and this theory is nonsensical two thousand years later. Israel is in no way “envious.”
Why the Jews rejected Jesus: The “All or Nothing” theory
I mention it here briefly and will discuss it more fully later. These are early Jewish Christian traditions heavily steeped in Judaism. Gentile Christianity is not a consideration. All Jewish eyes were on a soon to arrive messianic kingdom and God’s righteous indignation poured out on the Gentile nations especially Rome who had subjugated Israel. The major adjustment Jewish Christians made was to accommodate a messiah who had died, been raised and ascended to heaven. Jesus was not “just” a messiah, he was now the heavenly “Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).
I do not have the slightest doubt, those Israelites who came first to John, including Jesus, did so out of fear. Participation in the kingdom of God was not a matter of pedigree, it was a matter of obedience (“the fruit of repentance,” Mt. 3:8, Lk. 3:8). It fell to John and Jesus to stoke fear and provide forgiveness. Jesus’ short reign as king of the Jews during Passover and subsequent death extinguished the hopes his followers. These were rekindled when the resurrection story broke, but these too were short lived when he failed to restore Israel. His followers continued to fans the flames of messianic anticipation as a converted Pharisee named Paul offered his own novel theory: Israel had been temporarily blinded (hardened) to allow Gentile inclusion (Romans 9-11).
These early decades saw the creation of many traditions about Jesus mostly in a Judaistic context. These nativity stories began as oral traditions soon after Jesus resurrection as an apologetic against those who questioned his lineage and divinity (Messiah’s don’t die before fulfilling their political function).
When we examine the glorious optimism for Israel of Gabriel’s speeches to Elizabeth and Mary, it is clear nothing remotely approximating these promises materialized, so why did these writers include them?
Matthew and Luke compiled their material several years after 70AD when it was obvious Jesus might not return during or immediately after the fall of Jerusalem as anticipated. Jewish Christianity was in danger of expiring when it seemed there could be no better time for Jesus’ appearance. Like the prophets of old, these men were tasked with explaining the inexplicable. If he hasn’t come now, will he ever come?
The gospel writers offer one last promise which effectively sounded the death knell for Jewish Christianity. It was a big gambit whose failure to materialize would cost this branch of Christianity its life. It was a reign that never came.
28“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”(Mt. 16:28, Mk. 9:1; Lk. 9:27)
34”Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”(Mt. 24:34, Mk. 13:30, Lk. 21:32)
I have devoted considerable material to Matthew’s apocalyptic sections (Chapters 24 & 25) in a previous article. The salient features in much of this teaching is a protracted delay (“A long time,” see Mt. 24:48; 25:5,19) necessitating alertness and preparedness (Mt. 24:42,44; 25:13,29) and the dangers of not being ready when the “son of man” arrives, namely eternal judgment (Mt. 24:50,51; 25:11,12,29,30,41,46). Hidden in these parables was a persistent condition of unfaithfulness suggestive of a cloud of lethargy that had settled over Jewish Christianity. After all, why bother being vigilant if the messiah wasn’t coming soon? The resounding answer of the gospel writers was — judgment.
As days stretched into weeks and months and years, it was obvious Jesus was not returning. Jewish Christianity died a slow death of apathy. The subsequent generations of Jews showed little interest in a messiah-less religion populated by Gentiles.
Looking back at this material two thousand years later, it should be obvious to the unbiased eye, the mountain labored and brought forth a mouse. The great declarations of tribulation and judgment culminating in the triumphant return of Jesus on the clouds of glory never appeared. Were it not for the efforts of Paul, such discussions would be reserved for students of ancient literature. Instead, we are forced to confront the hundreds of millions who cling to the hope these stories provide.
Our next task is a rigorous analysis of Isaiah 7:14 in historical and literary context as well as other relevant texts found throughout the Hebrew writings.
See next article: Building a case against Christ: Let reason be the Judge: The Christmyth story (pt.4b – Isaiah 7:14)