My wife and I took my daughter Beth sky diving for the first time. Beth had mentioned a desire to do this for a few years, and we decided that for her 17th birthday, (and right after we signed the million dollar life insurance policy), we would take her. It was a great experience, and she walked away with a desire to do it again, (Yes the insurance policy is still good), and hopefully next time she can take some friends who will join in the experience with her.
My wife Gloria, the smarter of the triangle, has no desire to jump. I myself jumped for the first time when I was 18 and still remember the experience. And today, I actually was able to ride along in the co-pilot seat and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the aviation experience, along with watching my daughter jump. For many of the old time pilots, the thought of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane makes no sense to them. Back in their day, pilots would only jump out of aircraft that were shot out of the sky by other aircraft or some other kind of anti-aircraft weapon.
I remember my first jump; there was one piece of information no one warned me about. It had to do with when the chute opened, I would experience some swinging, or pendulum motion. When my chute deployed, (deployed sounds more sophisticated than opened), I swung onto my back, startling me greatly, (which sounds better than other descriptions I can think of). The initial swinging motion gave me the sensation I was going to swing up, and all the way over, on top of my chute. Scared me more than being the only adult in a room full of 8th graders who expect you to teach them something.
I wonder if those who have experienced sky diving had been able to experience an initial fear without having jumped, would still decide to try it?
Having information prior to an experience is important to some people, but in other ways the lack of experience will allow you to try something you never did before. Imagine if our wives could have briefly experienced the pain of child birth, without actually being pregnant and in labor? Even if was only for 30 seconds, we would all be childless.
Or what if carpenters were able to experience the pain of smashing their finger with a hammer for 30 seconds, with out actually having done it. I wonder how many would stand up and say, “I have decided to become an accountant”, and walk out of the journeyman carpenter’s class.
I wonder how many would have opted out of Christianity had they known some things were not going to be easy?
Patheos.com is a web site, (mostly atheist), that also has links, blogs, and posts about atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam, etc. On Patheos, Richard Hagenston wrote a piece titled, Eight things your pastor will never tell you about the Bible. I will have to ask my Pastor if any of these are true.
Hagenston is not the first to write about difficult subjects, and Patheos.com is not the first site to give a platform to others to share their doubts. Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time will come across issues or teachings that are difficult and confusing, or even seem to conflict with common sense. As I have begun to explore the world of apologetics, more often than not, these difficulties are answered by others before me who have explored in depth these troublesome topics.
I wanted to take a look at Hagenston’s first claim.
1) The Apostles of Jesus Seem to Have Known Nothing about a Virgin Birth
The earliest mention of the birth of Jesus to be written is not the nativity stories in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but verses in Paul’s letter to the Romans. He wrote it after having met with Peter and others who had known in person not only Jesus but also his mother and brothers. Despite learning from them everything they could tell him about Jesus, Paul shows no sign of having heard of a virgin birth. Instead, he wrote that Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh” and was declared to be the Son of God not through any special birth that Paul mentions but by his resurrection (Romans 1:3-4).
The nativity stories in Matthew and Luke, suggesting that Jesus had a virgin birth in Bethlehem (the birthplace of David), were composed later and even his own apostles showed no indication of knowing anything about it.
The title itself claims the Apostles did not know about Jesus’ virgin birth, which is clearly false. Matthew was an Apostle, and he wrote about the virgin birth. For example, in Matthew 1:18, “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” Here is an obvious example of an Apostle writing about the virgin birth.
The above statement by Hagenston must be implying that since the ‘other’ Gospel accounts did not mention the virgin birth, it must not be true. This is a fallacy known as an Argument from Silence. Simply put, Hagenston draws a conclusion that that the virgin birth is false, because the other Gospel writers were silent on the matter. But we all know, we can’t claim something is false just because someone did not say it was true.
It should be obvious, even if all the canonical gospels, (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), did mention the virgin birth, then Hagenston would ask why was the virgin birth not mentioned in the whole of the New Testament, from Acts to Revelation.
What someone mentions in a letter will depend on the purpose of their letter. What was the purpose of the Gospel writers? Was it to outline and detail the linage, birth, and childhood of Jesus? Hardly. Mark and John don’t even mention Jesus’ birth, because it was not their intent to describe that event.
So today, I went through my Bible, looking at the themes and purposes of each book in the New Testament. That is, the ones after the canonical gospels, (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Starting with Acts, I will list them below with a brief purpose.
Acts: To present a history and give a defense of Christianity.
Romans: To prepare for Paul’s coming to Rome and to present the basic system of salvation.
1 Corinthians: To instruct the church, correct the church, and restore the church in Corinth.
2 Corinthians: Express Paul’s joy at the church listening to his corrections, explain his troubles, why he changed his plans, and the sufferings and joys a Christian can expect.
Galatians: Paul establishes his apostolic authority and that people are justified by faith, not works.
Ephesians: To expand on God’s eternal purpose for the church.
Philippians: Paul wants to thank the Philippians for their gift, to update them on his own circumstances, and encourage them.
Colossians: Paul addresses the Colossian heresy by focusing on the image and character of God.
1 Thessalonians: Paul wants to encourage new believers in their trials.
2 Thessalonians: Again Paul wants to encourage believers, and correct a misunderstanding of the Lord’s return.
1 Timothy: To give Timothy more instruction concerning the church at Ephesus.
2 Timothy: Paul requested visitors while imprisoned in Rome under Nero and wanted Timothy to come see him. Also to encourage Timothy to guard the gospel.
Titus: Paul wanted to give Titus personal authorization and guidance.
Philemon: Paul wrote to Philemon to defend Onesimus, a slave.
Hebrews: To highlight the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Christ.
James: To instruct and encourage believers in the face of difficulties.
1 Peter: To teach about Christian life and duties.
2 Peter: To instruct what to do with false teachers and deal with persecution.
1 John: To expose false teachers, and give believers assurance of salvation.
2 John: Was written to use discernment when supporting traveling teachers.
3 John: Was written to commend Gaius for his support.
Jude: To warn about false teachers who taught that salvation was a license to sin.
Revelation: To encourage believers despite the increased persecution and that a final showdown is imminent. 1
So just because all the other books in the New Testament do not mention the virgin birth, (they had no reason to), does not falsify the virgin birth. For something to be true, it does not have to be mentioned in all four Gospels.
You might ask Richard Hagenston if the virgin birth was mentioned in all four Gospel accounts, if he would believe it. Of course he wouldn’t. You might ask Richard Hagenston if every-single-book in the New Testament mentioned the virgin birth, if he would believe it. Of course he wouldn’t.
People attack the Bible for having the same stories or accounts, because the authors obviously collaborated their story in an effort to increase their following and power. People attack the Bible for having different versions of the same story because the accounts were written hundreds of years later and must be false.
The Christian walk can be difficult at times. You will often encounter people who will ask questions, or make comments you have no answer for, but let me encourage you. Thousands of others have been there and experienced the same doubts, concerns, and questions you have. Some of them did their homework and found answers. Others have walked away after some difficult, confusing, or fearful experiences.
Had my daughter walked away from the opportunity of skydiving at the first hint of fear, she would not have experienced something she thoroughly enjoyed and wants to do again.
It would be detrimental to someone’s character if they walked away from everything that was difficult or painful in life. When a layman like myself can spend some time and answer some of these troublesome questions or statements, I can’t help but think those who have walked away from Christianity do so for personal reasons. Not because Christianity lacks explanatory power, scientific evidence, or philosophical reasoning, but simply because they don’t want any restrictions placed on their behaviors and the choices they make about life.
There is a reason the ancient historical accounts of the life of Jesus of Nazareth do not start with the phrase, “Once upon a time…” – Greg Koukl
1. New International Version Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. Print.
Diving for answers by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.knowingforsure.com.