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The Birth of Jesus: Hype or History?

The  biased and extremely slanted attack on the Christmas Story

Carol Brooks (Based on a 2004 article by the Rev. Mark D. Roberts

Also See   The Historicity of Jesus Christ   The Reliability of The Four Gospels

Dating The New Testament


Note: It is a sad fact that most critics of the Bible know far less than they claim to. Many, if not most, non-Christians assume that Christianity is a "blind faith"... that Christians ignore reality and have unquestioning loyalty to an absolute belief system without proof or evidence. In fact, that they believe contrary to all evidence and facts. Much to the contrary, the Christian faith is a commitment based on evidence. The Judeo-Christian faith consistently stresses the importance of truth, and makes appeal to evidence to support it's truth claims. In fact, it is actually quite remarkable as to how many times, God, Jesus, and the prophets of both the Old and New Testaments, appealed to facts to support what they said and taught. Several chapters long - this article covers the evidence including the Bible's humanly impossible authorship, it's candor about the faults and failings of it's main characters, fulfilled prophecy, and it's archaeological and scientific accuracy etc. - none of which are seen in the books of other religions.

If you yourself or someone you know has had their faith shaken by a skeptic, I strongly suggest you take the time to read
Choose Life That You Might Live

 [Also See Academia’s Asinine Assault on the Bible]

Time and Newsweek
Christmas is beloved of Christians around the world and is perhaps the strongest uniting force in the Christian world. However, in today's world it seems to be a common occurrence for 'liberal' Christians to debunk the Bible's historical accuracy without necessarily disparaging alBirth-Newsweekl Birth Timeaspects of the Christian faith.

Time magazine's cover story on December 13, 2004 was entitled Secrets of the Nativity: Why the story of Jesus' birth inspires so much scholar interest - and faith. [01]

Newsweek's cover story the same week authored by Jon Meacham managing editor of the magazine, was entitled: The Birth of Jesus - Faith and History: How the Story of Christmas Came to Be. On December 12, the day before the magazine came out, Newsweek posted a similar article on their site called The Birth Of Jesus that is still available online [02].

The central theme running through all three stories was that much -  if not all - of the story of the birth of Jesus was an invention of the early Christian church. 

Effect of Such Articles

    1. Conservative Christians or even fairly conservative Christians - especially those who are familiar with the evidence for Christianity may find articles such as these upsetting or infuriating. Or they might just brush them off, feel sorry for the authors and those they quote, or simply ignore the whole issue.

    2. The articles may stir a niggling doubt in those believers who are not very familiar with the evidence in favor of Christianity. They may begin to get a little worried wondering if the Nativity story was nothing more than pious legend invented by the early church.

    3. And there is third group. Articles such as these are quite likely to stoke the fires of unbelief in non-believers confirming their suspicion that orthodox Christian doctrine has no grounding in actual historical events. It is simply one myth among many others and thus they can safely continue to ignore Jesus.

Hopefully this article and the others linked from here will give the first group additional confidence, reassure the second group that their fears are groundless and, at the very least, shake the third group's conviction that Christianity is based on nothing more than myth and fables. 

As I hope you will see both magazines were a long way from being unbiased and objective - Not only did Newsweek disregard the millions of people who believe what the Bible says about Jesus' birth but they did not include a single syllable by any conservative scholar who has studied these narratives and judged them to be accurate historical records. They also unforgivably ignored all the evidence that led those scholars to their conclusions.

One has to wonder if Jon Meacham intentionally suppressed this information in order to exaggerate the "scholarship vs. faith" theme of the article - evident from the subtitle "From Mary to the manger, how the Gospels mix faith and history to tell the Christmas story and make the case for Christ." Faith and history were placed in opposition to each other giving the impression that one has to choose one or the other. However, faith and history are neither separate nor are they necessarily in conflict.

Attacks on the Christmas story were supported by a group of liberal so called scholars who either know nothing about the evidence that supports the Scriptures or choose to disregard it. The only sources quoted were of the same opinion as the authors. All of which only serves to underscore how biased and one-sided articles like these can be.

For example, Newsweek quotes...

The Da Vinci Code, one of the most widely read books of our time written by Dan Brown and partially built around the assertion that the early church covered up important facts about Jesus in order to manufacture Christian creeds. 

    Dan Brown opens his novel with the words "FACT" in bold, capital letters. However what few it does contain require serious qualification. In fact, it has been aptly described as a "cartoonish, illiterate, dishonest piece of hack drivel" which describes it very well. See Section on The Da Vinci Code.

The Jesus Seminar A major presupposition of the Jesus Seminar is a philosophical naturalistic world view which categorically denies the supernatural. Therefore they say one must be wary of prophetic statements (because no one can predict the future), miracles (that are not possible), and the claims attributed to Jesus (but were actually later inventions of His devoted followers).

Robert W. Funk (July 18, 1926 – September 3, 2005) was an American biblical scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar and the nonprofit Westar Institute in Santa Rosa, California. Funk, an academic, sought to promote research and education on what he called biblical literacy. He had a strongly skeptical view of orthodox Christian belief, particularly concerning the historical Jesus. In fact, it would not be too much of a stretch to say he founded the Jesus seminar with a specific purpose in mind - to rewrite the story of Jesus.

Note his opening remarks at the first meeting of the Jesus Seminar in 1985

    What we are about takes courage, as I said. We are probing what is most sacred to millions, and hence we will constantly border on blasphemy. We must be prepared to forebear the hostility we shall provoke. [03]

    "In other words, even before the Jesus Seminar examined one saying of Jesus, Funk already knew that its findings would "border on blasphemy" and provoke hostility from believing Christians. How did Funk already know that the "objective" conclusions of the Seminar would be so hostile to traditional faith? Because he stacked the deck from the beginning. Funk filled the Seminar with hyper-skeptical scholars who shared both his scholarly and his theological biases. So even before the Seminar began its work, Funk was assured of the results he wanted".  [04]

So it wasn't quite an objective quest for the historical Jesus, that many believe it to be. And here a few of Funk's theses from an article called The Coming Radical Reformation:

     The God of the metaphysical age is dead. There is not a personal god out there external to human beings and the material world.

     Prayer is meaningless when understood as requests addressed to an external God for favor or forgiveness and meaningless if God does not interfere with the laws of nature. Prayer as praise is a remnant of the age of kingship in the ancient Near East and is beneath the dignity of deity.

     We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus' divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.

     The plot early Christians invented for a divine redeemer figure is as archaic as the mythology in which it is framed. A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible. The notion that he will return at the end of time and sit in cosmic judgment is equally incredible. We must find a new plot for a more credible Jesus.

     The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned. In addition, it is a pernicious doctrine that denigrates women.  [05]

Like so many other liberals, Jon Meacham bought the Seminar's poppycock hook, line, and sinker, never bothering to investigate its true purpose. See More About The Jesus Seminar.

Celsus: Both Newsweek and Time quoted Celsus, a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of early Christianity, asking the question of whether the story of the virginal conception was told to hide Jesus' illegitimacy.

    "Celsus claimed Jesus himself fabricated the story that he had been born of a virgin.  His mother was "a poor country woman who earned her living by spinning. She had been driven out by her carpenter-husband when she was convicted of adultery with a soldier named Panthera. She then wandered about and secretly gave birth to Jesus. Later, because he was poor, he hired himself out in Egypt where he became adept in magical powers. Puffed up by these, he claimed for himself the title of God." Second- and third-century Christian writers alleged that some Jews also suggested Jesus' birth was illicit. More about Celsus HERE

Note: When the Pharisees told Jesus "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God." (John 8:41) it was not a possible hint of illegitimacy as the online Newsweek article says, but because rumors about Mary's pregnancy had circulated for a long time, the Pharisees could simply have been trying to put Jesus down by casting a subtle slur on His mother and birth. 

Here is one excerpt from the article that shows how a conclusion can be arrived at with little or no evidence to support it.

To make their case in this congested theological universe, the Gospel writers collected traditions in circulation and told Jesus' story"

However, if one actually reads the Gospels. it becomes very clear that two of the authors of the Gospels were eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry, and the other two got all their information from eyewitnesses. And let me stress that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise.

1.) Matthew was personally chosen by Jesus as a disciple.

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector's booth; and He *said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him. (Matthew 9:9 NASB)

Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 also record Matthew's calling. However they called him Levi which was evidently his name before he became a disciple (This was not an unusual occurrence - several people were renamed in the Scriptures - Abram name was changed to Abraham, Jacob's to Israel, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul).

2.) John also one of Jesus' disciples was very emphatic. He said they were testifying to what they had seen with their eyes, what they had looked at and touched with their hands - what they had seen and heard. (1 John 1:1,3). 

3.) Luke was a Gentile physician and not a firsthand eyewitness to Jesus' ministry. However, he said that after carefully investigating everything he compiled an account of things handed down by those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning. And that it seemed fitting to him to write these accounts out in consecutive order (Luke 1:1-4).

As said by James Patrick Holding in The Impossible Faith... Or, How Not to Start an Ancient Religion.

    If Luke lied in his reports, he probably would have been jailed and/or executed by Agrippa's son, Herod Agrippa II (who held the same position), because that was the fellow Paul testified to in Acts 25-26 (reported by Luke). And Agrippa II was alive and in power after Luke wrote and circulated Acts; indeed he had access to all the needed information and claims ("For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest." (Acts 26:26-27)

See The Impossible Faith
17 factors to be considered - places where Christianity "did the wrong thing" in order to be a successful religion. The background here is certain skeptical claims that Christianity was a movement born of the adage that a sucker is born every minute, and Christianity collected about a year's worth of suckers to start with.

And there is more

John P. Meier, a Roman Catholic priest and professor at Notre Dame who was the author of a monumental series, "A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus," points out that there is no convincing evidence Jesus himself ever spoke of his birth, and neither Mary nor Joseph appears to have been a direct source.

Unfortunately, Meier does not appear to have given the matter sufficient thought. If he had he might have realized that in all probability Luke had impeccable sources. Why do I say this? Simply because Luke's Gospel is the only one of the four that tells of the events surrounding Jesus' birth from Mary's perspective. Since no one else could have known what Mary was thinking and feeling, either Luke spoke to Mary who recalled her thoughts to him, which means Mary could very well have been a direct source. The alternative is that Luke spoke to someone very close to her whom she had confided in.

Had the idea of Luke receiving his information from Mary been brought up to the authors of the online Newsweek article, I have no doubt that they would have rejected it out of hand.  They say that it is "striking: that in parts of the Gospels

    ... Mary herself appears unaware of her son's provenance and destiny. (In Mark, when Jesus is casting out devils at the beginning of his ministry, "his friends"--the sense of the Greek is "family," or "household," which would presumably include his mother--thought he was mentally disturbed and tried to stop him, saying, "He is beside himself." If Mary had received Gabriel's message, then she should have known her son was not mad, but the Messiah. And even if she were not around in this story in Mark, had Jesus been born in such extraordinary circumstances, it is logical to assume that those closest to him would have known at least something of it--enough, anyway, to see Jesus as someone with a special role or destiny of which the exorcisms were a likely part. [06]

So much for Biblical knowledge.

Yes, Mary was told her Son would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High, be given the throne of His father David and would reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:32-33). However, Jesus was not the kind of Messiah whom the Jews (including Mary) had been anticipating. They had been expecting a Messiah who, as anointed king of Israel, would deliver God's people from the Roman oppressors, and make Jerusalem the center of the whole world.

These expectations were put paid to by Christ.

He not only forsook pomp but didn't even have a place to lay His head. He and His disciples were supported only by voluntary contributions. When, after the feeding of the five thousand, the people wanted to make him king He left withdrew to the mountain by Himself (John 6 :15). It is no wonder that not even His brothers believed in him (John 7:5). Yet after His resurrection and ascension there they were in the upper room praying along with their mother and the disciples (Acts 1: 13-14)

4.) Mark: Although Mark was not a direct disciple of Christ, the early church believed this Gospel to have been written by John Mark the son of a woman named Mary whose house believers gathered in (Acts 12:12). Papias (c. a.d. 140) bishop of Hierapolis quoted a very early source who claimed Mark was a close associate of Peter, from whom he learned what the Lord said and did. And as we know, Peter was the disciple who was given the keys of the kingdom. Although he did not write any of the Gospels, he stated that they "did not follow cleverly devised tales", but were eyewitnesses of Christ's majesty. And that they themselves heard God's voice from heaven when they were with Jesus on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16, 18)

(Mark was also possibly Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10) and companion to Barnabas and Paul's on their travels. (Acts 12:25). 

Jason Engwer makes some very valid points in the comment he posted on Newsweek's online article

    Meacham tells his readers nothing about the work done by scholars such as Colin Hemer to demonstrate the historical credibility of Luke. He says nothing about the significance of Luke's having access to Jesus' brother James, and surely other close relatives of Jesus were still alive when the Gospels were being composed and circulated. He dismisses the concept of the Gospel writers' getting the infancy accounts directly from Jesus or Mary, but he doesn't give us sufficient reason to dismiss it, nor does he explain why getting information from Jesus and Mary indirectly would be unreliable. Are we to think that Jesus never discussed issues such as his birthplace with his disciples? Are we to think that Mary never discussed such issues with the early Christians when she was with them? If the infancy narratives are to be interpreted as nonliterally as Meacham suggests, then why did Aristides, Ignatius and other Christians who lived around the time of the Apostles interpret the documents so literally? Aren't they likely to have known the intent of the authors? [07]

Jesus' Birth - Fact or Fable?
In his article, after speaking about the "ongoing scholarly debate" over the historical accuracy of the Nativity narratives, Meacham goes on to say, "The clash between literalism and a more historical view of faith is also playing out in theatres and bookstores."

This is an outstanding example of how so many people attempt to drive a wedge between faith and historical facts. If you take the Biblical narratives at face value you are not being historical - if you doubt the Biblical narrative you are. David Van Biema the author of the Time article wrote the following

    "In the debates over the literal truth of the Gospels, just about everyone acknowledges that major conclusions about Jesus' life are not based on forensic clues. There is no specific physical evidence for the key points in the story."

It is true that there is no physical for Jesus. He wasn't a king who erected monuments and obelisks with his name inscribed on each one. We simply don't have the kind of historical data for Jesus. All we have is the account by Matthew and Luke

However, why exactly are we discounting their testimony?  

Lies are always told for some, usually selfish, reason. What exactly did the disciples gain by inventing the story of Jesus' birth and resurrection? No more than temporary notoriety. However, they paid a terrible price for their five minutes of fame. Tradition tells us that virtually all the disciples died horrible deaths. For example, Peter was hanged upside down, Mark was dragged through the streets to his death, James was beheaded and Thomas was pierced through with a lance. Yet not one of them once recanted their story.

While many will die for what they believe to be the truth, who in the world would be willing to be martyred for what they know to be a lie. Martyrdom, one has to confess, is rather convincing proof that the disciples unwaveringly believed what they preached... Christ had risen from the dead. And this belief was based on what they had seen, spoken and eaten with, not something that they had no proof for.

Many Christians accept and believe in the birth of Christ as told in the Gospels based on faith alone. However, many informed Christians accept the Christmas story as historical fact because they believe the Gospels to be reliable accounts. The essential trustworthiness of the Scriptures are highlighted in the following articles...

God and His Bible - The Reliability of The Old Testament   and The Reliability of The New Testament
(These are Part 4 and Part 7 of Choose Life)

Section on The Resurrection

Alleged Discrepancies in The Resurrection Accounts

Matthew and Luke
Here is an example of how the Gospel accounts are lopsidedly viewed by liberal critics.  In regard to the Magi's visit to the infant Jesus (Matthew 2) Meacham stated that "There is no historical evidence of such a visit."

No historical evidence?

In other words, Matthew's testimony is not to be regarded as true history.

The problem is if someone hadn't written down what they said and did we wouldn't have known a thing that went on at any time in history between any individuals or groups. Cleopatra and her relationship with Caesar, Ptolemy or Mark Anthony - Alexander the Great's megalomania, policies, dress, or conquests - Hannibal's invasion of Italy - you name it. And, much closer to Jesus' time, we certainly wouldn't know a thing about Herod the Great and his tyrannical rule.

 In fact, we would be forced to dismiss as myth every single thing we think we know about these people because everything we assume to be factual history is based (just as the Gospels are) on historians. Someone wrote down what Herod said and did, and someone else (in fact quite a few people) wrote down what Jesus and the Jews of His day said and did.

So why exactly is Matthew considered to be unreliable? Can any of these authors and so called scholars dredge up one shred of evidence to show that Matthew made it up as he went along - that he made any historical blunders? The fact that he was the only one who mentioned the Magi means we can't test his story against other evidence but it doesn't in any way imply that Matthew made up the story.

Presumably one of the reasons critical scholars dismiss the gospels as factual history is because they had a "theological agenda" .  However, as you will see this is no way diminishes the truthfulness of what they wrote even when it was detrimental to their cause.

In any case, Matthew was not the only person to write about Jesus' birth. Luke did so as well. The vast majority of scholars, both conservative and liberal, believe that neither of these authors were familiar with each others work which means we have two independent accounts of the Nativity story. 

The Newsweek article merely implied that Matthew is not a reliable historical source however, it bluntly stated that Luke was not. In Meacham's words

    "Almost nothing in Luke's story stands up to close historical scrutiny."

As asked by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

    What is Meacham's evidence for this claim? He cites a negative comment by the critical scholar Raymond Brown and then adds, "Augustus conducted no global census, and no more local one makes sense in Luke's time frame." Period. That's all the evidence against Luke's historical reliability that Meacham can muster. [08]

Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts went on to write that he would "freely admit"

    that Luke's discussion in 2:1-2 of Augustus, Quirinius, and the worldwide registration does not obviously fit with what we know from other historical sources. There was a governor of Syria named Quirinius who conducted a census about a decade after the birth of Jesus. The historical record outside of Luke is silent about another census ten years earlier. Skeptical scholars are quick to accuse Luke of confusing the facts. But scholars who don't jump to negative conclusions have found several ways to make good historical sense of Luke's narrative. The original Greek of Luke 2:2 might very well mean that Jesus was born "before" Quirinius was governor of Syria, not "while" as it's often translated. There is also tantalizing but inconclusive evidence for an earlier governorship of Quirinius. [09]

In his book Nativity: The Christmas Story, Which You Have Never Heard Before,  Richard R. Racy draws our attention to antedating which was one of the "quirks in ancient practices that would never be tolerated in modern scholarship". As He goes on to say,

It was extremely common for ancient rulers to date the beginning of their rule from the earliest date possible. Tiberius, for instance, dates the beginning of his emperor-ship from ten years before the death of Augustus because that was when Augustus designated him to be heir. Other rulers used all sorts of excuses to make their time of rule seem as long and as impressive as possible. If Quirinius did something similar, it is entirely possible that Luke unknowingly accepted the earlier date. [10]

The Quirinius issue is an extremely complicated one, which I am sure that some readers may want to investigate further. I myself think this is more trouble than it is worth, simply because Luke's track record is such an impeccable one, that it is highly implausible, even impossible, that he made a mistake of this magnitude.

Considering the stakes, to ignore the mountain of evidence in favor of the Bible's accuracy and dismiss it as is being "in error" on the basis of one detail that, so far does not agree with the archaeological evidence, is the height of foolishness.

And yes, it is true that no one can prove that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, was brought up in Nazareth and ministered in Galilee. But then again no one can prove that Pontius Pilate was the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judea nor that Herod was the Roman appointed king.

So lets take a closer look at how Luke rates as an accurate historian.

The Three Missionary Journeys Described in The Book of Acts
Luke was an extremely reliable historian. In fact, virtually everything we know about Paul's three missionary journeys comes from the book of Acts. However, I am not sure how many people realize how accurately Luke portrayed those journeys.

While I think we can safely assume that at least some people had knowledge of certain general details that Luke includes in his account, such as the names and titles of governors, it is very difficult to believe that specific routes that extended all the way from Judea, into Asia and Europe were known to anyone other than a person who had actually traveled to those areas. However, Luke went even further, including some very precise details about the places they visited, such as the titles of various local authorities, the language spoken by the people there, the religious beliefs, customs and structures in those cities etc.

Luke’s Accuracy
Luke was an extremely reliable historian. Not only were his names, titles, places, locations, customs, religious practices, and routes exceedingly accurate, but Luke takes us on a conducted tour of the Greco-Roman world, giving us a tremendous feel for the places and events he describes. One can walk the streets or saunter through the market places of Corinth, listen to the philosophical discussions in Athens, literally feel the pulse of Diana worship in Ephesus, and huddle in a boat as a gale threatened to blow one's sailing vessel to smithereens. [1f1]

In any case, as said by N.T. Wright the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, even if Matthew and Luke had

    ... invented material to fit Jesus into earlier templates, why would they have invented something like this? The only conceivable parallels are pagan ones, and these fiercely Jewish stories have certainly not been modeled on them. Luke at least must have known that telling this story ran the risk of making Jesus out to be a pagan demigod. Why, for the sake of an exalted metaphor, would they take this risk – unless they at least believed them to be literally true?  [12].

Also see The Impossible Faith
17 factors to be considered - places where Christianity "did the wrong thing" in order to be a successful religion.
The background here is certain skeptical claims that Christianity was a movement born of the adage that a sucker is born every minute, and Christianity collected about a year's worth of suckers to start with.

Do Matthew and Luke Contradict Each Other?
David Van Biema, author of a Time magazine cover story, wrote,

    "And despite agreeing on the big ideas, Matthew and Luke diverge in conspicuous ways on details of the event. In Matthew's Nativity, the angelic Annunciation is made to Joseph, while Luke's is to Mary. Matthew's offers wise men and a star and puts the baby Jesus in a house; Luke's prefers shepherds and a manger. Both place the birth in Bethlehem, but they disagree totally about how it came to be there."

Agreement on the Main Points
In other words, we have two relatively early and independent accounts of the birth of Jesus in fundamental agreement. How telling is it that Van Biema passes this off as an aside saying - "despite agreeing on the big ideas". Apparently in his book agreeing on the main issues doesn't count for very much at all.

Although their perspectives are different and  they have different emphases when it comes to many minor points, Matthew and Luke never contradict each other. In fact, so much so that one can come up with the entire Christmas story using only the facts common to both Gospel writers. Had they told identical stories, skeptical scholars would accuse them of collusion.  See Seventeen common elements of Matthew and Luke's narratives In Footnote I

But here is the key question. Not only could the story be seen as scandalous but then as now many listeners would find the accounts implausible. If the church was really in the business of making up and editing stories one has to wonder why they didn't improve the birth narratives. The church could very well have edited the stories to harmonize a little better, added details that would make them seem more credible or even tone down the less believable details.

They did nothing of the kind but stuck to the record of events as told by Matthew and Luke


The only reason that makes any sense of because although the truth almost certainly hurt their cause, they believed it to be the truth and preserved it intact.

However, lets take a quick look at the examples David Van Biema gives of how "Matthew and Luke diverge in conspicuous ways on details of the event."

1) Does Matthew put Baby Jesus in a House?
Matthew says absolutely nothing about Jesus being born in a house - the only time he mentioned a house was in relation to the Magi's visit.

After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11 NASB)

Except we have absolutely no idea when the Magi showed up. Matthew 2:1 say "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem...".

How long after?

No one knows. However one school of thought holds that the Magi were Persian or Arabian astrologers who attached religious significance to the movements of the stars which, if true, means they had to travel a long way to get to Bethlehem. As an aside, the concept of three kings is modern supposition. They were neither kings nor does the Bible say anything about how many traveled to Bethlehem. Also note the Greek word translated 'inn' does not mean paid accommodation. the word is also used in Mark 14:14 NASB.

2) Who Did The Angel Announce Jesus' Birth To?
It seems not to have occurred to Van Biema that the angel could have spoken to both Joseph and Mary.  We could only find fault if Matthew had said the angel spoke ONLY to Mary or ONLY to Joseph.

Modern Vs. Ancient Biographers
People still object to the fact that although Matthew and Luke largely agree there are differences between each of their narratives. The one thing that they do not take into account is that whenever two or more people relate the same event each one will recall or emphasize different details. Yet when it comes to the Gospel accounts differences of content and emphasis are being seen as disagreement which they are not.

Each author was narrating different aspects of the story from different perspectives.

One of our modern assumptions is that ancient recorded history has to be absolutely precise, ie. every single little detail had to be set down in exactly the order it occurred. The problem is that since no one told ancient historians that this was what they were supposed to do, they often just gave the gist of what took place. And the authors of the Gospel were no different.

Not only did Matthew tend to record events in topical, rather than chronological order, but each of the authors wrote their accounts from different perspectives and stressed different things. They also sometimes included details that some or all of the others might have left out. For example, only Luke mentioned Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (Luke 2:22-38) and only Matthew recorded the flight into Egypt. Mark's Gospel is interesting inasmuch as he alone added some inconsequential, but interesting, details that none of the others did.

It is amazing how many people have little problem accepting other old documents as authentic history, despite the fact that many of them contain many discrepancies and contradictions. I'd like to point out one outstanding example...

Jona Lendering is a Dutch historian and author of books on antiquity whose site Livius.org has numerous articles on ancient history. One describes the Carthagian military leader Hannibal (247-182 BCE) as one of the greatest military leaders in history, and goes on to say that his "most famous campaign took place during the Second Punic War (218-202), when he caught the Romans off guard by crossing the Alps". The page then shows the two main texts about Hannibal crossing of the Alps side by side and says (Emphasis Added)..."There are so many similarities that we can be sure that both authors shared the same source. On the other hand, there are striking differences"  [13]

One example given of the differences is ...

Polybius of Megalopolis states that on the eleventh day, Hannibal's soldiers could see Italy from the top of the pass, and started at their descent after a dramatic speech by their commander, while Titus Livy writes that they saw Italy (and listened to the speech) on the twelfth day, while they were already descending. [14]

Yet, in spite of the discrepancies in the two accounts, I do not know of any one who doubts that Hannibal did in fact cross the Alps and engage in battle with the Romans. What day Italy came into sight, or when exactly Hannibal made his speech is held to be of no consequence.

Why then are different standards applied to the Bible and what is the excuse for the policy that what's sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander?

See Differences and Discrepancies in the Old Testament - Part 5: of Choose Life That You Might Live

See DDifferences and Discrepancies in the New Testament - Part 8 of Choose Life That You Might Live

I suspect that the supernatural element in the stories is the stumbling block for the critics. Had Matthew and Luke told their stories sans angelic visitors, a star that guided the Magi and above all minus a virgin birth, most people would have no issue with them.

If your worldview does not include a God who brought this world into being the whole idea of miracles would be totally absurd and you will be quite unable to consider the Nativity narratives as historically reliable.  The presence of the miraculous poses such a problem for many historians that in their effort to get around these bits they attempt to discredit the entire account instead of honestly admitting to a pre bias against miracles. On the other hand, if you believe that God - the biblical God - does exist then it is logical to believe that the Creator is capable of overriding the natural laws that govern the physical world, especially since He was responsible for the laws in the first place.

 As the rather silly argument goes... Mary did not have the genetic material to produce a male child, therefore to conceive a child without having 'known' a man, a Y chromosome would have had to have been created in her ovum.

SO???  Just how difficult would it be for the God who spoke the universe into existence to create a Y chromosome? In fact all the supernatural elements in Scripture nay be 'miraculous' to us but are probably 'all in a day's work' for the Father

See Are Miracles Possible? that shows show that the possibility of miracles is completely consistent with modern science and modern knowledge. www.inplainsite.org/html/miracles.html#Possible

I find it amusing and rather sad that many claim that the people of earlier centuries were more 'gullible' than modern man. While they may not have had near the scientific knowledge available to us today and would not have known the first thing about chromosome, they certainly knew how babies were made. This is exactly why when Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant he first decided to 'put her away' her. Joseph knew full well that women did not get pregnant without having been with a man.

And they have apparently not considered the very many beliefs that speaks volumes about modern man's gullibility - For example, A huge number of people accept spontaneous generation and rely on horoscopes. Many a multi-billion dollar industry has been built by advertising that exploits people's gullibility (bottled water or diet supplement anyone?) - just ask their marketing and advertising departments. Many believe politicians and salesmen without question. Are we also forgetting the number of cult figures that have arisen in modern times some with disastrous consequences for their followers,

And let me not get started on New Agers who are making every effort to shape the world on the words of spooks without credentials or any form of evidence that they are who they say they are. It is accepted that the particulars they provide are unreservedly true. No further proof or evidence asked for and none received. And they call Christians fools? Seems to me the boot is on the other foot. See The New Age Movement - Roots, Expansion & Diversification, Goals, and Dangers www.inplainsite.org/html/new_age_overview.html

The Christian world is worse if anything.

In spite of huge amounts of evidence to the contrary an enormous number of people believe in the word of faith/prosperity doctrine, tongues as a second blessing, contemplative prayer and labyrinths as a way to get closer to God. All these are articles can be found on the page Doctrines of Demons www.inplainsite.org/html/doctrines_of_demons.html (If you read them you will see why the section is named thus)

The Virgin Birth
Both Time and Newsweek devote quite a bit of space to the virgin birth of Christ. This is hardly surprising. The virgin birth is what establishes Jesus' nature as both divine and human - the "Word made flesh" as expressed by John (1:14). However, in Matthew's account of the angel's visit to Joseph he added that

    Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall be with Child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:22-23 NASB)

Matthew was quoting Isaiah 7:14, obviously seeing in them a prophecy of the virginal conception of Jesus. in Isaiah's words

    "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin (Heb. almâh ) will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NASB)

Some critics believe that Matthew conveniently read Mary's virginal conception into the Isaiah's words when the ancient prophet intended no such thing.

However, this is extremely unlikely because in all their history there wasn’t a single Jew who expected the Messiah to be born of a virgin. Inventing a story to somehow fit into Isaiah's words would only have made things worse. Besides which the only conceivable parallels were pagan ones and these intensely Jewish stories would certainly not been modeled on them.

For Details See The Virgin Will Conceive

Also Was the New Testament Influenced By Pagan Religions?

Christians and Isaiah 7:14
Isaiah 7:14 is generally held by Christians to be one of the greatest Messianic prophecies ever. However, this view fails to take the textual and historical context into account. Quite simply, Isaiah didn't just wake up one morning and out of the blue prophesy that the Messiah would be born of a virgin some seven centuries later. Much to the contrary, anyone who reads the text without preconceived ideas would take for granted that the prophet was referring to a young woman living at the time, not one that would appear 600 plus years in the future.

The immediate fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy was a 'type' - an actual historical thing or event that was a rough draft or glimpse of one or more actual events yet to come (the antitype). In other words, Isaiah's prophecy had more than one fulfillment. In this case he was speaking about a young woman alive at the time, but the prophecy would be finally fulfilled many centuries in the future when the Messiah was born.

See  The Fascinating Subject of Biblical Typology

Belief in the Virgin Birth
It should be noted that the virgin birth is an essential aspect of orthodox Christian theology - emphasizing the fact that Jesus' was both human and divine - He spanned the infinite divide between God and man. However, it is not something everyone must believe before they become Christians. The Apostle Paul, didn't make the virgin birth a prerequisite to faith in Christ, but as he said,

    if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;  (Romans 10:9 NASB)

The early Christians did not base their belief in Jesus' deity on His virginal conception but on three factors 1.) They realized He was the One the Old Testament pointed to. 2.) the many miracles that Jesus performed authenticated His person and mission. 3.) Last, but far from least, Jesus was resurrected from the dead. 

Having said that, there are people who seem to believe that the true significance of Christmas has little or nothing to do with God entering history in human form but in the spiritual meaning of the stories. Marcus Borg, prolific author and one of the leading members of the Jesus Seminar who believed himself to be a Christian, is a perfect example. Borg co-authored The Meaning of Jesus with N.T. Wright in which he says

    The truly important questions about the birth stories are not whether Jesus was born of a virgin or whether there was an empire wide census that took Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem or whether there was a special star leading wise men from the East. The important questions are, "Is Jesus the light of the world? Is he the true Lord? Is what happened in him  'of God'?" Answer these questions affirmatively lays claim to our whole lives. [15]. 

The Marcus Borg foundation states that it is committed to "re imagining a realistic and meaningful Christianity for the 21st century" and that "traditional Christianity emphasizes God's transcendence excessively". [16]

However, dismissing the Nativity accounts means dismissing the Virgin conception. Anyone who rejects the Virgin conception is rejecting the fact that Jesus was God in human form - here to announce God's kingdom and tell us how we can get there which happens to be the whole point of the Scriptures. See The Message of Jesus   and   The Message of the Bible

If Jesus was born of human parents like every other man who has ever lived why in the world would anyone bother to consider Him to be Lord as the early disciples and apostles did. what few realize is that of the twenty seven books of the New Testament, sixteen books (60 percent) do not refer to Jesus as Savior even once. In fact, the numbers are astonishing. Jesus is referred to as "Lord" over six hundred times in the New Testament, but the Greek word soter, which means deliverer or savior, is used a mere 24 times in the New Testament. See Repentance, Faith and The Lordship of Christ

To paraphrase Rev. Roberts

Nobody can prove that the Incarnation really happened but it can be shown that it is reasonable to believe it. Ultimately, however, it is a matter of faith, not faith without reason or faith opposed to reason, but faith informed by reason. It wasn't hust a nice story made up by some creative early Christians. 

Because of Christmas, there will be Good Friday. And because of Good Friday, there will be Easter.  

See Salvation


End Notes
[01] http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20041213,00.html.

[02] Newsweek Staff. The Birth Of Jesus. https://www.newsweek.com/birth-jesus-123591

[03] Jesus Seminar Opening Remarks. https://www.westarinstitute.org/projects/jesus-seminar-opening-remarks/

[04] Mark D. Roberts. The Birth of Jesus: Hype or History?

[05] https://www.westarinstitute.org/resources/the-fourth-r/the-coming-radical-reformation/

[06] Newsweek Staff. The Birth Of Jesus. https://www.newsweek.com/birth-jesus-123591

[07] Jason Engwer. https://www.newsweek.com/nativity-narratives-and-birth-christ-116903

[08] Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts. The Birth of Jesus: Hype or History?

[09] ibid.

[10] Richard R. Racy. Nativity: The Christmas Story, Which You Have Never Heard Before. Publisher: Authorhouse (November 1, 2007)
Page 49

[11] Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts. The Birth of Jesus: Hype or History?

[12] The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. HarperOne; 2nd edition (September 7, 2007) Pg. 176

[13] Jona Lendering. Hannibal in the Alps. https://www.livius.org/sources/content/hannibal-in-the-alps/

[14] ibid.

[15] The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. HarperOne; 2nd edition (September 7, 2007) Pg. 186

[16] The Marcus J. Borg Foundation’S Mission Statement. https://marcusjborg.org


Index To Articles On ‘Jesus’

Artwork provided courtesy of James "theo" Theopistos.