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apologetics, Apologetics of Christ, Undesigned Coincidences

Jesus’ Birth: How undesigned coincidences give evidence for the truth of the Gospel accounts

There are many charges raised against the historicity of the birth narratives of Jesus Christ. These run the gamut from objections based upon alleged contradictions to inconsistencies in the genealogies to incredulity over the possibility of a virgin birth. Rather than make a case to rebut each of these objections in turn, here I will focus upon using undesigned coincidences to note how these birth narratives of Christ have the ring of truth. How exactly do undesigned coincidences work? Simply put, they are incidental details that confirm historical details of stories across reports. I have written more extensively on how these can be used as an argument for the historicity of the Gospels: Undesigned Coincidences- The Argument Stated. It should be noted that the birth narrative occurs only in Matthew and Luke. John begins with a direct link of Christ to God, while Mark characteristically skips ahead to the action. Thus, there are only a few places to compare these stories across different reports. However, both Mark and John have incidental details which hint at the birth account. These incidental details lend power to the notion that the birth narratives of Jesus are historical events.

Joseph

First, there is one undesigned coincidence that is such a gaping hole and such a part of these narratives most people will probably miss it. Namely, what in the world was Joseph thinking in Luke!? Do not take my word for this–look up Luke chapters 1-2. Read them. See anything missing? That’s right! Joseph, who is pledged to a virgin named Mary (1:27) doesn’t say anything at all about the fact that his bride-to-be is suddenly pregnant. There is no mention of him worrying at all about it.

So far as we can tell from Luke, Joseph, who we only know as a descendant of David here, is going to be wed to a virgin and then finds out that she’s pregnant. He’s not the father? What’s his reaction? We don’t find out until Luke 2, where Joseph simply takes Mary with him to be counted in the census, dutifully takes Jesus to the Temple, and that’s about it. Isn’t he wondering anything about this child? It’s not his! What happened?

Only by turning to Matthew 1:18ff do we find out that Joseph did have his second thoughts, but that God sent an angel explaining that Mary had not been unfaithful, and that the baby was a gift of the Holy Spirit. So we have an explanation for why Joseph acted as he did in Luke. Now these are independent accounts, and it would be hard to say that Luke just decided to leave out the portion about Joseph just because he wanted to have Matthew explain his account.

The genealogies of Jesus that Matthew and Luke include are different, but they reflect the meta-narratives going on within each Gospel. Luke’s narrative generally points out the women throughout in a positive light, and it is often argued that his genealogy traces the line of Mary. Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, traces through Jesus’ legal father, Joseph. Now it could be argued that these are simply reflections of the authors’ imaginations within their fictional accounts, but surely including names with descendants tracing all the way back to Abraham and beyond is not a good way to construct a fictional account. No, Matthew and Luke include the genealogies because their accounts are grounded in history.

Incidental Details

Interestingly, the birth narratives of Jesus also help explain the events reported in Mark and John, which do not report His birth. What of the apparent familiarity John had with Jesus in Mark 1:3ff and John 1:19ff? It seems a bit odd for John to go around talking about someone else “out there” who will be better in every way than he himself is without knowing who this other person is. Well, looking back at Matthew and Luke, we find that Mary and Elizabeth (John’s mother) knew each other and had visited each other during their pregnancy. It seems a foregone conclusion that they continued to interact with each other after the births of their sons, which would explain John’s apparent familiarity with Jesus in Mark and John.

Strangely, Mark never mentions Joseph as Jesus’ father. If all we had was Mark’s Gospel, we would be very confused about who Jesus’ father is. The oddness is compounded by the fact that Mary is mentioned a number of times. Well okay, that still seems pretty incidental. But what about the fact that Mark explicitly has a verse where he lists Mary as well as Jesus’ siblings?

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3, ESV)

This verse seems extremely weird. After all, Joseph was a carpenter (well, a more accurate translation is probably “craftsman”) and yet despite Mark explicitly using that word for Jesus, as well as listing Mary and Jesus’ siblings, we still see nothing but silence regarding Jesus’ father. Well, of course! After all, when we turn to the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, we find that Jesus was born of a virgin. Jesus had no human father. Thus, Mark, ever the concise master of words, simply omits Joseph from details about Jesus’ life. But to not mention Jesus’ father in a largely patriarchal society alongside his mother and siblings seems extremely strange. It is only explained by the fact of the virgin birth, with which Mark would have been familiar. However, Mark didn’t see the birth narrative as important in his “action Gospel.” Only by turning to Matthew and Luke do we find an explanation for the strange omission of Joseph from Mark’s Gospel.

Conclusion

I have listed just a few undesigned coincidences to be gleaned from the birth narratives of Jesus. The fact of the matter is that these can be multiplied almost indefinitely if one looks at the whole of the Gospels, and even moreso if one investigates the whole Bible. These incidental details fit together in such a way as to give the Gospels the ring of truth. The way that Matthew fills in details of Luke, Mark demonstrates his familiarity with the birth narratives, and the intimate connections of Jesus and John are all cross-confirmed is both incidental and amazing. The claim is not that based upon these incidences alone the Gospel accounts are true. No, the claim is that those who challenge the truth of these accounts must account for these incidences in a way that is more plausible than that they simply occur when people relate history. It seems that the only way to do that would be to resort to outlandish narratives that involve the four authors sitting together and discussing which portions of stories to leave out so the others can fill them in. No, instead it seems much more likely that these four authors were writing what they had witnessed–or received from eyewitness testimony, and just as we do when recounting events (think of 9/11, for example, and the different things people remember) they wrote specific details they felt were important or part of the narrative, while the others found other things more important or had other incidental knowledge related to the events they recorded.

SDG.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

43 thoughts on “Jesus’ Birth: How undesigned coincidences give evidence for the truth of the Gospel accounts

  1. First, I love these “incidental details” that confirm the authenticity of the Bible (there’s a lot in the OT too). But I have to take issue with two point you make:
    1) You write: “In John 4:5, we learn that Jesus is coming near to Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. That’s another confirmation outside of Matthew for the accuracy of his account.” But isn’t John 4:5 talking about the Jacob and Joseph of the Old Testament, not about Jesus’s father and grandfather? John 4:5 can hardly be a confirmation of anything since this fact is so well known from Genesis.
    2) You write about Mark 6:3 “Mark explicitly using that word for Jesus, as well as listing Mary and Jesus’ siblings, we still see nothing but silence regarding Jesus’ father.” The NIV text notes for this verse indicate that Jesus’s father (Joseph) has probably died by this point. As far as I know, he is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament after the birth narratives. But, as you point out, his brothers and Mary are mentioned on multiple occasions – therefore it seems likely to me that he had simply died (or much less likely) had abandoned the family.

    On another topic, probably my favorite “unintended coincidence” comes from the crossing of the Jordan River. The text mentions that the river was at flood stage, which happens in early spring due to snowmelt on Mt Horeb. Interestingly in the previous chapter the spies were staying up on Rahab’s roof “under the flax”. Flax was harvested in the early spring and laid on rooftops to dry. Before the days of Google (and supposedly living hundreds of years after the events), what are the chances that the authors could have gotten this detail correct?

    Posted by tumeyn | December 10, 2012, 9:22 AM
    • Ah! thanks for the comment and the correction on the first point. Regarding the second: even though Joseph was likely dead, I find it inconceivable that Mark would not have listed him in these places, particularly when he describes Jesus as having the same profession. It’s not as though we stop talking about people’s fathers just because they passed away. My dad is a pastor, just like his father was. That’s a perfectly natural fact to include, and in a patriarchal society like the one in which Mark was written I find it astonishing that Joseph is left out, unless you turn to the birth narratives. It may not be a particularly strong coincidence, but I think it is one nonetheless.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 10, 2012, 10:34 AM
  2. Wonderful stuff, guys (J. W. and Tumeyn). I don’t know if it qualifies for additional data regarding Joseph, but Luke 2:35 records Simeon saying, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also…” Who was he speaking to? Was it only Mary? Was it because Mary was the only one who would be around to see Jesus die? Just wondering.

    Posted by Anthony Baker | December 10, 2012, 11:07 AM
  3. “…these four authors were writing what they had witnessed…”

    But the authors of the Gospels weren’t witnesses to Christ’s birth, right?

    How did Luke know, for example, that Joseph had had his doubts prior to the revelation that Mary had become pregnant via the Holy Spirit? Did he (or any of them) interview Joseph?

    Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | December 10, 2012, 11:15 AM
    • Perfect! I appreciate all these pressing comments. You’re right. I was writing broad-brush there and have revised it to mention the dependence upon eyewitness testimony. Thanks.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 10, 2012, 11:33 AM
      • So, in the end, this is all dependent on the veracity of a handful of 2,000 year old eye-witness testimonies. What about Sathya Sai Baba who has tens of thousands of eye-witness testimonies from this half of this century? His skeptics challenged him to repeat the miracles under scientific scrutiny, would the eye-witness accounts you reference stand up to such inquiry?

        Posted by C | December 10, 2012, 4:40 PM
      • Um, what about Sathya Sai Baba? What point are you trying to make? Regarding your second question:

        would the eye-witness accounts you reference stand up to such inquiry?

        I doubt the genuineness of this question, but I’m going to go ahead and answer it: yes.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 10, 2012, 4:43 PM
      • Sure thing.

        Regarding the eyewitnesses: if Luke was, indeed, written between AD 75-100, wouldn’t these eyewitnesses have been 95-120 years old at the time of composition?

        Even if we ere on the side of best case scenarios for age, the eye-witnesses would be around 50+ in a time when average life expectancy was around 25-30.

        I’m saying this proves anything at all…merely that it is unlikely that even a few eyewitnesses would have survived to the start of Jesus’ ministry much less to the time the gospels were written…

        Thoughts?

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | December 10, 2012, 7:33 PM
      • The assumption here is that the text is the first form of the Gospel, which I would dispute. I think that the Gospels were passed on orally before they were written down, probably around the time those who had witnessed the events began to pass away/be killed. Furthermore, as far as the life expectancy goes, I’d be really curious to see your source for that, and don’t just link me to some random web page. After all, Josephus notes people who lived to be over a hundred among the Essenes. That of course wouldn’t mean the average life expectancy were much lower–rather, it would just be evidence that people could live longer which is obvious anyway–but seriously: where’s the source? From a simple search I found people authoritatively claiming life expectancy at 20-28, 42-62, 60-68, 19-24, etc. So you’ll have to be forgiving that I’m a bit skeptical of your confidence there. And of course, life expectancy doesn’t somehow limit the ages of people.

        But again, I don’t think it matters anyway because the Gospels were originally orally passed on. That, at least, seems to me to best explain a number of things about them which are pretty much irrelevant to this conversation.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 10, 2012, 9:20 PM
      • shoot…I hate typing on an iPad #firstworldproblems

        I meant 50+ at the time Jesus began his ministry and that this does NOT prove anything.

        Sorry.

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | December 10, 2012, 7:34 PM
      • Andrew Marburger: “written between AD 75-100”

        The problem with this scenario, however, is that there is no evidence that it was written that late, conflicting even with the internal evidence, which offers plentiful markers pointing to a pre-70 AD date, like for example the mention of the temple. Had the gospel been written later there would have been a clarification that the sayings and wonders of Jesus happened before the temple was destroyed, or at leadt, the language garbed in past tense.

        Posted by Ironclad | December 11, 2012, 1:45 PM
  4. “Um, what about Sathya Sai Baba? What point are you trying to make?” I doubt you believe that he was actually performing the miracles that were attributed to him – yet the eye-witness accounts are far more recent and far more numerous. Why you believe a handful of testimonies from the bronze age as opposed to (some say) millions from a few decades ago? I’m sure one could find ‘undesigned consequences’ in his testimonials as well, don’t you think?

    Posted by C | December 10, 2012, 6:10 PM
    • I don’t doubt that all kinds of miracles occur today. I haven’t read any accounts of them in regards to Sathya Sai Baba, so I can’t comment directly upon them, but it seems that you’re trying to somehow present this as an argument against my position. Yet where have I denied that other miracles can occur? It seems to me your own position is leaking through in what you are assuming I believe.

      So again, what exactly is your point?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 10, 2012, 6:23 PM
      • I don’t think that your argument that ‘undesigned coincidences give evidence for the truth of the Gospel accounts’ is a compelling one. I don’t believe that Sai Baba can levitate, walk on water, transform inanimate objects or any of the nonsense attributed to him – but I’m sure you could find ‘undesigned coincidences’ if you tried. That simply does not ‘give evidence for the truth’ of his accounts.

        My point is undesigned coincidences do not give evidence for the truth of the Gospel accounts.

        Posted by C | December 11, 2012, 10:50 AM
      • So your point is that you dismiss them based upon an a priori bias against the miraculous. I’m sorry, but I don’t find that very convincing.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 11, 2012, 5:47 PM
      • C wrote: “Sai Baba……I’m sure you could find ‘undesigned coincidences’ if you tried.”

        Hello. Concerning what you wrote above, what would those undesigned coincidences look like as applied in the case of Sai Baba? Are you talking about biographers chronicling his actions like Luke and John did with Jesus? The Undesigned Coincidences would only establish that fraud was not at play. It doesn’t necessarily go to the grain of the actual events being described.

        Posted by Ironclad | December 11, 2012, 6:14 PM
      • “undesigned coincidences do NOT give evidence for the truth of [ ]”

        A true statement that does not require an ‘a priori bias against the miraculous.’

        Posted by C | December 11, 2012, 6:33 PM
      • A claim that is not backed up.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 11, 2012, 6:44 PM
  5. Jesus did not have siblings. Brethren in his time refers to relatives such as cousins. Mary’s virginity is perpetual, the Ark of the Covenant prefigures Mary. Just as the Ark was a spotless vessel so Christ chose a spotless vessel to carry Him.

    Posted by Mary Ann McAtee | December 10, 2012, 6:55 PM
    • That’s certainly an interesting perspective. The text, however, does say “brother” so I’m inclined to think that Jesus did have siblings.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 10, 2012, 9:12 PM
      • You may want to consider the language of early texts not just modern translation of the word “brother”. I am also relying on the Sacred Tradition of the Church in understanding Mary’s role in salvation history. The Bible is also part of Sacred Tradition handed down from the Church and can get confusing with numerous interpretations. So I’m saying basically its a question of Authority, obviously I’m opening a pandoras box for many more discussions.

        Posted by Mary Ann McAtee | December 11, 2012, 8:36 AM
    • Mary:

      Matthew 1.24–25 states,

      When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.

      Would you agree that Matthew’s account seems to imply that Joseph had marital relations with Mary after she gave birth to Jesus?

      Posted by Thomas Larsen | December 10, 2012, 10:30 PM
      • I’m sorry, I’m at work and don’t have a lot of time but I would be glad to do further research for you on this. Basically it’s about the way the word “until” is used in scripture, for instance there is a verse in Samuel I believe that says “his bones remained buried until”……does that mean until they dug them up? Doubtful. Or in Acts where states “Christ will reign until”…,does that imply one day he won’t be King? That’s absurd. Have you ever considered why Jesus entrusted His Mother to John when He was on cross? That isn’t logical if he had siblings because at the time and in the culture that would have been unnecessary if she had other siblings. I’d be happy to discuss further but my main point was this cannot be interpreted by individuals because you get as many interpretations as individuals. Where did the Bible come from and how do you know it’s true, that’s the fundamental question,

        Posted by Mary Ann McAtee | December 11, 2012, 12:24 PM
    • Greetings!

      Mary: “Jesus did not have siblings,”

      It would be odd for the text to be referring to the mother of Jesus and then mention “other relatives” aside from the most obvious, the actual, fundamental composition of the family unit, i.e., father, mother and their children. Why mention the other relatives as if this had any importance if not Jesus’ actual family? And who are we talking about? Uncles, nieces, cousins? If you say cousins, for example, what are they doing following Mary as if she were their mother? That’s not the gist one gets from reading the passage,

      Great blog entry, btw.

      Posted by Ironclad | December 11, 2012, 12:36 AM
      • Please see above postings. The original Greek and Aramaic writings did not have a precise word for the word “cousin”.

        Posted by Mary Ann McAtee | December 11, 2012, 1:04 PM
      • Mary: “The original Greek and Aramaic writings did not have a precise word for the word “cousin”

        My contention was not so much the word but the context in which it is wrapped. Why mention “relatives” as if this had any importance? Who are these relatives, and if they are really not siblings of Jesus, why are they following Mary around? Sounds odd if they are uncles, nephews or cousins. The passage only makes sense if these were the children of Mary.

        Posted by Ironclad | December 11, 2012, 6:29 PM
      • Dear Ironclad
        Please read the lengthier post I wrote last night and get back to me. I think I may have already answered your question, if not I’ll try again. Frankly I think it’s obvious why they “followed Mary around”, she was probably with Jesus much of the time and wouldn’t that mean his followers were there too? I realize this area is a stumbling block for many but I felt called to respond, I only ask you consider the reasoning for her need to be a spotless vessel.

        Posted by Mary Ann McAtee | December 12, 2012, 8:58 AM
  6. /Jesus did not have siblings/ – Really? Do you have any scriptural evidence for this?

    I think the scriptures actually say otherwise:

    Matthew 12:46-47 “While He was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. And someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.”

    Matthew 13:55 – “Is not this the carpenters son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?”

    Mark 6:2-3 – “And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?”

    John 2:12 – “After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother, and His brothers, and His disciples; and there they stayed a few days.”

    Acts 1:14 – “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”

    1 Cor. 9:4-5 – “Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?”

    Gal. 1:19 – But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lords brother.”

    Posted by chonn1 | December 10, 2012, 10:30 PM
    • OK, I apologize to the author for getting a little off topic here. I will do my best to defend the perpetual virginity of Mary and I am open to any debate as long as everyone (including myself) is charitable. Here goes:As I stated in earlier responses the interpretation from the original text can be confusing due to cultural circumstances as well as language restrictions. For example, there is not a Greek or Aramaic precise word for cousin. The Greek word is “adelphos” which could include “brothers” in a tribal manner, a national meaning, community or common interest all could mean “brother” though not in the literal blood brother manner. As a Christian, I consider you my “brother” in Christ or “sister” as the case may be. In the Old Testament, Abraham refers to Lot as his “brethren” even though he is really his nephew. Our use of modern language can be confusing.
      Also, some believe it is possible that Joseph could have children from a previous marriage and the “brothers” are his stepbrothers but that would not change the perpetual virginity of Mary. Also, Jesus is mentioned as having brethren but there is not a scriptural reference to Mary having other children. The “other Mary” who is referred to at the cross is the mother of James and Joseph (wife of clopas I think), some confuse her as Jesus’ mother. I also mentioned in an earlier response that Jesus entrusted His Mother to John as he was dying on the cross. If he had brothers to guard and protect her, his request would be completely illogical especially in that time and culture, that would have been the responsibility of his siblings.
      The Early Church Fathers wrote about Mary as “ever virgin” including Athanasius 293-373, Jerome 345-419, Augustine 354-430, cyril 376-444 as well as the Council of Constanipole (553-554) referring to Mary as “ever virgin.” so there is historical evidence to back up my position. Even the Reformers Luther, Calvin and Zwingli believed and wrote about the perpetual virginity of Mary.
      So, I did my best to meet you on your terms (Biblical) to convince you. But here’s the catch, I admire your knowledge and passion and reverence for Sacred Scripture TOTALLY, that’s awesome but as I said in earlier responses, there are as many individual interpretations as there are individuals. I am guessing you are coming from a Sola Scriptora point of view (can you show me where that is in the Bible?) and we could argue all day and night with our opposing intrepretations on EVERYTHING! How did the Church function/organize/instruct before the New Testament was officially approved as inspired by the Holy Spirit? How did it continue to grow for centuries when there were only a few handwritten copies in the world? How about before the invention of the printing press? Sacred Scripture, Tradition and the Magesterium work together under the action of the Holy Spirit to communicate Truth. Timothy 3:15 says “the Church is the bulwark of Truth”. In 2 Thes 2:15 St Paul says “stand firm and hold fast to traditions that were taught either by oral structures or letter”. Christ knew when he established Church on Earth that we would need the Magesterium to safeguard and interpret the word of God both oral and written. Otherwise, everybody thinks they know what God really meant (gnostism) so you could even have some intrepreting that homosexuality is just fine because that’s how they intrepret it, see what I mean? So I’ve probably made this complicated but I’m saying the perpetual virginity of Mary has been taught by the Church historically and theologically since it’s inception. The Virgin birth of Our Savior is a mystery and part of God’s plan in the fullness of time. As a mere human being I am never going to fully grasp this mystery while on Earth but I have faith that it happened as the Sacrad deposit of the Faith (through scripture, tradition and the magesterium of the Church) teach.
      “Mary’s perpetual virginity points us unmistakeably to the Christological mystery of the Eternal Word becoming flesh in Mary’s womb, in the marriage (without commingling) of the human and divine through God’s marvelous condescension” Dei Verbum No 1

      I submit the above with all due respect and sincerity. May God bless you and all who read this blog sight. I wiil do my best to answer any further questions.
      Ad Majorum Dei Glorium (All for the Greater Glory of God) Mary Ann

      Posted by Mary Ann McAtee | December 11, 2012, 5:24 PM
      • Hi Mary. In reading your lengthy response to the poster chonn1, as you have prompted me in another posting, I noted your following observation:

        Mary: ” If he had brothers to guard and protect her, his request would be completely illogical especially in that time and culture, that would have been the responsibility of his siblings.”

        There are a few problems with this interpretation:

        (1) It goes against the logic you’ve been using that aims at broadening the Hebrew word for ‘brother.’ If these people following Mary (Mt 12) are in fact ‘relatives’ instead of her children, then, why shouldn’t the responsibility of taking care of her fall on them also? Obviously, she was not alone. The same logic you used to negate Jesus’ brothers also negates the ‘relatives’ who were showing concern for Mary.

        (2) Your argument does not give room for the full expression of ancient Jewish customs and laws, and the ramifications that they entail in the hermeneutics of the biblical text. In Mark 12, for example, Jesus is presented with a challenge by the Sadducees concerning the Mosaic code of allowing men to marry their dead brothers’ widows, which was also a normal part of the “time and culture” of those days. Taking care of widows or lonely women was not just only the responsibility of progeny.

        (3) Part and parcel to # 2 above, the person wishing to argue that the Hebrew word for ‘brother’ has a much larger semantic meaning than just ‘sibling’ is now burdened with the task of clarifying for us what particular relative is the word referring to in the context of the given passage. You have yet to define what the word ‘relative’ in the context of Matthew 12 means. Who is the text referring to if not the brothers of Jesus? And what are the reasons for justifying that definition, strictly from the biblical text?

        (4) In Galatians 1:19, Paul identifies a James as brother of Jesus, which is a confirmation of Matthew 13:55-56 where we are introduced to three additional ‘relatives’: Joses, Simon, and Judas, in addition to ‘sisters.’ Here again the traditional family unit is reemphasized. It talks of a father, a mother, and their children, exactly what one would expect of a traditional household. It would be odd if nieces or uncles or grandparents were mixed in [accomplished by the word ‘relative’] as that is not the fundamental family cell we have come to know about.

        (5) As the reader would notice, the text also talks of ‘sisters.’ I ask, does the Hebrew word there also carry an ambiguous meaning as under the moniker for ‘relative’? I argue that it does not, and the insertion of the two genitival terms makes the case, since the latter word supposed to be all-inclusive. The Bible is not being given justice if we simply throw about words without appreciating and elaborating on their fuller meanings.

        Posted by Ironclad | December 12, 2012, 1:42 PM
    • I forgot to add another item:

      (6) John 7:5 states that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him, and the passage makes it seem as they were looking at Jesus with derision. That would explain why Mary was not with Jesus’ male “relatives” at the cross and why John was chosen as her spiritual son, for all the other ten disciples had disappeared as well, another Undesigned Coincidence to add to our collection.

      Posted by Ironclad | December 12, 2012, 2:46 PM
      • Ok, here’s the thing: as I mentioned earlier we could go on forever dissecting and scrutinizing everything in the Bible and debate every issue ad infinitium. And rightly we should study and meditate on God’s word everyday. But we run into trouble we we combine conjecture, imagination modem day customs and culture and opinion into what we are reading. I, Mary Ann McAtee, have not been given authority by God to interpret scripture, He gave that Authority to His Church. I can and do ask the Holy Spirit to guide me in praying and reading scripture but individuals do not have that authority, that is the reason for so much division and splintering. I look to the Sacrad Deposit of the Church ( scripture, tradition and magesterium) to guide me in all things including Mary’s perpetual virginity, pro-life teachings, teachings on sanctity of marriage, etc. An analogy would be if you wanted to take a trip to Washington DC. The first thing you would do is get a map and that’s the easiest, surest way to reach your destination. Now you could try to figure out on your own how to get there, you might have a lot of opinions about best way or get ideas from friends and hash it out or just start driving and do the best you can on your own…… But the map gives you the FREEDOM to get there most efficaciously. So it’s a question of Authority ( “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it”) and this Authority is exactly where your Bible came from, not the other way around. And lastly, the Church teaches that at the cross St John the apostle represents us, the followers of Christ, when he said “behold your Mother” He was giving Mary to us. To imitate Christ is to honor (not worship) His Mother. Just as at the first miracle at Cana when she said “do whatever He tells you”, Mary always points to her Son. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”
        God bless!

        Posted by Mary Ann McAtee | December 13, 2012, 9:56 AM
      • I would like to apologize again to JW for getting off your original topic. I read your post from a FB friend, this is really the first time I have participated in a blog discussion like this, I was not trying to provoke and I’m sorry about that although I do enjoy a charitable debate. Thank you, Mary Ann

        Posted by Mary Ann McAtee | December 13, 2012, 10:04 AM
      • Hello there again!

        Mary: “I, Mary Ann McAtee, have not been given authority by God to interpret scripture, He gave that Authority to His Church.

        I respectfully disagree as that would contradict such clear passages as:

        John 14:16-17And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another HELPER, to be with you forever, even the SPIRIT OF TRUTH, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for HE DWELLS WITH YOU and will be IN YOU.

        John 14:26the COUNSELOR, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, WILL TEACH YOU ALL THINGS and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

        John 15:26When the COUNSELOR comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he WILL TESTIFY about me.

        John 16:13-15But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, HE WILL GUIDE you into all truth…..That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and MAKE IT KNOWN TO YOU.

        Lest one is misguided that these directives were only meant for the Apostles and the original church, take heed what the Apostle Peter said in Acts 2:38-39 concerning this Counselor, Helper and Teacher:

        Peter replied “Repent and be babtized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. THE PROMISE IF FOR YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN AND FOR ALL WHO ARE FAR OFF–for all whom the Lord our God will call.

        Additionally and apart from the Promise elucidated above…..

        Acts 17:11Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and EXAMINED THE SCRIPTURES every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Note that the Bereans were diligently searching the scriptures apart from any endorsement from Jerusalem or any other ecclesiastical governing body, to see if what Paul, an authority figure himself, was really telling the truth. And indeed they were able to find the truth!

        1 John 4:1Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but TEST THE SPIRITS to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The Apostle is laying the responsibility of testing the spirits upon the individual members of the local churches. And this type of testing would by necessity involve analysis of scriptures, e.g., comparing an alleged prophecy to what was already written, without having to wait for a decree from a central institution.

        2 Timothy 2:15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by Him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, RIGHTLY EXPLAINING THE WORD OF TRUTH.” To rightly explain the Word requires personal study and searching of scriptures.

        There are a ton more, but these are sufficient to give us a general idea of our God-given responsibility towards the study of the holy writ.

        May God richly bless you as you continue in your own personal study!

        Posted by Ironclad | December 13, 2012, 2:13 PM
      • You are absolutely correct, invoking the Holy Spirit when reading Scripture is proper in understanding God’s love and mercy and action in our lives, sorry if I was unclear. I am referring to Church teachings and doctrine, the multiple authorities, opinions, disagreements and splintering can be problematic. May God bless you too Ironclad, I admire your passion.

        Posted by Mary Ann McAtee | December 13, 2012, 6:58 PM
  7. The name of Jesus’s father, “Joseph” is not mentioned by either Paul or Mark, our earliest sources, and only appears for the first time in GMatthew’s genealogy (a genealogy whose historical authenticity remains in question). It also just happens that Joseph is the same name of the patriarch whose bones were moved from Egypt to Palestine, thus “coming out of Egypt” as Jesus does in Matthew’s first chapter. Therefore, “Joseph” forms a neat framing device in GMatt since GMark said Jesus was buried by a “Joseph of Arimathea.” But now another Joseph, mentioned for the first time in GMat, is also Jesus’s father! And of course, the name Joseph even in Mark where it is only mentioned at the end of his Gospel in reference to Jesus’s burial harkens back to the burial bones of Joseph being removed from Egypt and moved to Palestine, which may be exactly what the author of GMatthew picked up on after reading GMark and developed into a tale about Jesus coming out of Egypt led by his father “Joseph.”

    Posted by edwardtbabinski | December 24, 2016, 12:35 AM
    • Thanks for stopping by. I cannot begin to fully answer the points you’ve raised here, but I do want to offer a few things by way of comment. First, I find the argument made in this first comment regarding Joseph to be indicative of some of the conspiratorial tone that follows. The name “Joseph” was an incredibly common name at the time of Jesus’ birth, and so it would hardly be surprising that multiple Josephs would show up in the Gospels. Rather than inferring some conspiracy theory, why not take note of the commonality of the name? But that would not fit the narrative required for much of the rest of the comments here.

      This attitude continues when a comment is made about Markan priority as though it is some kind of controversial secret: “Even Richard Bauckham affirms Markan priority.” Okay. And? But again this is used to try to build a broader argument than what follows from it. Rather than granting something that seems clear–Matthew and Luke had additional sources–it is alleged that these Gospels built upon or even invented more stories than Mark contained. But that is an astonishing claim. Are we to suppose that Mark’s short Gospel truly contained everything Jesus ever did, as well as all possible details of his life? Well, apparently so, because the conclusion that is given is that if Mark came first, the only way to have additional information would be “building on [the Gospel of] Mark over time.” Moreover, even if it were the case that the other Gospels did just build upon Mark over time, what follows from that? Not much, so far as I can tell.

      The final comment is much more involved but it again builds upon the conspiratorial attitude found in the first two. Rather than granting that Mary did not know everything about her son and so would be worried about some of the claims he was making as well as his teachings (what human parent does not worry, after all?) the evidence is suggested to be some kind of Christian conspiracy to silence part of the Bible in which Mary and others think Jesus may have been insane. But such allegations are strange, and because the RSV doesn’t utilize a specific grammatical rule in the way you think it ought to be used, the inference is that some cover-up is going on. Now it should be known that all translations are themselves acts of interpretation and that it is the case that translators often nuance texts for any number of reasons (consistency of English language; translating idioms; etc.) and it is possible that in some cases this is due to attempts to change doctrinal teachings in the text (a good example of this, imo, is the ESV’s change to saying Junia, a woman, is of note “to” the apostles rather than “among” them because the latter would go against the ideas of those who believe only men should have places of authority in the church). But this hardly does anything regarding the original text, or its teachings.

      So really, as I think I’ve asked in the past, I must ask why you take this conspiratorial tone? Do you take such a hyper-critical attitude when it comes to sources you agree with? Do you believe that any discrepancy in any text means they must be false/mistaken/etc? I doubt it. But such is the case with so many alleged skeptics and free-thinkers. It only applies when they want it to.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 24, 2016, 1:48 PM
      • Just another quote to reinforce the points I’m making. You wrote, “Interesting that neither the earliest Gospel regarded the (supposed) virgin birth even worth mentioning, even though it later became a bedrock belief of mainstream Christianity.”

        I find this an astonishing method of historiography. Basically, if the earliest source doesn’t mention something, it is thrown into doubt. I guess that all kinds of things we know from both the ancient world and even modern times must be doubted, because after all, the earliest sources didn’t mention every single thing that happened in every single historical event. But again, this is the way that someone doing history with an agenda operates. There are double standards. There are allegations of conspiracies. I find it disturbing, but not very enlightening.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 24, 2016, 1:52 PM
  8. “Undesigned coincidences” has never been considered a scholarly way to examine and compare the Gospels or as proof of eyewitness testimony. In some cases the coincidences are due to human ingenuity as to what to compare, and after the fact. In other cases it is a matter of a later Gospel writer expanding upon tales in the earliest Gospel, GMark, or later Gospel writers expanding on oral tales whose origins we do not know, eyewitness or not, we do not know the origins of such oral tales. Lastly, over 90% of GMark is reproduced by GMatt and GLuke including incidental connecting phrases in the original Greek. So Markan literary priority has much going for it. Even Richard Bauckham affirms Markan priority. And this implies literary connections and building on GMark over time.

    Posted by edwardtbabinski | December 24, 2016, 2:20 AM
  9. Does Mark’s Gospel Implicitly Deny the Virgin Birth?

    The earliest Gospel (which is our first Gospel, Mark, does not have the story of the Virgin birth and shows no clue that it is familiar with the stories of the Virgin birth. On the contrary, there are passages in Mark that appear to work *against* the idea that Jesus’s mother knew anything about his having had an extraordinary birth.

    Consider Mark 3:20-21 about Jesus’ family coming to take him out of the public eye because they thought he was crazy. A number of translations go out of their way to make it say something that it probably doesn’t say. The context is that Jesus has been doing extraordinary miracles, attracting enormous crowds, and raising controversy among the Jewish leaders. Jesus then chooses his disciples and they go with him into a house. And then come our verses.

    In the Greek the passage literally says that “those who were beside him came forth” in order to seize him.

    Who is this group that has come? It is widely thought among translators and interpreters – and I think this has to be right – that “those who were beside him” means “his family.” It cannot mean the disciples, because they are already with him in the house. It must be people who were personally attached to Jesus (that’s what the phrase “were beside him” means). And so that appears to leave his family members. No one else is “on his side,” as it were.

    Why then did his family members come? Because they thought he was EXESTH. Whatever the word means, it can’t be good. The whole point of this section of Mark is that Jesus is finding opposition everywhere he turns, despite all the miracles he is doing. The Pharisees are against him because they don’t think he has authority to do the things he does (2:24, 3:2). They become so outraged at his activities that they team up with the Herodians to decide to kill him (3:6). The scribes are against him because they think that he has blasphemed against God (2:6) and that he does his mighty works because he is possessed by the Devil, Beelzebub (3:22). Even his family members – those who stand beside him – think that he is EXESTH.

    The word EXESTH literally means “to stand outside of oneself.” It is a phrase comparable to the English phrase “to be out of your mind.” In other words, it means “he has gone crazy.”

    And so 3:21-22 can be translated “Now when his family heard these things they came out in order to seize him, for they were saying “He is out of his mind.”

    Some translators don’t like that way of putting it, not because of any grammatical or lexical issues with the Greek, but simply because they can’t get their heads around Jesus’ family members thinking that he has gone crazy. And so, to avoid the problem, they sometimes change the translation – not because of what the Greek says, but because of what they think it *ought* to say. And so they translate it as saying that his family has come to take him out of the public eye because “people were saying that ‘He is beside himself.’” (Thus the RSV, for example.)

    This is really taking liberties with the Greek. In Greek, the subject of a sentence is often not expressed because it can be found in the form of the verb itself. I will try to explain this simply. In English, when we write or speak a sentence that requires a pronoun (“I” “you” He” “she” “they” “Those ones” “These ones”) we actually give the pronoun. In Greek and other “inflected” languages, the pronouns are already built into the verb. So the verb is spelled differently, with a different ending, whether you want the subject to be “I” “you” “she” “we” etc. It was *possible* for Greek to use pronouns, of course, and it often does when it wants to place special emphasis on the subject. But in normal speech it was not necessary.

    Now the rule is that if a sentence containing a verb does not have an explicit pronoun, and the subject within the sentence itself is ambiguous, then the implied subject (found in the ending of the verb) is the immediately preceding noun or pronoun (or other substantive). So that if you have a sentence that says “He jumped over the ditch,” you actually do not know who the “he” is unless you look in the preceding context and see, right before this sentence, something like, “James ran into the field.” Then you know that the “He” that is jumping over the ditch is James.

    Apologies for the grammar lesson here, but it matters. In Mark 3:21, when it says “for they were saying” there is no noun or pronoun expressed to indicated who the “they” is. And so, by the rules of grammar, it almost certainly refers to the closest antecedent, which in this case is “those who were on his side,” i.e., his family. In other words, the ones who came to seize him were the ones saying that he is out of his mind.

    The RSV translators were not happy with that view though, evidently because of its implications. But its implications are the very point of the passage and of this post. (As I’ll explain in just one second.) Still, not liking what the verse actually said, the RSV translators interpreted it and re-translated it so the English says something different from the Greek. Their English version adds the word “people” – not found in the Greek – to explain who, in the translators’ opinion, were saying that Jesus had gone crazy. And now what the story means is that the family of Jesus wanted to take him from the public eye because there were people out there saying that he was nuts. But that’s not what the Greek says. The Greek says that the family came to seize him because they were saying that he was nuts.

    And who would be included in his family? It becomes pretty clear later in the chapter. For once again his family members come, and we’re told that it is “his mother and his brothers” (3:31) – in another interesting passage where Jesus appears to reject them in favor of his followers (3:31-34).

    What does all this have to do with the Virgin birth? Mark does not narrate an account of Jesus’ birth. Mark never says a word about Jesus’ mother being a virgin. Mark does not presuppose that Jesus had an unusual birth of any kind. And in Mark (you don’t find this story in Matthew and Luke!), Jesus’ mother does not seem to know that he is a divinely born son of God. On the contrary, she thinks he has gone out of his mind. Mark not only lacks a virgin birth story; it seems to presuppose that there never could have been a virgin birth. Or Mary would understand who Jesus is. But she does not.

    It’s no wonder that when Matthew and Luke took over so many of the stories of Mark, they decided, both of them, *not* to take over Mark 3:20-21. They had completely different view of Jesus’ mother and his birth.

    SOURCE: Bart Ehrman
    ———-
    Comments
    ———-
    Prof. Ehrman, Your interpretation of Mark 3:20-21 makes sense in the context of Mark 3: 31-35:

    31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters [ 32 ] are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers ! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

    and Mark 6:4:

    4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown , and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
    ———-
    When I read Mark 3:20-34, there’s something about it that sticks out like a sore thumb in my mind. The scene seems like it’s setup for Jesus to deliver his “parable” in 23-29 (indeed, this is the better portion of the entire text), but the author still seems to make hoops around it. Mark makes an effort to not only set up the context and provide a quote to describe the state of mind of the Pharisees, and furthermore makes sure to point out that this is a parable, and STILL in 3:30 has to justify why Jesus even starts recounting this parable (and frankly, it needs some pretty generous interpretation to make any sense at all to me). It kind of seems like it’s a well-known quote in the community with a disputed meaning, and Mark is going through some obvious effort to make sure that it is understood “correctly”, but kind of struggles with getting the point across himself. Is this a justified interpretation of the text?
    ———-
    Yes, there are a lot of places in the Gospels where a saying of Jesus appears to be “framed” by a narrative context devised for the occasion….
    Ehrman
    ———
    Excellent post. I’ve also wondered about this passage, since Mary surely would remember the angels telling her God would impregnate her, and hence not view her son as mentally beside himself. And this story is even more at odds with the depiction of Mary in the Gospel of John where Mary requests a miracle of her son at the start of Jesus’s ministry. So apparently either the author of Mark didn’t know about virgin birth tales.

    A similar question arises when John The Baptist calls Jesus “the lamb of God” but later he and his followers act ignorant of Jesus’s mission or teachings. (One could say John was ignorant of Judaism, too, since the sacrificed Passover lambs did NOT take away sin.)
    ———-
    Re. Mark 3:21. I remember hearing or reading a NT scholar’s (I think it was Crossan, but I’m not sure) stating that he didn’t think the reference to Jesus’ family’s concern for his mental health was anything more than a way for the author of Mark to have a go at the Jerusalem “branch” of the early Christian movement, a branch that had been under the leadership of Jesus’ brother James; do you think this theory holds water, or is the account just another example of all of Jesus’ followers “not getting it?”

    If memory serves human characters typically can’t understand who JC is in GMark. Demons/possessed do, disciples don’t, crowds and authorities don’t. An unnamed woman who anoints Jesus gets it, and an unnamed centurion does.
    ———-
    I think the Catholic explanation I’ve heard of this is that his “brothers” were really (sigh) his cousins…and while his mother may have been physically with them, it shouldn’t be assumed that she *agreed* with them. An ingenious ad hoc explanation of course. Another ad hoc explanation is that Jesus’ mother had heard that he was in danger of being persecuted by the religious establishment and so she was claiming he was out of his head to try and save his life and take him back home.
    ———-
    But the one thing the text says about the view of Jesus’ family is that they thought he was crazy.
    Ehrman
    ———-
    Interesting that neither the earliest Gospel regarded the (supposed) virgin birth even worth mentioning, even though it later became a bedrock belief of mainstream Christianity.

    And it is not just the beginning of Mark with its missing virgin birth and missing nativity miracles, but the ending of Mark that sticks out as well. The earliest Gospel, GMark, ends with just an empty tomb story, the women telling “no one, not anyone” (The Greek is doubled for emphasis) and a promise that Jesus had gone on before them to Galilee to be seen there, i.e., not in Jerusalem but in far off Galilee, a far less impressive ending than the inflated ones found in later Gospels. Might not the virgin birth tale also be a later inflated tale added to GMark? One tell tale sign this is so is the fact that Matthew and Luke agree most in those parts where they reproduce over 90% of Mark, but when it comes to the places where they could no longer follow GMark because GMark doesn’t mention anything prior to Jesus’ baptism nor after his empty tomb, THAT IS EXACTLY WHERE MATTHEW AND LUKE’S STORIES DIVERGE MOST FROM ONE ANOTHER.
    ———-
    Bart, is it also possible that the writer wants to distance Jesus from his blood family because they did not understand and did not agree with the christology as promulgated by this Marcan community in the years after the death of Jesus? Does this have implications for the underplaying of the role of James after Jesus’ death?
    ———-
    Yes, it’s a fascinating possibility!
    Ehrman
    ———-
    The suggestion that “Mark” was actually trying to create a negative impression of Jesus’s family, because of rivalries in early Christianity. Fascinating!

    Posted by edwardtbabinski | December 24, 2016, 2:21 AM

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