Sunday, December 21, 2014

Scattered Ramblings on Jesus' Virgin Birth and Resurrection

While I was walking to church this morning, I was thinking about Romans 10:9, which states: “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (KJV).

I was asking myself: Do I believe in my heart that God raised Jesus from the dead?

My pastor in his sermon actually touched on this issue.  He was criticizing those who do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.  He attributed that to their disbelief in miracles, period.  The pastor also mentioned Jesus’ resurrection, saying that so much hangs on that doctrine.  If I recall correctly, he may have referred to Paul’s arguments in I Corinthians 15.

So the pastor’s sermon got me thinking on my walk home: do I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?

I find these days that I believe in God, or a higher power.  Part of that is because of people’s testimonies about their relationship with and experience of God.  Part of it is wishful thinking on my part.  I depend on God to help me not to make an ass of myself.  Also, the world is a pretty scary place, so I hope that there is a God who will provide for me and my loved ones.  When it comes to my personal spiritual and moral struggles, though, my focus tends to be on Jesus.  Why that is the case is a good question.  Perhaps it is because there is a part of me that sees Jesus as a savior from sin.

Do I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead?  Well, a stumblingblock to me is that Jesus during his time on earth seemed to envision the end coming soon, and, if he indeed did so, then he arguably turned out to be wrong.  Am I convinced by classic apologetic arguments for Jesus’ resurrection?  Maybe I am convinced more now than I was in the past.  Jesus’ resurrection appears to be an early belief: Paul in I Corinthians 15 appeals to the church teaching that he received that Jesus rose from the dead, and some of Jesus’ apostles, like Peter, were still alive at that time and were pillars in the church.  That tells me that Peter believed that Jesus rose from the dead.  Whether Jesus’ resurrection is the only possible explanation for that belief, I do not know.

What my pastor was saying got me thinking about I Corinthians 15, though.  Paul said that, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain.  We are still in our sins, and we have no basis to hope for our own resurrection.  Now, one can believe in the resurrection from the dead without believing that Jesus rose: prominent strands of Judaism have done precisely that.  But how can I be assured that I will rise from the dead unto eternal life, since I am a sinner, not a righteous person who deserves eternal life?  Well, that’s where the doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection ministers life to me.

Do I believe in the virgin birth?  I have a hard time accepting that Isaiah 7:14 was originally about Jesus being born of a virgin.  Some have said that “almah” there can mean virgin, and their arguments are not that bad, but they should explain how the virgin birth would fit into the context of what Isaiah is talking about in that chapter: the threat of the Syro-Phoenician alliance against Judah.  Fortunately, my pastor was not rebuking the Revised Standard Version for translating “almah” with “young woman” rather than “virgin.”

I have not been convinced by some Christian arguments that the virgin birth had to have happened, but I am open to the possibility that it could have happened.  I am not convinced by arguments that it could not have happened.  Some say it was unlikely because Paul did not refer to it.  Well, maybe Paul did not know about it.  That doesn’t mean that nobody knew about it.

At the same time, there were lots of ancient stories about people having unusual or supernatural births.  Am I open to those having occurred, too?  I am not one who dismisses the possibility of miracles, but, if I accept tons of miracle claims, that means that God is violating the rules of nature an awful lot.  Would God set up a natural order, only to violate it repeatedly?  I look at the world around me, and, by and large, things occur according to the rules of nature.  If someone were to claim otherwise, should I just accept that?

I think that there is a likelihood that Jesus had a controversial birth.  Matthew 1 seems to try to account for that by pointing to the controversial women in Jesus’ genealogy: God has worked through controversial women in the past, and so why could God not be at work with Jesus, whose birth was controversial?  In John 8:41, some of the Jewish leaders say to Jesus that they were not born in fornication.  Are they suggesting that Jesus was?  I remember reading a book, Bruce Chilton’s Rabbi Jesus, about how Jesus was considered a mamzer (often translated as bastard), and so Jesus was excluded from the Jewish community.  If I recall correctly, Chilton was skeptical of Gospel stories about Jesus reading the Scriptures in the synagogue for that very reason: a mamzer would not be asked to read the Scriptures in the synagogue.  Chilton’s thesis was intriguing, but it may have gone too far.  Jesus may not have technically been a mamzer under the Torah, yet people could have still been wondering what exactly the circumstances were in terms of his birth: Was Jesus conceived when Joseph and Mary were married?  They didn’t have proof that he was a mamzer, but questions were in their minds.

Anyway, I’ll stop here.  I’m thinking of turning the comments off.  I’m not interested in interacting with snarky atheists or Christians who want to witness to me.  I wouldn’t mind some helpful feedback, though, as long as I am not put down, or as long as what I say is not trivialized.  So I will leave the comments on.  Just remember: I don’t have to answer to any human being about what my religious beliefs are or aren’t.  I’m through with being a people-pleaser when it comes to my beliefs.

7 comments:

  1. Have you read this article on how the Isa 7 prophecy is part of a larger, long-range expectation?

    http://www.tyndalehouse.com/TynBul/Library/TynBull_1970_21_05_Motyer_Isaiah7_14.pdf

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  2. No, but I'll take a look at it. I read Motyer's commentary years ago. I have read the argument that Isaiah in Isaiah 7 addresses the house of David in general, not just Ahaz, but I have not yet read anything that ties the virgin birth into what was going on in that time.

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  3. "Well, a stumblingblock to me is that Jesus during his time on earth seemed to envision the end coming soon, and, if he indeed did so, then he arguably turned out to be wrong."

    Could you be more specific?

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  4. I did not read it deeply, but what I got was interesting: if Ahaz does not straighten up, Immanuel in the future will inherit a poor land. Immanuel eating butter and honey would be far in the future, I am interpreting Motyer to say.

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  5. "Could you be more specific?"

    I'm sure you're familiar with the relevant texts and issues. You may even have written about them. "This generation." "Some of you standing here shall not taste death." Or, going to Revelation, "I come quickly."

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  6. Here are some general considerations:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2014/10/what-does-future-look-like.html

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2014/09/when-is-jesus-coming.html

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2014/05/soon-for-whom.html

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2014/03/he-is-coming-soon.html

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2014/06/when-son-of-man-comes.html

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  7. I'll take a look at them at some point. I read Witherington's book on the subject a while back, and I was not particularly convinced. Maybe you present something that I have not yet considered.

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