Virgin birth of Jesus

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The virgin birth of Jesus is the doctrine that Jesus was conceived and born by his mother Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit and without a human father. [1] The Catholic church holds it authoritative for faith and Protestants regard it as an explanation of the mixture of the human and divine natures of Jesus, [1] but the scholarly consensus is that its historical foundations are very flimsy. [2]

Jesus The central figure of Christianity

Jesus, also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity. Most Christians believe he is the incarnation of God the Son and the awaited Messiah (Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament.

Miraculous births miracle


Stories of miraculous births often include conceptions by miraculous circumstances and features such as intervention by a deity, supernatural elements, astronomical signs, hardship or, in the case of some mythologies, complex plots related to creation.

Holy Spirit, is a term found in English translations of the Bible that is understood differently among the Abrahamic religions. The term is also used to describe aspects of other religions and belief structures.

Contents

New Testament narratives: Matthew and Luke

Events in the
Life of Jesus
according to the Gospels
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Matthew 1:18-25

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke agree that Mary's husband was named Joseph, that he was of the Davidic line, and that he played no role in Jesus's divine conception, but beyond this they are very different. [3] [4] Matthew underlines the virginity of Mary by references to the Book of Isaiah (using the Greek translation in the Septuagint, rather than the mostly Hebrew Masoretic Text) and by his narrative statement that Joseph had no sexual relations with her until after the birth (a choice of words which leaves open the possibility that they did have relations after that). [5]

Gospel of Matthew Book of the New Testament

The Gospel According to Matthew is the first book of the New Testament and one of the three synoptic gospels. It tells how the promised Messiah, Jesus, rejected by Israel, is killed, is raised from the dead, and finally sends the disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world. Most scholars believe it was composed between AD 80 and 90, with a range of possibility between AD 70 to 110. The anonymous author was probably a male Jew, standing on the margin between traditional and non-traditional Jewish values, and familiar with technical legal aspects of scripture being debated in his time. Writing in a polished Semitic "synagogue Greek", he drew on the Gospel of Mark as a source, and likely used a hypothetical collection of sayings known as the Q source, although the existence of Q has been questioned by some scholars. He also used material unique to his own community, called the M source or "Special Matthew".

Gospel of Luke Book of the New Testament

The Gospel According to Luke, also called the Gospel of Luke, or simply Luke, is the third of the four canonical Gospels. It tells of the origins, birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Davidic line Descendants of King David

The Davidic line or House of David refers to the lineage of King David through the texts in the Hebrew Bible, in the New Testament, and through the succeeding centuries.

18: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
19: Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
20: But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21: She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
22: All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."
24: When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
25: but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Luke 1:26-38

Luke introduces Mary as a virgin, describes her puzzlement at being told she will bear a child despite her lack of sexual experience, and informs the reader that this pregnancy is to be effected through God's Holy Spirit. [6]

26: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
27: to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
28: And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
29: But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
30: The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31: And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
32: He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
33: He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
34: Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
35: The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
36: And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.
37: For nothing will be impossible with God."
38: Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Historicity and sources of the narratives

The Annunciation, by Guido Reni, 1621 GuidoReniAnnunciation.jpg
The Annunciation, by Guido Reni, 1621

The modern scholarly consensus is that the virgin birth rests on very slender historical foundations. [2] The Pauline epistles do not contain any mention of it and assume Jesus's full humanity, Mark, the earliest gospel, has no birth story and states that Jesus's mother had no belief in her son (as if she had she forgotten the angel's visit), while John's Jesus has both father and mother and his conception does not entail divine intervention. [7] In the entire Christian corpus it is found only in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke: [8] both are probably from the period AD 80-100, both are anonymous (the attributions to Matthew and Luke were added in the 2nd century), and it is almost certain that neither was the work of an eyewitness. [9] [10] [11]

Pauline epistles New Testament books

The Pauline epistles, also called Epistles of Paul or Letters of Paul, are the thirteen books of the New Testament, composed of letters which are largely attributed to Paul the Apostle, although authorship of some is in dispute. Among these letters are some of the earliest extant Christian documents. They provide an insight into the beliefs and controversies of early Christianity. As part of the canon of the New Testament, they are foundational texts for both Christian theology and ethics. The Epistle to the Hebrews, although it does not bear his name, was traditionally considered Pauline for a thousand years, but from the 16th century onwards opinion steadily moved against Pauline authorship and few scholars now ascribe it to Paul, mostly because it does not read like any of his other epistles in style and content. Most scholars agree that Paul really wrote seven of the Pauline epistles, but that four of the epistles in Paul's name are pseudepigraphic ; scholars are divided on the authenticity of two of the epistles.

Gospel of Mark Book of the New Testament

The Gospel According to Mark is one of the four canonical gospels and one of the three synoptic gospels. It tells of the ministry of Jesus from his baptism by John the Baptist to his death and burial and the discovery of the empty tomb – there is no genealogy of Jesus or birth narrative, nor, in the original ending at chapter 16, any post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. It portrays Jesus as a heroic man of action, an exorcist, a healer, and a miracle worker. Jesus is also the Son of God, but he keeps his identity secret, concealing it in parables so that even most of the disciples fail to understand. All this is in keeping with prophecy, which foretold the fate of the messiah as suffering servant. The gospel ends, in its original version, with the discovery of the empty tomb, a promise to meet again in Galilee, and an unheeded instruction to spread the good news of the resurrection.

Gospel of John Book of the New Testament

The Gospel of John is the fourth of the canonical gospels. The work is anonymous, although it identifies an unnamed "disciple whom Jesus loved" as the source of its traditions. It is closely related in style and content to the three Johannine epistles, and most scholars treat the four books, along with the Book of Revelation, as a single corpus of Johannine literature, albeit not from the same author.

Matthew and Luke did not find the virgin birth in Mark, nor did one of them derive it from the other, nor did they find it in a common source. [8] Raymond E. Brown suggested in 1973 that Joseph was the source of Matthew's account and Mary of Luke's, but modern scholars consider this "highly unlikely", given that the story emerged so late. [12] It follows that the two narratives were created by the two writers, drawing on ideas in circulation in some Christian circles perhaps by around 65 AD. [13]

Raymond Edward Brown was an American Catholic priest, a member of the Sulpician Fathers and a prominent biblical scholar. He was regarded as a specialist concerning the hypothetical "Johannine community", which he speculated contributed to the authorship of the Gospel of John, and he also wrote influential studies on the birth and death of Jesus. Brown was professor emeritus at Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in New York where he taught for 29 years. He was the first Catholic professor to gain tenure there, where he earned a reputation as a superior lecturer.

Cultural context

The Annunciation, by Fra Angelico La Anunciacion, by Fra Angelico, from Prado in Google Earth - main panel.jpg
The Annunciation, by Fra Angelico

The ancient world had no idea that male semen and female ovum were both needed to form a fetus; instead they thought that the male contribution in reproduction consisted of some sort of formative or generative principle, while Mary's bodily fluids would provide all the matter that was needed for Jesus' bodily form, including his male sex. [14] This cultural milieu was conducive to miraculous birth stories - they were common in biblical tradition going back to Abraham and Sarah. [15] They may also have roots in Hellenistic mythology, although there is no emphasis in Hellenistic stories on the virginity of the women giving birth by the gods. [16] Matthew uses Isaiah 7:14 to support his narrative, but scholars agree that the Hebrew word used in Isaiah, "almah", signifies a girl of childbearing age without reference to virginity, and was aimed at Isaiah's own immediate circumstances. [17] [18]

Hellenistic period Period of ancient Greek and Mediterranean history

The Hellenistic period covers the period of Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the subsequent conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt the following year. The Ancient Greek word Hellas is the original word for Greece, from which the word Hellenistic was derived.

Isaiah 7:14 A verse in the seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah

Isaiah 7:14 is a verse in the seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah in which the prophet Isaiah, addressing king Ahaz of Judah, promises the king that God will destroy his enemies; as a sign that his oracle is a true one, Isaiah predicts that an almah will shortly give birth to a child whose name will be Immanuel, "God is with us", and that the threat from the enemy kings will be ended before the child is weaned. The author of the gospel of Matthew used it to suggest that Jesus was born to a parthenos, a virgin.

<i>Almah</i> Hebrew word

Almah, from a root implying the vigour of puberty, is a Hebrew word for a young woman of childbearing age. Despite its importance to the Christian tradition of the virgin birth of Jesus, scholars agree that it has nothing to do with virginity. It occurs nine times in the Hebrew Bible.

Tales of virgin birth and the impregnation of mortal women by deities were well known in the 1st-century Greco-Roman world, [19] and Second Temple Jewish works were also capable of producing accounts of the appearances of angels and miraculous births for ancient heroes such as Melchizedek, Noah, and Moses. [20] Luke's virgin birth story is a standard plot from the Jewish scriptures, as for example in the annunciation scenes for Isaac and for Samson, in which an angel appears and causes apprehension, the angel gives reassurance and announces the coming birth, the mother raises an objection, and the angel gives a sign. [21] Nevertheless, "plausible sources that tell of virgin birth in areas convincingly close to the gospels' own probable origins have proven extremely hard to demonstrate". [22] Similarly, while it is widely accepted that there is a connection with Zoroastrian (Persian) sources underlying Matthew's story of the Magi (the wise men from the East) and the Star of Bethlehem, a wider claim that Zoroastrianism formed the background to the infancy narratives has not achieved acceptance. [22]

Theology and development

Matthew and Luke use the virgin birth (or more accurately the divine conception that precedes it) to mark the moment when Jesus becomes the Son of God, a notable development over Mark, for whom the Sonship dates from Jesus's baptism, and the earlier Christianity of Paul and the pre-Pauline Christians for whom Jesus becomes the Son only at the resurrection or even the Second Coming. [23] The virgin birth was subsequently accepted by Christians as the proof of the divinity of Jesus, but its rebuttal during and after the 18th century European Enlightenment led some to redefine it as mythical, while others reaffirmed it in dogmatic terms. [24] This division remains in place, although some national synods of the Catholic church have replaced a biological understanding with the idea of "theological truth", and some evangelical theologians hold it to be marginal rather than indispensable to the Christian faith. [24]

Throughout Christian history a small number of groups have denied the virgin birth, particularly in the Near East. [25] The Ebionites considered Jesus the Messiah, but rejected his divine nature and regarded him as fully human. [26] The Nestorian Church and Assyrian Church of the East supported a physically human nature of Jesus. [27] Others, like Marcion, held that Christ's divinity meant that his human life, death and resurrection were only an appearance. [28] By about 180 AD Jews were telling how Jesus had been illegitimately conceived by a Roman soldier named Pantera or Pandera, whose name is likely a pun on parthenos, birth. [29] The story was still current in the Middle Ages in satirical parody of the Christian gospels called the Toledot Yeshu. [30] [31] The Toledot Yeshu contains no historical facts, and was probably created as a tool for warding off conversions to Christianity. [30]

Celebrations, devotions and art

Mary writing the Magnificat, by Marie Ellenrieder, 1833 Ellenrieder Maria 1833.jpg
Mary writing the Magnificat, by Marie Ellenrieder, 1833

Christians celebrate the conception of Jesus on 25 March and his birth on 25 December. (These dates are for the Western tradition, no one knows for certain when Jesus was born.) The Magnificat, based on Luke 1:46-55 is one of four well known Gospel canticles: the Benedictus and the Magnificat in the first chapter, and the Gloria in Excelsis and the Nunc dimittis in the second chapter of Luke, which are now an integral part of the Christian liturgical tradition. [32] The Annunciation became an element of Marian devotions in Medieval times, and by the 13th century direct references to it were widespread in French lyrics. [33] The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the title "Ever Virgin Mary" as a key element of its Marian veneration, and as part of the Akathists (hymns) to Mary which are an integral part of its liturgy. [34]

This doctrine of the Virgin Birth is often represented in Christian art in terms of the annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel that she would conceive a child to be born the Son of God, and in Nativity scenes that include the figure of Salome. The Annunciation is one of the most frequently depicted scenes in Western art. [35] Annunciation scenes also amount to the most frequent appearances of Gabriel in medieval art. [36] The depiction of Joseph turning away in some Nativity scenes is a discreet reference to the fatherhood of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of Virgin Birth. [37]

See also

Related Research Articles

Gospel of James Apocryphal Gospel

The Gospel of James, also known as the Protoevangelium of James, and the Infancy Gospel of James, is an apocryphal gospel probably written around the year AD 145, which expands backward in time the infancy stories contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and presents a narrative concerning the birth and upbringing of Mary herself. It is the oldest source to assert the virginity of Mary not only prior to, but during the birth of Jesus. The ancient manuscripts that preserve the book have different titles, including "The Birth of Mary", "The Story of the Birth of Saint Mary, Mother of God," and "The Birth of Mary; The Revelation of James." It is also referred to as "Genesis of Mary".

Matthew the Apostle Christian evangelist and apostle

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Mary, mother of Jesus religious figure and mother of Jesus of Nazareth

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Immanuel A Hebrew name that appeared in the Book of Isaiah

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Nativity of Jesus Birth of Jesus

The nativity of Jesus or birth of Jesus is the basis for the Christian holiday of Christmas and is described in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. The two accounts differ, but agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the reign of King Herod the Great, his mother Mary was married to a man named Joseph, who was descended from King David and was not his biological father, and that his birth was caused by divine intervention. Luke's version says the birth took place during a Roman census, mentions an announcement to shepherds by angels, presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and gives the name of the angel who announces the coming birth to Mary. Matthew's version mentions the arrival of the Magi, the flight into Egypt by the family, and the Massacre of the Innocents by King Herod. The consensus of scholars is that both gospels were written about AD 75-85, and while it is possible that one account might be based on the other, or that the two share common source material, the majority conclusion is that the two nativity narratives are independent of each other.

Jesus in Christianity Jesus in Christianity

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Perpetual virginity of Mary doctrine that Mary the mother of Jesus had never had sexual relations throughout her life; held by many Christian groups, including the Catholic Church

The perpetual virginity of Mary is a Marian doctrine, taught by the Catholic Church and held by a number of groups in Christianity, which asserts that Mary was "always a virgin, before, during and after the birth of Jesus Christ." This doctrine also proclaims that Mary had no marital relations after Jesus' birth nor gave birth to any children other than Jesus. While the Bible mentions brothers of Jesus, Catholic, Orthodox, and some traditional Protestant interpretations offer various explanations that align with the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity; that these siblings were either children of Joseph from a previous marriage, cousins of Jesus, or were closely associated with the Holy Family.

Matthew 1 Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 1

Matthew 1 is the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. It contains two distinct sections. The first lists the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to his legal father Joseph, his mother's husband. The second part, beginning at verse 18, provides an account of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

Genealogy of Jesus Genealogy of Jesus

The New Testament provides two accounts of the genealogy of Jesus, one in the Gospel of Matthew and another in the Gospel of Luke. Matthew starts with Abraham, while Luke begins with Adam. The lists are identical between Abraham and David, but differ radically from that point. Matthew has twenty-seven generations from David to Joseph, whereas Luke has forty-two, with almost no overlap between the names on the two lists.⁠ Notably, the two accounts also disagree on who Joseph's father was: Matthew says he was Jacob, while Luke says he was Heli.

Matthew 1:20

Matthew 1:20 is the twentieth verse of the first chapter in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. Previously Joseph had found Mary to be pregnant and had considered leaving her. In this verse an angel comes to him in a dream and reassures him.

Matthew 1:23

Matthew 1:23 is the 23rd verse of the first chapter in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. Joseph has just been informed of the nature of Jesus by an angel and in this verse the author of Matthew relates this to a quote from the Old Testament.

Flight into Egypt New Testament event

The flight into Egypt is a story recounted in the Gospel of Matthew and in New Testament apocrypha. Soon after the visit by the Magi, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to flee to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus since King Herod would seek the child to kill him. The episode is frequently shown in art, as the final episode of the Nativity of Jesus in art, and was a common component in cycles of the Life of the Virgin as well as the Life of Christ. Within the narrative tradition, iconic representation of the "Rest on the Flight into Egypt" developed after the 14th century.

Luke 2 Gospel according to Luke, chapter 2

Luke 2 is the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament. It contains an account of Jesus's birth and an incident from his childhood. Verses 1–19 except 2 are commonly read at Nativity plays as part of celebrating Christmas.

The New Testament frequently cites Jewish scripture to support the claim of the Early Christians that Jesus is the Messiah, and to support faith in Jesus as the Christ and his imminent expected Second Coming. The majority of these quotations and references are taken from the Book of Isaiah, but they range over the entire corpus of Jewish writings. People of the Jewish faith do not regard any of these as having been fulfilled by Jesus, and in some cases do not regard them as messianic prophecies at all. These latter cases either were not prophecies or the verses do not explicitly refer to the Messiah.

Return of the family of Jesus to Nazareth

The return of the family of Jesus to Nazareth, also known as the Return from Egypt, appears in the reports of the early life of Jesus given in the Canonical gospels. Both of the gospels which describe the nativity of Jesus agree that he was born in Bethlehem and then later moved with his family to live in Nazareth. The Gospel of Matthew describes how Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to Egypt to escape from Herod the Great's slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem. Matthew does not mention Nazareth as being the previous home of Joseph and Mary; he says that Joseph was afraid to go to Judea because Herod Archelaus was ruling there and so the family went to Nazareth instead. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, does not record anything about the flight to Egypt, but says that Joseph had been previously living in Nazareth, and returned there after the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

References

  1. 1 2 Carrigan 2000, p. 1359.
  2. 1 2 Bruner 2004, p. 37.
  3. Robinson 2009, p. 111.
  4. Lincoln 2013, p. 99.
  5. Morris 1992, p. 31-32.
  6. Carroll2012 1992, p. 39.
  7. Lincoln 2013, p. 21-25.
  8. 1 2 Hurtado 2005, p. 318.
  9. Boring & Craddock 2009, p. 12.
  10. Fredriksen 2008, p. 7.
  11. Reddish 2011, p. 13.
  12. Lincoln 2013, p. 144.
  13. Hurtado 2005, p. 318-319,325.
  14. Lincoln 2013, p. 196,258.
  15. Schowalter 1993, p. 790.
  16. Hurtado 2005, p. 328-329.
  17. Sweeney 1996, p. 161.
  18. France:2007, p. 56-57.
  19. Lachs 1987, p. 6.
  20. Casey 1991, p. 152.
  21. Kodell 1992, p. 939.
  22. 1 2 Welburn 2008, p. 2.
  23. Loewe 1996, p. 184.
  24. 1 2 Kärkkäinen 2009, p. 175.
  25. McGuckin 2004, p. 286.
  26. Paget 2010, p. 360.
  27. Eirini Artemi, Cyril of Alexandria's critique of the term THEOTOKOS by Nestorius Constantinople, Acta theol. vol.32 no.2 Bloemfontein Dec. 2012
  28. Wahlde 2015, p. 62-63.
  29. Voorst 2000, p. 117.
  30. 1 2 Cook 2011, p. unpaginated.
  31. Evans 1998, p. 450.
  32. Simpler 1990, p. 396.
  33. O'Sullivan, Daniel E., Marian devotion in thirteenth-century French lyric, 2005, ISBN   0-8020-3885-9, pp. 14–15.
  34. Peltomaa 2001, p. 127.
  35. Guiley, Rosemary, The encyclopedia of angels, 2004, ISBN   0-8160-5023-6, p. 183.
  36. Ross, Leslie, Medieval art: a topical dictionary, 1996, ISBN   0-313-29329-5, p. 99.
  37. Grabar, André, Christian iconography: a study of its origins, 1968, Taylor & Francis, p. 130.

Bibliography

Virgin birth of Jesus
Preceded by
Gabriel announces John's
birth to Zechariah
New Testament
Events
Succeeded by
Mary visits Elisabeth