I always seem to get more emotional when the advent season rolls around. Part of it is the whole spectacle of Christmas with kids opening gifts, the music, and various festivities. The other part has to do with my devotion and belief in Jesus of Nazareth and the celebration of the incarnation. No matter how much I have deconstructed over the years my belief in Jesus has never wavered. It’s not because I have some stubborn belief that I am not willing to challenge. Quite the opposite, in fact. It doesn’t matter how much history I study, or how many arguments I hear against him, for whatever reason it has only strengthened my belief and devotion to him and his cause.
I believe, the fact that Jesus was who he said he was is so important that to deny it would necessitate that God doesn’t exist. To me, God only makes sense in a world where Jesus is part of the story. I know that seems like an extreme conclusion, but in a sense, I am putting all of my eggs in the Jesus basket.
In this article, I want to share some of the reasons why I still hold a more “traditional” belief about Jesus and why I am still all in for him.
The Virgin Birth
In progressive circles asking the question as to whether or not Jesus was born of a virgin is almost considered a naive noob type of question. However, I am neither naïve nor a noob and yet I still believe in the virgin birth even as most of my fellow progressives do not.
In general, I tend to default toward the traditional orthodox perspective on issues where I have failed to encounter any evidence to the contrary. I think that is a safe and rational approach when dealing with complicated theological issues. With that said, there is no good argument that I have encountered that contradicts the idea of the virgin birth. And, by the way, just saying, “a virgin can’t have a child” is not an answer (it’s a non-answer because, in a world where God actually does exist, it is certainly possible that this could happen).
What’s more, supposed “impossible” things happen all of the time. Just because someone lacks experience in something doesn’t necessitate that it’s impossible. If that were the case, then much of quantum mechanics would be false simply based upon the criteria that some of the stuff it predicts seems impossible given the standard model.
Moreover, philosophers must also reject the idea of the impossible as well since logic dictates that they believe in the idea of possible worlds, which describes that there exist metaphorical worlds where all possibilities are realized and are therefore possible to exist in the real world.
In my book UNenlightenment I raise the question of the virgin birth. In that section, I develop what I refer to as the Transmutation Argument. In fact, the transmutation argument is the only context that I have found where the virgin birth is not just rational to believe in, but even necessary.
You have to begin with the presupposition that Jesus was who he said he was; namely, God. This is necessary because if Jesus wasn’t God, then whether or not he was born of a virgin is moot. So, beginning with that premise as our starting place the argument is as follows:
Given that Jesus pre-existed in eternity as one member of the Trinity;
And that Jesus incarnated himself on Earth.
Then, in order for Jesus to come to Earth from his eternal abode, one of two things has to occur.
- He has to just appear on Earth, or
- He has to be born on Earth.
Given that the claim is never made that he just appeared on Earth out of nowhere, then we can eliminate that as an option.
So it must be the case that he was born on Earth.
Moreover, given the fact that he was born on Earth, there had to be a way for him to transmute himself from his divine abode to his earthly abode. The only way that is possible is from one divine source to one earthly source. It would not be possible through natural human procreation methods.
Therefore, the virgin birth narrative seems to be the only way to reconcile the transmutation necessity.
This is not a profound argument. It is simply allowing the logic to come to a natural conclusion given that the initial premise is true.
This begs the question: was Jesus really God?
Was Jesus Really God?
This has been one of the most important questions that I have wrestled with throughout my time in the faith. For me, the question I have struggled with is, why was Jesus of Nazareth so special? There were many people during the first century who claimed to be the Messiah. So why Jesus of Nazareth? I have two primary reasons that I continually come back to over and over again that help me maintain this belief that Jesus of Nazareth was who he said he was.
First, of all of those who claimed to be the Messiah, only one stood the test of time. A tradition was created around only one of them. Only Jesus of Nazareth completes the larger metanarrative that is coherent and consistent with the story unfolding in the Ancient Near East.
Second, unlike other messianic leaders, Jesus did not come to orchestrate a way to gain power over others or lead a violent rebellion against Rome. Instead, he came as a humble servant. He sought out the poor and the ostracized. It is counter-intuitive to have this as your mission and not be the Messiah.
One might call this a populist campaign aimed at getting followers and thus creating a mechanism for power. However, when given the chance to renounce his message of peace and love he refused knowing full well that his refusal would result in his death. Not just any death, but an incredibly painful and humiliating crucifixion.
One might say based upon the aforementioned criteria that the great philosopher Socrates would fall into the same category and yet he was not a God. The biggest distinction here is that Socrates never claimed to be God – Jesus of Nazareth did.
You might also argue that many people die a martyr’s death. What makes Jesus’ martyrdom any different? My response is simple. People who die as martyrs, do so because they believe in the thing they are dying for. However, rarely, if ever, does someone die a martyr’s death when they KNOW the thing they are dying for is false. If Jesus was not God, he would have known that, so why did he surrender himself to such a death?
Some Concluding Thoughts
There are many other reasons why I believe that Jesus was the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament Prophets. For example, another would be his message. I resonate with his message of love and tolerance. For me to imitate Jesus means to see the world as he saw it – using his eyes. Every person who ever met Jesus was impacted by the encounter. I want my life to reflect that. I want people to remember me as that type of person. In the end, if am wrong and Jesus was not the Messiah, then I will have still lived a glowing life that impacted humanity for the good. That is all I can hope for.
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