2. The Invasion of Planet Earth
The inconsistency manifested by we humans never ceases to amaze (and sometimes amuse) me. For example, I note that most theologians today are strangely silent when men attempt to play God in the matter of human conception. They intervene in the natural process of human reproduction by methods such as cloning, sex determination and test tube fertilization. And, yet, some of these same theologians who do not protest against human intervention in so sacred a matter as reproduction are the first to prohibit God from intervening in the birth of the Savior some 2,000 years ago. As I say, such inconsistency puzzles me. They insist that God could not, should not, and did not intervene in the conception of Christ to make it anything more than a normal and natural phenomenon.
With all due respect to the sacred cows of the liberal theologians, it is our privilege to investigate from the inspired records of the Gospel writers the matter of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, I have titled this message “The Invasion of Planet Earth.” Few subjects are more important for our study, so let us begin by reviewing several reasons why this investigation is so vital to men today.
(1) The doctrines of the virgin birth and the incarnation are matters of current theological debate. Last year seven British theologians collaborated to publish a book entitled, The Myth of God Incarnate. The sum and substance of the book seems to be that we cannot take the Gospel accounts of the virgin birth and incarnation of Christ literally, although one may wish to take them seriously. The authors want us to divorce our faith from the facts of the Bible. The Gospel records, they say, are not accurate historical reports but fanciful fabrications to give credence to their personal faith in Christ with Whom they have had some kind of subjective encounter. The virgin birth was not an event in time but an embellishment suggested, we are told, by either Jewish expectations10 or pagan belief in supernatural births.11 All of this, mind you, is coming from those who would have us believe they are part of the family of God.12 Departures of this kind are not unique to our age.13
(2) The doctrines of the incarnation and virgin birth are at the heart of the Christian faith. Not only are the doctrines concerning our Lord’s birth a matter of hot debate,14 they are also the very heart of the Christian faith.15 The doctrines of the virgin birth and incarnation are what we might call fundamentals of the faith. Although it is certainly possible that one could come to saving faith in Christ while ignorant of these doctrines, it is difficult to conceive of any Christian rejecting these verities. Let me suggest several reasons for this:
a. The credibility of the Gospel writers is at stake. Few would dare to deny that Matthew and Luke boldly held to a virgin birth, taught in the clearest terms (cf. Matthew 1:18,20,23-25; Luke 1:27,31,34-35). If the Gospel writers cannot be trusted in these matters, how can we believe anything they have reported to us? The Gospels are cut of one piece; they stand or fall together. We cannot distrust any portion without undermining the reliability of it all.
b. The credibility of our Lord is at stake. The Old Testament prophets had written that Messiah would be no mere man, but God Himself (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Micah 5:2). Jesus openly made this claim (John 4:26; 8:58; Luke 22:66-70). He manifested the attributes of God (Hebrews 13:8; Colossians 1:17; Matthew 28:18,20; 1 Corinthians 4:5), claimed the authority of God (Mark 2:5-7), and accepted worship as God (John 20:28). If the Gospel writers were in error, then so was our Lord. His credibility, as well as theirs, is on the line.
To press this point one step further, not only is the credibility of our Lord at stake, but also His credentials. Jesus Christ came as the second Adam, the perfect, sinless Lamb of God Who alone could die as an innocent substitute for the sins of men. If His birth were anything less than what it is described to be by Matthew and Luke, then He would be disqualified as the substitute for sinners. As Dr. Chafer put it:
“His full deity and complete humanity are essential to His work on the cross. If He were not man, He could not die; if He were not God, His death would not have had infinite value.”16
(3) Our response to the doctrines of the incarnation and virgin birth of Christ set a precedent for our response to the rest of the New Testament. When we come to the matter of our Lord’s invasion of planet earth, we have come to the landmark case for supernaturalism in the New Testament. It is the touchstone for our faith in a God Who can and does intervene in the affairs of men, and Who can and does have the power to override the normal course of nature. No one has said it more concisely than J. I. Packer:
“If Jesus had been no more than a very remarkable, godly man, the difficulties in believing what the New Testament tells us about his life and work would be truly mountainous. But if Jesus was the same person as the eternal Word, the Father’s agent in creation, ‘through whom also He made the worlds’ (Hebrews 1:2, RV), it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked His coming into this world, and His life in it, and His exit from it. It is not strange that He, the author of life, should rise from the dead. If He was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that He should die than He should rise again. ‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies,’ wrote Wesley; but there is no comparable mystery in the Immortal’s resurrection. And if the immortal Son of God did really submit to taste death, it is not strange that such a death should have saving significance for a doomed race. Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this; it is all of a piece, and hangs together completely. The incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.”17
The Investigation of the
Birth of Christ in the Gospels
Probably the greatest difficulty to overcome in our study of this portion of Scripture is our familiarity with it. I would suppose that most of us could recite the story with little difficulty. To catch the significance of this event, let me share several pertinent observations concerning the birth narratives contained in the Gospels.
(1) The fingerprints of God are everywhere evident on these accounts. The lines of evidence pointing to a supernatural birth are numerous and varied. First of all, there is the prophetic word. Old Testament prophecies are frequently cited as fulfilled in the birth of Christ. These prophecies indicated a supernatural birth, or we should rather say, a supernatural conception brought about through a virgin, resulting in the manifestation in human flesh of the second person of the Godhead (cf. Matthew 1:18-23). In addition to ancient prophecies, it was preceded by supernatural announcements and events. Before the virgin conception of the Savior, Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, was visited by Gabriel and promised a son. His request for a sign was answered by a spell of speechlessness. Zechariah and Elizabeth were given a son in their old age, indicating that ‘with God nothing is impossible’ (Luke 1:36-37). Mary and Joseph both received angelic communication (Luke 1:26ff; Matthew 1:20-21). Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary uttered inspired testimonies concerning the coming of Messiah (Luke 1:67ff; 1:41-45; 46-55).
The birth itself was accompanied by many divine attestations. Angels announced the coming of Messiah to shepherds in nearby fields.18 Even the heavens gave witness to the birth of Messiah as ‘His Star’19 appeared in the East and prompted the magi20 to journey to Palestine and worship the new King.
Subsequent to Christ’s birth, He was heralded and worshipped as the One for Whom righteous Israelites had waited. Simeon, under the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed Him as the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25ff). Anna also gave witness to Messiah’s arrival (Luke 2:38).
Before, during, and after His birth, God gave remarkable witness through angels, through inspired prophets of the past and present, and through creation itself. What greater proof could one desire?
(2) The birth of Christ is reported with amazing brevity and simplicity. Those who challenge the historicity and authenticity of the Gospel accounts of the birth of our Lord insist that these stories of a virgin birth are embellishments to add substance to their faith in Christ.
Anyone who looks carefully at these accounts would, in my opinion, be impressed with the opposite conclusion.21 There is a striking simplicity and lack of sensationalism when the Gospel narratives are compared with apocryphal accounts of our Lord’s childhood.
“Tradition, and the apocryphal gospels written many years later, tell many absurd and fanciful things about the flight of the family and their entrance into Egypt. The flowers were said to spring up in their steps as they entered the land; the palm trees to bow down in homage, and wild animals to come near in friendly approach.”22
With great economy of words, and without any of the sensationalism of other ancient writings (or those in our own day), the Gospel writers described the birth of the Messiah. This simplicity is one of the convincing evidences of divine inspiration which sets apart the New Testament canonical books from those which were rejected.
(3) The invasion of planet earth by our Lord was revealed to devout men and women, but concealed from the rest. When I read through the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, I am impressed with the open proclamation and presentation of Messiah to those who were godly men and women: Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the humble shepherds and astute wise men, the elderly and expectant Simeon and Anna. These people were God-seekers and God-servers. To such as these, the Messiah was presented with divine testimony.
But where are the others? Where are the seminary professors of Jerusalem? Where are the religious leaders? They are conspicuously absent. While the wise men had traveled from afar, Herod would not go the six short miles between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. And lest we suppose that Herod was the only one who worried while the others worshipped Messiah, Matthew informs us that all Jerusalem was stirred up by reports of the birth of Messiah (Matthew 2:3). The entire city was disturbed because they were the establishment and they had the most to lose if some new king were to overthrow the existing regime.
As our Lord said to the Samaritan woman, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.” (John 4:23) God reveals Himself to those who seek Him and will serve Him. Only those who were God-seekers witnessed the coming of Messiah, while the rest slept in complacency and unbelief. And so it is today.
(4) The coming of the Christ foreshadowed His later ministry. One can barely overlook the parallels between the response of men to His birth and their later response to His ministry and message. While the humble in spirit recognized Him as Messiah and worshipped Him, the vast majority ignored Him. His humble entry into the world typified His humble position in life. Just as Herod tried to eliminate Him in His infancy as a threat to his power, so Israel’s political and religious leaders put Him to death to protect their own interests.
(5) There is historical accuracy in the minute details of the Gospel accounts. Critics of the Word of God are quick to point out differences in the Gospel accounts. Robert Coughlan in the article “Who Was the Man Jesus?” (Life Magazine, Vol. 57, No. 26 [December 25, 1964]), stated his criticism by this headline: “In detail and many important points, the Gospels do not agree” (pp. 90-91).
Coughlan criticized the discrepancies between the genealogies of Matthew and Luke23 and the fact that these two writers chose to trace a different sequence of events following the birth of our Lord. Although Christians must admit that defensive arguments for every challenge may not be sufficient to convince the skeptic, there are viable solutions for the man who is willing to listen. Further, we would maintain that further linguistic and archaeological findings have greatly reduced these alleged discrepancies or ‘errors.’
Let me cite one example which underscores the meticulous accuracy of Luke as a historian. Critics had a heyday when they read in the Antiquities of Josephus that Quirinius was governor over Syria in 6 A.D., and yet Luke states that the census took place at the time of Christ’s birth (probably 5 or 6 B.C.). It has now been discovered from a series of inscriptions that Quirinius was twice governor of Syria.24 (This might be understood better by the analogy of Richard Nixon who served both as vice-president of the U.S. and as president in later years.) The accuracy of Luke as a historian is now widely accepted.
(6) The prophecies concerning Messiah’s coming were precisely fulfilled but in a way totally unexpected. Over and over in the Gospels we find the statement ‘in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled’ or something to that effect. We learn in the Gospels how Christ could be born in Bethlehem and yet be known as a Nazarene. God’s providence is everywhere evident. God moved the Roman Empire to initiate a census in Palestine so Mary would be in Bethlehem and not Nazareth to give birth to the Messiah.
My point here, however, is not that we should wonder at the providence of God (of course we should!), but that we should be cautioned about being too dogmatic about the interpretation of prophecies yet to be fulfilled. If no one could have predicted in advance precisely how the ancient prophecies would be fulfilled in the first appearance of Messiah (and this is just what Peter tells us—1 Peter 1:10-11), let us be very cautious about being overly detailed or dogmatic concerning the details of His Second Coming.
The Interpretation of the
Gospel Accounts of Our Lord’s Birth
From the Gospel records, we are compelled to arrive at two conclusions: first, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ resulted from a virgin conception; second, the result of that conception was the perfect God-man, God incarnate.
(1) Jesus Christ was virgin born. Let’s begin with a definition: “The birth of Jesus Christ was a birth in normal human flesh from a normal human mother, whose conception was not the result of sexual intercourse with any man, but by the supernatural activity of the Holy spirit.”25
The virgin birth was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).26
The virgin birth is the clear claim of both Matthew and Luke.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been bethrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18,20).
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. And Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:31,34-35).
There are many who would have us reject the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, but to my knowledge, none of them dares to deny that such a birth was what Matthew and Luke claimed to occur. Those who deny the virgin birth cannot say the New Testament does not teach it. No matter how carefully worded, the bottom line of such criticism is that Matthew and Luke were liars—that they deliberately falsified their accounts to further their own ends.
Then the real reason men reject the doctrine is not because they consider the Gospel writers unreliable, it is because they have concluded that miracles cannot happen. The whole matter of the virgin birth and the incarnation is determined on the basis of presuppositions and not on the weight of evidence. Michael Green sums up the problem of those who criticize the historicity of the Gospels by listing three wrong assumptions or presuppositions which they must hold:27
a. There is no divine element in the Bible.28
b. There is no possibility of a miracle.
c. There is no finality about Jesus.29
(2) Jesus Christ was God incarnate. If Matthew emphasized the truth that Jesus was the Messiah, the rightful heir to the throne of David, and Luke stressed the humanity of our Lord, John confronts us with His undiminished Deity.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:1-3,14,15).
When we speak of the doctrine of the incarnation and of our Lord as God incarnate, we refer to Jesus Christ as undiminished deity and perfect humanity united permanently in one person.
There has been much confusion concerning this doctrine because of a misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching on the kenosis (or emptying) of Christ in the second chapter of Philippians. Some have attempted to make room for errors in the Bible (and even in the teaching of our Lord) by suggesting that our Lord, at His incarnation, emptied Himself of some of His deity. They would say that He laid aside some of His attributes, such as omniscience.30 Thus, if our Lord did not know all things, He could have been mistaken in some of His teaching.
A look at the context of the passage informs us that the main point of the apostle is that we are to be truly humble—to consider others ahead of ourselves. In this we should imitate our Lord Who willingly set aside His visible glory, who voluntarily veiled His divine splendor, and who made no claim to the exercise and privileges of His divine prerogatives. He put this aside (not His deity but His rights as God) in order to die on a cross for our salvation. Incarnation itself was an act of humiliation. How can one even conceive of the humiliation of the cross?
The Gospels reveal not only the fact of the incarnation, but the purpose.
First of all, the Eternal Son took on human flesh to reveal God to men. “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).
Our Lord could truthfully say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father …” (John 14:9).
Second, the Word became flesh to reign over His people. “And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:33a; Matthew 2:2). Many have not taken this purpose of the incarnation seriously enough. They are content to spiritualize this reign and to see its fulfillment through the church. Careful attention to the Scriptures necessitates a literal reign of Messiah over the nation Israel.
Third, He came to redeem. As Mark records the words of our Lord, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The Implications of the Incarnation
There is far more application of the doctrine of the incarnation than any preacher will ever be able to expound, especially in one message. But let us focus our attention on several relevant truths.
(1) The incarnation is the measure of God’s ability to save. The best answer to the critic of the virgin birth is the words of Gabriel to Mary as he foretold of her miraculous conception: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
God was able to give elderly Zechariah and Elizabeth a child. God was able to impregnate Mary without the participation of a man. God was able to move the Roman Empire to take a census in Palestine so that prophecy could be fulfilled. God was able to save an infant from the treachery of a king.
At least some theologians have been honest enough to concede that their God is dead—and so He must be. To others we must say, in the words of J.B. Phillips, “Your God is too small.” If God is God indeed, then God is capable of bringing forth a child from a virgin; He is capable of rising from the dead, and He is able to save a rebel like you and me.
(2) The incarnation is the measure of God’s willingness to save. We can be sure that God, if He is God at all, is able to save, but is He willing to do so? The answer of the incarnation is a resounding yes. My friend, what greater love can God have then to be willing to leave the throne of glory for the thorns of godless men? What greater love can God have than to give His Son as the payment for men’s sins?
If there is anything clear in the Gospel accounts of our Lord’s birth, it is that God has taken the initiative in seeking men for Himself. The incarnation is the measure of God’s love for man.
(3) The incarnation is God’s standard for measuring our love for one another. In Philippians chapter two, Christians are exhorted to have the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ was a love of others which compelled Him to lay aside the glories of heaven for the humiliation of birth in a stable and death on a cross. This is the standard which God has appointed as the measure of our love for one another.
(4) The incarnation is the means God has ordained to save men. It is hypothetically possible that God could have chosen any number of ways to redeem fallen man to Himself. But the message of the Gospels is that God has chosen to save men through the humiliation and sacrifice of His Son.
Now let me ask you very frankly, my friend, if you were God and you have provided a way of salvation through the incarnation and crucifixion of your only Son, how would you feel about someone who tried to earn salvation by some other way?
Religionists believe that all roads lead to heaven, but there is not one word of assurance that this is true from the Word of God. The Gospels inform us that God has made one way of salvation available through faith in the substitutionary death of His Son. Have you had the audacity to suppose that you could enter God’s heaven through any other means? May God grant you the faith to acknowledge your need of His Son as your Savior, your Substitute, your righteousness.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me’” (John 14:6).
10 “If the idea of a virgin birth for the Messiah lay ready to hand in the theology of Judaism, it is conceivable that the early Christians could have taken it over from this source. But the difficulty is that no evidence can be cited in favor of such a Jewish expectation. Isaiah 7:14 was not given a messianic interpretation among the Jews of our Lord’s time, unless the use of parthenos (virgin) in the Greek translation of the Old Testament be regarded as proof of such an expectation in some quarters of Judaism. At any rate it cannot be demonstrated that Matthew worked from Scripture to event rather than vice versa. Though there is an undoubted miraculous element in the birth of certain individuals in the Old Testament period, such as Isaac, these cases are clearly not parallel to the virgin birth of Christ. The very notion of a virgin birth was foreign to Jewish thinking, especially at the beginning of the Christian era, when the transcendence of God was more strongly emphasized than through the Old Testament period.” Everett F. Harrison, A Short Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), pp. 45-46.
From ancient Jewish writings, Alford Edersheim has compiled a list of every Old Testament text interpreted Messianically by Jewish scholarship at approximately the same time as the coming of Christ. Significantly, Isaiah 7:14 is absent. A virgin birth was not understood by the Jews of Jesus’ day as part of Messianic prediction. Cf. Alford Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), II, pp. 710ff.
11 “After a careful, laborious, and occasionally wearisome study of the evidence offered and the analogies urged, I am convinced that heathenism knows nothing of virgin births. Supernatural births it has without number, but never from a virgin in the New Testament sense and never without physical generation, except in a few isolated instances of magical births on the part of women who had not the slightest claim to be called virgins. In all recorded instances which I have been able to examine, if the mother was a virgin before conception took place she could not make that claim afterwards.” L. M. Sweet, The Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ (1906), p. 188, as quoted by Everett Harrison, p. 45.
12 One of the authors of The Myth of God Incarnate is Maurice Wiles, chairman of the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission. The book was published in England by SCM press, an arm of the Student Christian Movement, and in the U.S. by Westminster Press, an agency of the United Presbyterian Church.
13 At least as early as the middle of the second century, the story was circulated by the Jews that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier stationed in Nazareth. Origin, Contra Celsum i. 32, etc., as quoted by R. T. France, I Came to Set The Earth on Fire (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 33. For a fuller description of historical departures from orthodoxy cf. W. Graham Scroggie, A Guide to the Gospels (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company, n.d.), pp. 526-528. For post-apostolic acceptance of the doctrine of the virgin birth cf. Everett Harrison, A Short Life of Christ, pp. 40-41, also W. Graham Scroggie, A Guide to the Gospels, pp. 529-530.
14 One of the best refutations of The Myth of God Incarnate, which rejects the virgin birth of Christ, is The Truth of God Incarnate, edited by Michael Green (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977).
15 “This is the real stumbling-block in Christianity. It is here that Jews, Moslems, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many of those who feel the difficulties above-mentioned (about the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, and the resurrection), have come to grief. It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve.” J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 46.
16 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes, Revised by John F. Walvoord (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), p. 56.
R. T. France says virtually the same thing when he writes, “… the man who cannot accommodate a birth without a human father within his understanding of what God can do is going to make heavy weather of much of the story of Jesus, indeed of the Christian faith.” R. T. France, I Came to Set the Earth on Fire, p. 34.
18 These were shepherds tending sheep probably kept nearby for sacrificial offerings. Cf. J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), p. 32.
19 Although some scholars identify this ‘star’ with accounts of an unusual conjunction of stars at this time, I prefer to understand that it was really a manifestation of the shekina Glory of God. Cf. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels, pp. 39-40, and G. Campbell Morgan, The Crises of the Christ (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1936), pp. 98-99.
20 “The Magi were priest-sages, students of science, especially of astrology and religion, but also philosophy and medical science. Their researches, mysterious and mostly unknown to us, embraced deep knowledge not unmixed with some superstition. They came from the East, probably from Persia, Arabia, or Babylonia. At that time there was a sacerdotal caste of the Medes and Persians scattered over the East, and also many Jews of the Dispersion through whom the priest-sages may have received some knowledge of Israel’s Hope. Perhaps they may have received knowledge through the prophecies of Balaam of the promise of a King who would arise in Judea, who would reign universally. Tactitus, Suetonius, and Josephus bear testimony that such a hope existed at that time in the East.
“The idea that the Magi or Wizards were kings, probably arose from a vague interpretation of Isaiah 60:3, and Rev. 21:24. That they were three, is an inference from the three gifts offered, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There is no ground for assigning to them certain names, to say that they were three, or that they were representatives of Shem, Ham, and Japhet, coming from Greece, India, and Egypt. Much less ground is there for the supposition that their bones were discovered in the fourth century and their skulls are yet preserved in the Cathedral of Cologne.” J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels, p. 37.
21 “… the brevity and sublimity of the virgin-birth narrative in the Gospels is what we should expect if it belongs to revelation, but not what we should expect if it is the attempt of human minds to explain the incarnation.” Everett Harrison, A Short Life of Christ, p. 47.
22 J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels, p. 41. Everett Harrison, in his book, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), summarizes on page 118 the Apocryphal Gospel of Thomas:
“This famous writing, known at least as early as the time of Origin, presents the boy Jesus in the light of a wonder worker. It does not seem to matter that he works harm as well as good by his miraculous power. Here the thaumaturgic element has outrun any ethical norm. Jesus molds clay pigeons an the Sabbath. When objection is raised he claps his hands, whereupon the pigeons take to the air and fly away. When a child running through the village bumps him on the shoulder, he cries, ‘Thou shalt not finish thy course,’ and forthwith the child drops dead. When the parents come to expostulate with Joseph, they are smitten with blindness. A certain teacher, desiring to have Jesus as a pupil, soon regrets the arrangement, for when he is asked by the child to explain the letter Alpha and is unable to do so, Jesus elaborates its meaning and makes fun of his teacher, to the great discomfort of the latter. This incident reflects an esoteric interest and may be a Gnostic touch in the childhood tradition.”
23 For a discussion of this problem, cf. W. Graham Scroggie, A Guide to the Gospels, pp. 505-511.
24 For a more complete description of the solution of this criticism, cf. A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels (New York: Harper and Row, 1950), pp. 265-266.
25 Cf. J. Oliver Buswell, “The Virgin Birth of Jesus,” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), pp. 543-545.
26 As stated previously (fn. 1), what is most significant about this prophecy is that of all the Old Testament texts considered by the Jews to be Messianic prophecies, this was not included. This means that a virgin birth was not expected by the Jews. It also nullifies the argument of those who would have us believe that the Gospel writers added this ‘story’ or ‘myth’ to give substance to Israel’s Messianic hopes, based upon Jewish expectations.
27 Michael Green, “Jesus and Historical Criticism,” Chapter 6, The Truth of God Incarnate (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), pp. 107ff.
28 By way of illustration, Green cites this quote from James Barr: “My account of the formation of the biblical tradition is an account of a human work. It is man’s statement of his beliefs, the events he has experienced, the stories he has been told, and so on. It has long been customary to align the Bible with concepts like Word of God, or revelation, and one effect has been to align the Bible with a movement from God to man.
“It is man who developed the biblical tradition and man who decided when it might be suitably fixed and made canonical. If one wants to use the Word of God type of language, the proper term for the Bible would be Word of Israel, Word of some leading Christians.” The Truth of God Incarnate, pp. 108-109.
29 By this Green means that the liberal critic of the Bible refuses to hold that Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for eternal life. The liberal believes that ‘all roads lead to Rome.’
30 “In England, the kenosis theory was first broached by Bishop Gore in 1889, to explain why our Lord was ignorant of what the nineteenth century higher critics thought they knew about the errors of the Old Testament. Gore’s thesis was that in becoming man the Son had given up His divine knowledge of matters of fact, though retaining full divine infallibility on moral issues. In the realm of historical fact, however, He was limited to current Jewish ideas, which He accepted without question, not knowing that they were not all correct. Hence His treatment of the Old Testament as verbally inspired and wholly true, and His ascription of the Pentateuch to Moses and Psalm 110 to David—views which Gore thought untenable. Many have followed Gore at this point, seeking justification for rejecting Christ’s estimate of the Old Testament.” J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 52.
Related Topics: Incarnation