Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ


Many scoff at the idea of Jesus Christ being born of a virgin. However, we must ask, "Are there any good reasons to believe that God became a man on that first Christmas?"

Last year, around this time, I took an honest look at the above question and found that there are very good reasons to read the gospel accounts of Jesus' Birth as historical.

Check it out the article here. Also, be sure to view the For Further Reading section at the end of the article.

Merry Christ-mas,

Chad A. Gross

9 comments:

bob said...

From your link: "Belief in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, certainly must be accepted by faith. We are unable to observe it again. However, it is a faith that is grounded in evidence from various disciplines of study."
Evidence? There is evidence that people have believed in the virgin birth for a very long time, but there is no historical or scientific evidence that it actually occurred. Correct?

"Faith is not a blind leap into the dark, as many skeptics assume, but a step into the light upon examining the available evidence."
What is this "light" you speak of?
Be honest here, please. How many Christians do you know who accepted (came to believe) the virgin birth story only after they examined the "evidence"? I don't know a single one. Every Christian I know believed the virgin birth story when they became a Christian. No "evidence" was necessary.
So, I have to ask, why would you use that word "evidence", when it is completely unnecessary for faith?

Truth Bomb Apologetics said...

Bob,

Thank you for taking the time to comment and for your respectful comment/questions.

You wrote: "There is evidence that people have believed in the virgin birth for a very long time, but there is no historical or scientific evidence that it actually occurred. Correct?"

Did you read the article included?
Historical evidence was offered in support of the Virgin Birth. Further, the NT documents have proven to be trustworthy. If you are interested in researching this, please let me know and I would be more than happy to provide some articles for you.

You wrote: "So, I have to ask, why would you use that word "evidence", when it is completely unnecessary for faith?"

I disagree with the statement "evidence is completely unnecessary for faith." If someone has what they believe to be a religious experience and decides to put their faith in a belief system, but then finds it to have no historical or scientific evidence, etc. (facts) to support it, they would be foolish to continue believing it. For more on the definition of faith, please see here:

http://truthbomb.blogspot.com/2008/04/ye-have-no-definition-of-faith.html

Faith and reason work together and should not be opposed to one another, contrary to popular belief.

Finally, whether someone comes to believe the Virgin Birth based upon studying the evidence first or not has little to do with whether of not the VB account is true. For some, the experience comes and then the evidence confirms the experience; for others the evidence is first considered and then they take a step of faith based upon the strength of the evidence and their faith is confirmed by experience.

Again, I appreciate you taking the time to comment and hope I've answered your questions.

Respectfully

bob said...

Chad,
I just re-read the article, and I am sorry if I sound dense but I could not find any evidence listed for the virgin birth.

I found this segment interesting:

Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University has read approx. 2,400 pieces of literature (in German, French, and English) on the resurrection of Jesus from 1975 to the present. Dr. Habermas presents the following facts to prove the resurrection by considering only the data that is so strongly supported historically that even the majority of non-believing scholars accept them as facts. Dr. Habermas is able to prove the resurrection historically without having to appeal to the inerrancy or inspiration of the Bible.

These facts are:
a) Jesus’ Death by Crucifixion...
Chad, can you explain how this is a fact? We know that people believe he was crucified but how do we know he was crucified?

b) The disciples believed that Jesus appeared to them...
How is this a fact for the resurrection? It could be a fabrication or a hallucination.

c) The Apostle Paul was converted after being a persecutor of the church...
How does this add credibility to the resurrection claim? People convert to other religions daily.

d) Jesus’ brother, James the skeptic, became a believer after the resurrection...
Again, this in no way backs up the resurrection claim.

e) There was an empty tomb...
Are you sure? If so, are you sure because of facts or faith?

These facts, accepted by the overall majority of critical scholars today,...
Who are these "critical scholars" he claims?

..point strongly to the resurrection of the Jesus, God‘s own Son.
I disagree. First, I do not see any "facts" here. I see assumptions and conclusions. I do not see a single fact.

When one examines these facts no natural explanation can explain the data.
Again, where are the facts? These listed are beliefs. They can not be claimed as facts. Every single one listed can easily be explained away naturally, in a few words.
Chad, I just don't get it. It seems that we just don't speak the same language.

bob
lets_reason@yahoo.com

Chad said...

bob,

Thank you again for taking time to comment. And I assure you that you do not sound "dense." Sincere questions are always valuable.

1) The evidence I was referring to was that of archeology. Is that exhaustive evidence? No; it certainly is, however, historical evidence that supports Luke's reliablity as an author. Also, please see my December 10, 2008 post, "Norman Geisler on the Virgin Birth" for more historical evidence.

2)"Who are these "critical scholars" he claims?"

Fair question:

See

http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm

for an example of Habermas' work.

3) "They can not be claimed as facts."

We have good reason to believe that the resurrection best explains what we know from the historical record.

See my prior work here:

http://truthbomb.blogspot.com/2008/03/febmarch-truthbomb-apologetics.html

4)"Every single one listed can easily be explained away naturally, in a few words."

Please provide naturalistic explanations for each fact using first-century evidence. It is not enough to say, "this or that could have happened." The theory must be support by the best, earliest evidence.

Also, I have dealt with the objections you bring up here:

http://truthbomb.blogspot.com/2008/06/aprilmay-truthbomb-apologetics.html

I would also recommend The Case for the Resurrection by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel, and The Resurrection of the Son of God by NT Wright.

5)"It seems that we just don't speak the same language."

That's funny! I know what you mean. I assure you that I'm doing my best to provide explanations. However, sometimes others are better at communicating such topics which is why I offer resources other than my own.

Bob, I truly appreciate your respectful tone in your comments and hope that I have given you some things to think about.

Respectfully

bob said...

Hi Chad,

2)"Who are these "critical scholars" he claims?"

Fair question:

See
http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm

I did. He lists a comparrison of two. He said - "These facts, accepted by the overall majority of critical scholars today,...", I ask you about this, you direct me to his website, and he lists two. I hope you can see how this may not be very convincing.

You then direct me to a post on your blog to answer my next contention. There you list these "facts" with following further explinations:

1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
2) He was buried...
3) Soon afterwards, the disciples were discouraged...
4) Jesus' tomb was found empty...
5) The disciples had experiences...
6) ..the disciples' lives were thoroughly transformed. They were even willing to die...
7) The proclamation of the Resurrection took place very early...
8) The disciples' public testimony and preaching of the Resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem...
9) The gospel message centered on the preaching and of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
10) Sunday was the primary day for gathering and worshiping.
11) James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic before this time, was converted...
12) Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a Christian...

With the exception of perhaps two of these "facts", the bible is your only contempory source, correct?

You end by saying:
"The power of the minimal facts argument is that it does not allow the skeptic/unbeliever to simply brush aside the Resurrection."

I disagree. Your facts are, for the most part, simply concise explinations of what is written in the bible, and what people believed in the 1st century. They are not backed up by any science.

"A skeptic not only is forced to provide alternative theories to the Resurrection, but they must also be able to present first-century evidence to substantiate their conclusions."

Much of the first century evidence is in the form of silance from those who may have witnessed these events. I will remain forever perplexed how believers, when asked to present actual evidence in the form of facts, they open their hand and offer faith, and only faith, and claim that it is based on facts...and around and around we go.

"This is an insurmountable task for the unbeliever."

Only in the mind of the believer. Imagine what it would take to convince you that what you believe is based on wishful thinking, not on facts. What would it take?

"Please provide naturalistic explanations for each fact using first-century evidence. It is not enough to say, "this or that could have happened." The theory must be support by the best, earliest evidence."

I disagree completely. You assume the supernatural explination. You assume something happened that you have never witnessed personally. First century evidence is the same as 21st century evidence. We should assume the natural explination until the supernatural is proven. That is what you and I both do in our day to day lives. You just happen to believe that the bible stories deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Tell me Chad, if a man was born one week after the resurection of Jesus, and he wrote positively about it in his book when he was 25 years old, does that count as evidence that the resurection happened? This is important.

Please excuse my many spelling errors.

bob

Chad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chad said...

Bob,

Hope you are doing well. I visited your blog today and found your profile to be comical. I enjoyed the part about spelling and "taking it easy on you." Funny stuff! Further, please don't worry about spelling, however, do me the same favor! :-)

Okay, on to the topics at hand...

1) The critical and non-critical scholars that Habermas cites are located in his publications "The Case for the Resurrection" and "The Risen Jesus." I provided you an example; if you need an exhaustive list, please see the above publications.

It's important that we are careful not to minimize the significance of the minimal facts argument simple because we don't like the conclusion they come to.

Again, this approach considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the skeptical ones. In other words, these facts represent the "lowest common denominator" of agreed-upon facts.

Please note that I am not arguing for the inspiration of the Biblical documents, but only viewing the NT documents as ancient historical literature, which I believe you will agree they are. In the minimal facts approach, the NT documents are treated as any other book from antiquity.

These five minimal facts are:

1) Jesus died by crucifixion.

2)Jesus' disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them.

3) The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed.

4)The skeptic James, brother of Jesus was suddenly changed.

5)The tomb was empty.

It's important to note a few things here:

a) The above evidence is considered historical fact. There are different kinds of facts; scientific, historical, etc., however, to claim that historical facts are not as legit as scientific ones is to undermine the foundation of science itself (more on that in a moment).

b) The question should be asked: "What is the best explanation of each of these facts."

c) If you disagree with the above five facts, then how do you explain the majority of scholars agreeing on them?

d) I'm presenting historical data while you have yet to present the "few word" debunking you said you could provide of each of the above minimal facts.

Non-Christian Sources for Christ

It's often misunderstood (willingly or not I can't say) by many that the only evidence we have for Christ is inside the Bible. I want to say that even if that was the only evidence we had, it would still be very, very well attested. Again, I could provide you with the relevant literature if you are interested.

However, the extra-biblical evidence we have for Jesus Christ is actually quite impressive. Consider the following:

"Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, in their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist:

"Just how many non-Christian sources are there that mention Jesus? Including Josephus, there are ten known non-Christian writers who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life.

By contrast, over the same 150 years, there are nine non-Christian sources who mention Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus. So discounting all the Christian sources, Jesus is actually mentioned by one more source than the Roman emperor. If you include the Christian sources, authors mentioning Jesus outnumber those mentioning Tiberius 43 to 10!

Some of these non-Christian sources-such as Celsus, Tacitus, and the Jewish Talmud- could be considered anti-Christian sources. While these works do not have any eyewitness testimony that contradicts events described in the NT documents, they are works written by writers whose tone is decidedly anti-Christian.

What can we learn from them and the more neutral non-Christian sources? We learn that they admit certain facts about early Christianity that help us piece together a storyline that is surprisingly congruent with the NT. Piecing together all ten non-Christian references, we see that:

1. Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
2. He lived a virtuous life.
3. He was a wonder-worker.
4. He had a brother named James.
5. He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
6. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
7. He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
8. Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
9. His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
10. His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
11. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
12. His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God.

Clearly, anyone willing to consider the data can see that the non-biblical evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ indeed exists.

For an exhaustive look at the ancient non-Christian Sources for Jesus Christ, please see
http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm#ch9

Science, History, and Evidence

Attempting to claim that because I didn't witness the resurrection first-hand or no scientific evidence exists for it, therefore, I shouldn't believe it is misleading.

First, there are many things that we do not witness first hand, however, we still believe them. I didn't witness Abe Lincoln's assai nation, however, I have good historical evidence to believe it happened. The origin of the universe happened only once and I wasn't there, however, I have good scientific evidence to believe it happened! After all, we are here! When someone says, "You weren't there so how can you believe it," they are merely repeating an often spoken phrase that obviously does not correspond with reality.

Second, to imply that scientific testing supersedes historical evidence is based upon false assumptions.

Science has limitations-the scientific method is limited in its ability to observe and test. Geology and paleontology involve situations that are not repeatable, however, does one try to claim that it's not science? Not to my knowledge.

Also, the skeptic's claim that truth can only be found in science is self-refuting, therefore, false. Using only the scientific method, the skeptic cannot show that truth is found only in what science can demonstrate. In other words, the claim that science can only demonstrate truth, or sure facts, actually fails its own test.

Finally, for science to function successfully, history must be taken as reliable because if not, science as we know it could not even continue, because scientists must build the discoveries of past scientists. Historical assumptions must be made for science to progress.

Bob, you ask: "if a man was born one week after the resurrection of Jesus, and he wrote positively about it in his book when he was 25 years old, does that count as evidence that the resurrection happened?"

Honestly, it would depend upon the circumstances. Was the boy a child of an eye-witness? What are the boy's reasons for recording this information. Did he simply make up an "ad hoc" story about man who was killed or can one find good, historical data to support what he wrote? I can tell you this, I would simply dismiss it.

In closing, I believe the resurrection boasts:

1) It has great explanatory scope. It explains the available evidence. It's not enough to say, "But what about what we don't know?" My question is, "What about all we do know?"

2) It has great explanatory power. It explains the missing body and why people saw Jesus more than once.

3) It is plausible. Given the historical context of Jesus' unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection makes sense as the divine confirmation of those radical claims.

4) It is not ad hoc nor contrived. It requires only one additional hypothesis: God exists.

5) It explains the facts better than any other theory. Numerous theories through the years have been offered, however, these hypothesis have almost been universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. No naturalistic hypothesis has been convinced a great number of scholars. (1)

Bob, I don't know how much you have studied the claims of Christianity or the resurrection of Jesus Christ, however, I would like to offer you a free resource (shipping is also covered) to aid you in seeking answers to your questions if you wouldn't mind emailing me your address:

www.answers@explorefcf.com

If anything, you get a free book!

Respectfully
Chad

Resource:

1) The Apologetics Study Bible, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?, Dr. William Lane Craig

bob said...

Hi Chad,

"It's important that we are careful not to minimize the significance of the minimal facts argument simple because we don't like the conclusion they come to."

Rest assured, I would not be the slightes bit disapointed if there were any facts that supported the resurection, virgin birth, etc. I think the word "facts", "support", "evidence" are words that you and I place different meaning on.

"Again, this approach considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the skeptical ones. In other words, these facts represent the "lowest common denominator" of agreed-upon facts."

I don't dispute that the bible says what it says, or that any 1st century Christian said what he said. I dispute the notion that, because people believed a certian thing a long time ago, that it in any way means that what they believe actually happened.

1) Jesus died by crucifixion.

I am not sure how you can say this is a fact when there are so few, if any, contempory sources that make this claim, how ever, I do not dispute the conclusion, only the dogmatism behind it. You can not know for sure that this is a fact. You can only believe.

2)Jesus' disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them.

This is where we delve into the supernatural. This is where we leave actual science behind. Did the disciples "believe" or did they actually see Jesus. Did they know he arose, or did they believe he arose? All we have to go on is the bible. I do not have faith that what the bible says concerning supernatural events, is true.

3) The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed.

I have no problem giving you this. If we are to accept what is claimed in the bible, then we can accept that what is written co ncerning the natural may well have happened as it is written. Pauls conversion can easily be concluded to be a psychological event, perfectly natural occurance inside his head.

4)The skeptic James, brother of Jesus was suddenly changed.

Same as #3

5)The tomb was empty.

If what is written in the bible, concerning the tomb, is true, then it was indeed empty.

It's important to note a few things here:

a) The above evidence is considered historical fact.

Then why don't I consider it fact? What can possibly be keeping me, a rational thinking middle aged man, from seeing what you see, what others see? Why do I see that all five of these facts listed above have very little behind them, other than the page they are written on in the bible?

b) The question should be asked: "What is the best explanation of each of these facts."

I think the natural explination is always the best place to start. Start from what we KNOW and experience daily. start from what we know about human behavior, religious dilusion, rumers, biology, psychology. All these factors should be considered before making a conclusion about a claim of supernatural proportions.

c) If you disagree with the above five facts, then how do you explain the majority of scholars agreeing on them?

I don't necessarily disagree with the facts as stated. I disagree with the conclusion based on those facts. I disagree that those listed facts can lead to only one supernatural conclusion, which is a religious conclusion, not a natural conclusion that is much easier to arrive at based on the human experience.

d) I'm presenting historical data while you have yet to present the "few word" debunking you said you could provide of each of the above minimal facts.

You have presented 5 paraphrased bits from the bible and have claimed that it is historical data. You have not provided proof that it is historical data.

"Just how many non-Christian sources are there that mention Jesus? Including Josephus, there are ten known non-Christian writers who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life.

By contrast, over the same 150 years, there are nine non-Christian sources who mention Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus. So discounting all the Christian sources, Jesus is actually mentioned by one more source than the Roman emperor. If you include the Christian sources, authors mentioning Jesus outnumber those mentioning Tiberius 43 to 10!

I don't dispute that the Jesus of the bible, the man, may very well have lived and died. What non of these extra biblical sources can do though is add any credence to the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that he walked on water, or that he arose from the dead, supernaturally.

1. Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
2. He lived a virtuous life.
3. He was a wonder-worker.
4. He had a brother named James.
5. He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
6. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
7. He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
8. Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
9. His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
10. His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
11. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
12. His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God.

Clearly, anyone willing to consider the data can see that the non-biblical evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ indeed exists.

No, a thousand times no. We can conclude that he lived and that he died, perfectly natural events that every human being experiences. The resurection from the dead can not be reasonably concluded based on any available facts. It must be arrived at by faith alone.

Chad, you are obviously well read and inteligent. I thank you for all the time you have taken in responding. We just have a completely differing view of the evidence for the supernatural events in the bible. From my perspective, you believe them first, then try to find anything that can possibly fortify your faith. You have a deffinite interest in holding on to what you believe, so you look at the supporting evidence and give help it keep you where you already are.
I have no stake in either the natural or supernatural conclusion. If the biblical Jesus was born of a virgin and arose after his death, I would welcome the supporting facts proving to me that the bible is accurate concerning those events. But since they are supernatural events, I need something other than what people 2,000 years ago believed. Using Tiberius Caesar as a comparrison does not work, for his birth, life, and death are perfectly natural occurances. If there were supernatural claims about his life, then you and I both would need something other (more than) than the words from a 2,000 year old book.

Thanks for your time.

bob
ps - are you of the reformed Calvinistic belief? If so, I greatly appreciate the tone of your discussion. I have come across many from that camp who were increadibly hateful.
If you are not, I still thank you for your demenor.

Chad said...

Hello Bob,

I too appreciate your tone and thank you for the respectful discourse. I will never understand why those of different beliefs struggle so much to have rational discussions. Admittedly, Christians are guilty of this just as much as anyone else.

To me, regardless of what worldview one holds to, they are worthy of respect and kindness. I am not foolish enough to believe that I have everything figured out and am not above learning from anybody, including my own children. By the way, I also appreciate your time in considering the issues.

Okay, before you think you are reading a Hallmark card, I’ll get back to the issues at hand:

1) “I think the word "facts", "support", "evidence" are words that you and I place different meaning on.”

Bob, I believe it would help if you explain to me more specifically what you view as facts, support, and/or evidence. Perhaps if I understand your starting point, I can understand your conclusion better.

2) “I dispute the notion that, because people believed a certain thing a long time ago, that it in any way means that what they believe actually happened.”

Again, I’m not sure I understand the thinking behind this statement. Do you mean to say that because the Bible is very old that it is not worth believing? What if we have good reason to believe that the words written in the Bible have been recorded accurately through the years? You yourself claim that evidence is evidence whether it’s from the 1st century or the 21st century.

On a side note, I would challenge that statement in regard to history because the closer to the event something is recorded, the more trustworthy it is. A well-known historical principle is that “early testimony supports historical claims.”

3) Would it be an accurate statement to say that your objections are more about the supernatural and less about the actual historical record regarding the resurrection or the accuracy of the Bible?

4)“I disagree that those listed facts can lead to only one supernatural conclusion, which is a religious conclusion, not a natural conclusion that is much easier to arrive at based on the human experience.”

First off, any informed Christian should agree with you that natural causes should be considered first before even considering any others. However, what if no natural causes can account for the evidence? This is what I believe to be the power of Habermas’s argument: the best possible explanation of the 5 provided facts, when considered in the historical backdrop in which they took place, is that God rose Jesus from the dead. Naturalistic theories such as the swoon theory, Jesus didn’t die, etc., don’t account for what we know.

Further, if one limits themselves to naturalist conclusions for events, he or she will never come to the conclusion that there is evidence for the supernatural because by saying, “We can only consider natural causes,” we have manipulated the conclusion before examining the available evidence. In other words, when one insists on assuming that all events must be interpreted naturally he is arguing in a circle because he assumes his naturalistic stance in order to draw a conclusion.

5) “From my perspective, you believe them first, then try to find anything that can possibly fortify your faith. You have a definite interest in holding on to what you believe, so you look at the supporting evidence and give help it keep you where you already are.”

Even if this were completely true, it would have little impact on what is true. I was actually just talking to a friend about this very thing yesterday and we both agreed that we study and learn about apologetics and various beliefs/worldviews/objections because of the simple fact that we want to know what is true.

6) “You have presented 5 paraphrased bits from the bible and have claimed that it is historical data. You have not provided proof that it is historical data.”

What would you consider “proof that it’s historical data?”

7) “Then why don't I consider it fact? What can possibly be keeping me, a rational thinking middle aged man, from seeing what you see, what others see? Why do I see that all five of these facts listed above have very little behind them, other than the page they are written on in the bible?”

These are great questions worth wrestling with! However, aren’t you the one to answer them? How much have you studied the historical record of the resurrection, NT reliability, etc. Do you not know because you have tested the claims of the Christian faith and found them wanting, or do you not know because you haven’t sought answers to your questions/objections? Further, whether we believe something or not has nothing to do with whether or not it’s a fact. There are those who deny the holocaust, however, it’s still a fact.

Bob, I would like to offer you the book one more time. It’s a great resource that considers questions such as: 1) Is anything true?
2) Evidence for God (science, morality)
3) Did Jesus rise from the dead? 4) Can we trust the New Testament? 5) Who did Jesus claim to be?

You wrote:

“Rest assured, I would not be the slightest bit disappointed if there were any facts that supported the resurrection, virgin birth, etc. I think the word "facts", "support", "evidence" are words that you and I place different meaning on.”

I believe this book would provide you with evidence that may challenge your presuppositions.

Please consider it; it’s free of charge-my email is answers@explorefcf.com Just send me your address.

I give you my word there are NO strings attached.

Finally, I would be more than willing to discuss each minimal fact, in detail, via email if you are truly interested. I believe there is more to them than you believe.

Bob, I so appreciate your respectful tone, kind attitude, and time.

Please let me know regarding the book and the offer to explore the facts provided. Also, forgive me if it takes a few days or so to respond to your comments. I have 2 young daughters and I try to give them as much time as possible.

Respectfully