Posts Tagged ‘Birth’

To the layman, it may seem like as easy question to answer; December 25th, year zero! But like many subjects in Christianity, tradition has taken supremacy over actual history. Since I am never satisfied with tradition, I found it necessary to scour my resources to see if I myself could figure out just when exactly Jesus was born. It didn’t seem too hard initially since there are so many reference points; i.e. the Christmas Star, King Herod the Great, a Roman census, Roman Emperor Augustus, Herod Archelaus, Quirinus, etc. With so many historical events and figures already in place, all one has to do is match up the Biblical text and see if everything fits. And everything did fit… for the most part.

 

December 25th? Not Really…

 

First, the December 25th date should be reconsidered. It was Hyppolytus in the 3rd century that supposedly calculated Jesus’ birth to December 25th[1], though there is some skepticism as to the reasoning he used to acquire this date.  What is more substantial is that the Romans celebrated the festival of Sol Invictus on December 25th and exchanged gifts during Saturnalia from December 17-24 leading up to the 25th. The early church chose to connect this holiday with the gifts of the magi (three wise men, kings, what have you), providing an alternative holiday for the large growing Christian population and thus it became the holiday of Christmas.[2] This has only been observed since the 4th century.[3]

 

Something that should also be clarified is the misconception that the magi arrived in Bethlehem right as Jesus was born. Although we could speculate that such timing of a roughly 120 day (900 mile) journey[4],[5] through the desert concluding with such precision could only occur via divine appointment, the scripture itself does not support this. First, nowhere in Matthew’s gospel does it say the magi reached Jesus right as He was born. Second, King Herod ordered the killing of all male children 2 years of age or younger in Bethlehem right after the magi left. Why would he order the killing of male children two years of age or younger if Jesus had just been born? He did so because Jesus wasn’t a newborn at all. Whether Jesus was a few weeks, months or even two years old is still debated. Thus, we must separate the date of Christ’s birth with the event of the magi visiting Him to give gifts and worship Him which we know as Christmas. It may be possible for Jesus to be born on December 25th and the magi arriving later, or Jesus being born earlier and the magi arriving on December 25th, but both events occurring on December 25th is certainly not correct.

 

Historical Figures

There are many historical figures in play regarding the nativity story and they prove to me the most concrete factor in dating Christ’s birth. We’ll start with the big players first.

 

Emperor/Cesar Augustus: Cesar Augustus lived from 62BC to 14AD, coming to power in 31 BC, until his death.[6] He is important because in Luke 2:1 we read that a census goes out ordered by Cesar Augustus. The census being the reason for Joseph and Mary to pack up and head to Bethlehem. Now, a census in the ancient world could take up to 12 years to complete, so we’re left with a decent window of time for Jesus to be born after his family leaves town.[7] This gives us our first window, a broad one, of 31 BC to 14 AD.

 

Caesar Augustus (62 BC - 14 AD)

Caesar Augustus (62 BC – 14 AD)

Govenor Quirinius: Quirinius was a Roman aristocrat that became governor of Syria in 6 AD, presiding over the property census which occurred when Judea was condensed into a Roman province.[8] Quirinius is mentioned in Luke 2:2 in reference to Augustus’ census, more specifically that the census took place while (or before[9]) Quirinius took office. Since he took office in 6 AD, and the Augustus’ census took place before this, then our window shrinks to 31 BC to 6 AD.

Govenor Quirinius

Govenor Quirinius

 

At that, it should be mentioned that the term of office for Quirinius Luke mentions may not have necessarily been his stint as the Governor of Syria. Many historians believe Quirinius had been assigned to governing in the near-east ten years prior to his post in Syria.[10] Some speculate a date of 10 to 7 BC.[11] According to Dr. Jared M. Compton, assistant professor of New Testament studies for the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, “Others suggest that Quirinius held some other office at the time of Jesus’ birth, a tenable hypothesis especially since Quirinius precise capacity at this time is unknown.”[12] This will become the first variable in the overall equation.

 

Herod the Great: King Herod was left in charge of Judea and Galilee in 37 BC.[13] In relation to the Bible, Matthew 2:1 says Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod. It is calculated that Herod died in 4B.C.[14] This is based on the works of ancient historian Josephus who wrote that Herod died a few days after an eclipse of the moon which was followed a week later by Passover. The only eclipse of the moon within these parameters during this time period occurred on March 13, 4 B.C.[15]

 

King Herod the Great

King Herod the Great

Other hypothesis shows King Herod died in 1BC.[16] The hypothesis that Herod died in 1 BC comes from Josephus’ writings that Herod’s reign lasted a little over 34 years from the capture of Jerusalem, which was on a sabbatical year and of which the Jewish lunar calendar held Tishri 10 during September. If we start from the winter of 4 BC as an estimated time of Herod’s death, and subtract 34 years (and handful of months) to the capture of Jerusalem we are at 39 BC. The problem with 39 BC is that it was not a sabbatical year. The year 36 BC, however, was. Take back the 34+ years of Herod’s rein to his death and you’re left with a death in 1 BC. Better yet, there was a lunar eclipse on January 9th of the year 1 BC.[17] So 1 BC appears to be the more accurate date for Herod’s death. Our window for the birth of Jesus is now smaller; 31 BC to 1 BC.

 

But the citing of “King Herod” is arguably a vague one for there were many King Herods; Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa, Herod Archeaus, Herod Antipas, Herod Philip etc.[18] How do we know which King Herod Matthew is speaking of? The King Herod mentioned above is that of Herod the Great. But there is also Herod Archelaus, one of Herod the Great’s sons who ruled from 4BC to 6AD (or 1BC to 6 AD if we are using the theory of Herod the Great dying in 1 BC). Matthew even mentions this son in 2:22 and his reign is within the window of Quirinius and Augustus. Therefore, some have proposed that Herod Archelaus is the “King Herod” Matthew originally spoke of in verse 1. But, there is a counterargument however. A counter argument which comes from the written dialogue of the Gospel of Matthew. First, why would Matthew write “King Herod” in verse 1, but just “Archelaus” in verse 22? Why not refer to him as King Herod again? Unless that is, Matthew is trying to distinguish Herod the Great from his son Archelaus. Second, and most importantly, verse 19 says “After Herod died.” Clearly, the “Herod” referred to here is Herod the Great since Archelaus is alive and well in verse 22. So it is safe to say that the King Herod Jesus was born under is indeed Herod the Great, and thus, our 31 BC to 1 BC window remains.

 

Emperor/Cesar Tiberius: Tiberius lived from 42 BC to 37 AD, and took Augustus’ seat as emperor after Augustus’ death.[19] Therefore Tiberius began his reign in 14 AD.[20] Now this becomes important because the Bible states that Jesus began his ministry when he was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23), and Luke 3:1 says that Jesus began his ministry during the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign. Granted, Jesus’ exact age isn’t given, but we do know that he was around 30 years old when he started his ministry, so we’ll work with 30 plus or minus a year. Since Tiberius began his reign in 14 AD, and Jesus started His work 15 years later, we’re given an exact date of 29 AD for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Now to work backwards: By subtracting Jesus’ age of 30 (plus or minus a year) we get a possible birth date of Jesus ranging from 2 BC to 1 AD.

 

Cesar Tiberius (42 BC - 37 AD)

Cesar Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD)

When we compare our previous birth date window of 31 BC to 1 BC to our new window of 2 BC to 1 AD we run into our first problem. The information based off of Jesus’ adult life excludes the possibility of King Herod dying in 4 BC. If King Herod died in 4 BC, then Matthew was wrong when he said Jesus was born during his reign, or Luke was wrong when we wrote of the details of when Jesus began His ministry. However, if we accept the possibility that King Herod died in 1 BC, then we find both Matthew and Luke in harmony. Considering Matthew and Luke’s track record for historical accuracy and that they accurately recorded events from eye witness testimony I believe it reasonable to stand by their claims and side with the 1 BC death of Herod. This ultimately leaves us with a narrower window for the birth of Christ: 2 to 1 BC.[21]

 

 

The Christmas Star

Yet, historical figures aren’t the only references to be made for the birth of Christ. The Christmas star is a noteworthy (if not the most popular) historical event surrounding the birth of Christ. So if we can date the Christmas star, we can date the birth of Christ. But  first we have to establish what exactly the star was.

 

The Greek word used is aster, for star. Its biblical use being that of any luminous object in the sky.[22] It could have been a star, planet, supernova, shooting star, comet, ect. A supernova did occur in 5 BC, and a comet (Haley’s) appeared in 12 BC.[23] Although supernovas are incredibly luminescent and seem to fit the description of the Christmas star, it doesn’t fit with the text since it would have been seen by everyone, including King Herod. Herod however, had no clue about the star. This same problem persists with the star being a comet. In the ancient world when comets appeared people would, for lack of a better term, flip out. Herod would definitely know if a comet had been in the skies. This rules out comets and supernovas. Shooting stars can be ruled out easily since they last a few seconds at best. This just leaves stars and planets.

 

The Christmas star may have been a conjunction of planets and stars, when two planets move so close together (that is, in appearance in the sky) they can sometimes appear as one large star to the naked eye. The same can occur when a planet and significant star move very close together.

 

Since the solar system moves like a clock, and we know the fine tuning of that clock, we can run the clock in reverse and know what people in the ancient world saw in the night sky. For example, Jupiter and Saturn had a triple conjunction in 7BC, one on May 29th, again on September 29, and one more time on December 4.[24] Though scholars point out that that both planets never got within close enough range of another to appear as one bright star.[25] However, the conjunction was 11 months long overall, an event that occurs only every 800 years.[26] This makes the event very noteworthy, especially to the ancient world.

 

Jupiter and the star Regulus had a triple conjunction in the beginning of year 3BC.[27] Jupiter was often considered the “King” or the “King of the Gods,” in the ancient world, and Regulas was known as the “King star,” so their conjunction may have been interpreted (especially by the magi) as a heralding of the coming of the King of the Kings.

 

In 2 BC however, Jupiter and Venus came so close together they appeared in the sky as one single star. Such an event is extremely rare.[28] However, we know the magi saw the star on at least two occasions, which to many, rules out this conjunction as the Christmas star. Others point out that the “star” may have been a series of celestrial events, starting with the Jupiter and Regulus conjunction, then the Jupiter and Venus conjunction, and finalizing with a very interesting event on December 25th, 2 BC, when Jupiter appeared in the sky over Bethlehem, and then stopped periodically (in appearance in the sky of course) before retreating in the direction it came.[29] This might explain Matthew’s claim that the star stopped over Bethlehem over the place where the child was (2:9). So the Christmas star may not have been one object or event, but a combination of celestial events (conjunctions).

 

Another way to look at the Christmas star is that which defied natural law. Just as the virgin birth of Christ defies natural law, maybe such is the case for the Christmas star. This view was adopted by Archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom, who wrote, “We learn from scripture that this star is by no means just one of the stars. It wasn’t even a star, it seems to me, but some invisible dynamis (a sign of God) which took on the appearance of a star. And one can prove this by the route it took, for we see the sun, the moon and the other stars travel towards the west but this one went north to south. It did not appear at night but in the full light of the sun… It did not have a course of its own but went and stopped where it had to stop, according to the occasion demanded, much like the pillar of the cloud which appeared to the Jews when they had to move on or set up camp.”[30]

 

In Acts 9 Paul receives a vision from Jesus that none of the men around him saw. A similar situation happens in Daniel 10:7. It is reasonable to suggest that the magi had a likewise experience with the Christmas star. The fact remains that we should not limit God to just using the natural order of things, celestial objects and planetary motion for example, when He is fully capable of miraculous events of the supernatural, like a luminous object in the sky that only the magi saw.

 

Ultimately the Christmas star is no help what so ever in pinpointing the birth of Jesus. In order for it to help in such a way we would have to know exactly what the Christmas star was. But we do not. Instead we’re left with two possibilities; a natural conjunction of stars or a supernatural element that only the magi saw. The former fits nicely with our 2 BC to 1 BC window established earlier. The latter could also support our established window since it could have occurred at any time.

 

 

Testing the Hypothesis

If we settle on a 2-1 BC birth date then there is also an opportunity to test the hypothesis with later historical references. For example, we know Jesus started his ministry in his thirties, and, in addition, we know Jesus celebrated three Passovers during His ministry (John 2:23, 6:4, and 11:55-57). The last Passover celebration was also simultaneous with Christ’s crucifixion and subsequent death and resurrection, so three years passed from the beginning of His ministry to its end. It can therefore be concluded that Jesus died around the age of 33, plus or minus a year. Therefore, if Jesus was born in 2-1 BC, then His death occurred anytime from 30 AD (if born in 2BC and lived 32 years) to 33 AD (if born in 1 BC and lived 34 years). If we can then calculate when Jesus died based off the Biblical data available and it fits within our range of 30 AD to 33 AD then we’ll have more certainty of the birth date.

 

To calculate Jesus death, we’ll again look to historical figures. Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate who was governor of Judea from 26AD to 36AD.[31] From this we can deduct that Jesus died within this time range. However, we can narrow down the date of Jesus’ death further based of Emperor Tiberius. If Jesus started his ministry during the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign, then His ministry started in 29 AD, and lasted three years, then Jesus was surely crucified around 32 AD.

 

Pontius Pilate- governed Judea 26 AD - 36 AD)

Pontius Pilate- governed Judea 26 AD – 36 AD)

When further examination of the calendar events around Jesus’ death are examined as recorded in the Gospels, we see that Jesus died on Preparation Day (the day before the Sabbath) as indicated in Mark 15:42. The Sabbath normally falls on a Saturday, but during Passover, Preparation day is the day before Passover begins. But since Passover can begin on any day of the week depending on the year, then the preparation day Jesus was crucified on could have been on any day. At that, we do know that Jesus spent three days and three nights in the grave after He died before He resurrected, and additionally that He resurrected on a Sunday (Matthew 12:40, Mark 14: 58, and Mark 16). So if we go backwards three days from Sunday we land on a Thursday crucifixion/death, and therefore a Thursday preparation day.

 

Since we now know the day of Christ’s crucifixion, we know that the Passover He died on started the next day, Friday. So if we look back at every Passover during this point in time that started on a Friday we’re left with 33 AD and 36 AD.[32] And though both these dates fit with the time frame for Pilate’s term of office, only 33 AD works with Luke’s dating of Jesus’ ministry in 29 AD. From this information we can conclude Jesus died on April 3rd in the year of 33AD. This date fits very nicely within the projected range of 30 to 33 AD if Jesus was born in 2-1 BC.

 

 

 

What Month?

 

So we seem to have a very reasonable two year period for Jesus’ birth. But is it possible to pin down a month? Unfortunately in my research I couldn’t settle on a month, but I could settle on a season based on the shepherds.

 

Those shepherds we always hear of in Christmas songs are said to have been keeping watch over their flocks at night (Luke 2:8). Many scholars have pointed out that keeping watch over their flocks at night reveals two facts; 1) Scholars point out that the shepherds wouldn’t watch over their flocks at night during the winter because of the cold. 2) Others argue that shepherds would only watch their fields at night in the springtime when lambs were being born.[33] So based on the shepherds we can deduce that Jesus was not born in winter, possibly fall or summer, but most likely in spring.

 

The final consensus; without more accurate historical references the exact date of Christ’s birth to the day cannot be ascertained. However, I believe it is possible to speculate with a fair degree of accuracy that Jesus was born sometime in spring in 2 or 1 BC. This projected range works with perfectly with Augustus’ census, King Herod’s reign, Tiberius’ reign, and Pilate’s time as governor. So although Jesus wasn’t necessarily born in December, it may have been the time the magi reached Jesus to give gifts and worship Him.


[1] “Was Jesus born on December 25th?” http://www.gotquestions.org

[2] Lang, J.S., (2010) 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible, (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc.) pp. 305.

[3] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 172.

[4] Geating, W., (October 2005) “The Star of Bethlehem,” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

[5] Other historians believe the journey could be done in as short as three weeks. Parpola, S., (2009) “The Magi and the Star,” as written in The First Christmas, The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition, Edited by Sara Murphy, (WashingtonDC: Bible Archaeology Society) pp. 19.

[6] “Augustus,” http://www.pbs.org

[7] Laurentin, R., (1986) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 328.

[8] Laurentin, R., (1986) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 328.

[9] Luke uses the word, “prote,” which doesn’t necessarily mean “during,” but can also mean “before.” Thus, the census in question occurred prior to Quirinius term of office, which is most likely referring to his prominent one in Syria which began in 6 AD. Per Compton, J. M. (November 2009) “Once More: Quirinius’ Census,” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

[10] Laurentin, R., (1986) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 328.

[11] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 172.

[12]Compton, J. M. (November 2009) “Once More: Quirinius’ Census,” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

[13] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 168.

[14] Lang, J.S., (2010) 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible, (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc.) pp. 103.

[15] Geating, W., (October 2005) “The Star of Bethlehem,” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

[16] Laurentin, R., (1986) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 328.

[18] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 169.

[19] “Tiberius,” http://www.pbs.org

[20] Mason, S., (2009) “Where Was Jesus Born?” as written in The First Christmas, The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition, Edited by Sara Murphy, (Washington DC: Bible Archaeology Society) pp. 48.

[21] The exact date of Herod’s death and the exact details of Quirinius’ political career in totality will ultimately impact the accuracy of these dates. Until these details can be pinned down accurately, they remain variables to consider.

[22] Lisle, J., (2008) “What was the Christmas Star?” as written in Ken Ham’s The New Answers Book 2, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books) pp. 179.

[23] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 172.

[24] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 172.

[25] Parpola, S., (2009) “The Magi and the Star,” as written in The First Christmas, The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition, Edited by Sara Murphy, (WashingtonDC: Bible Archaeology Society) pp. 16.

[26] Parpola, S., (2009) “The Magi and the Star,” as written in The First Christmas, The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition, Edited by Sara Murphy, (WashingtonDC: Bible Archaeology Society) pp. 17.

[27] Lisle, J., (2008) “What was the Christmas Star?” as written in Ken Ham’s The New Answers Book 2, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books) pp. 180.

[28] Lisle, J., (2008) “What was the Christmas Star?” as written in Ken Ham’s The New Answers Book 2, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books) pp. 180.

[29] This is possible because of retrograde motion. Retrograde motion is a visual effect that occurs when a viewer from a moving platform is viewing another moving object traveling at varying speeds, distances and directions. The result can make an object, such as a planet, appear to change directions in the sky despite the planet not actually doing so.

[30] As quoted in Laurentin, R., (1986) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 396.

[31] “Pontius Pilate,” http://www.britannica.com

[32] “How Long was Jesus’ Ministry?” http://www.gotquestions.org

[33] Geating, W., (October 2005) “The Star of Bethlehem,” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

The three wise men… I mean, the three kings… or… uh, those astronomer guys from the desert. It can be confusing with all the names going around for these three gentlemen. As with other Christmas traditions, the three WAMK (wise astrologer magician kings) seem to be different to everyone, their purpose in the Book of Matthew interpreted in a large number of ways. But why so much variety in the tradition? Why does everyone seem to have a different say on whom the WAMKs were and why they came to see Jesus? In my research I found the answer to be quite simple actually: There is hardly anything written on the WAMKs. And thus to fill in the gaps, everyone has since imagined and speculated a wide variety of descriptions of the WAMKs. But is there any way to know for sure just who exactly WAMKs where?

Well first off, I’ll stop calling them WAMKs because it sounds stupid and I’m annoying myself. The proper name for these men is “magi,” since that is what Matthew (the only one who wrote about them in the Bible) called them. Magi means they practiced astrology and other magic arts.[1] This is backed up by their recognition of the Christmas star, testifying that they studied the night skies frequently, which we would expect of astrologers. Furthermore, the fact that they acknowledged that the star represented the new “King of the Jews,” indicates they were not Jewish, but knew of Old Testament prophecy.

For those that don’t know the story: The magi spotted a star in the sky, and in knowing Jewish prophecy, concluded it was a sign of the coming Messiah. They journeyed to Jerusalem following the Christmas star. When they reached Jerusalem, they asked King Herod for directions. He was unaware of the star and prophecy and therefore couldn’t direct them, but he did want to know where this new born King of the Jews was so that he could kill Him. Herod asked the magi to find the child and report back to him so that he could worship the child as well. The magi then traveled to Bethlehem, found Jesus and His family, and worshipped the child, giving Him three gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Before they left, they had a dream telling them not to report the child’s location to King Herod as he so wished. So they left and never reported the child’s location to King Herod, thus giving Joseph, Mary and Jesus enough time to flee. It really is as simple as that. The lack of detail makes it difficult to really pinpoint any characteristics about them. But based on what is written in Matthew we can make some distinctions between the real story, and the Christmas traditions you see in front yards.

Separating the Facts from Tradition

First, were there three wise men? The Bible doesn’t say so. The tradition of there being three wise men came from there being three gifts given.[2] We have no idea how many there were. But we do know that the number was designated as three by the second century,[3] and has carried on into contemporary nativity scenes ever since. But not everyone followed this tradition, as there were some exceptions. A painting within the catacomb of Domitilla shows four magi, one catacomb of Peter and Marcellinus depicts two, and unearthed Syrian documents name twelve![4] These are all traditions however with nothing that can substantiate them as fact. So though we cannot say for sure exactly how many magi traveled to see Jesus, we do know that because they are written of in plural form there were, at the very least, two magi. But there may have been more.

Additionally there is no basis for calling them “kings” either, as is commonly done.[5] This tradition began in the 5th century, around the same time that they were given names; Balthassar, Melchoir, and Gaspar (sometimes Caspar).[6] An Armenian infancy gospel from the early 6th century describes them as; Melkon, King of Persia; Gaspar, King of India; Baldassar, King of Arabia.[7] As time went on Balthassar would appear in paintings as a middle aged man with brown hair and a beard, Melchoir would appear as a clean shaven youth, and Gaspar, an aging bald headed man. But again, neither their names nor physical descriptions ever appear in the Bible, and due to the 400 to 500 year gap from when the event actually occurred to when these traditions first appear, it would be difficult to think they are actually historical accurate characteristics.

Another difficult question to answer is where the magi where from. Seeing as they came from the east, their homeland was possibly Persia or Arabia.[8] Others speculate they came more specifically from Babylonia.[9] More recently, a translated text called the Revelation of the Magi sources them from the eastern land of Shir, which is believed to be in China![10],[11] But more will be discussed on that later. The theory that the magi came from Babylonia comes from the fact that the Babylonian empire had once conquered Israel and brought a number of Israelites back to Babylon, including Daniel, who was trained in the Babylonian schools. Considering the prophecies of Daniel included the coming of the messiah, and the magi set out to find the messiah when they saw the Christmas star around the time the Messiah was to be born, it is logical to infer that the magi were aware of Daniel’s prophecy and thus from Babylonia. Another theory, that the magi were from Persia is supported by the fact that another prophecy, that of Balaam, speaks of the coming messiah too (Numbers 24:17). Since Balaam was from Pethor, on the border of Persia, it is believed the magi were likely from Persia where Balaam’s prophecy would have known to them.[12] Since the Balaam prophecy from Numbers actually references a “star” as a sign of the birth and Daniel’s doesn’t, the magi being from Persia is often considered the stronger theory.

Another common occurrence among nativity scenes is to see a black magi, and sometimes even an asian magi among the three. This tradition can be traced back to 8th century Anglo-Saxon theologian and historian Venerable Bedewere who was influenced by a passage from Psalm 72:10-11 which says, “May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him” (NIV). By the 8th century, tradition had made the magi noble kings, and so it became reasonable to Venerable that the kings of Psalm 72 were the magi that visited Jesus. From there it was interpreted that the kings represented the three major continents at the time; Africa, Asia and Europe, which would comprise “all nations.”[13] This is why there is ethnic variety in many paintings of the magi from this time and thereafter, a tradition that remains popular even today. But again, this is a tradition appearing 700 years after the actual events, so it cannot be accepted as historically accurate. 

Andrea Mantegna’s “Adoration of the Magi” depicts a European, Asian and African magi.

Andrea Mantegna’s “Adoration of the Magi”
depicts a European, Asian and African magi.

Yet, some theories still remain. The very first depiction of the magi in art is a fresco painting within the catacomb of Priscilla from the mid 3rd century, one of the oldest Christian cemeteries in Rome.[14] The painting shows three shadowy figures in tunics approaching Mary, sitting with child. Each figure has a different color. Whether the colors represent the different gifts or different nationalities is unknown, but some use the different colors to support the tradition that the men came from three different lands and were given different colors to represent the different lands. If this were true, it would place the tradition to 200 years after the events occurred. But again, we don’t know for sure why they were given different colors, it could represent the different gifts given. One must additionally ask how, in the first century, could three men from three different continents or countries have coordinated a simultaneous visit to see Jesus hundreds if not thousands of miles away?  Not to mention the fact that Matthew says they came from the east, and Europe is north west and Africa south west. Therefore, it is more likely to conclude, based off Matthew and reasonable logic, the magi came from the same location, in the east, possibly Babylonia or Persia.

Depiction of the Magi in the catacomb of Priscilla

Depiction of the Magi in the catacomb of Priscilla

Another good question to ask is what was so special about the three gifts given? There are different theories, but the most obvious one is simply that of value. All three items were very expensive, most certainly not a gift you’d give to a child unless the child was extremely important and worthy of such items. Second-century church father Irenaeus of Lyons expanded on this notion believing that the gold was given because Jesus was King of the Eternal Kingdom; myrrh given because it was used to anoint the dead (symbolizing Jesus’ conquering of death some thirty plus years later); and frankincense given because it was used for burned offerings to God (symbolizing Jesus being a God).[15] Many theologians dig even deeper into the meaning of the three gifts, but the point is, the magi were acknowledging Jesus’ authority and role on the this earth and were there to worship.

Other Common Misconceptions

Many nativity scenes show the three magi with Jesus as a newborn. As if they just happened to travel hundreds of miles to arrive in Bethlehem a few minutes after He was born. Impressive! But it’s not so. The magi did not show up in Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth, but instead months, or a year or so, later. This is supported by the fact that King Herod ordered his soldiers to kill all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two (Matthew 2:16). Why would Herod order the killing of all male children under the age of two if Jesus was a new born? The only explanation is that Jesus wasn’t a new born, but a toddler. This can be further supported by the fact that the magi visited Jesus in a house, even though Jesus was born in a stable____. Lastly, the Bible doesn’t say the magi reached Bethlehem the night Jesus was born, only that they reached Him.

Another misconception was that the star was seen 24/7 the entire trip. But the magi did not have the star to guide them the entire time. This is supported by the fact that they had to ask King Herod where the new Messiah was when they reached Jerusalem (Matthew 2:2). It would be an unnecessary question if the star was still guiding them. Additionally, they rejoiced when they saw the star appearing over Bethlehem (Matthew 2:10). Clearly the star was not shining the entire time, but reappeared to guide them to Bethlehem, hence the rejoicing.

Other Traditions Regarding the Magi

There is actually a traditional holiday called the Feast of Epiphany celebrated on January 6th (12 days after December 25th) which celebrates the magi’s arrival.[16] Some Christian cultures exchange gifts on this day, not December 25th.

There is also a tradition of death and resurrection symbolism pertaining to the magi. Interestingly enough, most early depictions of the magi in art appear in catacombs and over tombs. At first, it doesn’t seem to make sense. The magi were there for Jesus’ birth, not death, so why so popular in tombs? Tradition holds that since the magi worshipped Jesus they were aware of His role, hence the particular gifts they gave (going back to Irenaeus’ theory behind the gifts) symbolizing His impending death and subsequent resurrection. Since the magi were considered the first to recognize this in Jesus they became a prominent symbol of Jesus’ conquering of the dead and thus, became a prominent symbol over tombs to symbolize the eternal life for those that call on Jesus.[17]

Another tradition of the magi is what happened to them after they left Judea. Though the Bible doesn’t say, Justin Martyr, an early church father from the second century, proposed that since the magi were astrologers and trained in the arts of magic they were probably sorcerers that practiced idolatry. Therefore, their journey to see Jesus and worship him was a sign of their repentance and rebirth, rejecting their past idolatry. This has been depicted multiple times in ancient artwork in which three young men (referencing the relationship to Daniel) in eastern attire are shown rejecting an idol they are supposed to be worshipping, one of which is usually looking up to a star.[18] This is of course speculation and tradition, but it may have been the case in actual history.

Other details of what happened to the magi after Bethlehem are detailed in 14th century cleric John of Hildesheim’s “Historia Treum Regum” (History of the Three Kings). He writes that some time after the nativity event they all died at the same time and same place, called the Hill of the Vaws.[19] The details are a blend of historical fact and early Christian tradition, but nothing is supported by the Biblical account. For example, he writes of Helena, Constantine’s mother, who traveled to the Holy Land and collected various relics like the true cross and the bones of the magi! She then took the bones and placed them in a chest, leaving them in Constantinople at a church called Saint Sophia. After which, the bones were moved to Milan and then to the Cologne cathedral where they supposedly remain to this day.[20]

What actually makes this story so interesting is that there really are bones there. But are they the bones of the wise men? The bones are wrapped in authentic 2nd to 3rd century fabrics. But this only proves they are bones wrapped in ancient cloth. Interestingly enough, the skulls are those of a young man, a middle aged man, and old man.[21] This was determined by the degree of suture formation in the skulls. Which is interesting because the tradition of one being young, the second middle aged, and the third old, came about some time after the bones were collected. Yet, this is only significant if we assume there were three wise men; young, middle aged, and old. If this assumption is incorrect then the bones worthless. Furthermore, without sample DNA of the wise men to compare the bones to, there really is no way to know for sure if the bones are legitimate. The bones are therefore no more than circumstantial evidence at best.

Supposed remains of the magi in Cologne

Supposed remains of the magi in Cologne

 

Revelation of the Magi

Revelation of the Magi is the supposed personal narrative of the magi who visited Jesus. The text depicts them as mystical sages in the eastern land of Shir guarding the sacred prophecy of Christ.[22] There are many parallels with the Bible, but there is also many details that do not mesh the Bible. Case in point, the Christmas star is not a star at all, but a luminous human-looking being that descends from heaven to guide them.[23]  More so, it has even been interpreted that the text redefines Christian doctrine all together. According to scholar Brent Landau, professor of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma and one of the first to translate the text to English, “At first glance, the text seems to display a much more tolerant attitude toward non-Christian religions than what is found in other early Christian writings… statements by Christ, the Magi, and even God himself reinforce this conception of Christ’s boundless revelation throughout the world. In sum, the Revelation of the Magi contends that Christ is actually the hidden source of all or most of humanity’s religious systems. Therefore, according to this text, non-Christian religions do not actually exist, since Christ pervades them all.”[24] This is not surprising considering Landau is an Episcopalian, and therefore comfortable with more liberal interpretations of scripture.

Outside of not meshing with other Christian scripture, the details alone are problematic. The text states that the human-looking “star” burned brighter than the sun, writing that compared to the star, the sun looks as the moon normally does in sunlight. This is difficult to imagine unless the star was beyond the sun at a further distance, but the star is supposedly in very close proximity to the magi, actually speaking with them on different occasions. This same star did not appear to anyone else either, which I suppose would explain why no other astrologers and early astronomers around the world documented a star brighter than the sun. Additionally, mountains and hills were supposedly flattened before the Magi as they traveled west ward, which one would presume must have been un-flattened as there would be some remains of a flat route all the way from Shir to Judea remaining to this day. Lastly, the magi were supposed to be messengers for Christ back in the land they originated from. Yet there is no evidence of Christian sects sprouting up in the far east in the first few centuries after Christ, which we would expect if these three men were supposed to preach Christ to the East. Unless of course, they failed in this endeavor…

So the text does not match the doctrines of the New Testament and the details cannot be substantiated. But the real death blow to the accuracy of this text in its dating and authorship. Revelation of the Magi was first referenced in texts from the Middle Ages.[25] Putting it hundreds of years after the event in question actually occurred. As far as authorship, there is no scholar that believes it was written by the magi that visited Christ. Even Landau admits that the text was certainly not written by the one of the magi since it includes knowledge of events that occurred long after Christ’s death.[26] He instead believes it was written by an early sect of Christian mystics. So considering it was written hundreds of years after Christ (at least 700 years[27]) and is not an actual account from the magi, but is written as if it is, it would be logical to conclude the Revalation of the Magi is not an accurate text of the authentic historical details behind the magi. So far, all prominent scholars that have reviewed the text agree.

Conclusion

As you can see, theories and speculation as to who the magi were and where they were from can begin to run wild. And though we cannot conclude with certainty how many there were and exactly where they were from, we can conclude the following: They believed in God’s word, they wanted to know and meet this Messiah, recognizing His worth, they humbled themselves to worship this young child, and they obeyed God rather than man. So regardless of the finer details, the lesson the magi teach us is simple: Jesus is worthy of our worship.


[1] Lang, J.S., (2010) 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible, (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc.) pp. 249.

[2] Lang, J.S., (2010) 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible, (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc.) pp. 249.

[3] Murphy, S. (Ed.) (2009) The First Christmas, (WashingtonDC: Biblical Archaeology Society) pp. 4.

[4] Murphy, S. (Ed.) (2009) The First Christmas, (WashingtonDC: Biblical Archaeology Society) pp. 5.

[5] Lang, J.S., (2010) 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible, (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc.) pp. 249.

[6] Murphy, S. (Ed.) (2009) The First Christmas, (WashingtonDC: Biblical Archaeology Society) pp. 4.

[7] Murphy, S. (Ed.) (2009) The First Christmas, (WashingtonDC: Biblical Archaeology Society) pp. 5.

[8] Lang, J.S., (2010) 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible, (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc.) pp. 249.

[9] Gardner, J., (Ed.) (1981) Reader’s Digest Atlas of the Bible (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.) pp. 172.

[10] Landau, B., (December 2010) “Who Were the Three Wise Men of Christmas,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com

[11] The land of Shir being in China is due to two descriptions of it; 1) it is referenced as being in the extreme east at the GreatOcean, 2) it is referenced as the land where silk comes from, and silk was an enormous export of China.

[12] “What does the Bible say about the Wise Men?” http://www.gotquestions.org

[13] Murphy, S. (Ed.) (2009) The First Christmas, (WashingtonDC: Biblical Archaeology Society) pp 9.

[14] MacGregor, N., (2000) Seeing Salvation: Images of Christ, (New Haven, CT: YaleUniversity Press).

[15] Irenaeus, Adversus omnes Haerses 3.9;as referenced inMurphy, S. (Ed.) (2009) The First Christmas, (WashingtonDC: Biblical Archaeology Society) pp. 59.

[16] Murphy, S. (Ed.) (2009) The First Christmas, (WashingtonDC: Biblical Archaeology Society) pp. 5.

[17] Murphy, S. (Ed.) (2009) The First Christmas, (WashingtonDC: Biblical Archaeology Society) pp. 12.

[18] Murphy, S. (Ed.) (2009) The First Christmas, (WashingtonDC: Biblical Archaeology Society) pp 6-7.

[19] Rose, M., (December 2004) “The Three Kings & the Star,” http://www.archaeology.org

[20] Rose, M., (December 2004) “The Three Kings & the Star,” http://www.archaeology.org

[21] Rose, M., (December 2004) “The Three Kings & the Star,” http://www.archaeology.org

[22] Landau, B., (December 2010) “Who Were the Three Wise Men of Christmas,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com

[23] Landau, B., (December 2010) “Who Were the Three Wise Men of Christmas,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com

[24] Landau, B., (December 2010) “Who Were the Three Wise Men of Christmas,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com

[25] Healy, M., (December 2010) “Were the Three Wise Men from China?” http://www.usatoday.com

[26] Healy, M., (December 2010) “Were the Three Wise Men from China?” http://www.usatoday.com

[27] Bible Archaeology Staff, (November 2011) “Bible Scholar Brent Landau Asks ‘Who Were the Magi?’” http://www.biblearchaeology.com

The virgin conception is a highly scrutinized event within the nativity story. As with other biblical miracles, the virgin conception has been explained by a whole host of conspiracy theories devoid of actual supernatural cause. Was the story copied from other pagan mythologies? Copied from Old Testament scripture? Was Christ simply the result of a shameful affair, the virgin conception concocted to hide His illegitimate origins? Is Jesus the result of an extremely rare but possible asexual reproduction? The theories are abundant, yet all try to find a way to rationalize the story without consideration that what is written in Matthew and Luke is actually plausible.

Even in the church, skepticism is present, spreading, slowly but surely. Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopalian Church believes the virgin birth as written in Matthew and Luke is not literal truth.[1] Protestant theologian Wesley Wildman of Boston University believes that Jesus must have gotten his Y chromosome from Joseph, so what He received from God was more spiritual than physical.[2] Anglican Bishop John Arthur Thomas Robinson, former Dean of Trinity College in Cambridge shares similar beliefs, “… we are not bound to think of the Virgin Birth as a physical event in order to believe that Jesus’s whole life is ‘of God.’”[3] Doubt is clearly creeping into the nativity story and it is leading to explanations of spiritual analogy instead of literal acceptance. These compromises on the scripture all stem from doubt in something that seems too impossible to be true.

Yet, we all seem to overlook that it was just as impossible and hard to believe then in the first century as it is today. Luke and Matthew seem to have trouble writing of it. Even Mary noted of its impossibility when she was standing in front of the angel telling her it would happen! And it was additionally a target of skepticism then just as it is now, being doubted by the Pharisees and the Greek philosopher Celsus himself, among others. So we should not assume that skepticism of the virgin birth belongs only to a more modern and intelligent generation of people. Doubt was present right from the beginning, across two thousand years, to the present.

Here I will present the most popular arguments against the virgin birth that have emerged over these thousands of years. It is my hope that after exploring these issues you will see that they do not stand to refute the story of the virgin birth. In the end, you will find that the only way to deny the virgin conception is to deny the supernatural all together.

PAGAN MYTH THEORY

The most modern rebuttal to the virgin birth is a conspiracy that the gospel writers copied the story from other pagan mythologies. The train of thought is that only two of the gospels mention the virgin birth, and of these two there are shocking similarities to other mythologies commonly known in the first century. The motivation being that Matthew and Luke wanted to better promote Jesus to the gentiles, and giving Him attributes that resembled popular pagan mythologies would give Christianity more appeal.

Dr. Gerald Larue Professor Emeritus of Archaeology and Biblical Studies at USC, writes, “Sexual relationships between divine beings were common in hero stories. The Greek god Zeus impregnated women to produce heroes like Hercules, Perseus, and Alexander the Great. The god Apollo had intercourse with human females, who bore such heroes as Asclepius, Pythagoras, Plato and the emperor Augustus. Some of the women were said to have been virgins. The use of mythological symbolism was part of the first century literary tradition. The gospel writers simply used it to exalt Jesus.”[4] Even scientists like Dr. Aarathi Prasad, a former cancer researcher, have an opinion on the subject, “Hers [Mary’s] is the best known story of a virgin birth in the world, but it is by no means the only one. From the mothers of Buddha to Genghis Khan, most cultures tell the tale of a maiden untouched by man who gives birth.”[5] Other theories refer to influences from Greco-Roman deity (Perseus- Romulus, Mithras, Apollonius of Tyana), Egyptian deity (Horus, Osiris), and even oriental religions (Buddha, Krishna, and son of Zoroaster).

Right off the bat a discrepancy should be easily recognized here. How could the nativity story have so much in common with mythology from Greece, Rome, Egypt and even the orient? The nativity story is not that long! Most certainly not long enough to be capable of borrowing from all these other religions. Furthermore, even if intense similarities were to be found, that doesn’t in any way prove that the gospel writers copied from them. In fact, to make such a claim would be a genetic fallacy, the error of trying to disprove a belief by tracing it to its source. Regardless, an examination of each one shows that there is hardly any comparison to be made!

Alexander the Great: Born of King Philip II of Macedonia and Queen Olympia,[6] there are no records of Alexander being conceived from a non-sexual divine source.

Apollonius of Tyana: Apollonius was born after his mother fell asleep in a meadow where swans began to dance around her causing her to give birth prematurely. But more importantly, the story of Apollonius was written down no earlier than AD 217, well after the gospel accounts were already written down and being circulated.[7] Thus no claim of copying can be placed on Matthew or Luke.

Buddha: To declare the story Jesus was copied from Buddha is incredibly hard to substantiate considering the histories of Buddha are contradicting, convoluted and written hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years after the supposed events took place. For example, research when Buddha was born and you’ll get a wide range of answers ranging from 1700 BC to 400 BC. Regardless, the details of Buddha’s birth are not similar to Jesus in that Buddha’s mother Maya was a married woman to which there is no original declaration of her being a virgin. Historical scholars maintain Buddha’s birth has no hints of any abnormality. A tradition from the first century did emerge later in which Maya is declared a virgin and became pregnant after dreaming of a white elephant.[8] Hardly comparable to the gospel account.

Genghis Khan: Was born in AD1155,[9] thus no one can claim the gospel writers copied from a man not born for another one thousand years.

Hercules: The myth of Hercules is that Zeus fell in love with a married woman named Alceme, they had sexual relations, and Hercules was conceived.[10] Though Alceme had not yet slept with her husband (her cousin), the encounter between her and Zeus was sexual in nature, and therefore in contrast with the gospel narrative. It should additionally be noted that Alceme slept with another God, Tiresias, at a later date.[11] Other story details bring incredible contrast to the gospel narratives.

Horus and Osiris: This one is slightly more complicated because many pharaohs were named Osiris and Horus after the gods Osiris and Horus. Egyptian mythology holds that Pharaohs were thought be the result of their mother in union with a God.[12] This however would make the mothers non-virgins. The wife’s encounter with a God is sexual in Egyptian tradition, were as the account from Matthew and Luke is not. Even the mythologies of the original gods doesn’t match up; Horus was not born of a virgin. In fact one depiction is that of his mother Isis in falcon form hovering over the erect penis of Osiris. Scholars agree that Egyptian mythology maintains Isis had sexual intercourse with Osiris.[13]

Krishna: Krishna was born as the eighth son of princess Devaki. She was apparently impregnated by her husband god Vasudeva via “mental transmission.” And though one can argue the conception was non-sexual, the fact remains that Devaki had already had seven children and was therefore not a virgin.

Mithras: Mithras was born as an adult, not a child. Mithras was also born out of rock, not a virgin mother.[14] More importantly, the birth stories of Mithras come AFTER the gospels were being circulated.[15] Therefore, one cannot accuse Christianity of borrowing from it.

Perseus: Perseus was not really virginally conceived at all, but was the result of sexual intercourse between the god Zeus and Danaë. Zeus had previously turned himself into a shower of gold to reach the imprisoned damsel.[16] This is in high contrast to the gospel narrative.

Romulus: Romulus was born one of two twins to the virgin Rhea Silva after having sexual intercourse with Mars, and were thrown into the river Tiberinus where they were rescued by a she-wolf that reared them.[17] Though Rhea Silva may have been a virgin, she wasn’t considered one after being impregnated by Mars. Thus, it is not comparable to the gospel narrative.

Zoroaster: Like Buddha, Zoroaster is difficult to pin point as well, living any where from 1,700 to 600 BC. The details of the conception are vague and can only be sourced to a time after Christianity had already originated.[18]

To claim Matthew and Luke copied from pagan myths either comes from a lack of historical knowledge of these other mythological characters, or from a direct intent to mislead others. Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, AKA Pope Benedict XVI, writes, “Extra-biblical stories of this kind differ profoundly in vocabulary and imagery from the story of the birth of Jesus. The main contrast consists in the fact that in pagan texts the godhead almost always appears as a fertilizing, procreative power, thus under a more or less sexual aspect hence in a physical sense as the ‘father’ of the savior-child. As we have seen, nothing of this sort appears in the New Testament: the conception of Jesus is a new creation, not begetting by God. God does not become the biological father of Jesus.”[19]

Reverend Raymond E. Brown of the Roman Catholic Church writes, “In short, there is no clear example of virginal conception in world or pagan religions that plausibly could have given first-century Jewish Christians the idea of the virginal conception of Jesus.”[20]

Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, a chemist and national chess champion, writes, “The earliest Christians were Jews who abhorred paganism (see Acts 14), so would be the last people to derive Christianity from paganism.”[21]

Jean-Guenolé-Marie Daniélou , a Jesuit theologian, historian, cardinal and member of the Academie Francaise, writes, “… such attempts (to compare the Christian nativity to pagan mythology) are foiled by the absence of any precise element of comparison.”[22]

In summary here are some main points to consider regarding this poor theory:

A.         There is no proof that first century Christians knew of, or were at any point exposed to these pagan myths and stories.

B.         If they were known, what is the attraction to them, or motivation to borrow from them? Especially considering the NT’s aversion to anything pagan.

C.        When extra-biblical stories are compared to the virginal conception from Matthew and Luke there is arguably no similarities what so ever.

With these points considered, it becomes very clear that this theory has no legs to stand on and should be abandoned by skeptics.

COPIED FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT

Another theory holds that Matthew and Luke didn’t copy but pagan mythologies, but instead copied from the Old Testament. The motivation is the same for the pagan mythologies in that they wanted to make Christ more appealing. But instead of making Him more appealing to gentiles, they instead wanted to make Him appealing to Jews. And what better way to do this then to connect the nativity story with other Old Testament stories and attach a prophecy to the virgin conception.

The first concept of appealing to Jews was to copy from the stories of Isaac and Samson in which through the miracle of sexual reproduction God makes the conception of these heroes possible, much like Jesus. This theory is easily refuted though. Mary was a virgin, unlike Isaac and Samson’s mother. She was also very young whereas the other mothers were very old. The miracle is thus of a completely different nature since the other mother’s pregnancies were miracles in that they were too old to conceive. Mary’s pregnancy, conversely, was a miracle in that she was a virgin. Additionally, the other mothers conceived through sexual intercourse between two humans, with God only making the conception possible. Mary on the other hand had no sexual intercourse, and was made pregnant via the Holy Spirit. The nature of these miracles is different enough to refute the notion that Matthew and Luke fabricated the story from Old Testament scripture.

The second concept is that of prophecy. Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 as prophecy of the virgin conception: “Therefore the Lord himself will give youa sign: The virginwill conceive and give birth to a son, andwill call him Immanuel” (NIV). Since this prophecy already had a historical fulfillment unrelated to Christ, many argue that Matthew was forcing prophecy on the nativity to convince Jews of Christ’s authenticity. Many scholars, still to this day, argue on the meaning and usage of this OT text by Matthew.

The Hebrew word used for virgin in Isaiah 7:14 is “almah.” When translated into Greek in the Septuagint, the word used is “parthenos.” “Parthenos” can be translated to “virgin,” but it can just as easily mean “young woman.”[23] Another Greek word “neanis,” could have been used and has closer meaning to “almah.” But it was not used, so the Septuagint translator interpreted “almah” to represent “parthenos.”[24] Others believe virgin is an accurate translation for “almah” since it is used in many other places in Old Testament for young women that were unmarried (virgin) women.[25] Many theologians argue why the Septuagint translator(s) used “parthenos.” But whether Isaiah 7:14 pertains to a woman being a “virgin” or “young,” it should be noted that Mary was both, so there is no contradiction no matter which way you put it. The issue is not so much as whether the woman mentioned was a virgin or not, but more so, the reason for Matthew’s use of it.

Some theologians believe that the virginal conception was so unexpected that it forced Matthew and Luke to interpret Isaiah 7:14 in a way very different from how Jewish tradition did.[26] Thus, Isaiah 7:14 is used out of context to be assimilated to the virgin conception of Christ. This is troubling for many to accept. However, there is another approach to this issue. The literal prophecy is directly linked with a past historical event, the birth of Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, which is directly followed by disasters in Israel. This has led other theologians to counter that Matthew is using the prophecy within context, but that we’re reading the wrong part of the prophecy. The purpose of Isaiah 7:14 (when read in context with 7:13) is that there will be a descendant of David that is a “sign.”[27] This prophecy should not be used to “prove” the virgin birth that fulfills the prophecy, but instead to indicate a parallel with offspring from the lineage of David born unto a “young” or “virgin” woman. After all, Isaiah 7:14 says the child would be named Immanuel, and Jesus is named… well… Jesus. Yet there is a parallel meaning between what the names mean; Immanuel meaning “God is with us,” and Jesus meaning “Savior.” So it can be argued the reference to Isaiah is not for fulfillment, but to establish a parallel.

Danielou concludes, “…the point of the reference to Isaiah 7 in Matthew is to support the central statement of the episode that Jesus is to be of the house of David… It does not base faith in the virgin birth on the fact that it is the fulfillment of a prophecy; on the contrary, it provides a Christian exegesis of the prophecy in the light of the virgin birth.”[28]

Further refutation of the original conspiracy in general can occur if we put ourselves in Matthew and Luke’s shoes for a moment, as first century Jewish men. Let us hypothetically say we were going to fabricate Jesus’ birth story to make it contextual to the Old Testament and Jewish tradition. They would have said the Messiah came down from heaven, or was the Son of David through Joseph. Yet, they went with virginal conception from Mary, a woman from the lineage of David. This is not expected. Clearly the gospel writers did not fabricate the virgin conception from Old Testament scripture.

LATER ADDITIONS

Both the pagan mythology theory and the theory of borrowing from the OT have a similarity in that they are additions to the gospel accounts. This leads to another theory that the virgin conception (and nativity story overall) was added long after the gospels were originally written. The theory proposes a multitude of motivations, some pertaining to the two previous theories of trying to make the story of Christ more appealing. Other motivations lie in trying to force sexual restrictions on men and women through lessons learned from the virgin birth. The case to me made is, why else would such an important story be found in only two gospel accounts and yet nowhere else in the New Testament. Since the books were written in the second half of the first century, it is argued they could have been added at any point during this time. Some believe that Mary was never even considered a virgin until the middle ages!

However, there is strong evidence that the gospels were written prior to the Pauline epistles in 70AD. In fact, famous archaeologist Dr. William F. Albright writes, “There is no reason to believe that any Gospels were written later than A.D. 70,”[29] Additionally, the composition of the infancy gospels in Matthew and Luke is archaic, Judaic, Old Testament character that preserved the first Judeo-Christian community traditions. And furthermore, the virginal conception doctrine is scriptural and affirmed by early Christians such as Ignatius (d. AD c. 108), Justin Martyr (c. 100 – c. 165), Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200), and Tertullian (c. 150 – c. 212).[30] Lastly, by the 3rd century or after, the gospel accounts were so wide spread it would be literally impossible to track down every single one to add in the nativity story.

French theologian Rene Laurentin writes, “A closer investigation of the prehistory of the oral traditions or written sources of the gospels reveals that there is no reason for considering the infancy gospels as late.”[31] Indeed, considering that the text is consistent with that of first century writing, it is consistent with the rest of the gospel text all dated prior to AD70, it would be impossible to add to every copy at a later date and was affirmed by first and second century Christians, it is unquestionably accurate to say the nativity story is not a late addition to the gospel accounts.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER… AND RECORD

Ok, so maybe we can conclude the gospel writers didn’t copy or add in the nativity story later. But that still doesn’t prove the virgin conception. How do we really know Mary was a virgin? Maybe Joseph and Mary had pre-marital relations? Maybe Mary had an affair? This is of course neglecting the gospel accounts themselves.

Here is what we first need to establish. The gospels are clear that Mary was committed to Joseph. Matthew writes that Joseph was “husband of Mary” (1:16) and that she was “his wife” (1:20, 24) Luke says she was his “betrothed” even at the time of birth (1:27, 2:5). Therefore to suggest Mary had an affair with someone else presents a significant obstacle: Why did Joseph stay with her? Even in today’s culture that is a tall order, but in first century Jewish culture, that is unacceptable. There is no way Joseph would stay with Mary if she was pregnant with another man’s child. There would be at the very least be a divorce. Yet Joseph stays with Mary, clearly indicating there was no affair.

This leads the argument to another possible theory that Joseph and Mary had sex and conceived Jesus. This isn’t as shocking, but it contradicts the gospel accounts of Mary being a virgin. In addition, It was not Joseph who begot him (Mt 1:16, 18-25, Lk 1:31, 34-35, 3:24). Mary is Jesus’ only human source (Mt 1:16, 18, 20-23, Lk 1:27, 35). The origin is not referred to the Father, but to the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18, 20, Lk 1:35). Furthermore, if Joseph was Jesus’ father, why the need to concoct a story of virgin conception?

The only way to suggest the conception of Jesus was not supernatural is to deny the gospel narratives all together which affirm a virgin conception. To go further and propose an affair or normal human conception is to do so with no evidence and a denial of other historical facts.

SKEPTICISM AND EXTRA-BIBLICAL EVIDENCE

Skeptics argue, however, that there IS evidence of an affair or other illegitimate origin for Christ. Evidence that is extra-biblical and thus takes us into the realm of testimony from those who were skeptical of the virgin conception.

Ancient Jewish tradition maintains that Jesus was born of adultery.[32]  In the late 2nd century Celsus, a second century Greek philosopher, wrote, “[Jesus] came from a Jewish village and from poor country woman who earned her living by spinning… She was driven out by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, as she was convicted of adultery. After she had been driven out by her husband and while she was wandering about in a disgraceful way she secretly gave birth to Jesus.”[33]  And, “The mother of Jesus is described as having been turned out by the carpenter who was betrothed to her, as she had been convicted of adultery and had a child by a certain soldier named Panthera.”[34]

Even in the Bible we see skepticism of Jesus’ father from the Pharisees in Mark 6:3 when they refer to Jesus was as the son of Mary, not the son of Joseph. This would be an insult in Jewish culture, unless of course they believed Joseph was not His father, and the real father was unknown.

The skeptics seem to provide evidence that the origin of Christ is questionable. Or do they? Consider the source; Jews and Romans skeptical of Jesus being the Son of God. The only value this evidence has is evidence of doubt from others. The doubt being no different than the doubt experienced today as a way to rationalize Christ’s origins without the supernatural. The inclusion of these doubts in the gospel accounts themselves only solidifies this notion.

Celsus was far removed from the events in question by about one hundred years. His only knowledge of the nativity story coming from what the gospel writers had already established. Hence, his critique of the story is based on what he thinks really happened under the presupposition that the virgin conception did not occur. Case in point is his claim that Mary was convicted of adultery, something Joseph would surely divorce and leave her for, and something Mary most likely would not have survived. He also claims Joseph turned her away, which is not found in the nativity stories, and in fact contradicts them as both Mary and Joseph went to find Jesus in the temple at age twelve. Then there is his claim that the father was a soldier named “Panthera,” which he obviously derived from “pantheos” (virgin).[35] Thus, Celsus’ testimony only proves that there was doubt of Christ’s origins among the Romans, but there is nothing to substantiate these doubts other than preconceived opinion.

These records of doubt additionally defend three points made earlier; the virgin conception was not a later addition, not copied from pagan myth and the gospel writers did not copy from the Old Testament. If the virgin conception was added at a later date how come we see Jews and Romans challenging it so early on? If copied from pagan myth why did the Romans challenge it? If copied from Old Testament scripture why would the Jews challenge it?

Likewise, we must also consider the difficulty and skepticism encountered from Matthew and Luke while writing virginal conception story as further testimony to its accuracy. Why would Matthew and Luke write of it, unless it actually happened? The strange conception of Jesus would only lead to criticism and attempts to discredit the miracle from those who heard of it, as it subsequently did receive from both Jews and Greeks, which is testimony it was not invented by the disciples.

Laurentin writes, “…the virginal conception was, for Luke and above all for Matthew, a crucial difficulty, indeed a scandal. It ran counter to their apologetic concern, to establish that Jesus was son of David, which was the very reason that had inspired Matthew to begin his Gospel with a genealogy. It was a tradition that came to them from reliable Jewish Christian circles, and nothing prepared our evangelists to resolve it. They managed to do so, however, in a more convincing way that Paul himself (Gal 4:4), not by choosing an easy route, but by accepting the very originality of this significant novelty.”[36]

Let us, for the moment, assume the virgin conception did happen as written in the gospels. If so, we would naturally expect opposition from skeptics since the claim of a virgin conception is extreme. We would naturally expect some form of mention of the virgin conception outside the bible. Which we do find this extra-biblical support in the form of skepticism. Thus, the factors we naturally expect to find in the event the story is true, we do indeed find.

A RELIABLE SOURCE

All the rebuttals to these conspiracy theories relies on a foundation that proposes the gospels are reliable texts. As can be shown by the overly abundant other historical events confirmed by the Bible, the gospels themselves present many cities, people and events which have been substantiated by archaeology and other extra-biblical histories. Luke’s gospel alone proves to be rich with details that testify to his objective to provide an accurate account of Jesus’ life. Also consider the historical accuracy of events surrounding the birth. The references to Quirinius’ census, the accuracy of the genealogies, the mention of Herod, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, etc., all historically verifiable people and places. Details of the nativity story in general, like there being no room at the inn, child laid in a manger, etc., have no real theological value other than being straightforward historical details. This adds more teeth to the reliability of the nativity story overall.

With so many facets of Matthew and Luke’s gospels validated, why would one immediately move to a position of doubt when they mention the virgin conception? For the disciples to accept this event as accurate, it is because it imposed itself as fact. Additionally, between Luke and Matthew we see many divergences, yet they both share a similar account of the conception. Laurentin remarks, “… the virgin birth stands as a serious and solid datum. It is affirmed in an independent way, as we have seen, by the two infancy Gospels. There divergences at other points corroborate this remarkable agreement.”[37]

Danielou agrees, “… it is important to notice how Matthew and Luke converg- which indicates at the very least that the virgin birth is an element in a tradition that antedates them both. And if it is further true, as now seems incontestable, that the infancy narratives are based, not just on the preaching of the apostles, but on the traditions in Jesus’ family (traditions related in Luke to Mary’s side, and in Matthew’s to Joseph’s) then we are faced with two independent witnesses fully in agreement with one another.”[38]

But what about the fact that only two places in the New Testament mention such a significant event as the virgin conception? The resurrection was a very significant, and we see it mentioned numerous times in the NT, and definitely in all four gospels. Why is the nativity story so scarce?

Well such might not be the case. Some theologians argue that John 1:13 confirms the virgin conception, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (NIV)”  Mark 6:3 seems to also support the virgin conception in that it testifies to skepticism among the people as they referred to Jesus was the son of Mary, not Joseph, which was not custom at the time to reference the mother instead of the father, unless there was doubt of who the father was. This likewise is shown in John 8:41, where the Pharisees tell Jesus that they were not born out fornication (ek porneias). Was this an insult to Jesus?

Some suggest Paul confirms the virgin birth in Galatians 4:4, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law…” (NIV). Declaring Jesus was born of a woman in that time in place is substantial to say the least. And thus it appears we have confirmation from Matthew, Luke, John, Mark, and Paul that Jesus was conceived from a virgin woman. The claim that the nativity story should be rejected because it only appears in two places in the NT was refutable originally, but now it would appear to be an unquestionably spurious claim to make.

Laurentin writes, “…Paul’s theology of Christ’s origin contains nothing that conflicts with the idea of virginal conception, but in fact, contains some surprising traits which harmonize with it.”[39] Scholar Antonion Vicent Cernuda writes, “His [Paul’s] archaic formulas confirm that [the virginal conception], often considered illusory in these times, did belong to the most ancient Christian tradition.”[40]

One factor that troubles some skeptics is the fact that Matthew and Luke did not witness the events described in the nativity story. How could they know the details of Mary and Joseph being visited by an angel? The story of the conception of Jesus is believed to come from Mary herself, since Luke makes reference to her prayerful recollection. Mary is of course the only witness to the annunciation.[41] Thus, Luke received the story from Mary’s testimony.[42] It should be likewise considered Matthew received it from the same source.

Considering the historical accuracy of the Bible in general, and more specifically Matthew and Luke, it is rational to presume the stories told are accurate. In addition, other books within the Bible confirm the tradition of a virgin conception. Again, if we assume for the moment that the virgin conception did happen in the first century, the evidence we would expect to find from the first century is supporting eye witness testimony and skeptical testimony from those that did not witness it. And this is indeed what we find.

SCIENTIFIC SKEPTICISM

The most common objection to the virgin conception I often hear myself, is that of scientific impossibility. Such an event is a miracle, considered impossible, and thus rejected unless it can be proven otherwise. Usually the skeptic requires scientific proof, ignoring the fact that there are many truths we all accept everyday without a shred of scientific proof. Yet, this has not prevented many from drawing up explanations for the virgin conception that are supposedly scientifically sound. Just as the previously mentioned conspiracy theory of an affair looks to find a simple and scientifically acceptable explanation, there are others to consider as well, such as Parthenogenesis.

A few years ago, discover magazine posted an article on Parthenogenesis which stated, “Virgin birth may sound like the stuff of myths and miracles, but now it’s the stuff of science, too. In recent years, asexual reproduction, aka virgin birth, has been confirmed in a number of organisms.”[43] Parthenogenesis is the capability for an organism to reproduce without the need for fertilized eggs. It has been observed in pythons, sharks, bats, and even lab mice.[44] So if it is possible for these animals to give birth without sex, then maybe it is possible for humans too. Maybe such was the case for Jesus. This would serve to provide scientific plausibility for the skeptics and maintain the virgin birth for believers. In fact, many Christians have indeed adopted Parthenogenesis into their theology. Problem solved! Right?

Wrong. There are theological and scientific implications to parthenogenesis that prove to be anything but harmonious with scripture. The theological problem: Parthenogenesis removes any need for God, the Holy Spirit, or anything supernatural, chalking up Mary’s pregnancy to incredible, but still natural, causes. The denial of any divine influence renders the event non-miraculous and pointless to the Gospels. As Dr. Prasad confirms, “…when it comes to having babies without males, the hand of God now seems redundant.”[45] The scientific problem: parthenogenesis works by giving the egg an X chromosome from the mother, creating an XX combination which results in a female. Jesus was a male however. Meaning he required a Y chromosome which mothers cannot give, but fathers can.[46] As Prasad clarifies, “In humans, a virgin birth would mean that a woman’s eggs develop successfully without sperm. This presents a sex chromosome problem. In mammals, females are XX while males are XY so a woman should never be able to provide the necessary Y chromosome genes to produce a son. They can only come from a father.”[47]

However, some argue it could still be possible for Jesus to have been conceived this way if Mary had a condition called “testicular feminization syndrome.” Meaning, Mary had an X and Y chromosome (like that of a man) but her X chromosome was mutated preventing her body from being sensitive to testosterone, and thus, would develop like a female.[48] Normally the syndrome leaves the carrier sterile, but if she were to spontaneously become pregnant, she would have a Y chromosome to give, making it possible to have a male child.[49]

This, however, leads to another problem. Such a case of parthenogenesis among a carrier of testicular feminization syndrome would mean the offspring would inherit the same X chromosome mutation, and subsequently develop like a female as well. The only way around this problem is to propose a “back mutation,” in which the X chromosome mutation mutates back to the original gene that doesn’t cause testicular feminization. The odds of a back mutation are, however, “highly unlikely.”[50]

Another theory maintains that Mary didn’t have testicular feminization, but was instead a genetic mosaic caused while she herself was in her mother’s womb. This scenario involves a twin embryo (with a Y chromosome) fusing with Mary’s at a very early stage.[51] Thus, Mary is a female, but has the Y chromosome from her unfortunate fused twin. Yet problems emerge just as before; why is that Y chromosome not expressed in Mary’s phenotype? Whatever would suppress that Y chromosome allowing Mary to be female, would likewise prevent Jesus from being male as well.

Furthermore, the processes required for natural virgin birth are extremely unlikely. Parthenogenesis has never been observed in humans. Testicular feminization syndrome is very rare, only effecting one in 20,000 to 64,000 births in modern times.[52] The possibility of females with testicular feminization syndrome giving birth is very rare. Mary being a genetic mosaic is also very rare. And a back mutation is also very rare. When you stack unlikely scenarios upon piles of other unlikely scenarios, you’re left with an overall scenario so unlikely, it might as well be a miracle! As Prasad writes, “You could be forgiven for thinking that the scientific possibilities are no more plausible than a miracle.”[53] Clearly, the purpose of parthenogenesis to provide a scientific explanation for the virgin conception absent of miracles completely fails in this regard.

This is naturally where the argument heads into the realm of miracles and the question of whether or not miracles can or have happened. There is obviously a great deal that can be written on this subject alone, but I will only briefly attend to it. I will start by suggesting that it is a fallacy to claim that science disproves miracles. Science can only measure and study the regular natural order of things. A miracle, being a suspension of the regular natural order, would thus not be detectable by science. Ergo, to argue that science leaves no room for miracles is to argue that science has a monopoly on determining what truth is. However, the process of science is the data collected from observable repeatable experiment. Thus, science is limited as to what it can prove or disprove.

We also need to recognize that science is descriptive, not prescriptive. It does not determine what is possible, it only recognizes what is possible, and hence is always changing as we discover and understand more and more. Things that once defied science in the past are now standards in science. So if we recognize the limitations of science it becomes clear that the assumption it disproves miracles, is ultimately, false. After all, if science absolutely disproved miracles we should see a complete absence of Christian scientists. Such is not the case though.

Here, I believe, it is important to understand God’s role between miracles and natural law. Philosopher and apologist Norman L. Geisler does a wonderful job in identifying this, “Natural law is a description of the way God acts regularly in and through creation (Ps. 104:10–14), whereas a miracle is the way God acts on special occasions. So both miracles and natural law involve the activity of God. The difference is that natural law is the regular, repeatable way God acts, whereas a miracle is not… Natural law is the way God acts indirectly in and through the world he has made. By contrast, a miracle is the way God acts directly in his creation from time to time… Natural law describes the gradual activity of God in the world, whereas miracles manifest his immediate actions.”[54]

Overall, attempts to reconcile the virgin conception through pure natural causes devoid of divine intervention have to be recognized as attempts to remove God from the picture completely. And to remove God from the event, ultimately leads to an even easier denial of it. Brown writes, “It [virgin conception] was an extraordinary action of God’s creative power, as unique as the initial creation itself (and that is why all natural scientific objections to it are irrelevant, e.g., that not having a human father, Jesus’ genetic structure would be abnormal). It was not a phenomenon of nature; and to reduce it to one, however unusual, would be as serious a challenge to deny it altogether.”[55] So there should be no interest for Christians to search out natural explanations for it in an effort to make the story more plausible to skeptics.

Yet, the removal of any natural cause might be the deal breaker for you, yourself. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, I could never believe in miracles! I can, however, argue that you most likely all ready do. Atheists and agnostic skeptics tend to have more in common with Christians than they would like to think. The virgin conception proves this greatly in that it involves the spontaneous generation of Jesus’ first embryonic cell. Scoff and mock this notion if you wish. But it is no different than the first spontaneous generation of life on earth. Think of the parallels: Both involve a spontaneous generation of a cell. Both unobserved by modern science. A purely natural origin of life on this earth involves the same degree of miraculous cellular formation we see in the virgin birth. Yet skeptics will scoff and mock the notion of the virgin birth (of which we have eye witness accounts) and yet religiously adhere to the natural origin of life on earth (in which there is no eyewitness account, and additionally no conclusive evidence)! Such irony!

So from a scientific perspective there is no valid excuse to deny the virgin conception unless you wish to throw out every other miraculous non-observable event in history like the spontaneous generation of life on earth, the big bang event, etc. etc. Yet, if we believe these events to have occurred, than you no longer have any scientific grounds to refute the virgin conception.

CONCLUSION

My research has lead me to conclude the virgin conception story as recorded in the Bible can stand up to the refutations skeptics attack it with. As Laurentin concludes, “After so many hypotheses, which have on examination turned out be as many impasses, the obvious critical solution is to recognize that the virginal conception is a datum of tradition, handed down in Judeo-Christian circles. The two evangelists received it by different routes as a statement of fact… This is the conclusion to which an objective study of the text leads.”[56]

Through out the course of researching this topic it occurred to me that in arguing for and against the virgin conception of Christ, the issue will always boil down to a single question: Is there a God? This is ultimately the issue at hand. If there is no God then the virgin conception becomes null and void. If there is a God, then miracles are possible, and the virgin conception possible and confirmed. This is the question one must decide for themselves first, as the virgin conception debacle will only lead back to it. For Christians who claim to believe in God there is absolutely no reason to deny the literal accuracy of the virgin conception. To do so would be to pull on the thread of God’s capability that is tied to all Biblical events, unraveling the entire Bible itself.

Although this article does not alone prove whether the virgin conception actually happened or not, it does bring up two significant points: First, that if the virgin conception did occur in the first century as expressed in the gospels, all the evidence we would expect there to be of this event are indeed found. Second, if God exists as expressed in the Bible, then the virgin conception is possible, tied to the first point that there is evidence of the virgin conception, it can then be concluded it did occur. Alas, we are left with one final question then; does God exist? If your answer is yes, then I believe it is necessary to conclude the virgin conception is a historical fact.


[1] Spong, J.S., (1992) Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus, (San Francisco, CA: Harper)

[2] Flam, F., (May 2006) “What would Jesus’ DNA do?” seattletimes.com

[3] Robinson, J.A.T. (1967) But That I Can’t Believe! (New York, NY: The New American Library, Inc.) pp. 44.

[4] Larue, G. (1983) Sex and the Bible, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books). Pp. 70.

[5] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[6] “Alexander the Great,” http://www.biography.com

[7] Hold, J.P., “Was the story of Jesus stolen from Apollonius of Tyana?” http://www.tektonics.org

[8] Hold, J.P., “Was the story of Jesus stolen from Buddha? (Part 2)” http://www.tektonics.org

[9] “Genghis Kahn Biography,” (2012) http://www.biography.com

[10] “The Life and Times of Hercules,” http://www.perseus.tufts.edu

[11] “Alceme,” dante.udallas.edu

[12] Cazelle, H., (1959) “La mere du roi-Messie dans l’Ancien Testment,” Maria Ecclesia 5, pp. 39-56.

[13] Hold, J.P., “Was the story of Jesus stolen from that of the Egyptian deities Horus and Osiris?” http://www.tektonics.org

[14] Hold, J.P., “Was the story of Jesus stolen from that of the Persian deity Mithra?” http://www.tektonics.org

[15] Sarfati, J., (1994) “The Virginal Conception of Christ,” Apologia, 3(2) pp. 9.

[16] Sarfati, J., (1994) “The Virginal Conception of Christ,” Apologia, 3(2) pp. 9.

[17] Lindemans, M.F., (March 2002) “Romulus,” http://www.pantheon.org

[18] Hold, J.P., “Was the story of Jesus stolen from that of Zoroaster?” http://www.tektonics.org

[19] Ratzinger, J.A., (1969) Introduction au christianise. Translated, Queriniana, Pp. 207-208

[20] Brown, R.E., (1977)  The Birth of the Messiah: a commentary on the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, Garden City, NY: Doubleday) pp. 523

[21] Sarfati, J., (1994) “The Virginal Conception of Christ,” Apologia, 3(2) pp. 9.

[22] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 53.

[23] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 48.

[24] Larue, G. (1983) Sex and the Bible, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books). Pp 69.

[25] Bott, M. & Sarfati, J., (1995) “What is wrong with Bishop Spong? Laymen Rethink the Scholarship of John Shelby Spong,” Apologia 4(1):3–27

[26] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 403.

[27] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 50.

[28] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 52.

[29] Quoted in, Little, P.E., (2000) “Know Why You Believe,” 4th Ed., (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) pp. 41-42.

[30] Sarfati, J., (1994) “The Virginal Conception of Christ,” Apologia, 3(2) pp. 4.

[31] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 410.

[32] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 405.

[33] As quoted from Chadwick, H., (1953) Origen: Contra Celsum, Cambridge, The University Press, 1:28, pp. 28

[34] As quoted from Chadwick, H., (1953) Origen: Contra Celsum, Cambridge, The University Press, 1:32, pp. 31.

[35] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 539 (ref 13).

[36] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 416.

[37] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 402.

[38] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 42.

[39] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 409.

[40] Vicent Cernuda, A., (1978) “La genesis humana de Jesucrist segun S. Pablo,” Translated, EB 37, pp. 289.

[41] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 23.

[42] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 58-59.

[43] Bai, N., (January 2009) “The Science of Virgin Birth,” blogs.discovermagazine.com

[44] Bai, N., (January 2009) “The Science of Virgin Birth,” blogs.discovermagazine.com

[45] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[46] Bai, N., (January 2009) “The Science of Virgin Birth,” blogs.discovermagazine.com

[47] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[48] Kour, V. & Abrol, A., (January-March 2005) “Testicular Feminization Syndrome,” Vol. 7, No. 1, http://www.jkscience.org

[49] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[50] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[51] Bai, N., (January 2009) “The Science of Virgin Birth,” blogs.discovermagazine.com

[52] Kour, V. & Abrol, A., (January-March 2005) “Testicular Feminization Syndrome,” Vol. 7, No. 1, http://www.jkscience.org

[53] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[54] Geisler, N.L., (1992) Miracles and the Modern Mind, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker) pp. 111.

[55] Brown, R.E., (1977)  The Birth of the Messiah: a commentary on the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, Garden City, NY: Doubleday) pp. 531.

[56] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 416.

Everyone knows what Planned Parenthood is, but most people don’t know what Eugenics is. Some people have probably never even heard of it. The term eugenics was first coined by Francis Galton, who was also a cousin of Charles Darwin. It is derived form the Greek word eu (good) and genics (in birth).[1] It essentially means being “well-born.” The purpose of Eugenics is simple; natural selection by evolution is a slow process, but just as animals can be bred to remove the weak genes, the same can be done with humans to ensure that only the most desirable genes are passed on.

“We have wonderful new races of horses, cows, and pigs. Why should we not have a new and improved race of men?” –Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, founder of the Race Betterment Foundation.[2]

During the time eugenics became popular in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, scientists believed that almost everything related to character was heritable, and not a product of environment. Violent behavior, ignorance and even sense of humor, were all traits that were believed to be passed down from one generation to the next. As Charles Darwin stated, “When we look among our acquaintances we are struck by their diversity in physical, mental, and moral traits… these characteristics are inheritable.” [3]So the solution was simple; if there are any traits society agrees it does want to see continue, prevent that person or people from reproducing. This was known as negative eugenics, and its purpose was to decrease the number of the “unfit.” Positive eugenics was the opposite in that if there were traits that were deemed “good,” an effort should be made to promote the continuance of those traits through reproduction.

Eugenics is not something new to the world. It was done as early as the 5th and 4th centuries in Athens, Sparta, ect. Supported by Plato and Aristotle, if a child was born with any deformities, the new born was immediately killed because it would only weaken the nation’s strength and in turn they would “spare” the child from an unpleasant life and the nation from an unfit citizen.[4] But in the late 1800’s Francis Galton was trying to bring it back to the modern age, “Could not the undesirable traits be got rid of and the desirable multiplied?”[5]

Here is the list of the ten social misfits the eugenics movement targeted to remove out of society;

1. The feebleminded.

2. The pauper class.

3. Alcoholics.

4. Criminals (of all crimes, even petty ones).

5. Epileptics.

6. The insane.

7. The constitutionally weak.

8. Those predisposed to specific diseases.

9. The deformed.

10. The sense deprived; blind, deaf and mute.[6]

I don’t know about you as the reader, but if the Eugenics movement was successfully carried out in our country across the board, I would not be alive today, and there is a good chance you would not be either…

“We civilized men… do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of everyone to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution, would formerly have succumbed to the small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised [sic] societies propagate their kind… It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of the human race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow the worst animals to breed.”[7] Guess who wrote this? Charles Darwin, the man from whom the concept of biological evolution was founded. Now you must ask yourself honestly, do you agree with Darwin?

The ultimate goal of Eugenics was to create a better race of man, a superior race of man, faster than nature could through evolution. Does that sound familiar? Does Hitler come to mind? Well, it should because Hitler was an outspoken supporter of Eugenics, and prior to World War II he was even supported by many Americans that also believed in Eugenics. That is until they found out about Hitler’s death camps and incredibly inhuman medical experiments. Then they did not support him anymore… interesting, considering it was Hitler’s application of eugenics they disliked, not the concept.

You may be thinking to yourself, but this was all 70 years ago and surely done away with in that time right? You’d think with the advancements in genetic biology and the Nazi terror of WWII eugenics would be wiped off the face of the earth, right? Not quite… as Edwin Black writes, “While human genetics was becoming established in America, eugenics did not die out. It became quiet and careful.”[8] In 1907 Indiana enacted forced sterilization laws that was applied to “mentally impaired patients, poorhouse residents, and prisoners.” 30 other states began to follow suit and between 1907 and 1970 between 60,000 and 70,000 were sterilized against their will, right here in good ol’ America.[9] Immigration laws were enacted to limit the amount of children immigrants could have. Marriage restrictions were enacted to interracial couples to keep the Caucasian race “pure.” But unknown to most, marriage restrictions were also applied to the blind, deaf and mute. Eugenicist Frederick Osborn stated in 1965, “The term medical genetics has taken the place of the term negative eugenics.”[10] Recall negative eugenics being the active attempt to prohibit reproduction of the “unfit.” Beginning in the 1990’s parents using in vitro fertilization could have multiple embryos tested for disorders, abnormalities, disabilities and sex. All unwanted embryos are discarded (killed). In 2003 James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, stated, “If you are really stupid, I would call that a disease. The lower 10 percent of who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what’s the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, ‘Well, poverty, things like that,’ It probably isn’t. So I’d like to get rid of that, to help lower the 10 percent.”[11] In 2005 the Netherlands adopted the “Groningen Protocol- Euthanasia in Severely Ill Newborns,” to help doctors decide if newborns should be euthanized based on the newborn’s disease and perceived quality of life.[12] As you can see, Eugenics is very much alive and well today.

Ok, so Eugenics is bad, we can all agree, right? But what does this have to do with Planned Parenthood? Well, there once was a woman by the name of Margaret Sanger who was born in 1879, the 6th of 11 children from a poor white family.[13] She would later become a member of the socialist party, a very influential feminist and women’s rights activist. She would eventually align herself with Thomas Malthus (a man heavily influenced by Darwin) who believed the human population was growing too rapidly for resources to keep up.[14] The solution he proposed was to decrease and eliminate the “inferior” population through birth control, sterilization and abortion. And we all remember who was considered “inferior” correct? In 1921 Sanger would organize the American Birth Control League, which after Hitler’s actions in WWII would lead the ABCL to change their name to Planned Parenthood. Even though Sanger and other Eugenicists openly supported Hitler originally, they knew they would have to change their image after the mess he made with their cause.[15]

Sanger admitted her motives were rooted in helping poor women, liberating sexual desire, and advancing the science of Eugenics.[16] Sanger wrote in her 1922 book The Pivot of Civilization, “Birth control, which has been criticized as negative and destructive, is really the greatest and most truly eugenic method, its adoption as part of the program of Eugenics would immediately give a concrete and realistic power to their science. As a matter of fact, Birth Control has been accepted by the most clear thinking and far seeing of the Eugenicists themselves as the most constructive and necessary of the means to racial health.”[17] The issue here not being birth control itself but the reason for birth control. The motive is the concern, and Sanger’s motive was prohibiting the further reproduction of the inferior population.

Here’s another sample of Sanger’s wonderful philosophy, “The emergency problem of segregation and sterilization must be faced immediately. Every feeble minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period. Otherwise she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives… Moreover, when we realize that each feebleminded person is a potential source of an endless progeny of defect, we prefer the policy of immediate sterilization, of making sure that parenthood is absolutely prohibited to the feebleminded.”[18] Or how about this pearl of wisdom, “The most merciful thing a large family can do to one of its infant members is to kill it.”[19]

You’d think Sanger would be a blemish in Planned Parenthood’s history, but this is not the case. Planned Parenthood’s website commends Sanger and provides a very detailed (yet one-sided) biography on her: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are/history-and-successes.htm#Sanger. You’ll notice they left out her ties to Eugenics. She is instead referred to as a “great hero.” The former president of  Planned Parenthood  Alan Guttmacher claims, “We are merely walking down the path that Mrs. Sanger carved out for us.”[20] As is typical with all supporters of Sanger, they all ignore her eugenic past and instead focus primarily on her feminist activism for woman’s rights for which she is so heavily quoted and admired for.

But did other feminists agree with Sanger? Pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft condemned those who, “either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born.”[21] Susan B. Anthony referred to abortion as “infanticide” and “child murder.” She wrote, “I deplore the horrible crime of child murder… No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed.”[22] She also wrote, “When a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is a sign that, by education or circumstances, she has been greatly wronged.”[23] Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848 organized the first women’s rights convention, said, “When you consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”[24] Alice Paul who drafted the original version of the Equal Rights Amendment (a landmark feminist document) referred to abortion as “the ultimate exploitation of women.”[25]

Even feminists today still find themselves at odds with abortion, and more specifically Planned Parenthood. Serrin M. Foster, President of Feminists for Life writes, “Even though Feminists for Life has reached out to pro-choice activists to help provide more choices for women, ironically, Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, has called Feminists for Life’s solution-oriented program “anti-choice.” If providing practical resources that help women can be called “anti-choice,” something has gone terribly wrong.”[26]

Regardless of Sanger’s involvement, advocates of Planned Parenthood like to constantly point out all the good that Planned Parenthood does today with sexual education, STD testing, cancer screening, free birth control contraceptives, etc. For example, on the Planned Parenthood bus tour called the “Truth Tour,” the bus boasts of such statistics as “4,000,000 STD (sexually transmitted diseases) Tests”; “1,800,00 Cancer Screenings”; “2,500,000 Birth Control Patients”; and “830,000 Breast Exams.” The main banner on the bus reads, “Stand With Planned Parenthood.” We can agree these things are good, even though some of the tests Planned Parenthood boasts about are nothing more than referrals they give patients directing them to use other clinics that provide the services and tests. For example, the breast cancer tests Planned Parenthood boasts they’ve saved so many lives with, they don’t even offer, like mammograms, which even the Planned Parenthood website says; “Ask your health care provider, health department, or staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center about where you can get a mammogram in your area.”[27] But more importantly, there is something missing from those statistics mentioned above on the “Truth Tour.” Where are the abortion statistics?

Oh wait, here they are: 332,278 aborted in 2009.[28] Advocates of Planned Parenthood like to say abortion is just a small part of what Planned Parenthood does, yet Planned Parenthood has been conducting about ¼ of the abortions in America on average from 2006 to 2010 alone.[29] There’s nothing “small” about that. How come Planned Parenthood doesn’t boast about these abortion statistics? I mean it is the “Truth Tour” right? What Planned Parenthood does boast about is the numbers of preventative contraceptives it supplies which supposedly prevents over 400,000 abortions annually.[30] By boasting about how many abortions have been avoided, Planned Parenthood seems to give the impression abortions are bad. If they were good, why would they boast of how many are avoided? So per Planned Parenthood it is good to prevent a service they provide… seems a bit contradicting. This is clearly a spin tactic to persuade pro-life advocates to Planned Parenthood’s cause.

Yes it is true that Planned Parenthood provides many other beneficial services for family planning. But these benefits are not solely isolated to Planned Parenthood. There are hundreds of other public clinics and organizations (many free of charge) that provide the same services and education that do not provide abortive procedures. Planned Parenthood does not have a monopoly on family planning, STD screening and cancer screening services. Yet Planned Parenthood advocates seem to make it sound like Planned Parenthood is the only one in America doing these things and without Planned Parenthood no one will be doing it, which is hardly the case. Furthermore, trying to mask the bad with examples of good, no matter how numerous they may be, does not in any way make the bad go away. A man who murders may also donate to charities, pay his taxes, rescue abandoned animals, and do hundreds of other great things, but it still does not change the fact that he murders. We should not support organizations simply because they do “mostly” good. Especially when even the “good” they do is questionable at times.

There is so much more to write about Planned Parenthood, but I feel I’m beginning to get off topic. The main point I want to hit home is origins and foundation.  Planned Parenthood is an organization founded by eugenicists who do not care for the disabled, sick or weak, but instead want them removed. We are not equal in their eyes, we are a burden. The Bible however tells us that we are all equal, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth.”[31] “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[32] Even our American Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.” But in the eyes of Margaret Sanger that didn’t apply to you if you were an alcoholic, epileptic, imbecile, a blind person, a sick person, etc. You were to be removed from society.

We are not to cast out the sick and disabled, but to heal the sick, to help the disabled! “Don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.”[33] Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”[34] “For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ.”[35] “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”[36]

I cannot support Planned Parenthood because of what they stand for in entirety. Claiming they do more good than harm is in no way a convincing argument to persuade someone to support their cause. And as long as Planned Parenthood continues to stand by its founder and destroy lives through abortions I cannot support such an organization.


[1] Dr. Georgia Purdom, The NewAnswers Book 3, What about Eugenics and Planned Parenthood? (Green Forest: AR, Master Books 2009) Pg. 162.

[2] Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, (New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003) Pg. 88.

[3] Charles Darwin, The Decent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 1st Edition (London: John Murray, 1871) Pg. 105.

[4] This is found recorded in the ancient Law of the Twelve Tables from 449 B.C.

[5] Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, (New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003) Pg. 16.

[6] Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, (New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003) Pg. 58.

[7] Charles Darwin, The Decent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 1st Edition (London: John Murray, 1871) Pg. 168-169.

[8] Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, (New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003) Pg. 421.

[9] Joan Rothschild, The Dream of the Perfect Child (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2005) Pg. 45.

[10] Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, (New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003) Pg. 424.

[11] Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, (New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003) Pg. 442.

[12] Dr. Georgia Purdom, The NewAnswers Book 3, What about Eugenics and Planned Parenthood? Pg. 161.

[13] George Grant, Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood (Franklin, TN: Adroit Press, 1992) Pg. 47.

[14] It would be later discovered that the “rapidly growing population” he was concerned about was actually the rapidly growing American population caused by an increase in immigration and longevity of life due to advancements in the quality of life in America.

[15] George Grant, Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood (Franklin, TN: Adroit Press, 1992) Pg. 61.

[16] Donald DeMarco and Benjamin Wiker, Architects of the Culture of Death, (Ignatius Press, 2004) Pg. 291

[17] Margaret Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, reprinted by Echo Library, 2006.

[18] As quoted in; Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, (New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003) Pg. 131.

[19] Margaret Sanger, The Woman Rebel, Volume I, Number 1. Reprinted in “Woman and the New Race.” New York: Brentanos Publishers, 1922.

[20] George Grant, Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood (Franklin, TN: Adroit Press, 1992) Pg. 63.

[21] Serrin M. Foster, The Feminist Case Against Abortion, http://www.feministsforlife.org.

[22] R.C. Sproul, Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1990) Pg. 117-118.

[23] Mattie Brinkerhoff, The Revolution, April 1868 Pg. 215-216.

[24] Serrin M. Foster, The Feminist Case Against Abortion, http://www.feministsforlife.org.

[25] Guy M. Condon, “You Say Choice, I Say Murder,” Christianity Today June 1991, Pg. 22.

[26] Serrin M. Foster, The Feminist Case Against Abortion, http://www.feministsforlife.org.

[28] Chuck Donovan, “Cut Planned Parenthood’s Funding.” March 2011, http://www.cnn.com

[29] Statistics from National Right to Life, “Abortion in the United States: Statistics and Trends,” http://www.nrlc.org

[30] Cynthia Nixon and David Eigenberg, “Why We Should Protect Planned Parenthood,” Marc 2011, http://www.cnn.com

[31] Acts 17:26 (NIV)

[32] Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

[33] Hebrews 13:16 (NLT)

[34] Philippians 2:3-4 (NLT)

[35] 2 Corinthians 9:13 (NLT)

[36] Matthew 7:12 (NLT)