Would You Lie To Defend The Virgin Birth?

Would You Lie To Defend The Virgin Birth? December 19, 2015

I was disturbed to see Charisma News appealing recently to outright falsehoods in its efforts to encourage readers to keep accepting the virgin birth as though it were a historical fact that is supported by evidence. Here are the claims they make:

  •     A physician and world-class historian documented it
  •     Modern archaeology affirms it
  •     An agnostic professor of mythology is convinced
  •     Old Testament prophets predicted it centuries in advance
  •     The earliest Christians believed it universally

They pretend that Luke’s infancy account is not problematic on its own terms. They repeat the falsehood that there is evidence for a second stint by Quirinius as governor of Syria. They pretend that it was predicted in the Old Testament. And they lie in saying that the earliest Christians believed it universally.

None of that is true. The texts in Genesis and Isaiah which they refer to were not predictions of Jesus or a miraculous birth. Paul viewed Jesus as of the seed of David according to the flesh. And we know enough about the career of Quirinius that we cannot honestly even invent an undocumented second stint as governor of Syria in a time period that would fit the birth of Jesus and/or match up with Matthew. One can fact check all the claims made and find them false.

Contrast the approach of Charisma News with the recent blog post by Ian Paul, which acknowledges the genuine difficulties, while looking for ways that it might nonetheless be possible to conclude that Luke was not in error.

Why do some Christians think it is OK to outright lie in support of their beliefs? What good do they think doing that will accomplish?

I’ve written about this topic before more than once. See too Philip Jenkins’ recent post about the year Jesus was born.

 

 

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Ironically, this is pretty tame for Charisma – chief heralds of the Blood Moons.

  • Ian Paul may be more reasonable than Charisma news, but he also writes like a victim of bias confirmation:

    “In fact, considering that they tell very different stories, presumably drawing from very different sources (Matthew’s account focusses on the men, Luke’s on the women), the number of points of factual agreement are quite remarkable.”

    and he cites such “points” as the names of Jesus’ parents and his birthplace.

    Really? Remarkable? That two Christian writers who both quote at least one source (Mark) verbatim extensively, might also at the very least agree on the names of Jesus’ birthplace and parents, while creating very different agenda-driven versions of a miraculous birth?

    Ian Paul has an extremely low threshold for what is “remarkable”.

    • Paul D.

      The virgin birth as a mythological tale and not a historical one is a hard pill to swallow even for some very good scholars.

      I was amused while rereading Raymond Brown’s “Birth of the Messiah” this week. After showing in exhaustive detail how Luke’s adherence to a precise literary formula and reliance on OT scriptures basically rule out the historicity of the birth narratives for Jesus and John the Baptist, Brown offers the concession that a scant few details like the virginity of Mary might be historically true, since they are not required elements of the literary formula. Knowing that Brown was a pious Catholic, it is not hard to see how some means of saving Mary’s virginity was needed.

      And then, in the next section, he proceeds to show that Luke’s nativity story must have intended virgin birth in its original form because the literary structure requires it.

      • It’s just odd, because supernatural claims that arise in any religion other than Christianity are never granted any degree of historicity by historians.

        • Paul E.

          This is a good point. It’d be interesting to see a study done on how Islamic claims of the supernatural are dealt with in universities in predominantly Islamic countries. Would we see the same type of bias confirmation? I venture to guess we would.

  • psstein1

    Interesting, I’m assuming these people would firmly hold to the traditional authorship of the gospels as well. Whenever I’m asked about the virgin birth, I say that I believe in it in some sort of fideistic way. There’s no way in hell I can prove it.

  • Jim

    A quick scan of the comment section and Ian Paul (in a response to Peter Carrell) suggests that according to Richard Fellows, there is “good evidence” that Luke was a resident of Antioch. A question for those who know gospel history: Is there “good evidence” that Luke was from Antioch? I’m asking because I have this weird curiosity about knowing more on the location where each of the gospels may have originated from.

    • There is certainly a tradition to that effect, but I have not looked into it enough to determine whether it is one of those traditions the church preserved which has a high degree of plausibility to it.

  • arcseconds

    The ‘agnostic professor of mythology’ was C.S. Lewis, and he was convinced — and I’m pretty sure this included the virgin birth. So that bit seems true.

    ‘Modern archaeology confirms it’ is massively overstating the case (how could archaeology possibly confirm a virigin birth? Maybe if mummified remains were found you could confirm an intact hymen and a caesarian section?) but it is true that Ramsay was a bona fide archaeologist and biblical scholar who became convinced of the historicity of Acts.

    • Nick Gotts

      Lewis was not a “professor of mythology”, but of medieval and renaissance literature. The “Modern archaeology affirms it” claim is a barefaced lie. Ramsey isn’t even “modern” – he was working at the end of the 19th century and in the early part of the 20th – and even if he was, his view would not represent the consensus which the language used clearly implies.

  • Stuart Blessman

    I was raised fundamentalist and was around it for a good 25+ years. How would you help me get around the mental block that questioning the virgin birth is the first step to the whole house of cards falling down? I already question Augustine’s idea that man’s seed transmits sin somehow magically, so that knocks down a requirement peg. But there’s still that kneejerk “can’t question that!” in my head.

    Obviously I know it’s not, denying inerrancy/YEC/global flood/dispensationalism/KJV Onlyism is, but you know, it’s the next step, lol.

  • I don’t see a lot to choose from. You’ve got the outright lie on the one hand and a more subtle attempt to cloud the issues on the other. Ian Paul uses terms like “sceptical commentators” and “debate” and “inconclusive” to make it sound like the defense of Luke’s account constitutes legitimate historiography rather than apologetics, and he winds up assuring the faithful that they can “put their anxieties to rest.” Is it really so much better to deal with the difficulties dishonestly than to ignore them altogether?

    • Sorry for taking so long to reply. Ignoring them and pretending they aren’t there does seem to me to be worse, since it renders them impossible to discuss. Ian Paul may want to offer a defense of historicity that I find unpersuasive, but there is at least some chance of his being led to change his mind, assuming of course that I can offer better arguments. And if I cannot, then perhaps I should be the one changing my mind, or otherwise it should become clear in the discussion if my conversation partner is simply unwilling to accept conclusions to which the evidence points.