Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is the new testament a consistent and accurate source: Part 1 the Birth Narratives

In this post I am going to seriously explore the idea that the Gospels tell a consistent story. This may end up being a series of posts, but for today I will focus on the birth narrative. In the gospels the birth narratives only appear in Matthew and Luke, so the question is are the birth narratives consistent and accurate? Lets find out:

To begin with there is one thing both Matthew and Luke agree on and that is that Jesus is born of a virgin. So, at first glance there doesn't appear to be a problem, but lets look at how they got there. This initial exploration of this point is going to use Matthew as he is the first of the 2 authors having written his book in the early to mid 80s(CE) of the first century(Luke was not until 90s(CE) or later). What do we find here,well it appears that the messiah will come from a virgin using: Isaiah 7:14

King James Version (KJV)

14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Yet, this is not actually the case. Matthew is directly quoting this line in Matthew 1:23, yet if you actually explore the history of this text the earliest Hebrew manuscripts use the word "alma" which means young woman. Matthew on the other hand used the Greek translation that said "parthenos" which means virgin. So, we are off to a bad start, Matthew is using a bad translation of the old testament and this would lead us to believe he is trying to force prophecy to be fulfilled. It doesn't help matters that according to most Jews the prophecy in Isaiah is not about the Messiah any way. Its presumable about 10 or more years later when Luke was written he was familiar with the virgin birth story from Matthew and kept it in his gospel. If you don't believe Matthew would tell stories to attempt to fulfill prophecy, please check out this outside example, in another case of Matthew misreading prophecy, Matthew unlike the other gospels has Jesus enter Jerusalem on a colt and a donkey. (Matthew 21:7)

Speaking of attempting to fulfill prophecies here is another one. We have already established that both gospels thought Jesus was born of a virgin, yet strangely another prophecy of the old testament is that the Messiah will be of the blood of David (Jeremiah 23:5, 2 Samuel 7:12-16, Psalms 132:11) This is fine, but remember that if Mary is a virgin, this bloodline would have to go through her, yet both Matthew (Matthew 1:1-17) and Luke (Luke 3:23-38) go through Joseph with their genealogies to achieve this. This is a clear cut case of 2 prophecies not adding up as either one is true or the other is. Either Jesus is born of a virgin like both Matthew and Luke say and he is not in the bloodline of David since that goes through Joseph, or he is in the bloodline of David through Joseph and is the biological son of Joseph meaning Mary is not a virgin.

Speaking of the Genealogies let me have a look at them:

Luke 3:23-38-------------------Matthew 1:1-17

Heli---------------------------Jacob------------------------no match


Levi---------------------------Eleazar----------------------no match

Melchi-------------------------Eliud------------------------no match

Jannai-------------------------Achim------------------------no match

Joseph-------------------------Zadok------------------------no match

Mattathias---------------------Azor-------------------------no match

Amos---------------------------Eliakim----------------------no match

Nahum------------------------- Abiud------------------------no match

Strange, isn't it, out of the first 10 names starting at Joseph's father, we only have 1 match and I am giving the benefit of the doubt that Matthat and Matthan were the same person. The genealogies are so far off that they contradict 90% of the time here.

Is there more, well let me show you. We are now going to ask when Jesus was born, was it during the reign of Herod the Great as Matthew says, who died in 4 bce and presumably Matthew had Jesus born 2 years before this with the slaughter of the innocence killing 2 year olds or less(Matthew 2:16-18)? This is when most scholars believe that Jesus was born during this time. Yet, Luke clearly says that Jesus was born when Quirinius was governor of Syria(Luke 2:1–7). Yet, as Bart Ehrman points out here:

"If the Gospels are right that Jesus’ birth occurred during Herod’s reign, then Luke cannot also be right that it happened when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. We know from a range of other historical sources, including the Roman historian Tacitus, the Jewish historian Josephus, and several ancient inscriptions, that Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until 6 CE, ten years after the death of Herod." Jesus Interrupted pg 33-34

This is at minimum a 10 year gap, most likely 12 years when you consider Matthew probably had Jesus born in 6 CE or earlier.

Now, what about this slaughter of the innocence and the Census. Let me get the slaughter of the innocence out of the way, firstly it has zero non biblical support that it ever happened. It is presumable that other historians would have noticed this. For instance, Josephus loved to write about the terrible atrocities of Herod the Great, why is it not there? Could it be this never happened? Remember we have established Matthew is not above making things up for his story. What about the census? Well firstly a Roman Census would not require people to return to the land their ancestors lived in a 1000 years ago as Luke has here, since Bethlehem was the land of David(Luke 2:1–7). This just simply was not how Roman Census's or any census for that matter works. It was a plot device to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

This whole little tidbit becomes more interesting when you consider Matthew starts his gospel off with Mary and Joseph living in Bethlehem(Matthew 2). A place they would presumably live for several years until leaving for Egypt(Matthew 2:13). This is interesting because Luke one other hand has them coming into Bethlehem due to a census and staying at an inn.(Luke 2:7) Where do they go when all is fulfilled in Bethlehem, well its not Egypt as in Matthew, they instead go to Nazareth.(Luke 2:39) In both cases the gospel authors apparently felt the need to have Jesus born in Bethlehem and both used clever plot narratives to get this done. Now, since a historical Jesus would have actually lived in Nazareth, these plot twists needed to get him back there and we have seen how they did that.

At this point I can see Christians getting their apologetic arguments ready to attempt to justify this, yet we have seen contradiction and inconsistency after inconsistency, what are the odds that all of your apologetic arguments are true and that all of this is wrong? Not very high, there comes a point that after you have been exposed to this type of information that you must accept that bible and the gospels are not consistent or accurate, there is just too much to apologize for in the birth narratives alone.