Review of Bart Ehrman’s Book-“How Jesus Became God,” Part 3 of 3

Review of Bart Ehrman’s Book-“How Jesus Became God,” Part 3 of 3 February 27, 2015

So far in this review, I have been quite critical of Dr. Ehrman’s book, How Jesus Became God. I agree with him that Jesus did not think he was God and never claimed to be God. But there isn’t much else in those first five chapters with which I do agree. His main point is that the early Christians began believing Jesus was God because of their belief in his resurrection, and with that I disagree most vehemently.

Ehrman’s Chapter 6 is titled, “The Beginning of Christologies: Christ as Exalted to Heaven.” What is Christology? The narrow definition is that it is the study of Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah of Israel. The definition that most scholars use is that it is everything about Jesus, especially his identity.

Ehrman begins by revealing more about his early religious experience. He says (p. 211), “I was an altar boy every Sunday at the Episcopal church” in Lawrence, Kansas. He says as a sophomore in high school (p. 212), “I was born again.” On p. 213, Ehrman well defines a Christian as a person who believes Jesus “was the Christ of God and was determined both to accept the salvation he brought and to follow him.” Too bad he didn’t continue that way. That is why the NT has many warnings to professing Christians about continuing to persevere in the faith.

A point about Bart Ehrman that readers need to remind themselves about is that he writes as a historian about what Christians have believed and what he thinks the Bible says, and this needs to be distinguished from what Ehrman himself believes. A prominent example is that he refers to Jesus as “Christ” way more than “Jesus,” just as many Christians do who are steeped in Paul’s NT letters. This practice appears to me to be a residual holdover from his previous Christian profession. I object to this in a trade book for general readers, yet I’m sort of glad he does it. (See my post about this subject on 6/20/2014—“Talk About Jesus, Not Christ, to Unbelievers.”)

Ehrman is both an agnostic and a Christian apostate. The latter is a person who was a professing Christian but later departed from this belief and remains an unbeliever. So, was Ehrman a real Christian in the first place? For many Christians, this question arouses a topic that is almost as important to them as whether or not Jesus is God. Ehrman says (p. 171), “it simply is not true that I never had a personal relationship with Jesus. Quite the contrary: Jesus and I were very close, and for many years, He was my daily companion, comforter, guide, and teacher, as well as my Lord and Savior.” Wow! Deciding whether or not this is possible affects our theology big time. That is, did Ehrman lose his salvation, or did he never have it in the first place?

Back to Ehrman’s book, he soon examines the various ways in which NT authors identify Jesus as “the Son of God.” He does so by presupposing this identification of Jesus indicates he is divine or God in some sense. Not so! Identifying Jesus in the NT as “(the) Son of God” should be understood as this expression is used in the OT. Therein, men, angels, and the king of Israel are sometimes designated as “son of God” (e.g., Genesis 6.2-4; 2 Samuel 7.14; Job 1.6; 2.1; Psalm 2.7). Ehrman repeatedly cautions, and rightfully so, that it is important to ask in what sense Jesus is identified as divine or God. During the second through the fourth centuries, the Catholic Church increasingly developed its belief that Jesus was God. In the second and third centuries, church fathers called “apologists” gave a defense of their faith in their pagan world and claimed Jesus was “God,” but to a lesser degree than the Father.

Ehrman first cites the Apostle Paul’s statement that Jesus “was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1.4 NRSV). But Ehrman makes a practice of unjustly presuming things, such as asserting that this statement means at Jesus’ resurrection he “was made, then and there, into a divine being” (p. 218). And Ehrman says (p. 221), “Son of God in power” here means “exalted divine Son.” He says again (p. 224), “The resurrection was Jesus’ exaltation into divinity.” And he twice says Jesus was “exalted to a divine status” (pp. 243-44).

Of course, Jesus is “the Son (of God)” in many NT texts. The article means he is a greater Son of God than all other sons of God. (And that is why English Bible versions capitalize “Son” when applied to Jesus even though all of the original NT documents were uncials, meaning they were written in Greek capital letters since Greek at that time did not have lower case.) Yet it should be noted that the nrsv is right in Romans 1.4, in contrast to most English versions, by omitting the article “the” prior to “Son” since huios (son) is anarthrous (no article) in the Greek text.

Ehrman echoes many historical critics by saying that this adoptionist Christology was the earliest of all. He says of the earliest Christians (p. 231), “They believed that Jesus had been exalted to the highest status.” Disregarding adoptionist Christology, I believe this Exaltation Christology is correct and that the NT does not claim any more about Jesus’ status than this. But such exaltation—Jesus sitting beside God on God’s heavenly throne—does not logically make Jesus God as Ehrman presupposes.

Ehrman also says of Jesus’ heavenly exaltation (p. 234), “He was the heavenly messiah who was ruling—now—over the kingdom of his Father,” making him “the master and sovereign over all the earth.” Many Christians would agree, but the last clause is unbiblical. Rather, Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4.4). He therefore had authority to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4.9). Only at the end of this age does the statement by the twenty-four angelic elders in heaven apply, “We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants” (Revelation 11.17-18; cf. Psalm 2). Only then will God’s angels in heaven exclaim “Hallelujah” three times and say, “For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns” (19.6). These two apocalyptic texts imply that God has not been reigning on earth until then. And “Almighty” in the NT always refers to God.

Ehrman claims a development of Jesus’ Sonship in the NT in its later books. Since scholars believe Paul’s letters were written before the four NT gospels, Ehrman cites the synoptic accounts of Jesus’ baptism as evidence of this further development. It is because at Jesus’ baptism a voice from above said, “This is my Son the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3.17 etc.). Bart claims that these gospel writers meant by this that Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism. This again reflects Ehrman’s unwarranted presumptions. These texts provide no such evidence; rather, it is just as possible to think they indicate the voice from above merely recognizes what has previously been true, that Jesus has been and still is the Son of God.

Ehrman next accuses Luke of holding two conflicting views of Jesus’ Sonship by citing Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism as well as Luke’s earlier birth narrative of Jesus (Luke 1.26-80; 3.22). Concerning the latter, the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary and said of Jesus, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High,… The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” (Luke 1.32, 35). (Again, both occurrences of huios in the Greek text are anarthrous.) But Luke does not contradict himself if the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism merely recognized Jesus’ Sonship that began at his conception.

I think Jesus’ Sonship probably should be viewed as his messiahship and kingdom are. And Jesus as Son of God and Messiah can be viewed synonymously. Scholars argued for two centuries as to whether or not Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher of his kingdom. They finally agreed that Jesus’ God-given kingdom is both realized (current) and eschatological (future). In other words, his kingdom is both “now” and “not yet.” That is, it now exists spiritually in the hearts of people, but in the future it will come instantly in all of its manifested glory. Likewise, Jesus may attain increasing levels of Sonship and messiahship. In his first coming, he was a suffering Messiah; but in his second coming, he will be a militaristic messiah like David. The latter is the only form of messiahship Jews envisioned, and they can rightly cite many texts in their Scriptures that attest to this. Accordingly, Jesus has attained three levels as the Son of God: (1) he was born the Son of God, (2) his obedience to God by being baptized and thereby undertaking his God-given mission transitioned him to a second level, and (3) his death, resurrection and ascension raised him to a third level by sitting beside God on God’s throne. And I would suggest that Jesus will attain yet a fourth level as Messiah-King-Son of God when he comes in glory to militarily defeat his enemies and establish his kingdom of eternal peace on earth.

Ehrman titles chapter 7, “Jesus as God on Earth: Early Incarnational Christologies.” He begins by rightly saying Christians who believe Jesus is God find their biblical support for it mostly in the Gospel of John. Like all nearly all Christians and most scholars, Ehrman asserts that this gospel declares repeatedly that Jesus is God whereas the synoptics do not. On pp. 124, 248, and 272, he makes his case briefly by quoting John 8.58, 10.30, and 14.9. And on p. 272, he adds Thomas’ confession in John 20.28. I devote many pages in my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ, to refuting that these texts say Jesus is God or that he preexisted. In my opinion, it is shoddy scholarship for Ehrman to argue this case in these brief pages in a book of this nature. Plus, he does not address those Johannine texts that oppose belief that Jesus is God, and most of them are sayings of Jesus himself. For instance, Jesus prayed to the “Father,” saying, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17.1, 3). And in John 5.19-47 and 10.34-38, Jesus clearly denied the Jews’ accusations that he was “making himself equal to God” and “making yourself God” (5.18; 10.33). Plus, Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I” (14.28). As for Jesus saying, “I and the Father are one” (John 10.30; cf. 17.11, 21-23), he means they are unified in purpose and work as the previous context reveals.

Thus, I think the Gospel of John, as do the synoptics, clearly distinguishes between Jesus and God, whom Jesus called “Father.” In other words, I believe the Bible says there is only one true God, as Jesus says in John 17.3, and this one God is the Father. So, only the Father is God. I was a Trinitarian for twenty-two years. But for over thirty years now I have believed that the doctrine of the Trinity appears to teach three Gods even though Trinitarians deny this. However, I want to make it perfectly clear that I believe a person can be a Trinitarian and also be a genuine Christian. When I was a Trinitarian, I was a true Christian. Belief or disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity has nothing to do with whether or not a person is a Christian. Thus, I support the Apostles’ Creed but reject the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

Ehrman is surely right in saying that if Jesus had claimed to be God, surely it would be “in the Synoptic Gospels” (p. 249). Then on pp. 250-51 he claims that belief in Jesus’ resurrection caused many early Christians to believe he had preexisted as an angel, probably “the angel of the LORD” mentioned repeatedly in the OT. In about AD 165, church father Justin Martyr wrote a book arguing for this interpretation to further support he belief that Jesus preexisted. But there is no evidence that devout Christians in the first century believed Jesus was an angel.

The Apostle Paul says in Galatians 4.14 that those Christians “welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” Ehrman claims in this text (p. 252), “Paul holds to an incarnation Christology.” This traditional view means Jesus preexisted as God and became the man Jesus, which is a part of the doctrine of the Trinity. But hardly any Trinitarian scholars think that of this text. Moreover, Ehrman asserts (p. 252), “In this verse Paul calls Christ an angel.

On the contrary, Paul only means that those Galatian Christians welcomed him as they would an angel or Jesus. For Paul later writes, “Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels” (Col 2.18). Paul would not have written this if he believed Jesus had been an angel and deserving of worship.

Ehrman also says (p. 253), “As the Angel of the Lord, Christ is a preexistent being who is divine; he can be called God.” I maintain that angels are not divine, which means deity. The Hebrew Bible sometimes identifies angels as elohim (Psalm 95.3; 96.4; 138.1), the primary Hebrew word for “God;” but it occasionally calls men elohim as well (e.g., Psalm 82.6; cf. John 10.34-35). We must accept that throughout the Hebrew Bible, the word elohim has a wide range of use. Yet Isaiah the prophet declares that God says repeatedly, “besides me there is no god” (elohim: Isaiah 44.6; 45.5-6, 18, 21-22).

Ehrman, like many historians, speaks of “Christian Gnostics.” I think that is an oxymoron. Gnosticism was not Christian at all. In fact, NT writers sometimes opposed incipient Gnosticism, and when they did they could be harsh about it.

Gnosticism was dualistic. It said the God of the Jewish Bible was evil, he created the universe, physical is evil or the source of evil, and only spirit is pure and good. Thus, Docetists were a type of Gnostics who denied that Jesus had an actual physical body. They alleged that he was only a spirit or an angel. In the NT, this view is opposed the most in 1 John. But readers cannot understand it properly unless they know about Docetism. That is why 1 John begins, “We declare to you … what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life”—referring to Jesus’ physical body (1 John 1.1). And the author says further, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess [this of] Jesus is not from God” (4.2-3).

Likewise, we read in 2 John, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1.7). Spirits and/or angels do not possess a physical body, and that is what most differentiates them from humans.

The author of Hebrews negates that Jesus was ever an angel. The first half of his book is devoted to arguing that the resurrected, heavenly-exalted Jesus is superior to angels, Moses, and others. He says when Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” he had “become as much superior to angels” (Hebrews 1.4). And the author says of God, “To which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (1.13). This is a quotation from Psalm 110.1, the most quoted OT text in the NT. Also, this Jewish author further nullifies that Jesus was either an angel or God by saying of him, “he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect” (2.17), referring to the Jewish people. If Jesus was ever an angel or God, he was never fully human.

Ehrman, in arguing his points in this book, never treats any biblical text at length except one. On p. 253, he claims Paul says Jesus is both an angel and God more in Philippians 2.6-11 than anywhere else in his NT letters. Ehrman then devotes fourteen pages to arguing his case, calling this a “Christ poem” rather than a hymn.

Ehrman adopts the common “preexistence interpretation” of Philippian 2.6-11. In my RJC book, I devote much more space to this text and follow James D.G. Dunn—who believes Jesus was God but he never said so. Thus, I embrace the “human interpretation” of this text, which does not say Jesus preexisted. Ehrman says he’d like to believe it but has three reasons against it, which I think are not compelling. Then he says of this human interpretation (p. 262), “It does not solve the problem of an incarnational Christology—because Paul clearly says in other passages that Jesus was indeed a preexistent divine being who came into the world.”

I beg to differ. Paul never says Jesus is God. Three main texts traditionalists cite to prove otherwise are Romans 9.5; 2 Thessalonians 1.12 (cf. 2 Peter 1.1); Titus 2.13. But all three are notorious for having grammatical difficulty. That is why English Bibles are about evenly divided on translating them to say that Jesus is God (One-Person View) or that he is not God (Two-Person View). But Ehrman is right in saying if the first half of the poem in Philippians 2.6-11 says Jesus is God, therein “he is not—most definitely not—‘equal’ with God before he becomes human.

Paul introduces this poem/hymn as an example of humility for us to follow. On p. 256, Ehrman accuses Paul of a contradiction in Philippians 2.6-11. He alleges of this two-part poem, “part of the poem does not seem to fit its context … The problem is that the second half of the Christ poem (vv. 9-11) does not at all convey this lesson, and if taken seriously, it may seem to run counter to it” since it says God rewarded Jesus for his humility. Ehrman argues that this is a contradiction. He explains (p. 257), “Christ’s eventual exaltation does not fit the purpose behind Paul’s quotation of the poem, since if someone is humbly obedient because of what he or she will eventually get out of it, that is simply another way of doing things out of self-interest.” But the poem does not speak to this issue, that is, whether or not Jesus purposely humbled himself in order to be rewarded for it.

The Bible, however, is full of teaching about people living godly lives and God rewarding them for it (e.g., Matthew 6.1, 4, 6, 18). There is no greater example of this in the Bible than Jesus himself, as Paul says in Phil 2.9-11, and this is also stated in the book of Hebrews. The author sets forth a most fundamental principle about faith and godliness by declaring, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11.6). Then he provides narratives about great people of faith mentioned in the OT. He concludes by saying, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [regarding faith], let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” as his God-given reward (12.2).

Many other biblical texts could be cited to disprove Ehrman’s contention. One is, why does Jesus teach, “The last shall be first”? It is because God exalts those who humble themselves. Jesus once said, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18.4). People make themselves humble, yet Christians rightly believe it is done in the power and Spirit of God. Yet Jesus also taught his disciples, “when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17.10 NIV).

Ehrman supposes a contradiction between Isaiah and Paul in Philippians 2.10-11 and its quotation from Isaiah 45.23 about people confessing and bowing the knee. He alleges (p. 265), “according to Isaiah, ‘there is no other.’” Yet for Paul, God plus Jesus are in focus. Although Isaiah says, “There is no other god besides me” (Isaiah 45.21), that does not preclude God sharing his glory with someone else who is not God, which he will do with his righteous, suffering Servant. For Isaiah previously says on behalf of God, “I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other” (Isaiah 42.8), that is, than the one he was just talking about by saying, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations” (v. 6; cf. Isaiah 9.1-2). He is Jesus, “a light to the nations” and “the Redeemer of Israel” (Isaiah 49.6-7). Yet Ehrman is right in saying here of Jesus, “how could he be God, if God was God.”

Ehrman again takes up his assertion that the Bible teaches that Jesus was “the angel of the LORD” in the OT. He says (p. 269), “He was an angelic divine being before coming into the world; he was the Angel of the Lord; he was eventually exalted to be equal with God.” Now remember, Ehrman merely is saying this is what he thinks the Bible says, not what Ehrman believes.

Ehrman now relates that when he was a Christian (supposedly), he believed Jesus was God because (p. 270), “For John, Jesus was equal with God,” referring to the Gospel of John. Ehrman is right in saying that John’s prologue, John 1.1-18, teaches a Logos Christology (Logos is God) rather than Classical Christology (Jesus is God).

Ehrman does well in closing chapter 7 by asking (p. 282), “If Christ really was God, and God the Father was God, how could Christians claim that there was just one God? Aren’t there two Gods? And if the Holy s also God, aren’t there three Gods? If so, aren’t Christians polytheists instead of monotheists.” That’s what lots of Jews and Christians think.

As stated earlier, Ehrman is first of all a historian. In the book’s remaining chapters, 8 and 9, the professor does a good job of presenting the history of Christology. It is therefore unnecessary for me to review this material since my purpose in this review is mostly to reply to the professor’s remarks about Jesus. One caveat I have, however, is that in Ehrman’s mention of the early Jewish Christians called Ebionites (pp. 290-91), he should also have mentioned those called Nazarenes. Both date way back in history, probably to the first century. Both believed Jesus was the Messiah, but not God. But the Ebionites did not believe in the Virgin Birth, and being Judaizers, they rejected Paul’s teaching. But the Nazarenes believed exactly like I do about Jesus, that he was virgin-born, sinless, and they embraced Paul’s teaching.

Ehrman well explains (p. 308), “as theology moved forward to become increasingly nuanced and sophisticated, these early majority opinions [of Christians] came to be condemned as heresies” by the church. He relates (pp. 305-09) that for Marcion there were two gods—the Father and Jesus. Again, Ehrman well asks (p. 309), “But if God the Father is God, and Christ is God, how is it that there are not two Gods?” Then he relates concerning the lawyer turned apologist who sort of coined the term “Trinity” (L. trinitas), “Tertullian admits that the ‘majority of believer’ have trouble accepting his own view but prefer the view of the modalists.” They wrongly  believed that the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit were merely three different “modes,” that is, manifestations not persons, of the one being who is God. That is the belief of the current United Pentecostal Church. Ehrman ends chapter eight by asking again (p. 320), “If Jesus is to be worshiped and God the Father is to be worshiped, how does one avoid the conclusion that the Christians worship two Gods?” Notice how many times I have quoted Ehrman asking such questions. Any review of this book is totally insufficient if it does not address these questions.

Ehrman begins his closing chapter 9 by saying (p. 323), “After I stopped being an evangelical Christian, I worshiped for years in liberal Christian churches. Most people in these congregations were not literalists” regarding the Bible. Yet he says many of these churches liturgically recite the Nicene Creed that begins, “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty.” Then he adds (p. 324), “many Christians who say these words have no idea why they are there…. It was originally formulated precisely against Christians who claimed there were two Gods.” And on p. 326, Ehrman again asks his questions about the Father and Jesus being two Gods.

In an Epilogue, Ehrman admits (p. 354), “I especially resonate with the ethical teachings of Jesus…. I agree wholeheartedly with these views and try my best to live according to them.” Ehrman does believe that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher who expected the end to come soon with its resurrection, judgment, and glorious kingdom on earth. But Ehrman says Jesus was a victim of his environment in this. So Ehrman explains, “To make sense of Jesus, I have recontextualized him … for the day in which I live.” How many people have done that and will be sorry about it someday?

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  • Vynette Holliday

    Thank you for an excellent article. I was with you all the way until you said you agreed with the Apostles’ Creed and that Jesus was “virgin-born.”

    Along with the Trinity and Divinity teachings, this doctrine is also a product of the Hellenist/Latin predilections of the Church Fathers who knew very little or nothing about Jewish thought, terminology, or modes of expression.

    I am willing to debate with you on this topic if you wish.

    • kzarley

      I am a Bible teacher. If you don’t believe the Bible, then we do not have that in common and therefore cannot have much of a discussion. The two texts Jesus’ birth–Mt 1.23 and Lk 1.31-35–are quite clear. The angel predicts that Jesus will be born of a virgin–i.e., a supernatural conception. Multiple attestation passes the historical critics’ criterion here.

      • Vynette Holliday

        Thank you for your response. I did not make myself clear. I do “believe” in the Bible. What I am saying is that Jesus and all of his Jewish contemporaries would have found the idea of a “virgin birth” extremely shocking.

        In addition, it was not preached by any of the disciples, nor did any New Testament author write about it. As I said before, the doctrine arose because the Hellenist/ Latin fathers failed to recognise Jewish thought, Jewish terminology, or Jewish modes of expression.

        As for Mt 1:23 and Lk 1.31-35, I am more than willing to discuss these passages in detail if you so desire.

        • kzarley

          1. I don’t think you can have it both ways. Either you have to believe Mt and Lk about these two texts on the virgin birth, which are very clear, or you have to say they were added by later hands as historical-critics believe.
          2. Jesus’ primary title he used for self-identification was “the Son of Man.” I think he clearly adopted it only due to Daniel 7.13–“one like a son of man.” So, he used the Jewish scriptures to identify himself with this title, and he used the shortened form of it as in 1 Enoch only for easier communication. I think the Aramaic ke (“like”) in the text indicates his virgin birth. So, he was a man, thus a human being; yet his virgin birth made him different from others, thus “like” them. Jews just didn’t understand this in Dan 7.13 (as hardly anyone has up to now), which was a rather perplexing text for them.

          • Vynette Holliday

            I do claim both positions. I do hold to the truth of the New Testament and I also claim that the passages you cited do not speak about a virgin birth.

            For instance – Matthew 1:23

            One of the “deliverance” themed Scripture passages Matthew presents as being fulfilled in Jesus was the sign given to King Ahaz by the prophet Isaiah (Is. 7:14).

            The word almah used in 7:14 simply means a young woman of marriageable age whether or not she be a virgin The passage refers to a child born in Isaiah’s own time.

            When quoting Isaiah 7:14, Matthew uses the Greek word ‘parthenos’ (virgin). ‘The word ‘parthenos’ had varied usage in ancient Greek and never carried the narrowly defined meaning of strictly physical virginity until at least the Second Century AD. A girl could lose her virginity biologically, but not socially. If the sexual union was not sanctioned in official ways, then it was hidden in the eyes of society – it was officially non-existent. The Septuagint itself in Gen: 34:2-4 twice describes Dinah after her rape by Shechem as a parthenos.

            The one and only significance of Verse 1:23 is that it forms part of Matthew’s overall presentation of Jesus as the representative Israelite.

            We can discuss the “infancy narratives” in much greater detail if you so wish.

          • kzarley

            You’re talking of old stuff that does not negate what the NT clearly states in its two quotations of the angels. When Gabriel told Mary what was going to occur, and she asked how that could be since she was a virgin, the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1.35). And after it happened the angel explained to her fiancee Joseph, “the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1.20). This means it was a supernatural conception and thus did not occur by Mary having intercourse with some man. All of this is quite clear and cannot possibly be understood any other way. So, as I said, you cannot have it both ways.

          • Vynette Holliday

            “Old stuff? You did not, however, address the issue but instead turned to the Holy Spirit.

            New Testament writers expressed themselves in Old Testament categories, not in fourth century Trinitarian categories. From the perspective of the first century, it is self-evident that the Holy Spirit was for them simply another way of speaking about the Spirit of God – God himself working among his people.

            Matthew 1:20

            “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”

            It is quite obvious in 1:20 that the ‘Holy Spirit’ does not refer to the manner of conception but to “that which is conceived in her.”

            Luke 1:35

            “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”

            Hebrew poetic parallelism – interchangeable terms.

            In the Septuagint, the expression “the Most High: (hypistos) is always a term used of God. Therefore, when the angel spoke of the power of the Most High, he was in reality speaking of the power of God. In this passage, because of the form in which it was cast, the “power of God” is synonymous with the “Holy Spirit.”

            A consistent theme of the Hebrew Scriptures is that the Spirit of God (the ‘ruach ha-kodesh’) is the agent of ‘every’ human birth.

            “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life.” (Job 33:4)

            “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife; and he went in to her, and YHVH gave her conception, and she bore a son.” (Ruth 4:13)

            “YHVH visited Sarah as he had said, and YHVH did to Sarah as he had spoken. Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son…” (Gen 21:1-2)

            “YHVH visited Hannah, and she conceived…” (1 Samuel 2:21)

            “And the man knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man with the help of YHVH.” (Gen 4:1)

            To use this theme in a ‘particular’ or ‘exclusive’ way ONLY where it refers to Jesus is to wrest the words of gospel writers into a meaning which they never intended.

            References to the workings of the Holy Spirit abound in Luke Chapters 1 and 2 e.g. John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,” (1:15) and a few months before John was born, his mother Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” (1:41)

          • kzarley

            1. It’s “old stuff” because the Virgin Birth does not hinge on this old argument about almah in Isa 7.14 meaning merely “a young woman” rather than a virgin, which it could mean, but its occurrence in Prov 30.19 does not mean virgin. Most certainly I “turned to the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ Virgin Birth hinges on Mt and Lk saying Mary’s conception of Jesus is a supernatural act performed by “the Holy Spirit,” which everyone knows is “the Spirit of God.” You are trying to manipulate these two texts about this, whereas they are quite straighforward.
            2. Do you believe Jesus died for your sins? To do so, he had to be without sin as a parallel to the animal sacrifice being without spot and blemish (e.g., 2 Cor 5.21; Heb 4.15; 7.26). That’s why the Virgin Birth is important, though I don’t think it necessary to believe in order to be a Christian. Why? It is not in any of the evangelistic messages or creedal statements in the NT. Plus, an argument can be made that there is no mention of it in the NT besides in Mt and Lk. But being a Christian depends mostly on believing that Jesus died for your sins.

          • Vynette Holliday

            The New Testament states that Jesus was not born perfect, that he was born subject to all human weaknesses just like the rest of us, that he had two normal earthly parents just like the rest of us.

            Jesus was “sinless” at the time of death.

            Having been written after the event, and with the wisdom conferred by hindsight, the NT reflects a post-resurrection awareness when it uses such terms as “sinless” to describe Jesus.

            “…Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, though he was a son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation; named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. [Hebrews 5:7-10]

            Of course, it follows from this that there was a time when he was not obedient and not perfect.

            The story of the Garden of Eden presents us with the failings of mankind portrayed in an allegory. Paul emphasises that although made from the same ‘earth,’ there is a vast gulf separating the ‘first Adam,’ who embodied all the faults of ‘earthiness,’ and between the ‘last Adam,’ Jesus, who embodied all the virtues required by God.

            Because blood symbolised ‘life,’ and we have new ‘life’ in Jesus, Paul depicts Jesus as corporately ‘atoning’ once only for the sins of Adam and Eve – humanity in general – and purging them with redeeming blood. As well as humanity in general, this once only atonement referred to the failures of corporate entities such as the Law of Moses and the Priesthood. We might say that the slate was wiped clean at the time of the crucifixion.

            What is not generally understood is that the ritual blood sacrifices of the Mosaic Law atoned only for sins committed in ignorance. We see this confirmed for us in Hebrews 9:7 –

            “…but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.”

            The Old Testament consistently warned that there was no vicarious atonement for intentional individual sin but by the time of Jesus, however, these many warnings had fallen on deaf ears and he found it necessary to issue another warning. That he did not see himself as vicariously ‘atoning’ for another individual’s intentional sin is amply demonstrated in John 15:22.

            “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.”

            Henceforth, in the New Creation of Life brought into existence by Jesus, there would be no more ‘cover’ for sin that the Mosaic Law had been seen to provide. Each and every individual was responsible before God for their own behaviour.

            According to both Old and New Testaments, the only way it has ever been possible for an individual to atone for intentional sin is through prayer and repentance, followed by good works. This concept is befitting of the God of justice, wisdom, and impartiality.

          • Dan

            Conversations like this remind me of when I was told as a little boy that all I would have to do is believe in Christ as my savior ,and this would secure my place in heaven . I remember thinking that is too easy ,and wondered would there come a day when this would be hard to do. I even went so far as a child to exclaim to God that no matter how much I was tested ; I would never give up my faith in Jesus. Fast forward 50 years to me now and I see another conversation over whether or not there was a virgin birth.
            I remember this word “parthenos “, and the stir it made really not too long ago. Parthenos like so many other times through my life made me chuckle because God continues to remind me of the little game I started with him so many years ago; and my faith only grows stronger despite my education.