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Old 02-24-2001, 09:06 PM   #1
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Post Paul and the Birth of Jesus

It is commonly assumed that Paul had no interest in the "human" Jesus. While Paul does have a rather high Christology, he by no means lacked all interest in the "human" Jesus (if Paul even made such a distinction). Moreover, it is commonly assumed that Paul was unaware of the tradition of the virgin birth preserved in Matthew and Luke. Such a definitive statement is unsupportable.

To think that we have preserved in Paul's letters an exhaustive list of his beliefs, or even the Jesus tradition of the early church is naive. Yet time and again I have seen some argue that Paul never wrote about some particular aspect of Jesus' ministry, so it must have been unknown to him and all other early Christians. This is a naive view.

It is a fallacy to assume that deposited in Paul was the sum total of early Christian knowledge about Jesus. It is likewise a fallacy to assume that the sum total of Paul's knowledge about Jesus was deposited in his occasional letters. Moreover, even were we to assume that the sum total of Paul's beliefs were represented in his letters, we can be sure that we do not have all of Paul's epistles. No scholar believes we have every letter Paul wrote to the various churches.

Additionally, Paul's letters were occasional. Skeptics are found of saying that the Gospels were not biographies of Jesus. Yet many skeptics turn around and point to various things that Paul's letters do not discuss as proof that they were invented later. I do not believe that such "analysis" is probative. Paul wrote his letters, by and large, in order to resolve particular events in particular places involving particular people.

That leads me to the issue of Paul's knowledge of the circumstances of Jesus' birth. To be clear, I'm not trying to prove or disprove the actual virgin birth, but wanted to address the issue of Paul's so-called silence on the subject. And, having addressed the issue that Paul's letters cannot be seen as the sum total of his, or early Christianity's, knowledge of any particular Jesus tradition, I now address what Paul actually mentioned about Jesus' birth in his letters.

As a disclaimer, most N.T. scholars would say that Paul did not indicate his belief or awareness of the tradition of Jesus' virgin birth. But, there are some clues that might show that he did. Although Paul's theological focus was on Jesus' death and resurrection, he did indicate some interest in Jesus' origins. In Romans 1:3 he speaks of Jesus as God's son "who has descended from David according to the flesh." In Galatians 4:4, 5, he states that "when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem."

There are some points made in these two texts that correllate with Matthew and Luke's infancy narratives.

Jesus is God's "Son" in a special way. Luke 1:32, 35; Matt. 2:15.

Jesus had a normal human birth. Luke 2:6.

Jesus was "born of a woman." Perhaps both traditions giving special place to Jesus' mother, rather than father.

Jesus was born "under the law." Luke 2:22-24.

Jesus was born "in the fullness of time," a reference to Jesus' birth itself being an eschatological event.

Interesting parallels, irrefutably demonstrating Paul's knowledge of and belief in the "human" Jesus. However, I want to focus on three other key verses. In Rom. 1:3; Gal. 4:4, and Phil. 2:7, Paul uses a unique verb when for the translated word born--"ginomai." Importantly, after using the "ginomai" verb in Gal. 4:4, later in the same chapter Paul uses the more common "gennnomai" when referring to the John the Baptist's parentage (Sarah & Haggar) and the parentage of Isaac and Ishmael, even though the rest of the grammar and sentence structure is very similar. Gal. 4:23, 24, 29.

"Ginomai" is not used anywhere else in Paul's writings or the New Testament when referring to birth. "Ginomai" is more often translated to "become." "Gennaomai," on the other hand, is commonly used to mean "born" or "born of." Paul, therefore, intentionally chose to refer to Jesus' descent in a unique way.

Basically, Paul uses the term "become" instead of the term "born of." So, more literally translated Paul's writings would read, "his Son, become of David's seed according of the flesh." Rom 1:3. And, "his Son, become from a woman." Gal. 4:4.

Not determinative, but interesting nonetheless. While it does not go so far as to prove that Paul knew of the virgin birth, it does show that he was aware of some of the circumstances of Jesus' birth, that he treated it differently from other births, and that he attached eschatological significance to Jesus' birth itself, not just the death and resurrection. At the very least, the birth of Jesus had theological significance to the Paul, and probably other early Christians, prior to the Four Gospels.

[This message has been edited by Layman (edited February 24, 2001).]

[This message has been edited by Layman (edited February 24, 2001).]
 
Old 02-26-2001, 10:21 PM   #2
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Hi Layman

A quick question for you:

One of my commentaries (for the life of me I can't locate the actual quote right now) noted that in Mark, the reference used for Jesus' sonship was through Mary (Mark 6:3) instead of Joseph. Would you say that this may tie in with your points that Jesus being born of a woman was the key focus for early Christians?

Also, have you seen any other comments on this particular passage in Mark?

Thanks,

Nomad
 
Old 02-27-2001, 07:16 PM   #3
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Interesting parallels, irrefutably demonstrating Paul's knowledge of and belief in the "human" Jesus.

Well, to be strictly accurate, "irrefutable" would be something like mentioning that the birth took place in Bethlehem in a manger, that wise men traveled from afar to see the baby, and that the mother had a name, Mary.

That would be more irrefutable than "born of woman" in "the fullness of time."
 
Old 02-27-2001, 07:39 PM   #4
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by alchook:
Interesting parallels, irrefutably demonstrating Paul's knowledge of and belief in the "human" Jesus.

Well, to be strictly accurate, "irrefutable" would be something like mentioning that the birth took place in Bethlehem in a manger, that wise men traveled from afar to see the baby, and that the mother had a name, Mary.

That would be more irrefutable than "born of woman" in "the fullness of time."
</font>
I think you miss the point I was trying to make. I do not believe it is irrefutable that Paul believed in the virgin birth, or even that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. My point is exactly what I said. Jesus irrefutably believed in the "human" Jesus and was aware of traditions concerning that "human" Jesus. That is, Jesus was a human, not some mythological construct designed to foster a new religion.
 
Old 03-02-2001, 03:27 PM   #5
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Nomad:
Hi Layman

A quick question for you:

One of my commentaries (for the life of me I can't locate the actual quote right now) noted that in Mark, the reference used for Jesus' sonship was through Mary (Mark 6:3) instead of Joseph. Would you say that this may tie in with your points that Jesus being born of a woman was the key focus for early Christians?

Also, have you seen any other comments on this particular passage in Mark?

Thanks,

Nomad
</font>
I haven't meant to ignore you on this Nomad, it is a good question and an astute observation. Generally, we would expect him to be referenced by his father. Especially if that father was in the Davidic line, as Paul confirms about Jesus.

However, I have been meaning to reread a section of an excellent book on this subject, because I remember the author raising this issue. David Wenham's Paul, Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? I highly recommend it. If I remember correctly, Wenham doesn't think that the son of Mary argument persuasively indicates Mark's knowledge of the virgin birth.

I'll check it out.
 
Old 03-02-2001, 03:47 PM   #6
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Layman:

However, I have been meaning to reread a section of an excellent book on this subject, because I remember the author raising this issue. David Wenham's Paul, Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? I highly recommend it. If I remember correctly, Wenham doesn't think that the son of Mary argument persuasively indicates Mark's knowledge of the virgin birth.</font>
I don't think that we can tell that Mark believed in or knew that Jesus was born of a virgin Mary either (certainly not from this passage), but the fact that he uses Mary as the parental reference strikes me as very odd. Joshua ben Joseph would be the expected reference, even if Joseph was dead. At the same time, I do think that Mark may have been making a significant statement about Jesus' Davidic descent, possibly through Mary, since we do have Mark telling us that he considered Jesus to be descended from David's House (Mark 10:47-48).

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I'll check it out.</font>
Thanks. And no rush. This weekend will be very busy, and I am pretty tied up on a couple of threads on the Existence of God Board as well. So when you have time I would love to hear from you.

Peace,

Nomad

[This message has been edited by Nomad (edited March 02, 2001).]
 
Old 03-02-2001, 08:14 PM   #7
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I think you miss the point I was trying to make. I do not believe it is irrefutable that Paul believed in the virgin birth, or even that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. My point is exactly what I said. Jesus irrefutably believed in the "human" Jesus and was aware of traditions concerning that "human" Jesus. That is, Jesus was a human, not some mythological construct designed to foster a new religion.

Jesus believed in the human Jesus? I assume you meant Paul?

I understand your point. You seem to think that by self-declaring your conclusion to be "irrefutable" it becomes so.

The fact that that works in certain Los Angeles court rooms doesn't necessarily make it so.

 
Old 03-05-2001, 08:14 AM   #8
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by alchook:
[b]I understand your point. You seem to think that by self-declaring your conclusion to be "irrefutable" it becomes so.

The fact that that works in certain Los Angeles court rooms doesn't necessarily make it so.
</font>
I explained my reasoning at length, including raising this verse: "In Romans 1:3 he speaks of Jesus as God's son 'who has descended from David according to the flesh.'"

If you wish to respond to my reasonsing with some of your own, please do. If you just want to whine about my wording, and make some negative comments about my profession, take it someplace else. This is a "discussion" board.
 
Old 03-16-2001, 10:07 AM   #9
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Nomad:
Thanks. And no rush. This weekend will be very busy, and I am pretty tied up on a couple of threads on the Existence of God Board as well. So when you have time I would love to hear from you.

Peace,

Nomad

[This message has been edited by Nomad (edited March 02, 2001).]
</font>
Sorry Nomad, Wenham doesn't discuss it at length. He seems to believe it is best explained by Josephus' death while Jesus was still young. Do you have any sources on this one?
 
Old 03-16-2001, 11:23 AM   #10
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Layman:
It is a fallacy to assume that deposited in Paul was the sum total of early Christian knowledge about Jesus.</font>
Then what is it to assume that deposited in Paul was the actual direct "word of god" as delivered by the "holy spirit"?
 
 

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