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
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.