After taking a little break to do some pro-life videos and a series on my cousin Keith the sculptor, I am trying to finish the Real Jesus video this month. Below is the script.
Myth #3: There was no virgin birth and Jesus was not born in Bethlehem
Jennings: “We cannot tell you whether or not Jesus is the Son of God, that is a matter of faith. But if you have difficulty with the idea that the Virgin Mary could get pregnant without a man involved, there are a number of ways to explain why in Luke it is written that way.”
Jennings: “Some scholars think that Jesus was illegitimate and that the story was a cover-up.”
That Jesus was born of a virgin is confirmed by both Matthew and Luke. In his Gospel, Matthew writes that this miracle was a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
The name Immanuel in Hebrew means literally “God-With-Us.” In other words, God himself was to be incarnate in human form. And the miraculous sign would be that He would be born of a virgin.
Now some have said that the word “virgin” in Hebrew can simply mean a maiden or an unmarried woman. The problem with this speculation is the context of Isaiah’s prophecy. A “sign” in the Hebrew language is simply another way of translating the word “miracle.” And the exclamation “Behold!” means to look with wonder. Both Isaiah and the Gospel writers meant to say that the Messiah would be born of a virgin and the witnesses would look in wonder at the event.
Peter Jennings is right about one thing. There is no physical evidence other than the scripture left to us today to determine the miracle of the Incarnation. But not only is the virgin birth called into question, but also the place and circumstances of Jesus’ birth also prophesied in scripture.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
— Matthew 2:1-6
According to prophecy given hundreds of years before Jesus was born, not only would He be born of a virgin, but He would also be born in the city of David, his forefather, in Bethlehem. Of course, Peter Jennings disagrees.
Jennings: “Luke writes that Joseph and Mary came here to Bethlehem from Nazareth because the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus had ordered a world wide taxation. Now there is no record outside the Gospels that the Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered such a tax. Roman tax records do show that a man is to be taxed where he lives and where he works and Joseph lived and worked in Nazareth. Tax records also show they didn’t count women. And so why would Joseph have brought Mary on this very difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem through the desert especially when she was very pregnant?”[10:33-11:06]
But let’s look at what the Gospel of Luke actually says:
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered (Luke 2:1-6).
Some translations have the word “taxed” for the Greek word apographÈ, a word that comes from the Greek verb meaning to enroll or to register. What Luke actually wrote is not that Joseph came to Bethlehem “to be taxed,” but that he came “to register” in a census. In the ancient world, a census was often used to assess the amount of able-bodied males eligible for military service.
According to ancient historians, this census was for a renewal of loyalty in the form of an oath of allegiance to Caesar Augustus. In order for the oath to be taken, all adult men had to be registered and actually sign their names to the oath of allegiance.
Josephus states, “The whole Jewish nation took an oath to be faithful to Caesar and to the interests of the king [Herod] …” He adds that “above 6000 Pharisees refused to swear.” Based on Josephus’ writings, this oath was sworn in the year 3 B.C. This was the census for the taking of the oath to which Luke refers. The actual census may have been conducted the year before in 4 B.C. which is in accord with most reliable dates for the time of Christ’s birth and stay in Bethlehem.
Furthermore, the fact that Josephus knew the number of Pharisees who did not take the oath indicates that some sort of record was made of who did and did not take the oath. This too, seems to prove that a registration or census took place.
Other ancient historians note that the census took place in other parts of the known Roman world as well. An inscription was found in Paphlagonia (a region in North Central Asia Minor) dated to 3 B.C. stating that an oath of obedience was “taken by the inhabitants of Paphlagonia and the Roman businessmen dwelling among them.”
The Armenian historian, Moses of Khorene, stated that the native sources he had available showed that in the year of Abgar, king of Armenia in 3 B.C., a census brought Roman agents “to Armenia, bringing the image of Augustus Caesar, which they set up in every temple.” (Martin, Ernest L., The Star That Astonished the World, ©1996, ASK Publications; Portland, OR, p.185.)
For a fascinating look at the historical reliability of the Gospels’ nativity accounts, we recommend the Ernest L. Martin’s book, The Star That Astonished the World, (1996, ASK Publications, Portland, OR).
So it is even more amazing that Peter Jennings would sweep aside this evidence only to tell his viewers:
“Now there is no record outside the Gospel that the Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered such a tax.”
In order for Jesus to claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God, He would have to be born of a virgin in Bethlehem according to Old Testament prophecies.
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Historical footage and other graphics are used to illustrate the lecture Dr. Gentry presented at the 1999 Ligonier Conference in Orlando, Florida. It is followed by a one-hour question and answer session addressing the key concerns and objections typically raised in response to his position. This presentation also features an introduction that touches on not only the confusion and controversy surrounding this issue — but just why it may well be one of the most significant issues facing the Church today.
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Running Time: 240 minutes
Watch over 60 on-line video interviews from God’s Law and Society.
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