On Celebrating The Virgin Birth Of Jesus With Both Heart And Mind

I take my “Santa cap” off to the American Spectator – which is such a strong force for political conservatism – for providing articles such as this one.

There is more than health care, or cap-and-trade, or deficits, or any part of the ideological battle between Democrats and Republicans.  Because long before we were fighting any of those issues, we were celebrating Christ.  And we shall be celebrating Christ long after all of these other, lesser issues are gone.

The Case Against the Case Against the Virgin Birth

By Jeremy Lott on 12.22.09 @ 6:07AM

Every year at about this time, readers can count on a few Christmas-themed articles appearing in newspapers and magazines that question the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. It really is something to see the wide variety of people who get worked up over this ancient Christian belief.

Scientific reductionists — the Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins set — will tell us that it’s impossible. By definition, a virgin cannot be with child. Certain biblical scholars will be trotted out to poke holes in the dogma, by making points about the Bible passages in question that sound convincing to non-scholars. And moderate, embarrassed believers such as Newsweek editor Jon Meacham will try to smooth things over. The Virgin Birth, they will say, is symbolically but not historically or scientifically important. It’s about new life or specialness or some other non-offensive, wooly-headed thing.

The scholars will say that the verse in Isaiah (7:14) that prophesies a “virgin shall conceive and bear a son” is a mistranslation. “Virgin” could be “young woman,” you see. They will point out that only two of the four Gospels of the New Testament mention the Virgin Birth and that the Virgin Birth Gospels (Matthew and Luke) do not agree about many details. They will say that the earliest Gospel (Mark) leaves it out entirely.

Therefore: Who can say what really happened? The point of this exercise is to paint defenders of the virgin birth as narrow fundamentalists who cling to two tenuous, unscientific, conflicting scraps of the biblical text that rely on a questionable translation of Old Testament prophecy. There are perhaps a dozen problems with this approach. We’ll focus on three:

One, it manages to misrepresent all four Gospels at the same time. Matthew and Luke have miraculous conception and birth narratives. Mark and John are rooted in the first chapter of Genesis. That itself says something about Christ’s origin. According to the first chapter of John, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God.” In Jesus, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

In fact, all four Gospels are rooted in Genesis. Modern audiences tend to focus on the creation narratives of the first few chapters and skip over the genealogies. To a first century Middle Eastern audience, those lists were far more important. Echoing this, both Matthew and Luke attempt to construct genealogies of Jesus, and in the process both books finger God as the father and Mary as the mother.

Two, in pointing out contradictions between Matthew and Luke, scholars and more progressive believers think that they are scoring points against literalism and fundamentalism. The supposed contradictions do present a problem for some believers, but they help make their case as well. Historians are trained to suspect collusion of sources: if two accounts line up too neatly, then one is likely based on the other and thus less valuable. It’s better to have two divergent accounts — even wildly divergent accounts — of the same event to serve as confirmation of the details where they agree.

The stories about Jesus’ conception and birth in Matthew and Luke are far enough apart — the “wise men,” the flight to Egypt, and the murder of innocents are in Matthew but not Luke; the census, the shepherds, the meeting between the mothers of the still unborn Jesus and John the Baptist are unique to Luke — that they must come from different sources. They both agree about the Virgin Birth.

Three, the case for a mistranslation of Isaiah is simply beside the point. Yes, the word in Hebrew could be rendered “young lady” but that’s irrelevant. When an angel tells Mary that she will have a child and she wonders, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) she’s not saying “since I am a young lady.” The Gospel writers, the popular early Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, and the early church all understood it to mean “virgin,” and their understanding is what matters here.

None of this is indisputable proof for the Virgin Birth, nor is it meant to be. We can give evidence for miracles but cannot replicate the results in a laboratory, and the chasm between history and mystery is where faith comes in. However, the hostility of scientific reductionists to the idea does not make nearly as much sense as it used to. Now, with advances in reproductive technology, a woman who was biologically a virgin could in fact conceive a child. Experiments in animal DNA are showing that you can manipulate eggs in such a way that sperm is not necessary to create a whole new creature. If scientists in the 21st century can manage it, is it really such a stretch to say that God 2,000 years ago would have been up to the task?

You should go to the American Spectator site itself to read this, as there are some excellent and informative comments that follow the article.  But I have a few things to say, myself.

The Septuagint was the translation into Greek by Jewish scholars (it is often abbreviated as “LXX” because tradition holds that 70 scholars were involved in the translation), and was undertaken and completed between 300 and 200 BC.  It was not written by Christians.

It is, however, particularly noteworthy to Christians that the Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew word “almah” in Isaiah (which basically meant a young woman of marigiable age still under the protection of her family) as “parthenos,” which is the Greek word that clearly means “virgin.”

Some scholars rigidly maintain that the Hebrew word “almah” does not necessarily mean “virgin.”  But the fact of the matter is that in Hebrew culture/tradition, a young unmarried girl under her family’s protection was basically either a virgin, or else she was stoned to death as an adulteress.  When you add the fact that the LXX scholars – who clearly were more in touch with the understanding of the ancient Hebrew Bible than we are today – deliberately chose the word “parthenos,” you have a rather ironclad case that the Jews understood Isaiah 7:14 as prophesying a virgin birth (i.e. an immaculate conception).

Only Jesus – in all of recorded human history – has been proclaimed as having been uniquely born of a virgin.  And the two largest religions in the world – Christianity and Islam – recognize and affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a young Jewish virgin girl named Mary.

The passages presented in the New Testament then eradicate even the tiniest shred of remaining doubt.

The so-called “scientific reductionists” claim that the miracle of the virgin birth was impossible.  What is interesting is that a “virgin birth” is quite possible today, given our medical technology.  I bring this out just to say that these are philosophical atheists, who don’t believe in the virgin birth simply because they do not believe in God.  Otherwise, their view toward the virgin birth becomes asinine: they would literally be arguing that God the Creator of all matter, energy, space, and time would be unable to replicate a feat that humans today routinely perform.

As one who accepts the possibility of God, I have no problem whatsoever accepting the possibility of miracles.  Some atheistic thinkers have defined a “miracle” as “a violation of the laws of nature.”  But they are trying to load the issue and tilt it toward philosophical naturalism by doing so.

Let me explain it this way.  Suppose someone accidentally knocks my cup of coffee off the table and I catch it.  Is this a “miracle”?  After all, according to the law of gravity, that cup should have continued to fall and strike the ground – and that didn’t happen.  What did happen was a personal agent possessing sufficient power chose to intervene and change the outcome of natural laws by themselves.

A miracle is God – the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe – intentionally choosing to reach down and intervene in the affairs of men, usually by a means we our limited understanding cannot fully understand.

Please allow me to explain why Christmas is so important to me, by means of a series of declarations of faith:

I believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.

I believe that God supernaturally implanted into Mary’s womb (and specifically into one of her unfertilized eggs) a human baby possessing a perfect human nature, uncorrupted by the effects of the Fall.

I believe that this baby, Jesus, possessed every single property essential to human nature (flesh and bones, a human brain, etc.) such that He was 100% man.  Sin is not essential to human nature; God created both Adam and Eve without sin.

I believe that this baby, Jesus, simultaneously possessed every single property essential to Deity, particularly the Deity of The Word, the Second Person of the Triunity of the Godhead.  Such that He was 100% God.  As He grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52), He came to recognize His unique Christ-consciousness.  And specifically, He began to become aware that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6-7, and Micah 5:2 (among some 300 other unique and amazing prophecies).

I believe that when God created human beings in His image (the Imago Dei) in Genesis 1:27, He was in fact creating beings whose image and nature He Himself would one day assume.  He created Adam in His image so that He could ultimately assume Adam’s image and so save mankind from the Fall (Genesis 3).

I believe Jesus voluntarily restricted the use of His divine prerogatives prior to His assumption of human nature, such that He lived His life on earth as an ordinary human being who had to rely completely on the Holy Spirit for His power (just like every Christian since has had to do).  Please read Philippians 2:1-11.  And then read it again and again.

I believe He came to live a perfect life on earth as a human being so that He could fully and truly represent the human race.

I believe that He died in my place – and in the place of everyone who believes in Him – so that I could be fully restored with God the Father (Luke 19:10, Mark 10:45).  I believe that I am a sinner (Romans 3:23; 6:23), saved only by grace and by faith in the name of Jesus (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 5:1; 10:9).

I believe in the words of a simple poem,

He came to die on a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood (see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17).

I believe that Jesus had to become a man to die in my place – or even (as God) to be able to experience death on my behalf – and that He had to be God to have the power to save me from my sins.  Only Jesus, as true God, and true Man, could save me (Hebrews 9:24-28).

And I believe that, because of His finished work of sacrifice in my place, that I will live forever with Him in heaven, celebrating an eternal life more magnificent and more exciting than anything I have ever begun to imagine.

And all of the wonder of God coming to His creation, all of the wonder of the most loving act in the history of the universe, all of the existential cries that are answered by God taking my place and saving me, are all answered in the birth of Jesus.

And so I read Job 19:25-27 and say with him, “For I know that my Redeemer lives…”

And so I read with tears of joy the words of Mary in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

And so I recognize in that First Christmas not only joy to the world, but hope for the world.  And the source of that Christmas joy and hope is Christ.

Merry Christmas.

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18 Responses to “On Celebrating The Virgin Birth Of Jesus With Both Heart And Mind”

  1. Disciple Says:

    Yep. I’m with you, Michael. Except for the part about Christ having to kind of grow into His awareness, developing Christ-consciousness. A little too New Agey for me, that. I think the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity never did not know Who He was. Is. Ever shall be. The Word through Whom all things were made, surely knew Who He was, has always known, will always know. Since He was fully human but also fully Divine, He wouldn’t have the same limited knowledge and understanding a mere human would have, eh?

  2. J.W. Wartick Says:

    thank you for this wondeful post on Christmas! You do all the work finding the good articles so I don’t have to :).

  3. Michael Eden Says:

    I wouldn’t call it “new agey,” but simply taking Luke 2:52 literally (“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men”).

    I don’t know how Jesus would grow in wisdom if He already totally comprehended all wisdom and all infinity.

    I would also point out that Jesus was fully God, but He was also fully human. And further we’re even told that Jesus was tempted (Matt 4:1-11; Heb 4:15). Can you even BE tempted and have all the knowledge/wisdom of the cosmos? (see James 1:13, “… for God cannot be tempted with evil”).

    Further, there is the fact of the kenosis (“emptying”) of Christ. Just what was it that Christ (temporarily during the 1st Advent) that Christ laid aside in Philippians 2: 1-11?

    There are certainly differing views to the Incarnation, and precisely what attributes of deity Christ laid aside on earth, and which He maintained even during the Incarnation. On the Lutheran view, Jesus was in the manger doing calculus, consciously maintaining the universe, and saying, “Okay, first the wise men will come, and then….” He would have been able to tell anyone all about Barack Obama, the winning football teams, and the winning lottery numbers.

    On my view, however, Christ was fully human, and fully understands what believers went through because He had voluntarily restricted the use of a number of His divine attributes. And therefore, He had to fully depend by faith on the Holy Spirit for everything, just as WE also have to do. And therefore, Jesus becomes a perfect example, rather than merely being a totally divine superman whom we really can’t relate to, because we didn’t have all the divine advantages/prerogatives that Jesus had.

    Scientists say that human beings only use about 3-6% of their brains, but is the human brain capable of knowing all the truths of the cosmos, and all of the infinity of the Godhead, with the remaining 94-97% I believe that the Holy Spirit likely acted as a firewall for Jesus of Nazareth, providing what He needed to know, and only what He needed to know while He lived as a human being on earth, which Jesus had to receive by faith.

    For me, Christ as having assumed an ordinary human nature – complete with all of its physical and cognitive limitations – makes the miracle of a sinless exemplar Christ all the more amazing and all the more wonderful. Rather than just being God walking around with a human body, He was in so many ways exactly like us – and yet He still triumphed in living His sinless and morally perfect human life on earth.

    Went a little above and beyond just to make sure I described my view of Christ, so that you realize that I am in way “giving up” the complete deity of Christ, but merely trying to understand which divine attributes Christ voluntarily restricted in the Incarnation, and why He did so.

  4. Michael Eden Says:

    Thanks for that, JW.

    It is very important for me that I leave behind a record as to what happened leading up to the disaster I believe is coming due to Obama and liberal policies. Liberal newspapers all-too often purge their articles that are unflattering of the liberal agenda. Articles that revealed how terrible Obama is doing get purged after a few months or weeks, and yet you can go back years for how George Bush screwed something up.

    That’s why I want to cite a substantial portion of so many articles. Because I know they will get purged, and I want that record.

    I also want to present the truth as an alternative.

  5. Disciple Says:

    Oh, I don’t and didn’t think that you were making light of Who Jesus was/is, Michael. It’s just that I was involved in New Age studies and thinking for so many years that now I’m very sensitive to anything that resembles New Age ideas. “Christ-consciousness” is something that I don’t expect to hear about from Christians. It’s something I’ve only heard of before from Yogananda and other Eastern or New Age teachers. Christ didn’t need Christ-consciousness. He was Christ. That’s what I was talking about. He was and is God. In Yogananda’s writings (and other teachers as well) Christ-consciousness and Krishna-consciousness are considered to be synonymous. So whenever I see that term mentioned, it takes me back to those days when I accepted that idea as a working hypothesis. Need I say that I have firmly rejected that sort of idea now? ;)

  6. Michael Eden Says:

    I will acknowledge that I possibly shouldn’t have used the term “Christ-consciousness” simply because of the twisting and perverting it has received by the New Age crowd.

    I used the term the same way I would say that God has “God-consciousness”; by which I mean, “what the heck other kind of consciousness would you expect God to have but God-consciousness”? “Duck consciousness”? “Alligator consciousness”?

    So when you say, “Christ didn’t need Christ-consciousness. He was Christ,” are you saying that He didn’t have any consciousness, or that His consciousness was alien or foreign to that of Christ?

    Even if you maintain that, contrary to Luke 2:52, Jesus of Nazareth most certainly did NOT grow in wisdom, and in fact had the full mind of deity, and was consciously holding the universe together (Colossians 1:17) and having total omniscience even while requiring diaper changes, then I would STILL say that Christ possessed something we would have to call something like “Christ-consciousness.” You certainly wouldn’t wish to DENY that Jesus of Nazareth had Christ-consciousness. I mean, He was conscious, and He was the Christ, so what OTHER kind of consciousness did He have, which was NOT Christ-consciousness?

    As a human being, I very clearly have human consciousness. I would humbly submit that as the one and only Christ, Jesus had Christ-consciousness.

    Paul exhorts us to:

    Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5, KJV).

    I would submit that “the mind of Christ” and “Christ-consciousness” are two different ways of saying the same thing.

    That said, New Agers have a way of taking genuine Christian statements and perverting their meaning. It’s what they do. They also want to tell you that Christ is the Son of God, but aren’t we ALL sons of God? And so they’re the son of God, too. That doesn’t mean I should stop using the term “Son of God.” In the same way, New Agers have attempted to supplant many valid Christian words and terms by attempting to smuggle in their own meaning.

    Many Christians failed to realize it, but the best-selling book series, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” did precisely that.

    Allow me again to state that Jesus was the unique Son of God. He created the heavens and the earth. He stands apart from creation and creature as The Creator. And Jesus had “Christ consciousness” in the unique sense that He is the only man who ever lived who has EVER truly had it (though St. Paul came close enough to say, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ” in 1 Cor 11:1).

    We are told to put on the mind of Christ, but that certainly doesn’t mean that Christ doesn’t have the mind of Christ (or that Christ didn’t need the mind of Christ).

  7. Disciple Says:

    I guess the term bothers me. I guess over the years I’ve grown to appreciate the terms of Catholic theology. Christ-consciousness sounds more like being conscious of Christ more than being the consciousness that He would have had. And does have, since He is very much alive and still tabernacles among us. I’m very uneasy with the whole use of the term.

    As for the son of God and Son of God terminology, that can mean some different things as well. We can certainly become sons of God by entering into covenant with Him. Then He becomes our Father and we become His children. True, in a sense, all men are children of God. In another sense, they are invited to become members of His family. And, of course, then there is the Son of God Who is the only begotten Son of the Father, that is, Jesus Christ, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.

    I believe that we share many of the same beliefs, Michael. There are differences in our theologies, as there are most likely differences in our pasts, that have made us wary of different things. So I’m really not arguing with you. But I was and remain most uncomfortable with the use of the term Christ-consciousness. Yet I certainly do want to put on the mind of Christ and to imitate Him.

    That’s one of my favorite spiritual books, by the way, the Imitation of Christ. As a disciple, I long to saturate myself in Him so as to resemble Him more and more. In this I generally fail quite miserably. Still I strive. I think I need much more prayer. Much more mortification. As Saint Paul says, I need to die daily. And pray without ceasing. And remember with humility that I am in the presence of the Lord, something I need to remind myself of constantly. That kind of consciousness of Christ I definitely require and treasure.

  8. Michael Eden Says:

    New Agers acclaim Christ as a good moral teacher (as ALL religions these days do), and then proceed to focus on Christ as moral teacher and throw out Christ as Savior, Lord, and God. Jesus exposed the flaw in that when He asked the rich man, “Why do you call Me good?”

    I said when I first responded to you that we had some apparent differences, but that we would undoubtedly be able to reconcile them within a few minutes. Overall, we DO have the same theology. I am not a Cahtholic (although I am a catholic with a little ‘c’ in that I believe there is a universal church, which is Christ’s body), but I affirm the same 7 historic ecuminical councils of the universal Christian Church councils that any devout Catholic affirms.

    In this case, I used a term that itself is good, but has been “hijacked” by New Agers – just as they have hijacked much of Christian theology. And rather than fixate on the term, I would suggest you look at how someone is using it. Again, both New Agers, as well as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, use the term “Son of God,” but impute a different meaning than genuine Christians. Rather than merely fixating on the term “Son of God,” “Christ-consciousness,” or anything else, I think it is important to see how that term is being used.

    In my case, “Son of God” means that Christ is a member of the Triune Godhead, of which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are exclusive members of the class of deity. And “Christ consciousness” merely conotes the divine consciousness that Jesus of Nazareth uniquely possessed as the Incarnate Son of God.

    In other words, I am hardly using the term the same way as those who pervert it.

    But I AM glad that you are aware of the danger of New Age way of thinking. It is the spirit of antichrist, as John wrote about in his epistles (e.g. 1 John 4:1-3).

    Like I said before, I am a Protestant (and Baptistic) in my theology. But I am not a “Catholic basher.” I think that the Catholic church is a force for good, and I have rejoiced over the selection and actions of the last two popes (REAL big fan of Benedict, and gasped in horror when I saw him knocked down by that woman).

    I remember getting in a very involved discussion with a priest over the concept of being saved by grace through faith alone (Epheisians 2:8-9). At first we were adversaries, but as we continued to dialogue, we began to come to agreement. We finally came to this: “We are saved by grace through faith, plus through our works. But it is by grace that we do the works that contribute to our salvation.” Which of course allowed me to focus on salvation being ultiamtely by faith alone, and allowed the priest to add the importance of works (which clearly ARE important). And we were two brothers in Christ, rejoicing over our harmony in the spirit of the One true Lord.

    I particularly admire the Catholic Church in its unwavering stand against abortion.

    Keep reading the Word, keep praying, keep going to church and being part of the body. Keep exposing yourself to the Lord, and praying that the Lord will continue to mold you into His image. Ultimately, it will be Christ Himself who has to transform us at the Rapture (1 Thess 4:13-18). And then we shall see Him face to face. And ultimately we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is (1 John 3:1-3).

    Which is to say, we continue to groan for the deliverance, ultimate salvation, and transformation that Christ alone can and will give us in His time.

    I remember this quote from H.A. Ironside:

    “Now test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancy goodness. Do you now judge yourself a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him and to yield yourself to Him? If you can honestly say yes to these questions, you have repented. Your attitude is all together different than what it once was. You confess you are a sinner, unable to cleanse your own soul, and you’re willing to be saved in God’s way. That’s repentance. And remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts, it is the fact that you turned from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ. Strictly speaking, not one of us has ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it, but when we judge ourselves and trust the Savior whom He has provided, we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His loving kindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day as we learn more and more of His infinite worthy and our own unworthiness.”

    I struggle with sin, in acts of commission and acts of omission, every single day, Disciple. But I can honestly say I hate my own failures and weaknes and sins, just as it seems you do, and yearn for the righteousness that Christ will ultimately create in me at the Rapture of believers.

    And so even as I struggle, I look to Christ, and know that He will one day completely heal me and make me like Him.

  9. Disciple Says:

    We do agree on many things, although I’m not sure where that word “alone” came from in your quote of Ephesians. (Well, actually, I do know where it came from. See this page, for example, of many different translations, none of which contain the word “alone” which Luther stuck in there himself.) But, aside from that, I think we really do agree on many many things, the most important of which is that Christ is the Lord and the Center of our lives. And those are the most important things. We both rely on God’s grace and we both work, always, I’m sure, with varying degrees of generosity and success, to correspond to His gift of grace. And that’s really what He asks of us: that we respond to Him with love, and that we respond to each other with love also.

    I’m glad we can talk about these things, Michael. It not only keeps these things before my mind, but gives me an opportunity to work out some ideas too. I never realize just how firmly I don’t understand something until I try to talk or write about it. ;) Thanks for your patience with me. :)

  10. Michael Eden Says:

    I didn’t try to quote the verse; I merely pointed out what it essentially means.

    From the NIV:
    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. — Eph 2:8,9

    It’s a pretty strong “by faith alone” verse. There are passages that emphasize works, but I think that would be very wrong to try to argue that this isn’t a “faith alone apart from works” verse. And, as I shared earlier, the priest agreed that at a very meta level, Christians are saved by their faith and by grace, and that it is a result of faith and grace that we do the works which additionally (on his view) contribute to salvation.

    If you read through my comments to others on different issues (especially to liberals about politics), you will see that I can be very short with some people. But I always try to treat courtesy with courtesy. When I am responding to someone like you, who is pleasant and polite – even in disagreement – I always want to respond in kind.

    It also helps when we share a common worldview.

    And it helps even more when we share a common God and a common faith.

  11. Disciple Says:

    I try to be agreeable even when disagreeing, thank you for noticing! ;) But I, too, like St. Jerome, can have quite the temper with those who insist on being ignoramuses, especially when they go out of their way to post on my blog in their ignoramus ways. In contrast, I see the two of us as having an interesting conversation and an intelligent discussion; certainly neither one of us is an ignoramus, although I can be dense on occasion and always want to know more than I do about just about everything. ;)

    Since we’ve wandered onto the topic of “faith alone”, I would like to point out this verse:

    “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” King James version, James 2:24

    That is the only place where the words “faith alone” appear in the Bible to my knowledge, and it says “not by faith alone”. Luther hated that verse so much that he wanted to excise James’s epistle from the Bible (along with other verses, chapters and whole books he found troublesome for one reason or another). In other places it says that we are saved by baptism, by grace, by faith. In truth, we are saved by all of these things and not by any one of them by itself. But it also says that faith without works is dead. And I don’t think that dead faith could save one.

    By the way, since you brought up the conversation with the priest: individual priests may or may not understand or accept or be faithful to the teachings of the Church, so the fact that a priest says something does not, by and in and of itself, necessarily reflect the view of the Church. I am not saying that the views of that particular priest do or do not agree with the Church, J’m just pointing out that his personal views are neither here nor there if one is trying to ascertain what the Church teaches, just as my own personal views are neither here nor there. It’s what the Church actually teaches that counts, not my own understanding of it or lack of understanding of it, or acceptance or non-acceptance. Those things affect me, but do not affect (or reflect on) the Church herself or her teachings.

    Just thought I’d point those things out and mostly for the benefit for anyone else who might be reading this.

  12. Michael Eden Says:

    For what it’s worth, I myself pointed out that, “There are passages that emphasize works, but I think that would be very wrong to try to argue that [Eph 2:8-9] isn’t a “faith alone apart from works” verse” previously.

    Now, if I wanted to argue, I would start pulling out verses like Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith” (with absolutely no mention of works, whereas James 2:24 HAS to mention that faith is still necessary). And I would quote Jesus from John 14:6 which says, “No man comes to the Father but through Me,” and point out that coming through Jesus is not a work, but faith. I would ask what saving work the thief on the cross performed such that he earned his way to heaven.

    I see other key passages on salvation: Romans 3:10-11 (“There is none righteous, not even one….”); Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God); Romans 6:23 (“But the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God [as in, you don’t have to do ANY work to deserve/receive it] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”); Romans 5:8 (“But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners [and presumably doing no good works] Christ died for us”). And let me close with Romans 10:9 which provides the necessary and sufficient conditions required for salvation: “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” I don’t see any part where it says, “and do a whole bunch of good works” in that verse. And allow me to add to that Acts 16:31 which says, “And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'” Again, works don’t appear to factor in.

    But I think that the important question becomes, how do you reconcile that we’ve been saved through faith and NOT by works from Ephesians with what James 2:24 says? Do you deny the teaching of Paul in Ephesians, and cling to James?

    I would submit that that priest and I came to a very biblical understanding. And I would hope that that wouldn’t make him a poor Catholic theologian!!!

    Or I would put it another way: in light of both Ephesians and James, do you deny the validity of the view –

    “We are saved by grace through faith, plus through our works. But it is only by God’s grace that we can do the works that contribute to our salvation.”

    – that the priest and I agreed upon?

    When I put these two passages, which seem to be in apparent tension, I realize that there has to be that component of “by grace though faith, and that not of ourselves, not of works.” Because if you have no works at all, it is rather obvious that the Holy Spirit never genuinely entered your life. But at the same time, and more fundamentally, if you have not been saved (i.e. by grace through faith, and not works), then on what basis do you profess to do the works which could save you? On your own strength? Well, good for YOU, then; because you alone didn’t need Christ in order to be saved, but could accomplish your own salvation all by yourself.

    But, oops. You run into Isaiah 64:6 (“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;”) in addition to Romans 3:10-11. You just don’t seem to get very far with works.

    You make the comment, “In other places it says that we are saved by baptism, by grace, by faith.” But I would submit to you that there is NOWHERE where we are told that baptism saves us separate from faith. And NOWHERE are we saved by grace apart separate from faith. And NOWHERE are we told that works save us separate from faith. In other words, they do not all stand on the same level with one another: faith alone (I’m using that phrase again) is all by itself in being the necessary condition without which nothing else “works.”

    We could capture Osama bin Laden and baptize him until doomsday.
    Do you think he would be saved if he didn’t have genuine faith? Or, if you want to say that we need baptism to be saved, was the thief on the cross not saved then, and Jesus got it wrong when he said, “Today you shall be with Me in paradise?” Clearly not!

    So I would submit that there is a priority. First God saves us by grace through faith, with works having nothing to do with our salvation; and then we must do good works as a result of the fact that we are now children of God with brand new natures. And then we begin to do good works as a result of our salvation. And I would go so far as to challenge someone, “If you aren’t doing any good works to show your new true nature, why do you think you’re a new creature?”

    I would submit that rather than “are are what you do” being the case, it is rather, “be what you are.”

  13. Disciple Says:

    Yes, we are saved by God through all those ways. But not by faith alone, which was what you asserted above. By faith, but not by faith alone. Peter, I believe, says “It is baptism now that saves you.” But nobody puts the “alone” word in there except James, when he says “not by faith alone”. And even God does not save us “alone” but with our own cooperation, He does not force us or abuse our freedom. So we are saved by faith but not by faith alone.

    As regards the priest, I believe I stated that I was not saying anything at all about his views. I have no idea what kind of theologian he is. I go by the Bible and the Catechism myself, since I’ve heard so many different things from so many different priests. After the Bible and the Catechism, I listen to the Vicar of Christ, and after him, my Bishop. Of course, I do have plenty of orthodox priests to turn to, if need be. I’m blessed to live very near to EWTN, so I have all those wonderful Franciscans nearby and Fr. Mitch Pacwa too. God is good! :)

  14. Michael Eden Says:

    I think you seriously need to put that phrase, “it is baptism now that saves you” into context.

    1 Pet 3:18-21 – “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom[a] also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[b] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ

    And I’m sorry, but you are focusing on the “removal of dirt from the body” part. Baptism – in the sense of exposure to H2O, most certainly does NOT save you. We have the phrase you cite bracketed by “Christ dying for sins” and “saves you by the resurrection of Christ.” Baptism here is clearly provided as a picture of an act that occurs through faith in the work of Christ (“water symbolizes baptism that now saves you”).

    Which is to say, I think you entirely missed the point of that passage.

    You make a very big deal about the words “faith alone” in James 2:24. In my last comment I pointed out how in a very real way that was a shortcoming to your view – and also provided passages in which works were specifically excluded as grounds for our salvation. Keep in mind, you also have to provide an account of Eph 2:8-9 in which Paul says we’re saved by faith, NOT as a result of works.

    And again, I challenge you to explain what Jesus meant when he told the thief on the cross, who had done no good works, and who had not been baptized into the Christian faith, that he would be with Christ in paradise.

    Your last paragraph is interesting, but it does not answer the question: how do you reconcile the tension between Ephesians 2:8-9 and James 2:24? It sounds very much like you merely dump Ephesians.

    Read James 2:14-24, and take a moment to fixate on a question James asks in vs 21: was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the alter?

    And my answer is, well, yes and no. Yes, he certainly did a great deed which met with God’s approval, and which revealed his genuine faith. But, no, because he had ALREADY been justified. Re-read the book of Genesis if you don’t believe me. God justified Abraham by his FAITH in Genesis 15:6. Isaac hadn’t even been BORN yet when Abraham was declared righteous by God. It wasn’t until Genesis 22 that Abraham offered Isaac – a good 30 years later! So was God not being honest with Abraham in chapter 15? And he wasn’t really justified? You’re refusing to understand what Paul teaches in Ephesians, Romans, and pretty much everywhere else, and woodenly interpreting James in a way that contradicts much of the rest of Scripture.

    So you can very easily see that Paul used this incident (Abraham justified by faith in Gen 15:6) in Galatians 3:6 in different way, with a different point in mind, than James uses it in his 2nd chapter.

    Paul and James both use the word “justification,” but they use it in different ways. Paul uses it in the sense of “to declare the sinner righteous in the sight of God”; James uses it in the sense of “to vindicate or show to be righteous before God and men.” And so Abraham was justified in the Pauline sense in Gen 15:6, and was justified in James’ sense in Gen 22. And what James is saying about this event in Gen 22 (which again took place 30 years after he had already been declared righteous by God), was that the offering of Isaac was Abraham’s crowing act of obedience, by which he proved the reality of his faith.

    Which is to say that James is not talking about justification as “salvation” when he continues in James 2:24. Because otherwise he would literally have to maintain that Abraham was not yet saved in Genesis 15:6 even though God had declared him righteous!

    So, in verse 24, James is telling us something I affirm, which answers the question he posed in verse 14 (what if someone SAYS;/ he has faith, but no works? Can that faith save him?): that unproductive faith cannot save, because it is not and never was genuine faith to begin with. Faith that fails to produce a changed life is not valid.

    Realize that both Paul and James define faith the same way, as a living, productive trust in Christ. Genuine faith cannot be dead to morality and devoid of good works. And James is merely expressing that truth. The view that one can be “saved” without having become a new creature with a changed nature that produces a changed life is simply false.

    I don’t have much else to say. You didn’t do much to work through my presentation of Scriptures to show me how I was wrong, or had an incomplete understanding (let me add Abraham, who was reckoned as righteous by his belief, rather than any works he did). You didn’t try to explain what the one-sentence understanding that the priest and I agreed upon was wrong.

    I again would submit to you that true faith will always result in deeds, but the deeds do not justify us (or else Jesus was simply wrong about the thief on the cross, who had never done a good deed in his life prior to meeting Jesus mere hours before he died). True faith brings us salvation; active obedience demonstrates that our faith is genuine.

    I don’t want to get personal, but I also can’t help but wonder, if some of the unnamed struggles you’ve described might stem from literally trying to save yourself by your own power?

    You are a good soul, Disciple. And I’d say that we have bonded in our discussions. I will mention you in my prayers, and ask that you mention me in yours.

  15. telson Says:

    This article shakes the tradition about the birth of Jesus.:

    http://koti.phnet.fi/petripaavola/starofBethlehem.html

  16. Michael Eden Says:

    Telson,
    I looked over the article (albeit briefly), and found it a solid article that very much seems to confirm the truths of Christianity. Clearly the writer is not a native English speaker, but from what I looked over, his exegesis and presentation were spot-on.

    The one place you might be talking about re: “shaking the tradition” was the star that the Magi saw. And even here, the article doesn’t question the birth of Jesus, but only the meaning of the “star” that accompanied his birth. One of the problems with modern times, of course, is “What does the word ‘star’ mean?” The ancients did not have sufficient astronomical categories to denote the myriad astronomical bodes which could have each/all served as the “star.”

    One of the things that the article seemed to fail to mention (on my browsing of it; maybe it was there and I missed it) was the relationship between the Magi of the book of Matthew and the Magi of the book of Daniel (I quickly found this article on the subject, and I regard John MacArthur with a great deal of respect).

    If we recognize that Daniel (of the Book of Daniel) was the leader of the wise men, and led many of them to the true faith of Jehovah, we add a new dimension. Daniel KNEW when Messiah would be born (see Daniel 9:24-27); and very likely gave the Magi signs in the heavens to look for.

    So in other words, they didn’t just happen to see something in the sky and say, “The king of the Jews was born!” Rather, they had been actively seeking this particular sign which Daniel had told them about for centuries.

  17. Betty Says:

    Who knows, maybe John (Reformedispy) MacArthur is right and the greatest Greek scholars (Google “Famous Rapture Watchers”), who uniformly said that Rev. 3:10 means PRESERVATION THROUGH, were wrong. But John has a conflict. On the one hand, since he knows that all Christian theology and organized churches before 1830 believed the church would be on earth during the tribulation, he would like to be seen as one who stands with the great Reformers. On the other hand, if you have a warehouse of unsold pretrib rapture material, and if you want to have “security” for your retirement years and hope that the big California quake won’t louse up your plans, you have a decided conflict of interest – right, John? Maybe the Lord will have to help strip off the layers of his seared conscience which have grown for years in order to please his parents and his supporters – who knows? One thing is for sure: pretrib is truly a house of cards and is so fragile that if a person removes just one card from the TOP of the pile, the whole thing can collapse. Which is why pretrib teachers don’t dare to even suggest they could be wrong on even one little subpoint! Don’t you feel sorry for the straitjacket they are in? While you’re mulling all this over, Google “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the same 179-year-old fantasy.

  18. Michael Eden Says:

    Wow. You really have a lot of anger in your heart, Betty.

    Your personal attack on John MacArthur, other than being hateful in that you demonize his motives without having spent so much as a nanosecond inside his head or heart, doesn’t resolve anything.

    The people you are ridiculing have one thing that you don’t: based on their understanding of Scripture, they predicted for 118 years that national Israel would become a reality while their opponents scoffed. The thing that they started saying would happen in 1830 miraculously became a reality in 1948. And they turned out to be completely right, and you turned out to be completely wrong. And then since that incredibly day in 1948, they have been right again and again and again.

    One example of this has been the writing of Joel Rosenberg. He wrote a last days book called “The Last Jihad,” and wanted to be faithful to be the Bible. He saw the threat of Iraq, but knew from Ezekiel 38-39 that Iraq (called by its ancient name of Babylon in Scripture) and Egypt wouldn’t be part of the attacking coalition (which today features an alliance of EXACTLY the nations Ezekiel prophesied) against Israel in the last days. Egypt, of course, was the only Arab nation to sign a peace accord with Israel in 1973. But what about Iraq??? Not joining in an attack on Israel under Saddam??? Rosenberg realized that as long as Saddam Hussein was in power, Iraq would be a threat to Israel, and would participate in the war described by Ezekiel in the last days. And so – NINE MONTHS PRIOR TO 9/11 – wrote a scenario in which Saddam Hussein launched a terrorist attack against the US via an bomb-laden airplane flying into a building. And he predicted that the United States would take out Saddam and institute an American-friendly Iraqi government.

    He wasn’t a prophet; he merely wrote a book based on his accurate understanding of the clear teaching of Scripture. And his “pre trib” position that you so mock was completely vindicated.

    For all of your sneering arrogance, he was dead right, and you are dead wrong.

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