Was Jesus Born to a Virgin? William Lane Craig Answers This and More

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Nothing new here. Lots of rerun material. (And face-palms.) Clearly the author didn’t do much research. Even some careful reading of the Gospel accounts could have helped. All of his points are covered in the peer-reviewed literature so I will only provide a few quick responses during this brief late night visit to Peaceful Science. Case in point:

Luke makes clear that Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth, but Matthew suggests that they lived in Bethlehem. There is no mention in Matthew of them traveling to Bethlehem, suggesting they already live there; the wise men find them in a house rather than a stable or inn, suggesting a permanent home; and Joseph had initially planned on returning from Egypt to Judea (where Bethlehem is) but was convinced to go to Galilee instead (where Nazareth is), suggesting that Nazareth hadn’t originally been their home.

OK. I’ll play. Here we go:

Luke makes clear that Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth, but Matthew suggests that they lived in Bethlehem.

Joseph was a building contractor. (Consulting a Koine Greek lexicon is helpful here.) Yes, that included carpentry but much of his time on a typical job was probably spent on stone masonry work, among other trade skills. This type of skilled worker would have tended to go where the construction projects happened to be. That would also mean taking along an espoused wife. (In that culture, engagement was far closer to an actual marriage than what we know today.) There is no good reason to assume that a skilled construction worker from Bethlehem couldn’t have taken contract work in Nazareth.

By the way, Joseph may have owned property in Bethlehem (perhaps his primary home, which he may have inherited and which he probably rented out during his absence.) Absentee owners of real estate sometimes found it necessary to travel back “home” when there was a census registration, which usually included property tax assessment. (Not everybody needed to clog the roads in order to be counted and taxed in their place of residence. But some would have found such a journey necessary in order to see to their financial interests as well as legal obligations. Check out the tributum soli and the tributum capitis under the Roman taxation system.)

There is no mention in Matthew of them traveling to Bethlehem . . .

So what? Matthew had no thematic reason to describe the details of the couple’s travels.

. . . suggesting they already live there;

Maybe but not really. They had probably been living elsewhere for months. But why would such a secondary detail have mattered to the ancient author as much as it apparently matters to Bob Seidensticker?

. . . the wise men find them in a house rather than a stable or inn suggesting a permanent home;

Of course they did. The wise men came a few years later, despite popular Christmas carols, my mother’s plastic creche which she used to put on top of the TV console each Christmas, and endless loads of popular art sold at Walmart and garage sales. I repeat: the Magi were not present at the manger of Jesus. The Bible never claims that they were standing alongside the shepherds during the nativity photo shoot. (Hasn’t Bob Seidensticker ever wondered why King Herod killed all of the males up to two years old rather than just the newborn babies of Bethlehem? Clearly two years had passed since the Magi had first seen the star which instigated their long journey.)

Yes, by the time the Magi arrived, the Jesus and his parents were living in a house. Duh. No great surprise there.

By the way, the author of the article seems to be unaware that lots of houses at the time included a stable. A house and a stable were not typically separate structures in first century Palestine. (Newsflash: Joseph and Mary weren’t living in the Old West or the set of a 1960’s TV Western.)

. . . and Joseph had initially planned on returning from Egypt to Judea (where Bethlehem is) but was convinced to go to Galilee instead (where Nazareth is), suggesting that Nazareth hadn’t originally been their home.

Finally! The author got something right. No problem here.

@Patrick, Patheos is a blogging site. It should not be confused with peer-reviewed scholarship. Bob Seidensticker is often entertaining but he really should pick up a good introductory textbook rather than just repeat popular Internet tropes from pro-atheism websites. I don’t get paid to grade papers anymore so I’m not going to spend any more time than necessary marking his errors with a red pen.

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Hi @AllenWitmerMiller and @Patrick I happen to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, but I feel impelled to point out here that although Bob Seidensticker is no Biblical scholar, most critical Biblical scholars would, in fact, broadly endorse his skeptical assertions about the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke.

First, I should note that the esteemed Catholic scholar Raymond Brown, who was quite middle-of-the-road in his views, concluded in his work, The Birth of the Messiah, that Jesus was probably born in Nazareth. Brown also noted the contradictions between Matthew’s and Luke’s infancy narratives, including the conflicting genealogies of Jesus, and the conflicting dates for the birth of Jesus. Brown would have wholeheartedly agreed with Seidensticker’s statement:

Also, each gospel gives a historical reference that allows the birth to be dated (the death of Herod and the governorship of Quirinius), but these are different dates.

This is the view of most Biblical scholars. Let me note for the record that Brown believed in the virginal conception of Jesus (as I do), but he doubts that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ supernatural conception are derived from the reminiscences of Jesus’ mother Mary.

Many other scholars are skeptical of the birth narratives in the Gospels. Here, for instance, is Bart Ehrman, discussing the contradictions between Matthew and Luke’s accounts:

In Luke’s account (Luke 2:1-39) Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth and they end up in Bethlehem because of a census in which “the entire world should be enrolled” (Luke 2:1). Mary is pregnant, full term, and happens to give birth while they are there. After Jesus is circumcised (2:21), and brought to the temple (2:22), they perform the sacrifice required for women who have given birth in order to return to ritual purity (2:24). This is to follow the law laid out in Leviticus 12:2-8; the sacrifice was to happen 33 days after the circumcision (so 40 days after birth). As soon as that is completed, they return straight to Nazareth (2:39).
There is no word in Luke about King Herod’s decision to have the child killed or of the flight of the holy family to Egypt. And so, the contradiction: if Luke is right that 40 days after Jesus’ birth, the family returned directly to Nazareth, how can Matthew be right that they instead went and stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod?

In response to a suggestion by Rev. Matthew Firth that “Luke could well have been perfectly aware that between Luke 2:38 and Luke 2:39 there was an intervening period in Egypt, as recorded by Matthew in Matthew 2:14 and the following verses,” Ehrman responded:

The family is near Jerusalem (in Bethlehem); they have come to the Jerusalem temple where Jesus is recognized by the prophetess Anna (v. 38); when they finished following the requirements of the law (a reference to Leviticus 12: women who gave birth were to make an offering in the temple 40 days later for ritual cleanings), they went back to Nazareth. There is nothing about a flight to Egypt that lasted, in your reckoning for years. You have simply imported it into the text. One thing that makes that reading particularly implausible is v. 41: Luke shows that he is accounting for the “years” (especially since he explicitly states that he is presenting everything “In order” as it really happened; Luke 1:1-4). If Luke is right that they went right back to Nazareth, I don’t see how he could have spent years in Egypt.

(Luke 2:41 states: “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.” It follows verses 39-40, where Luke writes: “When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Ehrman is right: there’s no room for a flight into Egypt here.)

@AllenWitmerMiller, you write: “There is no good reason to assume that a skilled construction worker from Bethlehem couldn’t have taken contract work in Nazareth.” I think this is highly unlikely. Here’s how Ehrman describes Nazareth in Jesus’ day:

The economy was largely agrarian. It was a very small hamlet (never mentioned in any single source before the NT) Deep poverty. No public buildings of any kind. Rough houses.

Nazareth’s population in Jesus’ day was around 400 people. Not exactly the kind of place you would traipse to, all the way from Bethlehem, in order to find work for your family. It is for reasons like this that I believe the attempt to harmonize Matthew and Luke is badly misguided. There was a time when I would have defended these narratives and tried to harmonize them, but frankly, I’ve fallen on my face too many times, trying to do just that.

I would, however, disagree with Seidensticker when he argues:

Was it likelier (1) that Jesus’s supernatural birth was the only one that was the real deal or (2) that it, like all those that came before, was just mythology, legend, or other human invention?

My answer is that Jesus himself was an individual like no other. His preaching shows that. And unlike other people who were said to have had supernatural births, Jesus’ message transformed the entire world. If anyone had a supernatural birth, Jesus would at least be a worthy candidate. Finally, if Jesus was indeed the incarnate Son of God, sent to redeem the world, then his conception cannot have been the result of a human choice: it must have been God’s doing. In other words, if you are willing to accept the Divinity of Christ, his virginal conception seems to follow. Cheers.

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This topic doesn’t seem relevant to GAE. Is it important to GAE that we consider every assault on the miraculous context of the New Testament?

Just curious: how many of you believe that Herod could have gotten away with killing every baby in Judaea?

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And kept it from the historical record.

The author mentions Isaiah 7 as a prophecy of the virgin birth. Micah 5 also mentioned that he will be born the Bethlehem. He asserts that Isaiah 7 is about another King. This shows very poor scholarship as for the first 1000 years Isaiah 7, 9, 40, 42, 52, 53, 61 were considered Messianic prophecies by Rabbinic teaching.

Every baby in Judea? I don’t think anyone believes that. The text seems to indicate only every male infant in and around the town of Bethlehem; I’ve read it estimated that this would have been around 10-30 children. An atrocity, to be sure, but it’s hard to say that it would be guaranteed to appear in the secular historical record.

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Good enough. Do you think Herod could have gotten away with the killing of every baby in the Bethlehem area? And if that was the limit, why bother fleeing to Egypt rather than staying in Nazareth?

Most importantly, do you believe this massacre actually happened?

Depends what you mean by “gotten away with it,” I suppose. I don’t see any reason to suppose that wasn’t within his power to carry out, and it’s not implausible for even something like that to not end up in the historical record (outside of Matthew, that is).

Err on the side of caution?

Is that more important? I believe it happened, but I’m open to the possibility that I’m wrong on that point (by way of elaboration - I don’t think Christianity hinges on the inerrancy of scripture).

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@colewd

Isaiah 7 was emphatically discussing someone born about 700 years prior to the birth of Jesus.

If you seek to apply the text in Isaiah as a simultaneous prophecy for two different time periods, you are exercising the “Continuous Pesherim” method of scriptural interpretation:

Continuous pesharim [edit]

Continuous pesharim go through specific biblical books and quote the book phrase by phrase. After each quotation, an interpretation of the verse is added. There are 15 continuous pesharim that have been found and dated, including: five on Isaiah (4Q161, 4Q162, 4Q163, 4Q164, 4Q165); three on the Psalms (1Q16, 4Q171, 4Q173); and seven on books of the Minor Prophets (1QpHab on Habakkuk; 1Q14 on Micah; 1Q15 and 4Q170 on Zephaniah; 4Q166 and 4Q167 on Hosea; 4Q169 on Nahum).[3] Below is an example of continuous pesharim from 1QpHab:

“Behold the nations and see, marvel and be astonished; for I accomplish a deed in your days, but you will not believe it when told” [Hab 1.5].

[Interpreted, this concerns] those who were unfaithful together with the Liar, in that they [did] not [listen to the word received by] the teacher of Righteousness from the mouth of God. And it concerns the unfaithful of the New [Covenant] in that they have not believed in the Covenant of God [and have profaned] his holy name." [4]

See the Wiki article at the link below:

Do you know what the word Emmanuel means in Hebrew? How do you account for Isaiah 9 6 and Isaiah 53 and 61? There are Messianic prophecies. Who do you think the Jewish Messiah is?

What did Jesus say in Luke after the reading of Isaiah 61 in Nazareth?

Luke 4:18-21 New International Version (NIV)

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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[a]

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. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

@colewd

The Messiah, or Anointed one, is a rather dull category until the arrival of the New Testament. Every king becomes anointed. Even a Persian King is referred to as a Messiah (or Anointed One).

You need to spend time with the old testament. It is all about Jesus and his coming. From Genesis through the prophets and the psalms. Read Isaiah 53 and see if any King fits that description. You are missing the real power of the Bible without a clear understanding of the OT and its prophetic messages.

@colewd

And you need to spend more time understanding the Hebrew narrative.

The Old Testament is almost completely devoid of any discussion of a general resurrection!