Wednesday, February 23, 2011 By: Suzanne

The Birth (Of A New Theme and A Man)

ahhhhhh, FINALLY! I am going to do what I have said I was going to do...I am going to discuss Christianity from my perspective. I will no doubt be offensive to Christians. This is not done for the sole purpose of being offensive but it is something that happens when you don't believe what they believe and are willing to talk about it.

I am not a Biblical scholar. There are many others who have done what I am doing, and have done it better. I encourage all of you to check out Bart D. Ehrman's books. I may reference them form time to time. I may make mistakes in my assertions so please feel free to point them out. But do it in a constructive way. Any comments that are purposely inflammatory, may be deleted. 

Throughout my study of Christianity I will discuss different parts of the Bible, Christian history, and basic Christian beliefs. The Bible I will be using for now is the New King James Version. The reason for this is basic: I already have it in the house. I realize it is not considered the best study Bible by scholars and I would prefer to use the New International Version or the New Revised Standard Version but the study Bibles in these version can be pretty pricey and that is not something I am able to afford right now. On the other hand, many Evangelical Christians are firm believers in the King James Version being the direct word of God, so in a way it will serve my purpose just fine. :)

The first thing I want to discuss is the basic well known stories of the Bible. First being the birth of Jesus. Please read all the way to the end of this post if you plan on making comments. We all know the story, right? Mary was visited by an angel and told she would bear the son of God. She had never known the touch of a man, so it was to be a virgin birth. Joseph, her betrothed, was also visited by an angel and told to believe in Mary's story, that her child would be the prophesied Savior. They traveled to Bethlehem in order to be "counted" for the census, only to find there was no place for them to stay. The ended up staying in a manger among the animals. Three wise men, seeing a star that told of the Savior's birth traveled to pay their respects to the baby and brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Ok, sure...

There have been others who suggested that maybe Mary had become pregnant by another. It is always possible, of course. Matthew says that Mary was found with child, "before they came together." He does not say she was a virgin. He simply says she and Joseph had not had sex. This is the reason Joseph first thinks to "put her away secretly" until the angel comes to him in a dream and says the child she has conceived is "of the Holy Spirit." hmmmm, it still doesn't say she wasn't with another man. Is it possible that way she conceived a child "of the Holy Spirit" was through sex with another man? Christians would say no, I say we can't know. Matthew uses a quote from the Old Testament to make his case, Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel." Matthew says that "Immanuel" means, "God with us" but this part is not in the OT and Immanuel is never mentioned again. Also, this quote is taken out of context. How are we to know that this is the child mentioned in the OT? Because Matthew believes it is? The angel that tells so much does not say this child is the Savior of the Jews prophesied in the OT. Moreover, the angel told Joseph to name the child Jesus, not Immanuel. In my view, Matthew is stretching here to make his case and try to make Jesus fit into the prophesy.

Matthew skips directly from this to "after Jesus was born in Bethlehem." There is no mention of the travel and hardships of finding a place to give birth that is common in the well known story. Now when the wise men come, they are first interviewed by Herod who tells them to go look in Bethlehem. By the time they find Jesus, he is referred to as "the young child." He has apparently aged at least a year, maybe more. They did not come to him immediately after his birth. After they leave, Joseph is warned to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. (side note, does anyone else think of "The Wrath of Khan" when they say the word wrath? just me...) Herod then puts to death all the male children from two years and under "according to the time which he had determined from the wise men." This also puts down the idea that Jesus was still an infant. The young family stays in Egypt until the death of Herod and then travels to Nazareth.

Now let's look at the differences in the other Gospels. Mark has long been said by scholars to be the source for both Luke and Matthew. First, let's look at Luke and then we'll see how they changed Mark. I find it interesting that Matthew begins with the birth of Jesus and then tells of John the Baptist paving the way before him, whereas Luke tells of John's birth first. To me it is telling in who is more important to the story. We'll discuss John the Baptist another time.

Luke has no issue in calling Mary a virgin right away. This makes me wonder why Matthew did. Luke describes exactly how Mary comes to be pregnant, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God." I don't know about you but this calls to mind the many stories of Zeus visiting women and impregnating them. As far as I know, no one ever said those women were holy and not all of their offspring were god/desses. Some yes, but others were sprites, or muses, or whatever.

Luke does talk of the census that we know of in the story. What I have never understood is the "everyone to his own city" idea. Who does a census like that? No officials make people all travel to the city that they originated from in order to be counted. The purposed of census to know how many people are in each city. If they all leave and go "home" then you can't get an accurate count anywhere. This to me is a made up reason in order to place Jesus' birth in the place that the Savior is prophesied to have been born. In this story it is not wise men who come to Jesus, but shepherds who have been told to by an angel. There is no mention of a great star leading the way. After the birth, and presentation at the temple (not told in Matthew), the family travels directly to Nazareth. According to Luke, they do not go to Egypt because there is apparently no threat from Herod. If so, it is never mentioned. 

Now to the "source." Mark does not talk about the birth of Jesus. He launches into Jesus' story when he is already a grown man. This is very telling, considering it the source of Matthew and Luke. To me, Matthew and Luke needed to establish Jesus' divinity. Mark did not feel this was necessary to tell Jesus' story. His actions as a leader were more important than any claim of divinity. In Mark, it simply says as Jesus was baptized by John, he came up from the water and "He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, 'You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'"

What are we to make of this? If I had never known anything else of this story, my first impression would be that Jesus had an epiphany. He realized that he was special and should lead others. After all, don't Christians say we are all the children of God? How is Jesus different in that way?