This post is not on whether or not Jesus was conceived by Mary while she was still a virgin. I deal with more theological questions at my other website. Belief in the virgin birth is a faith statement and this post is going to deal with history.
To be clear, the New Testament teaches the virginal conception rather than a virgin birth. There is a subtle difference. The doctrine only teaches that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. However, “virgin birth” will be used as the popular form.
It is also important note that only Matthew and Luke describe the virgin birth. Not only did Mark and John not mention it, neither did Paul. That doesn’t mean that other early Christians didn’t believe it.
What I want to deal with is the claim by people, commonly called Jesus Mythicists, that the virgin birth of Jesus was based on pagan myths, specifically Horus, Dionysus, Mithras, among others.
My response here is not based on a desire to defend the Bible (although I am a Christian) but by looking to the myths of these gods/heroes.
The problem with the claims that the virgin birth was based on pagan myths is that most of the examples given by mythicists are not virgin births. What is claimed as a “virgin birth” are really conceptions with a supernatural element. Often the mother was not a virgin even before the conception and the baby was conceived through intercourse.
So why do they describe it as a virgin birth? I suppose because many of them include intercourse between a god and a mortal, thus not including a human male. But that is not a virgin birth. Nor is that the type of conception described by Matthew and Luke.
My problem with the pagan origins of the virgin birth are not theological but historical. Mythicists, apart from misrepresenting the New Testament, also misrepresent the ancient myths.
The King James Version (Authorized Version) of the Bible was one of the most influential books in western culture. Many Christians today continue to hold tightly to the King James Version. The problem with such influence is that legendary elements begin to adhere to the truth. Ryan Reeves looks at three myths about the King James Version. You might want to also check out his book, Know How We Got Our Bible (KNOW Series).
I’m always on the lookout for new quality podcasts. One that I have recently started listening to is a podcast I want to share with you. It is called the History of English Podcast.
It is not the history of the English people, although it does deal with that, but is the history of the English language. Kevin Stroud deals with the languages that led to English, and then Old, Middle and Modern English.
Why I am sharing this here? While Kevin’s podcast is not a church history podcast it often does touch on church history. The reason is that clergy and monks were often the educated members of society who were involved in writing documents. Also, religious documents have most often survived.
I have really enjoyed the History of English Podcast. So often I have walked away with an answer about some strange aspect of English that I have always wondered about. Make sure to check it out.
One of the most important figures for understanding the early church is the Apostle Paul. However, when it comes to studying Paul, we have two different sources to examine. There are Paul’s letters and Luke’s account of his ministry in Acts.
While most scholars do not struggle with using the epistles (or at least the seven “genuine” letters), there is some controversy about how to use Acts.
Do the accounts of Paul in Acts tell us anything about Paul or only about Luke and the church he was part of? Some scholars reject Acts as having any historical value.
An excellent resource for sorting through these questions is Paul in Acts by Stanley Porter. Porter addressed all of the big issues, including the “we” passages and the compatibility of Acts with the epistles.
Porter is not an apologist who seeks to defend the reliability of Acts for the sake of a strict doctrine of inerrancy. Porter is a respected New Testament scholar who sorts through the evidences and yet comes up with a positive view of Acts.
While acknowledging differences between Acts and Paul, Porter demonstrates that they are very compatible and that Acts is a valuable historical resource for understanding Paul.
When we think of the Church Fathers, we often forget that they were real human beings. Beyond being extraordinary people in extraordinary times, they were people with emotions who were in relationships.
I have been reading through the works of Tertullian (155-240). Tertullian is important for many reasons, including coming up with the term Trinity.
As I was reading his works, I came across his letters to his wife. I thought this would be interesting. It started off promising enough.
I have thought it meet, my best beloved fellow-servant in the Lord, even from this early period, to provide for the course which you must pursue after my departure from the world, if I shall be called before you; (and) to entrust to your honour the observance of the provision.
You can see some affection for his wife there. However, as the letter continues, it becomes more of a theological treatise on marriage. You can read it here.
I can say with confidence that if I was living in dangerous times and had an opportunity to write to my wife, my letter would look much different.
However, this letter tells a lot about Tertullian, not just his theology but his personality. He lived an intellectual life and even when he writes to his wife, he can not unplug from that mode of thinking.
At a recent book fair at my children’s school, I was surprised to find the book, The Plot to Kill Hitler. I was not surprised to find a book on World War Two, I was surprised to find a book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The story of a man whose most prized possessions was his Bible and his cigarettes is not what you would expect in a public elementary school.
This book by Patrick McCormick is the story of Bonhoeffer but packaged for a younger audience. However, it is not juvenile in content as it wrestles with the difficult parts of his story.
If you are not familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he was a German pastor who came into conflict with the Nazis during World War Two. He opposed the German church’s capitulation to Hitler and set up an underground seminary to train pastors for the confessing church.
Although this book is titled, The Plot to Kill Hitler, that is not the most important thing Bonhoeffer did nor is it the main point of this book. Bonhoeffer was a brilliant theologian and church leader. He opposed evil in his own way long before he became involved in a plot to kill Hitler. Even when he was involved in that plot, he was the ethicist who guided the others more active in the plot. Unfortunately, this failed plan ultimately led to his execution.
One of the things that I appreciated about this book is that it really wrestled with the problem of Bonhoeffer’s pacifism and his involvement in the plot to kill Hitler. He never gave up on the principles of pacifism but felt that he needed to betray his own principles and face God’s judgment by helping to end the violence caused by Hitler.
If you know a young person who might be interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Plot to Kill Hitler, is a great introduction for a younger audience. Even adults will be inspired by this short book and its important story.
I have an interest in the French protestants known as the Huguenots. My family (on the Bedard side) are originally from La Rochelle, one of the Huguenots strongholds in France.
While the Bedards were all Roman Catholic by the time they arrived in Canada, I suspect some were Huguenots. It was common for Huguenots to convert to Roman Catholicism after the St Bartholomew’s Massacre in 1572.
Here is a helpful documentary by Ryan Reeves. I have shared other of his videos and they are very good.