Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Virgin birth?

OK, since I have at least one reader (hello Chris!) I'll write a post about an issue that has been niggling me for some time, although I must say at the outset that I really haven't made up my mind on this issue one way or the other.

The Virgin Birth - did it happen? why did it happen?

This is one of the 'fundamental' things that most evangelical, charismatic and conservative Christians believe and probably never question. I only began to question it when I realised that there is very little about it at all in the bible. Matthew and Luke mention it, more or less in passing, and that's it. The other two gospel writers either didn't know about it or didn't think it was worth including. Paul and the other epistle writers make no mention of it.

Of course, Isaiah mentions a virgin birth in 7:14, but reading that in the context of the surrounding verses in Isaiah does not necessarily point to the messiah.

If Jesus's disciples knew that he was born of a virgin, then that astounding miracle would surely have been mentioned in the earliest gospel - Mark. If John knew it, surely he would have mentioned it in his gospel - which has the agenda of demonstrating that Jesus was the Son of God. Likewise, given how much he wrote about the divinity of Jesus, it is astounding that Paul doesn't mention it.

This suggests to me that the disciples knew nothing about this story in the early days of the church. Sometime later (perhaps when the "Q" document entered circulation) the story became known and it became part of the gospel when Matthew and Luke wrote their accounts. If this is the case, it doesn't inspire me with confidence in the story. What if the writer of "Q" simply added it because he thought the Isaiah passage was referring to Jesus, therefore he must have been born of a virgin?

Some argue that if there wasn't an immaculate conception, then Jesus would be the illegitimate son of Mary and Joseph, and surely God wouldn't have His Son born of a sinful union. But the flaw in this reasoning is that the only evidence we have that Mary and Joseph weren't married at the time of Jesus's conception comes from the same passages that speak of the virgin birth. If the virgin birth is questionable, surely the other parts of the same story are equally questionable?

Immaculate conception is not a Christian concept - it was a common feature of many stories of Greek and Roman gods and was used, among other things, to explain why the vestal 'virgins' sometimes got pregnant. In other words, in pagan stories, the 'son of god' is born by means of immaculate conception, perhaps this bit of pagan belief has become grafted onto the Christian story - Jesus is the Son of God, therefore he must have had an immaculate conception.

I'm really not sure, the jury is still out on this one.

Comments anyone?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Noah's Ark

I may as well begin this blog by starting with one of the biggest clashes between science/common-sense and biblical 'history': Noah's Ark.

The story is presented as history. I know some Christians who believe it happened as the bible said it did. But let's consider the details.

In Genesis 6, God is apparently very precise about the size of the ark: 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high (about 140 metres long, 23 metres wide and 13.5 metres high) - that's a total volume of 43470 cubic metres.

Now, science tells us that there are about 30 to 50 million species of animal, even supposing that three quarters of these are marine animals, and can therefore survive the flood, that still leaves us with at least 7.5 million species to go on the ark. And, of course, two of each unclean species and seven of each clean species are required. So more than 15 million animals have to be fitted on the ark.

That leaves only 0.002898 cubic metres per animal. And even if Noah was able to find one animal per minute, 24 hours a day, 6 days a week (he was righteous in the eyes of the Lord, so must have kept the sabbath), it would take 33 years to fill the ark.

I could go on. The point is this: the events described could not have taken place as described. Perhaps there was an ark and a lot of animals were taken on it, but there is no way that the flood could have been worldwide as other land animals clearly survived the experience even though they were not on the ark.

The problem this introduces is that it clearly shows that some of the stories in the bible, which are presented as history, are merely stories. They may have some roots in history, but time and embellishment have changed them to such a degree that the actual history is lost. But this leads us to question every story in the bible - if Noah's ark is just a myth then what about Moses, King David and so on, what about the things Jesus is reported to have done?

More than that, it leads us to challenge one of the fundamental aspects of belief for many Christians - the divine inspiration and infallibility of the bible.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A whole new blog...

I'm the sort of person that likes answers to questions. I don't mind being proven wrong, so long is it is proof that is presented, rather than just the weight of opinion. I've started this blog to discuss some of the areas of Christian belief that I have the biggest problems with.

However, I'm not approaching this from the outside; aiming to attack Christianity. Rather, I'm coming from the inside. I am a Christian - one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God and seeks to follow Him - but there are things in the bible and in common Christian belief that I have serious doubts about, and it is here that I'll try and think them through.

Ultimately, there may be no resolution, there may be no proof either way, but there may be insights from myself and others which may be useful. So please read, comment, discuss and enjoy.