Andrew Lincoln – Born of a Virgin?

The title is (I hope obviously) not asking whether Andrew Lincoln was born of a virgin. It is about the book which Andrew Lincoln has written, Born of a Virgin?: Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theology.

I had the privilege of reading the book in advance of publication, and have already mentioned it a couple of times here on the blog.

Here is what I wrote for the purpose of providing an endorsement:

There are topics which are such a focus of controversy and attention that eventually we come to feel that all has been said that can or should be said. Then along comes a groundbreaking volume that arrives like a breath of fresh air and allows us to see the familiar with new eyes. Lincoln’s volume on the virginal conception is such a work. It not only offers insightful explanation of what the infancy stories in Matthew and Luke say, but also identifies and explores the contrasting perspectives on the topic from other New Testament authors. In discussing the stories about Jesus’ birth, Lincoln also clarifies the relevance of these to the genre of the Gospels and historians’ use of them, and finally brings the historical data and its interpretation into dialogue with the contemporary church and theology. Lincoln’s excellent, clear, and comprehensive treatment is sure to be considered the volume to turn to on this topic for many years to come.

Here is a quote from the book that I think sums up nicely its message for today’s Christians:

For some, to cast doubt on the historicity of any biblical account is already to reject the authority and truth of the Bible. In regard to the virgin birth, their argument runs – the New Testament is authoritative as divinely inspired, therefore the Gospels should be accepted as historically reliable, therefore we should accept the claim of a virginal conception. It is a theological argument in which historical claims are embedded. But it is a fallacious one. Its initial premise, though one that would be accepted by a Christian approaching our topic, is incomplete and the consequences it draws from the premise simply do not follow. It omits from its premise the corresponding Christian belief about Scripture that it is the word of God through the words of humans, humans who lived in particular historical contexts and who used the modes of communication available to them in their particular cultures. As a consequence, it holds to a historical virginal conception by simply ignoring the issues of interpretation and genre, and with them the results of the serious study of the documents by New Testament scholars. Such study enables us to discern how specific parts of the Gospels are constructing the past, whether as reliable memories of events or in a way that is consonant with the conventions for writing the life of a subject in the first century CE or in some combination of these alternatives, and therefore also to discern the nature of the divine claim that is being made through such narratives. Again, this does not detract from their authority or truth but is simply to recognize the form in which divine revelation has been given us. When a theologian, such as Crisp, inveighs against the findings of historical critics about the infancy narratives by asserting, ‘And the fact is, the birth narratives are canonical Scripture. This means that there is a very good theological reason for trusting them: they are divine revelation’, he is confusing what is at stake. That they are part of canonical Scripture tells us nothing about their literary genre and therefore what sort of history they may or may not contain. Trusting them as divine revelation entails trusting their witness to the significance of Jesus and does not necessarily mean taking them literally as straightforward historically accurate accounts.

As I said on a previous occasion, I fully expect Lincoln’s volume to become for a new generation what Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah was for a previous one. He gives full exploration to key issues related to the diversity of the New Testament witness, the possibility that Mary was raped and/or that Jesus was illegitimate, and all the other difficult aspects of the evidence and the questions raised by it. And by not trying to offer a full-fledged commentary on the infancy narratives as Brown did, Lincoln’s volume ends up being significantly shorter, a book that one might actually read from cover to cover – as I enjoyed doing – and not merely as a reference work

I highly recommend Born of a Virgin?: Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theology by Andrew Lincoln and look forward to the discussions it will generate!

  • x x

    Sounds interesting — but he needs to write in shorter paragraphs!

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Unlike Lincoln, I don’t view the Canonical books of the Bible being in general more inspired that many Christian Jewish and even Muslim books written until now.
    The inerrancy of a bunch of ancient religious books seems to me utterly ludicrous because their content is in no way different from that of books written in the same historical period and culture.

    However, it seems to me that an anti-supernatural presupposition comes into play here.
    If we just had one narrative saying that Jesus was born normally but had to flee from Galilea due to Herodus paranoid beliefs, would he confidently assert we can be sure this never happened? Agnosticism would be the most reasonable position here.

    His main argument seems to be

    1) we know there were other false claims of miraculous births at that time
    2) God would not imitate human myths to reveal Himself
    3) therefore the virgin birth of Jesus didn’t occur but was a latter myth

    1) begs the question for someone like me open to the existence of a supernatural realm. I do believe quite a few miracles also happen in a non-Christian context. While certainly embelished, I don’t deny the possibility that in some Pagan cases something really extraordinary occured at the birth of an important figure.

    2) like C.S. Lewis, I believe that man creates stories and legends because he has been made to the image of a creating God.
    Given the significance of Jesus for the word, I don’t see why God could not have written a myth which would take place in the world He created, as Tolkien proposed.

    As a consequence I’m agnostic about the virgin birth. Unlike the ressurection it is not vital for the Christian faith.

    I’d really love to learn your thoughts on my objections, James.

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      That doesn’t sound at all like Lincoln’s argument. I take it you haven’t read the book?

      • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

        Actually not, I was being way too sloppy here, sorry.

        I should have written: “According to my past experience, PEOPLE who not only doubt but also deny the virgin birth…” instead of speaking of HIM.

        I come just from an Evangelical Biblical study where I was kind of excluded from the group because I pointed out that the sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel were too different from those of the Synoptics to be historical.

        I know this is never a good feeling to have one’s view misrepresented and I will be much more cautious in the future.

        I still have to progress enormously in many ways, and both the Internet and the real world are good schools for that, provided one does not hurt someone else.

        Lovely greetings from Europe.

        Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

        http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

    • stuart32

      Lothar, may I suggest what kind of miracle I would find convincing? Suppose Jesus had used his powers to create a perfect diamond which was the size of a grapefruit. Suppose as well that this feat had been recorded in the Gospels. It wouldn’t matter if the diamond had gone missing for some time and then turned up later, because once we had possession of it and could examine it we would have powerful evidence of a miracle.

      A perfect diamond the size of a grapefruit is not something that could be created by any process on earth. It would have to be the result of a miracle or at least extra-terrestrial interference. The diamond would have an obvious advantage over a supposedly miraculous event like the resurrection: no one could doubt its existence.

      • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

        Hello Stuart, if God did that this would by no means prove His existence.

        If we can start computer simulations with perfect diamonds, we could very well live ourselves in such a simulation.

        And given the existence of a mathematical multiverse as defined by Max Tegmark, such diamonds could also pop into exi´stence through random process.

        And due to the law of grand numbers, there is going to be such a diamond apparently related to a person having claimed to be the son of God.

        Lovely greetings from Europe.

        Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

        http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

        • stuart32

          Hello Lothar. You raise an interesting question. We might live in a computer simulation which can be interrupted at any time by those who run the simulation. Those running the simulation may be conducting a very elaborate study on the psychology of religion. They can make miracles occur in the simulation and then observe the reaction of the simulated creatures, i.e. ourselves.

          In that case, what kind of miracles would they wish to simulate? Would they simulate something like the resurrection, which is open to doubt, or would they simulate something like the impossible diamond, which can’t be doubted?

          • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

            Hey Stuart!
            Since we can reasonably know very few (or maybe nothing at all) about the psychology of space aliens (let alone aliens from another universe), Agnosticism is the most reasonable position.

            Lovely greetings from continental Europe

            Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
            http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

            • stuart32

              Lothar, that is very interesting. If an alien intelligence has the power to control our universe there is little that we can know about its motives. We are probably better off assuming that no such alien intelligence is interfering with our universe.

              Imagine a discussion about the resurrection between a sceptic and a believer. The sceptic says that it’s impossible for people to come back from the dead. The believer says that if we are living in simulated universe which is designed to examine how religious belief emerges then it is reasonable that the resurrection would be part of that simulation.

              • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                Leaving aside the issue that, if the resurrection was simulated for the purpose of testing, then it didn’t really happen, either.

                • stuart32

                  Yes, I did think of that but I wasn’t sure how deeply anyone would want to go into it. I’m not sure whether Lothar is regretting that he got this started.

                  • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                    There’s a big philosophical bear pit in there anyway, so i was mostly being silly. But interesting how strange the conversation has turned! I don’t mean to derail it.

                    • stuart32

                      All contributions are welcome! I was rather pleased with my idea of the “miraculous diamond” and I wanted to see what someone else thought. I was rather thrown at first by the “Matrix” reply but I thought I would follow it through.

  • joriss

    James,
    Although I have not read this book, I wonder how one can’t see that doubting that Jesus was born of a virgin, is doubting Jesus Himself, who said I am the Truth.
    If Jesus was born of a man and a woman, He is obviously not God, but a human being as we all are.
    That He is God is said by John, Paul, Hebrews, Peter and Revelations.
    Just a man cannot be an atonement for our sins. He had to be innocent, unguilty, without blame or stain whatsover, which is, as we know, not the case with us, sinful descendants of sinful fathers and mothers.
    Moreover, Luke knew Paul very well, who called him the beloved physician, and shared some of his travels with him. Paul knew the other discipels and shared time with them, who, in turn, knew Mary, the mother of Jesus and his brothers very well. Also Paul and Luke had met James, Jesus’ brother, son of Mary. So how unlikely, yes almost impossible it was for Luke, who very attentively searched for facts, not to know what was told about Jesus’ birth from insiders. Many people could have told him, perhaps even Mary herself.
    Besides, I would be very careful about doubting that Jesus is God. God has obviously revealed this to the Church. It is exact why the Father honoured Him, because He did not insist to stay in the form of God, but became a human, and as such humbled Himself even to the death on the cross. So to consider the idea of Him not being God, is to consider that his selfsacrifice was not that great, because he had never been in the form of God. Might dishonour God and Jesus. Of course this is nobody’s purpose, but we should stay careful in this matter.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I don’t follow your logic in several places. First, where did Jesus claim to have been born of a virgin? Second, Lincoln’s point is that stories about the miraculous conception and/or birth of the central character is common in ancient biographies, and to treat such details as historical – or worse, to treat such details as historical in two such Bioi but not any others – is to ignore the literary genre of these works. Third, are you saying that Jesus was not human as we are, against the testimony of the Gospels and the historic view of the church? Fourth, are you saying that one has to be virginally conceived to be divine? If so, was God not God prior to Jesus’ virginal conception? And aren’t you also saying that God becoming incarnate cannot be accomplished any way God wishes, but only in this particular way?

      I have problems with some of your assumptions about what a variety of NT texts are saying, but those can wait until we tackle what you were saying in your opening sentences. The above might indeed accurately capture what you think, but I suspect that it doesn’t, and yet it seems implicit in what you wrote, hence my asking all these follow-up questions.

      • joriss

        1* Jesus never said He was God, neither did I say He did. That was not the way He wanted to reveal Himself. He wanted to be recognised by who He was, not by trumpeting: I am God.

        2* I don’t doubt so called miraculous conception or births in ancient biographies if you say so, but Luke’s gospel is ofcourse not just a biography, as Jesus is not just a great person to write about. Luke cares “to have perfect understanding of all things from the very first” so that Theophilus “might know the certainty of those things etc”.

        So he is doing his utmost to make a good, reliable record of these things, which were delivered to them by those who were “eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word”.

        So there’s no doubt Luke was searching for the truth of all events, so to say he added the virginal conception to make the point of Jesus being the son of God is in full contradiction with the way he took this task on him.

        3* I did not mean that Jesus is not human as we all are, but – I should have said that more clearly – but that Jesus is not j u s t human as we all are. Yes, He is human as we all are, except sin, but He is God as well.

        4* Of course God could have become incarnate in any way He might have wished. But anyway it could not have happened without his Holy Spirit, don’t you agree? Just a conception and a birth won’t generally deliver a son of God, as we all know. And that’s just what Gabriel told Mary that would happen. So why doubt this, if Luke had done serious been looking for facts and certainty and had probably access to the eyewitnesses?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          So you are saying that all the other historians who did this were silly fabricators who did not care about the truth, while Luke, when introducing his work in a similar manner to the way they introduce theirs, was radically different from them and shared modern Enlightenment concerns to avoid using symbolic storytelling and focus on “just the facts”? That doesn’t seem plausible to me. It seems more likely that Luke wrote in a manner that was appropriate and intelligible for his time, and we need to consider the genre of his work when interpreting it.

          • joriss

            No, I am not saying historians were silly fabricators or that Luke shared Enlightenments concerns. But I don’t think genre is decisive here. Genre is the vessel, the contents are determined by the author. A poet can write a poem, using the form of a sonnet, to mourn about the death of a child, whose parents were his friends; so the sonnet is about a real event. Another poet can write a sonnet about a flying horse, Pegasus or about Phoenix, the mythic bird. So not the genre is the most important; the author is.

            When I read Luke, the Gospel and Acts as well, I notice he is both sober and detailed in the way he is telling things. He is making a rather exact description of Paul’s travels, the places they visited; where they went, and where they were not to go, by the guidance of the Spirit. He’s just telling what is necessary to know.
            There is the event of Acts 2, when Jesus poured out the Spirit of God on all the believers in the upper room. They were all baptized in the Holy Spirit and filled with the Holy Spirit. That is an experience born-again christians can have today as well. So every time a born-again christian is filled with the Spirit, Acts 2 is actual again. You could say: it happens again and people are filled with the glory of God.
            How did these people know they should stay together and wait for the Holy Spirit? Because the risen Lord had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father they were to receive after not many days. So this is a strong indication that the disciples had really met the Lord after His resurrection and got his instructions as Luke told in Acts chapter 1. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been together, continuing in persistant prayer, but have spread over the country, to their different homes in Galilee.

            I can hardly think of a man, filled with the Spirit, as Luke was, who would create a story like this from own fantasy, about an event that was about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as told to us in Acts 2. I hope you agree. That would have been sort of blasphemy? But if we believe this really happened, we can be sure the disciples had met the risen Lord, as I said before. In Acts Luke praises the people in Berea, that searched the Scriptures to see whether the things they had heard were true. He tells us frankly about the lies of Ananias and Sapphira, that caused their death. And he himself would invent a story about the supernatural that Jesus was risen? Or about a supernatural conception and birth? Come on! Christians will not exaggerate reality, even Paul didn’t want to boast about his heavenly experience, so that they would not give him more credit, than that they saw and learned from him in his daily life. The attitude of these first christians was love, truth,soberness, modesty and “gladness and singleness of heart”.

        • Nick Gotts

          Yes, He is human as we all are, except sin, but He is God as well.

          So according to you he’s both omnipotent and not omnipotent, omnipresent and not omnipresent, material and immaterial, creator of the universe and not creator of the universe…

          • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

            One person’s inane contradiction resulting from theological politicking, is another’s mystical paradox pointing to a deeper reality.

            • Nick Gotts

              One can come up with any kind of nonsense and claim it’s “pointing to a deeper reality”.
              [Edited for tone a few minutes after posting, while retaining essentially the same content.]

              • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                Indeed, but I’d be very surprised if you get any traction with joriss on the common sense approach :)

                • joriss

                  So would I :))

          • joriss

            Jesus, as Paul said, who was in the form of God, didn’t want to grasp his equailty with God, but emptied Himself. Although we cannot exactly know what this means, we know for sure that He laid down his glory and became a man as any other man. So during his life on earth He had restrictions and needed his Father’s guidance by prayer as the gospels tell us. So He was not omnipotent or omnipresent, or at least He did not use it. If we don’t understand how this is possible, I think He does….

            • Nick Gotts

              All you’re doing is confirming that this doctrine does not make sense.

              • joriss

                If, in your view, the idea of a God or a Creator makes no sense, then of course, no doctrine whatsoever will make sense. But suppose you could give the idea of God a chance, why, departing from this starting point, would it be without sense, that He wanted to become human?
                If He created mankind to have a loving relationship with us, this would be the ultimate way to reveal Himself to us in a form, that we would be able to understand; not in great majesty or glory, but just as one of us, so that we could be near Him without fear.

                • Nick Gotts

                  It’s the claim that something could be both God as defined in the Abrahamic religions (omnipotent, omnipresent, perfect, etc.) and “a man as any other man” (men do not have there properties) that makes no sense: one entity cannot have mutually inconsistent properties. Islam, for example, I consider to be false, but not inherently nonsensical.

                  • joriss

                    “one entity cannot have mutually inconsistent properties.”
                    Seems true to me. But we are talking about God, and He is not just an “entity” that we can submit to a more or less scientific consideration.
                    By the way, don’t fotons and electrons not have mutual inconsistent properties, being wave and particle at the same time?

                    • Nick Gotts

                      That entities cannot have mutually inconsistent properties is a logical and not a scientific matter. God is an “entity”, as this word covers anything that exists – if you’re going to say God does not exist, then you’re an atheist like me. If you’re going to claim logic does not apply to God, then you, I or anyone else can attribute anything at all to God, including evil, stupidity, seven heads and ten horns, and non-existence, and not be wrong.

                      Photons and electrons do not have mutually inconsistent properties: they behave in some ways like macroscopic waves (like those you get in water) and in some ways like macroscopic particles (like dust motes), and which they behave like depends on the observations and experiments you make, but their properties (as far as we know) are defined by the mathematics of quantum mechanics, which is (as far as we know) logically consistent. I’m not going to pretend all the conceptual problems of quantum mechanics have been resolved, but if it was found to be logically inconsistent – for example by attributing mutually inconsistent properties to some entity – that would show it to be false.

                    • joriss

                      Well, I suppose you are right about quantum mechanics, but it was just a question. Nevertheless I think it very hard to understand that a particle can be at any place and then again at a determined place, when observed. But if you say it isn’t mutual inconsistent, I surrender.

                      Still I don’t think this is a basis to conclude Jesus could not be God and human at the same time. I don’t think He was omnipotent or omnipresent when He was on earth. He had laid down, as the bible says, “being in the form of God”. Why would He not be able to do that? Of course we can’t understand this, but can we understand God at all? We live in and understand 3 dimensions or perhaps 4, including time, but God is also outside these dimensions, – He created them – so “omnipresent” is already a word to small for God.
                      And yes, you could attribute anything at all to God, evil, stupidity etc. But what a good luck, He can speak and reveal Himself and let us know these properties are not His at all. But…perhaps He is lying? ;-) Could be if He is not logic…

                    • Nick Gotts

                      If we can’t understand something, we cannot meaningfully claim that it is true.

                      He can speak and reveal Himself and let us know these properties are not His at all.

                      But he doesn’t. The Bible is thoroughly inconsistent, and this world certainly doesn’t look like one created and maintained by a benevolent and omnipotent being.

                      perhaps He is lying

                      Yes indeed; I see no way to rule this out.

                    • joriss

                      “If we can’t understand something, we cannot meaningfully claim that it is true.”

                      I think we can. Do we understand love? I don’t understand why my mother loved me, I was not such a lovely boy, when I grew up, but I claim that se truely loved me.

                      I don’t understand God, because He is to great for us to understand, but when we look at Jesus, who said: who have seen me, has seen the Father, we can claim that God is true, because Jesus is true. Nobody has greater love than that he gives his life for his brothers. That’s the first and most important thing that God wants us to understand of Him. That’s what Jesus did, so without understanding God in his greatness I dare to claim He is true.

                      “this world certainly doesn’t look like one created and maintained by a benevolent and omnipotent being.”

                      I partly agree. The benevolence of God is not to be seen in nature directly, but His power and Godliness are. His benevolence and love is not communicated to us in this world directly, but by his son Jesus. As John says: Mercy and Truth have come to us by Jesus.

                      “perhaps He is lying” No, if Jesus lied, He would not have died. Love and truth have to be proven by deeds, not by rational understanding alone.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      I don’t understand why my mother loved me, I was not such a lovely boy, when I grew up, but I claim that se truely loved me.

                      Well first, you do understand that she loved you, which corresponds to the sense of “understand” I was using. Second, you do in fact understand why she loved you: if mothers did not normally love their children, humanity would have died out.

                      Plenty of people have sacrificed their lives for others, so unless you claim they were all God, you have provided no evidence or argument whatever for believing that Jesus was God.

                      The benevolence of God is not to be seen in nature directly, but His power and Godliness are.

                      You have provided no evidence or argument that nature illustrates the power and “Godlinesss” (what is that supposed to mean?) of God. OTOH, the existence of suffering and evil is powerful evidence against the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent being.

                      No, if Jesus lied, He would not have died.

                      See above: you have provided no evidence that Jesus was God. Even if he was, his suffering and death could have been entirely illusory i.e., a lie. After all, according to the story, he popped up again a few days later. Dead people don’t do that.

                    • joriss

                      “Well first, you do understand that she loved you, which corresponds to the sense of “understand” I was using.”

                      Okay, I see what you mean. In that case I could as well say that I understand God loves me, because when I came to believe in Jesus I was filled with love and joy. If one accepts Jesus, God becomes very “understandable” to him in the way you meant. So I can not really by rational arguments provide evidence that God is real, but He himself can provide evidence by pouring out his love in a person.

                      Nevertheless there are some rational arguments as I said before. If we accept that a loving God exists, why would it be inappropriate for Him to become human to show his love and justice to humans?

                      “Second, you do in fact understand why she loved you: if mothers did not normally love their children, humanity would have died out.”

                      Well mom, don’t love me anymore. I thought you loved me for who I am, but now I am learning that it is lest humanity dies out.
                      I think you are interchanging reason and goal. The reason for loving one another is not the existence of humanity, but the reason for the existence of humanity is loving one another. Love has no further reason; love is it’s own reason. Humanity is senseless without love, because without love one is living dead, so living by loving is the very reason for the existence of humanity. And yes, on the other hand love enables humanity to continue to exist, that’s right indeed, but that’s not an ultimate goal in itself, it’s necessary to serve the ultimate goal: to and be loved, which is real life.

                      “Plenty of people have sacrificed their lives for others”
                      Yes, but for enemies? For hating, cruel enemies, who rejoice when you are dying, laugh at your distress and make scornful remarks to make your suffering worse? And then ask forgiveness for them? I think that, without the spirit of God inside, nobody can do that.

                      “the existence of suffering and evil is powerful evidence against the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent being.”

                      Or it is a powerful evidence for the existence of a strong widespread evil all over the world, called sin. Without taking sin into consideration, nothing of it can be understood. But with taking sin into consideration, at least something – not all – can be understood and also that the end of sin will be the starting point of new life. Sin causes misery and finally death; justice causes life and love.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      In that case I could as well say that I understand God loves me

                      I understand that you believe that, but while I or anyone else could share the evidence your mother loved you, the “evidence” that God does is inaccessible to anyone but you.

                      I think you are interchanging reason and goal.

                      I think you are deliberately misunderstanding me, and moreover, being quite inconsistent. Your original claim was that you couldn’t understand why your mother loved you, because you were not a lovable child. I was simply pointing out that mothers are adapted – and it doesn’t matter whether you think this is a gift from God or the product of natural selection – to love their children, even if those children do not have the qualities we would usually consider lovable. Of course I did not mean that your mother, or any mother, decides to love their children because if they don’t, humanity will die out, and I don’t think you could honestly believe that was my meaning. Nor do I need or appreciate your homilies on the importance of love.

                      Yes, but for enemies? For hating, cruel enemies, who rejoice when you are dying, laugh at your distress and make scornful remarks to make your suffering worse? And then ask forgiveness for them?

                      Yes indeed: many of those who have struggled and died for social justice, of all faiths and none, have done so to benefit those who opposed them as well as those who struggled beside them. Your cynicism about human beings is noted.

                      Or it is a powerful evidence for the existence of a strong widespread evil all over the world, called sin.

                      But why did your supposedly omnipotent God create a world in which sin could take root? And why not remove it? Moreover, much suffering clearly has nothing whatever to do with sin: non-human animals suffered long before there were any human beings to sin.

                    • joriss

                      Nick, if I have misunderstood you, it was certainly not deliberately. I’d rather be called stupid than dishonest.

                      “Of course I did not mean that your mother, or any mother, decides to love their children because if they don’t, humanity will die out, and I don’t think you could honestly believe that was my meaning.”

                      Of course I know that was not your or would be anybody’s meaning. Who could ever evaluate a mother’s love like that? I just thought it not bad to speak in some – in my view – funny or humoristic way about a subject I wanted to pay attention to.

                      I mean this. Some people see life, especially biology, very much in the light of “function”. So the flower’s beautiful colours serve to attract the insects that spread the pollen whereby the flowers can make seed, so that the continuation of their existence is guaranteed. But what is the real sense of the existence of the flower if it gives not joy by it’s beauty or it’s fragrance? So I think, if one thinks it’s function is the most important part of the flower’s life, I disagree because goal and reason are then, in my opinion, interchanged The way you spoke of mother’s love as functioning to serve the continuing of mankind, made me think this was also more or less your way of looking at life. Hence the explanation of my view on these things, that you called “homilies”. Could be your impression, but was not meant so by me. So if this all was a misunderstanding, I am sorry, but it was not on purpose at all.

                      Then you say my view on human beings is cynical. I am wondering if this should be more or less an eye-opener for me or that you are too critical yourself. Anyway, again, I was not aware of being cynical when I wondered if anybody could love his murderes in the way Jesus did. I did not say something like:

                      “Come on man, do you really think humans could be that good? Don’t make me laugh. I would have you wiser! You know how people are”.
                      That would have been cynical. But perhaps my view on humans could be in some respects negative, although looking at the world nearby and far away there might be some reason…But that should never be a reason not to love my neighbour.

                      Yes, my “evidence” of the existence of God will not be accessible to anyone else, I agree. But some other’s “evidence” of God was in the same way not accessible to me. Still it made me thinking if it could be true. Coming to Jesus, I have experienced the evidence myself.

                      “Moreover, much suffering clearly has nothing whatever to do with sin” Yes, I agree. I said: “with taking sin into consideration, at least something – not all – can be understood”
                      Of course even then there is much we can’t understand, whether you have some belief or not. There are many, many questions nobody can answer.

                      “But why did your supposedly omnipotent God create a world in which sin could take root? And why not remove it?”

                      Again, we don’t have all the answers, even not many. But at least we can give some answers on this question, that is asked by so many people, in so many times, in so many circumstances.
                      Why wouldn’t we throw away a very old, rusty, unreliable, ramshackle car, that won’t take us even to the corner of our street? Because we love it! Because we love it so much that we will invest all our power, time and money to get it back in it’s original state or even better, that it is brandnew again and we feel glorified with it and will show it everywhere.
                      I don’t know why the world and the creation have to go through so much misery and such suffering, but I still believe that God, as He has promised, wants to renew this world and make it whole and therefore invested the most precious He had, his beloved Son. And even now He wants to give us already an advance payment of this promise, by giving us his Spirit of love and peace, if we put our trust in Him. So not to remove this sinful world, but remove sin from this world, is why Jesus came.
                      In spite of this many question remain unanswered. Also I am full of whys.

                    • joriss

                      “Godliness” should be Godhead or Divine nature, sorry.

  • Nick Gotts

    Incidentally, what’s the technical definition of a “virgin”? If it’s someone who hasn’t had sex, then Andrew Lincoln could indeed be born of a virgin, via artificial insemination.

  • stuart32

    I would like to add some further thoughts on the discussion that Lothar and I had. Lothar made a connection between miracles and the possibility that we exist in a computer simulation. I think this has some very interesting implications.

    Let’s suppose that we exist in a computer simulation. Almost everything that happens in the simulation follows regular laws, but occasionally miracles occur. These miracles are interventions made by the intelligence that controls the simulation. The purpose of the miracles is to test the reaction of the simulated creatures. Therefore we have an explanation for miracles that is an alternative to idea that miracles are caused by God. This alternative explanation seems to have some advantages over the traditional one.

    People have usually seen miracles as signs from God. In other words, God uses miracles to communicate with us. The problem here is that if God is trying to communicate with us why doesn’t He do so more clearly? Why does God allow so much confusion and disagreement about His purposes? This problem doesn’t arise if we suppose that miracles are just part of an experiment that is being carried out in the simulation. This theory also eliminates the problem of evil. If we are simply part of an experiment then the existence of suffering is no mystery.

    I conclude, therefore, that miracles are better explained by the simulation hypothesis than they are by the God hypothesis. For the sake of argument I have been assuming that miracles actually occur. This, of course, is very much open to doubt. The interesting thing about this argument is that it gives us a very strong reason for hoping that miracles don’t ever occur; because if they do they are more likely to show that we are pawns in an experiment than they are to show that we are receiving messages from a loving God.

    • Nick Gotts

      Isaac Asimov (I think) wrote a short story in which jokes, rather than miracles, are the experiments of some superior intelligence. A lot of modern computer games, I understand, contain “cheats” – sometimes provided by the makers, sometimes by hackers – which enable the player to get round particularly difficult problems in the game. Maybe miracles are signs of God’s frustration that he can’t win the game while sticking to the ordinary rules – the laws of nature!

      • stuart32

        Nick, I think the interesting thing is that the idea of the computer simulation is likely to be dismissed as ridiculous automatically. The idea of a God who can manipulate the Universe is not dismissed. That’s because it’s part of our culture.

        I would say that the two ideas are very similar and, as I have argued, the simulation idea is actually less implausible. I think the idea of the simulation should be used as a challenge to theists. If they want to use miracles as evidence for God they need to rule out the alternative explanation.

  • Andrew Dowling

    The virgin birth narratives are wonderful stories that do convey truth, but not direct historical truth. It’s fairly obvious to me that the Adoptionist model of the Incarnation preceded the virgin birth narratives, and that the original version of Luke did not even contain the birth narratives; it started with Jesus’s baptism like Mark does.


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