Friday, February 14, 2014

The Birth of Jesus of Nazareth

All Christians, whether they are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Mormon, etc, all disagree on some area of doctrine. As Dr. William Lane Craig said to the late Christopher Hitchens during his debate with him on the existence of God "These are differences among brethren. These are not differences on which we need to put one another in some sort of a cage." However, there is one area of doctrine that Christians unanimously agree on, and even the religion of Islam agrees with them on. This doctrine is known as the Virgin Birth.

This doctrine is simple: It claims that Jesus of Nazareth was born of his mother Mary without a sexual encounter, as is fundamental with our births. Thus, Jesus literally was the Son of God because no man had lied with her to produce her infant, which does not occur among humans except in this case.

The purpose of this article is to review the scriptures and history relating to this doctrine, observe whether such an event is compatible with the natural order, and to determine whether or not we should believe in this doctrine.

Let me make my claim perfectly clear: The Virgin Birth is not a true doctrine. It is not scripture based, and it violates the natural order.

Lets begin with the scriptures that talk about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. There are very few of them, but we will analyze all of them. They are: Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38, 1 Nephi 11: 13-21, 2 Nephi 17:14, and  Alma 7:10.   I will quote all of these scriptures and analyze them, giving a look at context and implication. I will quote using the King James Version of the Holy Bible and the 2013 edition of the Book of Mormon.

Genesis 3:15 "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."

This verse comes near the end of the Garden of Eden narrative, after Adam and Eve have partaken of the forbidden fruit and become mortal. God is speaking here to the serpent (whom John the Revelator informs us is Satan himself: Revelation 12:9) and letting him know that he will be successful for a season (as he successfully has brought death into the world) but that the seed of the Woman will eventually destroy and defeat death; which Jesus of Nazareth did by being resurrected. Notice that God says here "the seed of the woman" rather than the seed of the man and the woman. Clearly this seed will be somewhat different than the others, but that does not mean that it will be done without a sexual encounter or by violating the natural order.

Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

This verse is given by the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz as he was being invaded by the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It is not clear why this comes up out of the blue, but it is the only mention of the "Virgin Birth" in the Old Testament. However, this word virgin does not necessarily translate to the word virgin in our vernacular, which means a person (male or female) who has not had sexual relations. Rather, according to Strong's Concordance, the word virgin here (almah in Hebrew) means young woman. Also, there is a word for virgin that agrees with our use of the word in Hebrew (bethulah). Isaiah is only saying here that Christ will be born of a young woman, which he was. He is not saying that this birth will happen without a sexual encounter or by violation of the natural order.

Matthew 1:18-25: "18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS."

Here the apostle Matthew is writing a gospel which is directed to the Jews, who will be very familiar with the prophecies regarding the Messiah. He quotes from the Isaiah verse we have already discussed, which points to the fact that this was the main verse the Jews associated with the birth of the Messiah. We are told here that this child is of the Holy Ghost, or that God's power was involved in it. How Mary conceived the child we are not told. The main point was to emphasize to Joseph that his bride- to- be had not had intimate relations with another man, and that he should proceed with his plans to marry her. No mention of violation of the natural order is raised here.

Luke 1:26-38:"26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no bend.

 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

This text is the one most commonly used in the Nativity. Here Gabriel appears to Mary, telling her that she will have a son, who will be the Messiah. Pay close attention to the angels counsel on how this will occur. It is clearly implied that God himself will have a part in it, and it will be in such a manner that Mary will not be able to withstand without the aid of the Holy Ghost. It seems that God himself will be the man in this encounter, and Mary the woman. What encounter happens between a man and a woman that produces a child? I will let you do the math. It is interesting that Mary herself did not talk about it after the fact, but "kept these things in her heart".

This is the last mention of Christ's birth found within the text known to us as the Holy Bible. Of the four gospels, only two mention that Mary was some sort of a virgin. None of them say that the birth was out of the ordinary, except that there was no mortal man involved, particularly Joseph. Jesus himself says nothing about this process, just that he is the Son of God. The apostle Paul, who wrote more than 2/3 of the New Testament, is also silent on the matter. John and Peter, who were two of Jesus' closet confidantes, say nothing about the virgin birth in their gospels (the Gospel of Mark is Peter's memoirs). So, from this text we can assume that they knew that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, but either had no idea of how he was born or thought he was born as they had been born, although he was the literal offspring of deity.

The last three scriptures I mention can only be used if one is a believer in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, because they come from this ancient American record.

1 Nephi 11:13-21: " 13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.

 14 And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?

 15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.

 16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?

 17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

 18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.

 19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!

 20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.

 21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the aLamb of God, yea, even the bSon of the Eternal cFather! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?"

Here the young prophet Nephi is seeing the same vision that his father Lehi had seen in a previous chapter, although Nephi expounds on his experience in much greater detail. He is asked by an angel whether he understands what he is seeing, but he replies he does not completely. The angel then tells Nephi who this virgin is, and what she will do for mankind. It is not clear whether Nephi is told how the conception took place, but there is no indication here of a natural order violation.

2 Nephi 17:14 "Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign—Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

Nephi is teaching from the book of Isaiah and is quoting the verse we have already referenced. We will not outline this one again, but I take note of it because it is contained in the text.

Alma 7:10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God."

Alma is teaching the people of Gideon about Christ in this Sermon. His language is very similar to Luke's, in that he mentions that Mary is pure, she shall be overshadowed, and Jesus is to be called the Son of God. Since the text is very similar, I give the same commentary that I gave on the Luke version of the encounter.

From the text of the scriptures, we find no definite doctrine of the virgin birth. These are the facts we do know:
  1. Mary was a young virgin at the time of the encounter
  2. Neither Joseph nor any other man (besides God) was involved in the encounter
  3. Whatever the experience, Mary could not endure it without being overshadowed by the Holy Ghost
  4. Jesus of Nazareth never spoke of how he was born, certainly never teaching the Virgin Birth doctrine himself
  5. Neither Paul nor any of the later New Testament writers said anything about the Virgin Birth
  6. The Book of Mormon prophets did not teach this doctrine
It should also be noted this doctrine was not taught universally until the 2nd century, where it was canonized formally in the Apostles Creed, which was written by philosophers like myself. Included in this text is another new doctrine: the doctrine of Immaculate Conception. This doctrine teaches that Mary herself was sinless, and not subject to the fall of Adam. This doctrine is not found within the New Testament text, but it is fully accepted in the Roman Catholic Church, which most churches borrow their doctrine from.

Thus we see that the Virgin Birth as believed by Christians worldwide today comes from philosophy, not scripture. 

The second part of my argument is that the virgin birth cannot be true because it violates the natural order. This is not my idea; it was thought of by great minds long ago. Perhaps the great David Hume said it best when he said "Which is more likely: that the whole natural order is suspended, or that a jewish minx should tell a lie?"

God created the laws of nature. When he created Man and Woman in the scriptures and the process by which other humans would be brought into the world he said they were "very good". This shows that God has no problem with sex, which is where the real heart of this issue lies.

In order to believe in the virgin birth, one must believe that God created the birth canal, but that he also eschews and is disgusted by it. It is to say that sex is a degrading, filthy practice that only humans would participate in. This correlates well with the false doctrine of the Trinity, which is also not found in the text of scripture. And it goes along well with the idea that the genitalia is something to be hated, especially the female genitalia.  I do not share this view.

Some will say that virgin births do occur outside of the human race in some animals in a process known as Parthenogenesis and that perhaps Mary had her birth similarly. Besides the fact that this never happens in humans and that it would reduce humanity to that of the common lizard, this denies the fact that is is not taught within the text of scripture. And this would reduce humanity to the same level as animals, which is dangerous, toxic doctrine.

Another argument is that perhaps God did some sort on in vitro fertilization. This could be bought, except that such a process would not require the Holy Ghost to overshadow and protect Mary. All God would have to do was put a sperm into one of Mary's eggs, a miracle not unlike many that Jesus of Nazareth would perform. If this were true, then there would not be even a hint of an encounter. But the text of both the old world and the new world say otherwise. Also, this again is an attempt to say that God eschews his creation and detests it, rather than regarding it as a sacred process which all should yearn to participate in.

A even sillier argument exists, this being that because it is not directly stated how the conception of Mary took place, we cannot know how it happened. There would only be reason to describe the conception of Mary if it was radically different than the natural order, not if it was in line with it. The authors of scripture knew that their audience would understand the birth process, thus only the parts that are different than ours were mentioned.

There is one final matter I want to bring to this argument, but it does not have to do with Mary per se. In the miraculous births of Sarah and Elizabeth, God does not violate the natural order to bring about his purposes. Rather, the text says that both women were known by their husbands, and God took charge in making sure that conception happened. If he did not violate the natural order in these instances where the participants were well beyond the child-bearing years, there is no reason to believe that he did so with Mary, who was in the prime of her child-bearing years.

God did not suspend the laws of nature to have his only begotten enter mortality, just as he never did to perform any other miracle. He used the natural order, which involved a sexual encounter of some sort with Mary, which she could not endure without the presence of the Holy Ghost. Thus when Jesus of Nazareth said that God was his father, it was as literal as me saying that David LaCour is my father. From his father he inherited the power over death, so that he could truly say that no man could take his life from him (John 10:18). From his mother he inherited mortality, or the ability to die. 

Those who believe in the doctrine of the Virgin Birth eschew the birth canal, hate the genitalia, are not proud of the way they were conceived, and do not believe the text of scripture. The scriptures point one way, this philosophy points to another way, and leads to more ideas that are also inaccurate. 

Let us praise and thank the God of Nature, who both loves and uses the processes he created for us.

7 comments:

  1. How come you don't quote Brigham Young, who believes the same as you? He being a prophet and all.
    In your sentence "So, from this text we can assume that they knew that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, but either had no idea of how he was born or thought he was born as they had been born, although he was the literal offspring of deity" it seems you are forcing the apostles into a box of options- saying either this or this. How can we know? We didn't live in that time. Maybe they just didn't think it was that important to comment on. You said it yourself, Jesus didn't talk about it. But there I go, putting them into a box- I don't know what they were thinking.
    Interesting speculation. Can't say I agree with you. Why can't this miracle have happened? What about the other miracles Jesus did that don't follow "nature"? Your accusations at the end are also of opinion, not firm comparison.

    ReplyDelete
  2. interesting points. I have to say,well written. Ive always been under the impression ( When it came to this subject) That God could do whatever he wanted. Though if we look at scripture it is clear that The Lord made this earth and everything on it. How did he do it? Naturally of course. He organized matter and made everything. So assuming that The Lord is, " The same yesterday, today , and forever." I can accept the theory that his birth would have been Natural as well. Meaning some form of intercourse. Whether it was spiritual ( if you can have that) or physical, I won't debate.
    To the critics LaCour I say, Keep an open mind. Realize that the blog is your ideas which you can prove with scripture and that it in no way reflects the doctrine of the church, but it is good to," Ask, seek, and knock" which entitles us to our opinions and thoughts.
    Overall, I loved this and it was good mental food to chew on.

    Cheers,

    Talon Andersen

    ReplyDelete
  3. First let me say that you bring up a good point. The scriptures are largely silent on this issue--for good reason. Just as there are other doctrines which can only be hypothesized or construed from scripture so it is with what you call the "doctrine" of virgin birth. I also find it interesting that in your recent post on Evolution you state that we shouldn't read past the text of the Bible or attempt to discern scientific facts from the text, but here you seem to have no trouble doing just that.

    Though the idea of a Zeus-like conception is interesting (Zeus was always impregnating human girls, much to the distaste of Hera), you dismiss what I feel is the more likely method, that of an in vitro fertilization, by deciding that the Holy Ghost would not have to be present for that to occur. That's something that we can't know or decide and though you write it off casually and infer that such action would mean God detests His creation, I'm not convinced that is the case.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. It is true that I said that we should not look past the text, and I did not in this case. I used the scriptures and what we know of nature. Based on that, my conclusion makes the most sense.

      Delete
  4. I'd like to reply to this point-by-point, but I'd like to mention something first. It seems that in several instances you have inferred arguments from what is absent from the text, and base your conjectures off of what the text does not say. I don''t feel like this is a solid basis upon which to build your argument, in this or any other subject.

    First of all, I would have liked you to define what exactly you meant by the virgin birth before you stated that it was not true doctrine. I think I understood where you were coming from by the end of the essay, but that threw me off at first.

    After your quotation of Luke 1:26-38, you claim that Mary will not be able to withstand the encounter without the aid of the Holy Ghost. I find nothing in that particular excerpt that implies either danger or necessity of protection for Mary. If the conception involved Mary being in the presence of the Father, then indeed the power of God would need to be manifest in order for Mary to withstand His presence (just as others who have been in God's presence). As for the verb use of "overshadow", it does seem that other uses of "overshadow" in the scriptures can refer to protection (the main context I found was that of the Mount of Transfiguration, during which spiritual power or protection would be necessary for Peter, James, and John; and the miraculous manifestation of God's power to Nephi and Lehi in the book of Helaman, witnessed by many righteous and unrighteous people). Still, I'm not convinced that this scripture necessarily implies either the presence of God or the necessity for Mary's protection.

    Several times you attempt to strengthen your argument of the absence of a natural order violation by mentioning the absence of any description of it in scripture.

    As for the numbered points you make after the citation of all the scriptures, I find all of them sufficiently proven except the third. I can certainly see it as plausible, but I do not think you have made a firm enough argument to establish it as fact.

    I dislike your point that those who believe in the virgin birth despise the topic of sex and several things connected with it. You have made no logical connection between one's belief in the virgin birth and their opinions regarding sex, and thus make an overgeneralization. I find it plausible (although I do not present this as true) that God, in this singular special case, recognized a need for a different method of conception, without losing a single iota of respect for the process of intimacy which He indeed created and decreed.

    I do agree that parthogenesis is irrational as an explanation, especially because it does not provide any possibility for the nature of a God being embodied in Christ.

    ReplyDelete
  5. As for the in vitro fertilization possibility, this is the one that has made the most sense to me, with the limited amount of thought I had given to the subject before reading this post. The first rebuttal you provide to this possibility is the scriptural statement of Mary's need for protection by the Holy Ghost, which, as I mentioned, does not seem proven. However, the way you restate your virgin-birth-means-God-eschews-sex argument later on is more understandable. I can see the possible importance of God "setting a good example" for his children, per se, in this one documented account of God participating in a sexual encounter, or at the very least a transfer of genetic information. If He did not participate in intimacy the way He decreed that we should, it could be construed as hypocritical or at least irrational (although I do feel that, if the "in vitro fertilization" argument is the case, the conception of the Son of God should count as an exception to the rule).

    I agree that the notion that we cannot know of the true process of conception is less believable, but I feel there's something more important here going on. Prophets are silent about events for at least two reasons: one, that the issue is too sacred to even discuss, and two, that discussion of the issue should be abandoned in favor of more spiritually important matters. If it is the first, then attempts on our part to understand Christ's conception are in large part futile. If the second, it is unwise for us to spend a great deal of time discussing these issues (which I know makes me look bad since I have just written several paragraphs about it). The fact is obvious to any Christian, but let me just mention that no one needs to know about the process of the conception to be saved, only that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that we should have faith in Him, repent, be baptized in His name and by the authority of the priesthood, receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and endure in faith by keeping God's commandments and receiving additional ordinances throughout our lives.

    The last point I want to make is that "miraculous" and "in line with the natural order" are at least partially antonyms. The bible dictionary describes miracles as "some lower law…superseded by a higher". In the case of the conception, the miracle could be the lower law of intimacy as required for conception superseded by the higher law of the necessity of Christ's Godlike nature to the efficacy of the Atonement. I, for one, believe that the conception of John the Baptist, Samuel, Isaac, and most of all, Jesus Christ, were nothing if not miraculous. God's intervening hand is seen in the temporary and partial suspension of natural law to show us His superiority over it. If God always worked in a way that was indistinguishable from what man has historically determined to be the laws of nature, how would we, how could we know that He was there?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great article Tarik, I have been on this same page for years. It is interesting how many fight the signs that Christianity is a religion focused on progeny, and therefore sex. I agree that this has been battled against by the church post apostles, as the Hebrew text screams the importance and sacred truth of progeny (Abrahamic Covenant, olive tree and pomegranate, to name a few).

    On a separate note, look at the way Satan works. The most successful attack is delivered by an enemy that was not previously known, or one that can stay unknown. Satan works at convincing the world that he does not exist, thus continuing to attack God's children unhindered. Now apply to the whole plan. If humankind can be convinced, especially through religion that sex is not sacred and is a holy part of the plan, then there can be a perpetual attack on everything that has to do with it... progeny, marriage, family unit (patriarchal order), not to mention disease and psychological traumas.

    Going back to your topic, I think the biggest indicator for me is the presence of the Holy Ghost.

    ReplyDelete