December 09, 2017

When Was Jesus Born?


It is amazing.  Curious.  Jesus is one of the most important humans ever to walk on the face of our planet, yet nobody seems to have had the presence of mind to write down the dates of his birth, ministry or death. Although there are many historical and Biblical references to his life and work, there are only vague references to tell us when these events occurred.

It is therefore impossible to establish accurate dates for the birth, ministry and death of either John the Baptist or Jesus. Biblical references are subject to interpretation, and the Roman historian Flavius Josephus – who does mention both men in his texts – may have been more interested in the narrative he was writing than accurate historical information. Most scholars believe John and Jesus were born sometime between 6 and 4 B.C. (Before Christ, Before the Christian era). It would appear John was born sometime in March or April. Jesus was born about six months later in September or October. Other dates are possible. John started his ministry between 26 and 28 A.D. (Anno Domini, in the Year of Our Lord). Jesus began his ministry between 27 and 28 A.D. John was imprisoned in the spring, and beheaded in August, of 28 or 29 A.D. Jesus was crucified in 29 or 30 A.D. Christian traditions favor 30 A.D.  It should be noted the popular date of birth we observe for Jesus, December 25, was established by the Catholic Church in 336 A.D. (Julian calendar) in order to replace a pagan Roman holiday (Saturnalia) with a Christian holiday. Ironically, this is also the date when Romans gave tributes to the Sun God. Another interesting irony: it is possible Jesus was actually conceived on December 25, 6 B.C.

To further confuse the date issues, we should note the calculation of years and months in the Hebrew calendar does not match the calculation of these time spans in the Julian (old Christian) calendar; the Hebrew New Year may have actually started between the birth of John (in March or April) and the Birth of Jesus (in September or October); and finally, there is no year zero.

So, what can we do? In the absence of better information, we can establish a reasonable, logical, and credible time line that may, or may not, be entirely accurate, but does give us a way to lay out the events that shaped the lives of these two men. The dates are an interesting way to visualize history, but in the final analysis what matters to us is that both men existed and both men had an incredible influence on human history.

So here goes. Tradition tells us our Christian calendar starts on the date Jesus was born. That would be at the beginning of the first year A.D. (There is no year zero). But the date of his birth was accidentally miscalculated when Dionysius Exiguus developed a new calendar in the 6th century. In 525 A.D. Pope John I asked him to create a set of tables that would establish the proper dates for Easter. Dionysius invented a method called Anno Domini (A.D.) to number the years for the Julian Calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C.). Dionysius renumbered the years of the Julian Calendar, using the incarnation of Jesus Christ as year 1 in the Roman numbering system. Unfortunately, Dionysius miscalculated the date Jesus was born. He apparently misunderstood how the years in the Hebrew calendar were numbered. Scholars place the birth of Jesus between 6 and 4 B.C.

According to the Hebrew calendar, Jesus may have been born after the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah in 4 B.C. For purposes of simplicity, let’s use the Gregorian calendar dates.

After considerable research of available (and often conflicting) information, we can narrow down the possible dates Jesus was born. If Jesus was born on Christmas day, as tradition tells us, it would have been 6 B.C. But Jesus was more likely born in late September or early October. That would move the date of his birth into the next year. Thus in our scenario, John was born in the month of March of 5 B.C. and Jesus was born in September or October of 5 B.C. 
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November 04, 2017

Was Jesus Married?


A Coptic Script

A very small fragment of papyrus has been verified as an authentic record of ancient Coptic belief. Scientists have extensively tested the papyrus as well as the ink used to inscribe the badly aged fragment. They have analyzed the handwriting and the grammar of the author. After careful review, it has been concluded the fragment dates back to at least the ninth to sixth century, and may date as far back as the fourth century.


Called by some the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife", the fragment contains eight mostly legible lines on the front and six barely readable lines on the back. Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King emphasized the fragment does not confirm that Jesus was married. Rather, it suggests early Egyptian Coptic Christians believed Jesus was married.


Written in the Coptic language, the text affirms that women who are mothers and wives can be Disciples of Christ. The words on the front of the fragment appear to record a conversation between Jesus and his disciples. The fourth line of the text says, "Jesus said to them, my wife." Line 5 says "... she will be able to be my disciple," while the line before the "wife" quote has Jesus saying "Mary is worthy of it" and line 7 says, “As for me, I dwell with her in order to ..."


Cultural Influences

In order to determine the probability of whether or not Jesus was ever married, we need to evaluate his activity within the cultural norms that would have influenced his life. This was a culture bound by long standing traditions and social rules. Peer pressure was a strong motivation for personal decisions, and none were stronger than those which guided personal attitudes about family, social behavior, and religion. We may be critical of the superstition and reliance on ancient law that governed social activity, but they were non-the-less the basis for personal behavior.


The Gospel of Mark, which was written more than 15 years after Christ’s crucifixion, does not mention his wife. Neither do the later Gospels of Matthew, Luke or John. Many have chosen to believe this omission proves Jesus was never married. We must remember, however, the four Gospels were written ~ 15 – ~ 80 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the Gospels fail to mention any marriage, this omission does not necessarily prove Jesus was never married. The Gospels focus on Jesus the man and Jesus the son of God. They celebrate his birth, ministry, and resurrection.


With these thoughts in mind, let us examine the options.


Jesus Was Never Married: Possible

Gospel references to Jesus emphasize the spiritual importance of his birth, his special relationship with God, and his knowledge of Jewish (religious) law and history (even as a 13 year old boy). Jesus is a man (the son of God in human form) who has a direct access to God through prayer. He is on a mission to spread the wisdom of God’s message. It would be easy to envision a youth spent in study and contemplation, followed by a young man’s commitment to celibacy and spiritual growth until he is ready to begin his ministry. For many, this is the pure Jesus, untouched by the rigors of manhood or the sins of sex.


But if we are honest about Jesus the man, particularly at the time he commits himself to a ministry he knows will result in his death, then this scenario fails to explain how he acquired his intense charisma and passion. He didn’t stumble around in a spiritual fog for 18 years (from age 13 to 31). Here was a man with spiritual credibility, intellectual focus, and strong emotional conviction. Jesus was a man on a mission whose charisma and warmth captivated those who knew him.


So; how and why did Jesus develop his passion and counter-culture theology?


Marriage as a Young Man: Likely

Unlike almost all of the other spiritual teachers, Jesus went out of his way to include women in his group of followers. Joanna, Susanna, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, Mary his mother, Mary Salome, and others are mentioned in the New Testament. Treating women as equals contradicted the wisdom of the prevailing culture, and on occasion was the source of some irritation among his male disciples. But where and how did Jesus learn to respect women as equals in the eyes of man and God? For that answer we must construct a likely scenario of his life as a young man.


Within ancient Jewish culture it was believed a man could achieve immortality through his children. His status in the afterlife was closely linked to the number of living descendants. Hence, it was important to have as many children as possible and to encourage them to raise families of their own. Sexual deviation was frowned upon for the simple reason it produced no children.


In this culture, during this period of time, boys were usually married by the time they were 16. There is no reason to believe Jesus would have been an exception. Biblical revelation celebrates sexual intimacy in marriage. Marriage was expected, even among religious teachers. Jesus would have been under incredible peer pressure to marry and raise a family.


Marriage to Mary Magdalene: Unlikely

There is a popular belief that Jesus met and married Mary Magdalene during his ministry. It is true he developed a very close relationship with her. Jesus met Mary of Magdala during a trip to Caesarea. Wealthy in her own right, she was attracted to Jesus because of his intense charisma, quiet grace, wonderful knowledge of the spiritual, and compassion for everyone he met. She was included within his inner circle of disciples in an age when women were seldom allowed to be students or disciples of a spiritual teacher. Mary was a courageous woman who accompanied Jesus throughout his later ministry; impressed Jesus with her spiritual insight; helped Jesus financially; was faithful even when the other disciples were afraid to support Jesus at his trial; was the first person to see him after his resurrection; and was the first to announce to all who would listen that Jesus had arisen. The fourth-century theologian Augustine called her the "Apostle to the Apostles", in recognition of her role in the life of Jesus.


But the idea that Mary Magdalene was his wife fails for at least eight reasons:


First: It was the custom of the time to refer to married women as being the wife of their husbands. If Mary had married Jesus, the Gospels would refer to her as “Mary, the wife of Jesus”. But this association has never been made in any of the texts.


Second: In one of the most emotional moments in the story of the resurrection, a grief-stricken and weeping Mary Magdalene is desperately looking for the body of Jesus. He calls out to her: “Mary”. Turning, she sees him for the first time and calls out “Rabbuni” (translated as teacher or master). She calls him by the same name used by the other disciples. If Mary had an intimate relationship with Jesus, it is likely she would have used a term of marital endearment. But she does not, indicating their relationship was one of disciple and teacher.


Third: Before he started his ministry at age 31, it would appear Jesus decided to adopt the discipline of celibacy. There is a remarkable resemblance between Christian doctrine and the Essene system of beliefs. The Essenes considered celibacy to be praiseworthy behavior of any man who wanted to be close to God. Jesus was influenced by these beliefs as he was forming the theology for his ministry. Indeed, his forty days in the wilderness may have been as a guest of the Essenes near the Dead Sea. The adoption of celibacy allowed Jesus to focus all his energy and intellect on his mission.


Fourth: Jesus was a very intelligent man. He must have known his ministry would not provide the time or environment for a successful family life. In addition, Jesus would have certainly understood his counter-culture theology would lead to a confrontation with contemporary religious and political leaders; a conflict that he was sure to lose. With no dependent family and a vow of celibacy, Jesus was free to concentrate on his mission.


Fifth: Mary Magdalene’s position within the group that followed Jesus was of a devoted and worthy disciple. She appears to have been sufficiently independent financially to help fund the ministry of her teacher. The Gospels respect her intelligence as a disciple and the importance of her witness to the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That a woman could be the primary witness to these events was a radical idea, and confirms her independence as a disciple.


Sixth: Jesus treated the members of his inner circle with respect. He embraced men and women as equals. He refused to reduce the importance of a woman based on her sexuality. His love for women, and their love for him, was a primary driving force for the eventual success of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Hence women, including Mary Magdalene, surrounded him whenever he took his ministry into the countryside. They were disciples and observers, not familiar partners.


Seventh: Jesus had enemies who were looking for every chance to criticize his beliefs and activities. Nowhere do we find an accusation of sexual misconduct in his relationship with any woman. If Jesus had married Mary Magdalene, they would have found a way to find fault with his choice of a partner.


Eighth: If we accept he had been married as a young man, it is likely Jesus would have refrained from a second marriage out of respect and love from the woman who had been his marriage companion.


And a final thought. Mary Magdalene became a trusted and influential apostle within the growing Christian movement. Who was this woman whose maturity and character encouraged belief and commitment? Was she actually an older woman, perhaps recently widowed, who was seeking spiritual consolation when she met the charismatic and sympathetic Jesus? Did they connect because he understood her grief? Did she find transcendent comfort and inspiration (as so many have done) in a loving association with Jesus Christ?


From the Gospel of John:
It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,” she said, “and we don’t know where they have put him.”


Peter and the others rush to the tomb to see for themselves, and then leave. Standing alone outside the tomb, still weeping, Mary Magdalene once again peers cautiously into the tomb.


“Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, “Woman, why are you weeping?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” As she said this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognize him. Jesus said, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.” Jesus said, “Mary!” She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbuni!”—which means Master. Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to...my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.”


What Would God Want?

And of course, we must consider – what would God want?


1. God would want Jesus to be thoroughly familiar with Jewish law and religious customs. Jesus would need this knowledge if he was to defend his theology against the challenges of his critics and effectively bring God’s message to those who followed him. Both Mary and Joseph heeded God’s counsel by making sure Jesus was well versed in contemporary Jewish beliefs. By age 13, he understood the law well enough to engage in a discussion of considerable depth with temple priests in Jerusalem. This episode also reveals an independent and remarkably mature Jesus.


2. God would want Jesus to be passionate about his mission. In addition to having an intellectual understanding of theology and the law, Jesus must also have the innate ability to deliver a powerful message. If he is to minister with a voice that resonates with his contemporaries, then Jesus must live the compassion of love and experience the suffering of hatred. The obvious solution: Jesus would live and experience human life with all its joys, sorrows, triumphs, and tragedies. Jesus would acquire his credibility, and his passion, by taking his place among the men of his community. His life, and his life style, would be influenced by the cultural norms of his community.


If God is compassionate and loving, would he not want Jesus to be the same? Would he want Jesus to experience human life with all its joys, sorrows, challenges, and triumphs? One can acquire an intellectual understanding of theology through study, but in order to value the deeply emotional significance of theological concepts one must live them. This experience would round out Jesus the man and Jesus the teacher. After all, how can one teach about life if one has not experienced it?


Marriage

Following cultural norms, it is likely Jesus was married by the age of 16. Mary and Joseph would have known the girl’s parents. Perhaps they participated in the selection of a suitable companion. In any event, it was perfectly natural for Jesus to be married according to the customs of his community. But it is unlikely Jesus and his wife produced any progeny. If they had done so, the men who wrote the gospels would have mentioned them by name because children were a mark of a man’s wealth. Instead, this young couple would have been subjected to intense social pressure and belittlement when their marriage produced no progeny. One can guess Jesus drew ever closer to his beloved wife as the years went by. They both longed to have children. But they did not. Was it from this experience that Jesus developed his very strong sense of compassion for women and his love for children? Does that not seem logical?


Why Isn’t She Mentioned in the New Testament?

Since there were no children, the marriage was not important. Any revelation about a marriage would have been seen as a distraction to the main purpose of the male centric Gospels. In order for Jesus to be a symbol of spiritual purity, and the son of God, earthly details about his life must be discarded. Within this cultural environment, there is nothing unusual about Matthew’s description of Jesus, or the details of how he started his ministry. Matthew clearly wants to prove that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and does so by giving us a striking image of Jesus in vivid detail.


But if Jesus was married, then what happened to her? Did she pass away from disease or accident? Possible; these were tough times. That would certainly explain the passion with which Jesus launched his ministry. The loss of his beloved wife after a marriage that produced no children would have been emotionally devastating. It could have been the event that sparked his search for spiritual union with God.


On the other hand, is it possible she is “the disciple whom Jesus loved?” mentioned six times in John? Tradition says this disciple was male and the reference may have been to John himself. But the references appear confused. Could it have been his wife? Of all the Gospels, does John (or whoever wrote the Gospel of John) have the best understanding of Jesus the man and the meaning of his message?


Many questions: we can only contemplate possible answers.

October 08, 2017

About the Spiritual Universe

We live in a bipolar Cosmos. Therefore, if there is a physical universe, then there must also be its opposite: a not-physical universe.

We really don’t know much about the majority of our astrophysical reality. Our known physical universe consists of matter (both visible and not visible), and energy (both detectable and inferred). As we have discovered, the familiar stuff we can see (or directly detect) is only a small percentage of what actually exists in our physical universe. Our physical universe apparently consists of ~5% visible (or directly detectable) matter, ~27% dark matter and ~68% dark energy. Dark matter and energy are currently inferred (but not directly detectable) realities.

We know even less about the not-physical universe. But it would appear to be reasonable to characterize it as a universe that is primarily composed of energy (in various forms). Since energy can become matter and have mass, we can expect the not-physical universe to also include matter and mass, although perhaps in unfamiliar forms. In other words, both universes have multiple forms of energy and matter. However, in contrast to our physical universe - where our perception of physical reality dominates awareness and consciousness – in the not-physical universe cosmic energy dominates awareness and consciousness. If matter (both visible and dark) constitutes ~32% of our physical universe, it should logically be a far smaller component of the not-physical universe.

These two complimentary realities co-exist in the Cosmos. One is physical. One is spiritual. There is a boundary between them where the physical dimension intersects with the spiritual (or conscious) dimension of the Cosmos. We have been given clues about the nature of this intersection by the scientific observations (and theories) of quantum mechanics. Einstein’s famous equation E=MC2 suggests a mechanism exists for transformation (or transcendence) from one dimension to the other. In order to distinguish our physical universe from the not physical universe, we can refer to the conscious spiritual dimension as the Spiritual Universe.

Both dimensions are all around us. We humans have trained ourselves to identify the evidence of the physical universe through our five physical senses: hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching. As demonstrated by mystics and those who have experienced near death experiences, we humans are able to experience the presence of spiritual consciousness with our sixth sense (core consciousness) when we seek to become one with the energy that flows throughout the Cosmos.

The Spiritual Universe exists in a plane that is parallel with our physical universe. It is the source of existential conscious thought, and the location of spiritual intelligence. Death, meditation, and sudden mental stress may give us an opportunity to experience the consciousness, existence and reality of the Spiritual Dimension. We drift into another space and time. People who are very ill may have the sensation of floating back and forth between physical and spiritual reality. For them, the boundary that separates the physical universe from the Spiritual Universe becomes transparent. Physically, they are in this universe. Spiritually, they are somewhere else.

Ron
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August 31, 2017

Believe In Myself

Jesus gave us two commandments about love.


The first one encourages us to love God without reservation. It reveals a loving relationship between us and the Holy Spirit is both possible and desirable. If we ignore this commandment, we abandon our chance to enter God’s Kingdom (the Spiritual Universe).


The second commandment encourages us to love others with the same sensitivity and empathy we have for ourselves. It assumes we are able to take a thoughtful view of our interpersonal relationships. People with a healthy outlook on life will not choose to hurt themselves either physically or emotionally. We are expected to project this same caring attitude in our personal relations with others. It does not matter whether our contact is casual and brief (as with a stranger we meet on the street), or the result of a long term relationship (as in marriage), God wants us to love others as we would want others to love us. Our failure to obey this commandment is often the source of inexcusable sorrow, friction and hatred.


The more we try to follow these two commandments, the closer we come to creating social paradise. The further away we move from these two commandments, the greater the risk of creating a living hell here on earth.


But what is love of self?


People with a healthy outlook on life will not choose to hurt themselves either physically or emotionally. We have a positive and constructive attitude that exists within us and is the basis of how we interact with others. Personal contentment with the person we see in the mirror enables compassion, generosity, thoughtful (selfless) behavior, and loving relationships. Self-confidence helps us to transcend personal challenges and the debilitating effects of fear. We are encouraged to discover and pursue a passion. We are free to experience humor, laughter and joy.


To love one-self is to love life. Live it authentically.


TCE
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July 22, 2017

Why Was Jesus Crucified?


Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate, who was the fifth prefect (governor) of the Roman province of Judea (or Judaea) from A.D. 26 – A. D. 36. There are several reasons for his crucifixion:


1.       Jesus often ignored Jewish customs. The Sadducees, and to a lesser extent the Pharisees, were generally skeptical, or outright hostile, to the message and actions of Jesus Christ. Many would have considered it heresy because it did not exactly match their concept of Jewish custom and (religious) law. There were also many zealots who took it upon themselves to sanction, or even kill, anyone who dared to violate Jewish religious tradition. Thus when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, the adulation he received would have thoroughly annoyed his opposition. Many wanted to end his activity.

2.       When Jesus disrupted the money changers in the Temple, he seriously offended the people of Jerusalem. Many of them depended on Passover for income, selling food, sacrificial animals and birds, religious items, and other goods and services to visiting pilgrims. For seven or more days the Gentiles Courtyard in the Temple Mount resembled a giant bazaar. Disrupting the money changers, who were mostly low level priests, world have been construed by rumor as an attack on all the vendors.

3.       Jesus frequently used the phrase “Kingdom of God” in his ministry. For him, it was a reference to what we would call heaven. But this phrase would have offended the Romans because it was commonly used as a code phrase that meant the restoration of God’s rule over Israel. Such action would have required kicking the Romans out of Israel and was a direct challenge to their authority. Pilot would have known Jesus was using this phrase long before he arrived in Jerusalem. The basis for a confrontation between Jesus and the Romans was already in place.

4.       When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a road covered with Palm branches, it was a high moment of triumph for both the pilgrims and the people of Jerusalem. It was fully expected Jesus would use his powers to kick the Romans out of the city. It was assumed if Jesus had the power to heal, he must also be able to use his power to bring about a military (or political) victory over the hated Romans. When it became clear Jesus had no intention of being a military (or political) leader (by Wednesday afternoon), the people quickly became disillusioned, and then rebellious.

5.       During Passover, the influx of thousands of pilgrims into Jerusalem often inflamed emotions. Outbreaks of violence occurred. The Sadducees feared Jesus would stir up the mob, and possibly cause a riot, with his talk of restoring the Kingdom of God. Since Caliphas, the High Priest was personally responsible to Pilot for maintaining the peace, Jesus presented him with an unwelcome challenge to his authority and responsibility. He would have been very motivated to have Jesus arrested for promoting rebellion and sedition.


Consistent with the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, there were two trials as described in my novel "Am I Your Son?". It is unlikely either Caliphas, or his Father-in-Law Annas, were particularly concerned about breaking Jewish law or customs in order to have their way. Since Passover ended at Sundown on Thursday evening, a trial Thursday night would have been in violation of Preparation Day (considered a minor abuse of the law), but not of Passover (which to the Pilgrims would have had a greater significance). In addition, since Passover ended Thursday evening, most of the Pilgrims would have been in the process of leaving Jerusalem Friday morning. That gave Caliphas more control over a predominately Jerusalem population when he wanted to incite anger against Jesus on Friday.

Pilot would have regarded Jesus and his disciples as non-violent dissenters. Roman authorities normally dispensed with groups of non-violent dissenters by killing their leader. Hence while it is likely Caliphas would have liked to eliminate the apostles, he did not have a sufficient reason to justify their death. Pilot would have believed the elimination of Jesus would prevent any further challenge to Roman authority by those who followed him. As a consequence, his desire to find and punish the apostles quickly declined. Within weeks, Pilot was so busy with other matters, he likely ignored the apostles. Although the rise of Christianity irritated the priests in Jerusalem, and to a lesser extent the Sadducees, it was of little concern to Pilot.

July 02, 2017

Is Jesus the Son of God?

The short answer: Yes. Of course Jesus is the son of God.

The relationship of Jesus Christ and God is a fundamental truth of Christian Theology. But the circumstances of how Jesus became the son of God are a bit murky, and have been the source of almost constant argument ever since the book of Matthew was written.

So.... what is a logical and credible explanation of his relationship with God?

Some Caveats.

There is no “Mrs. God” with whom God had a son that he somehow placed in Mary’s womb. Jesus is not the son of God in the human sense of father and son. God did not mate with Mary to produce a son. Contrary to the assertions of some early Church theologians, Jesus did not exist before Mary became pregnant, and Jesus was not God before he was conceived as a human. It is, however, widely held that he became the “same substance” as God after he ascended into heaven for the last time.

So how did Jesus become the son of God?

Some background.

During the time the New Testament was written and the early Church was developing (~30 – ~451 AD.), it was generally believed that a woman contributed nothing to the creation of a baby. An agrarian culture took its conceptual beliefs from farming. They knew that if a farmer planted a seed in fertile soil, and it was properly nourished, it would grow into a plant (a tree, a stalk of wheat, and so on). Thus it was believed a man planted his “seed” (a complete human) into a woman’s body and if she was fertile, the seed would attach to the womb and grow into a baby. The idea a woman could be infertile (or barren) and hence incapable of providing the “soil” for the seed persisted into the 20th century – even though there were theories about the existence of a woman’s egg and its function before then. Even as a young man, I can remember the women of our church would occasionally say things like” “She can’t have a baby because she is infertile,” or “Isn’t it a shame she is barren.” 

The discovery of how conception works had to wait for the invention of the microscope, attributed to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 1632–1723. By the late seventeenth century, both key components of fertilization — the egg and sperm — had been postulated, but remained a theory. Oscar Hertwig (1875) showed how a sperm head fused with female genetic material in sea urchins, giving a conceptual basis for genetic inheritance. But the discovery of how the human female egg is fertilized would not be confirmed until the 1900s (by Edgar Allen 1928).

Conception (when the sperm penetrates the egg) creates a fertilized ovum called a zygote. The zygote's genome is a combination of the DNA in each parent, and contains all of the genetic information necessary to form a new human. Cell division begins, creating the fetus that will become a human baby.

The importance of DNA was not clearly recognized until ~ 1953. A molecule of Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) contains the genetic instructions that govern the growth, development, function and reproduction of a living organism. Our physical characteristics are largely determined by our DNA, and the information contained in DNA also influences our intellectual and emotional persona. DNA instructions (information) are passed from parent to child during conception. We inherit half of our DNA from our father and half from our mother.

The Birth Story

For most Christians, Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ to a Virgin Mary is a wonderfully uplifting and spiritually thrilling narrative. It represents the excitement of new life, the promise of spiritual grace, and a living proof of God’s love. We must always respect the beliefs of those who find spiritual joy and inspiration in the concept of a virgin birth. God certainly has the power to cause the birth of a man he would call “his son”.

But perplexing questions and controversy have always surrounded the Matthew’s story.

It is likely Matthew believed God’s “seed” would be a complete human baby (a tiny fetus), ready to grow in Mary’s womb. Because it was a seed created by God, Matthew assumed it would have the divine characteristics of God (in effect, it would be the progeny of the Holy Father). Jesus was thus expected to be the son of God with the physical characteristics of a human male.

But a virgin birth creates several problems that have plagued Christianity for almost 2,000 years:
  1. Marriage was consummated by intercourse, and it was assumed drops of blood from the act would prove the virginity of the bride. It was also assumed consumption would usually result in conception. A consumption, conception or birth outside of marriage would have been contrary to Jewish law. It is difficult to believe either Mary or Joseph would even consider ignoring the tenets of their faith. It is equally difficult to believe God would ask them to do so.
  2.  In order to assure it was God who seeded Mary, some early Church leaders decided Joseph was really an old man (who could not, presumably, seed Mary). But this conflicts with the image of Joseph as a young father and his role in fathering a total of seven children.
  3. Matthew, and many early church fathers, believed it was important for Jesus to trace his lineage back to King David. That link would have to be through his human father, Joseph, and he would have to be a descendant of King David. That reinforces the idea Joseph had to be the one who “planted” his seed in Mary.
  4. But according to Matthew and Luke, Joseph was not the father of Jesus. Thus early church theologians were put into the position of trying to trace the lineage of Jesus though Mary to King David, an effort contemporaneous Jews would reject because they believed a baby’s lineage must be traced through the male. Besides, if it was generally believed a woman contributed nothing to conception, then how could there be a connection? Thus we have a conundrum; neither Mary nor Joseph provides a link to King David because neither one contributed to the conception.
  5. It is alleged the Matthew created the virgin birth story to support his contention Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. Having a God for a father and a human woman for a mother was a frequent claim of emperors and kings. This gave them political and theological status above ordinary people (usually their subjects) in a hierarchy of social order and privilege.
  6.  And finally, many early Christians wanted to believe Mary was never seeded by a human. She was “immaculate” and “innocent” of all earthly sin. This conflicts with the evidence of her six other children.
On the other hand, if we accept Joseph was the natural father, and Mary was the natural mother, then Jesus was a natural human baby, and the connection with King David is theologically and biologically correct.

A Natural Birth

For Joseph, and early church fathers, it was an either or proposition. Either Joseph would be the father or God would be the father. Joseph’s seed or God’s seed. But of course God knew all about DNA, a woman’s egg, and the role of a man’s seed in the act of conception. God could have easily created a natural conception with all the right DNA for the human he would call his son.

There are two perfectly logical solutions.
1. God created the DNA of his son. He then placed it into Mary’s egg, and into Joseph’s sperm. Joseph’s seed makes its way into the Fallopian tube, burrows into the egg, and a natural conception takes place. But the DNA was created by God. It is therefore God’s son (or more correctly the son of God and the son of man).
2. God could modify or replace the DNA of the Zygote to ensure it had all of the characteristics he wanted in a son.

In either case, conception would occur according to Jewish custom and law; it would be possible to connect the blood line of Jesus with that of King David; Mary and Joseph would have a natural conception according to their faith; and God has a son. After all, it’s his DNA. God’s divinity is transferred to the fetus that will become baby Jesus. In 21st century terms, think of it as a form of In vitro fertilization.

Unfortunately, however, no one really understood these possible solutions until the late 20th century, and traditional Christian beliefs continue to center on obsolete first century medical knowledge. We can wonder. If Luke (a doctor) were alive today, what would he write in his Gospel? Would Matthew avoid the theological problems he created?

Time for a Revision.
It’s time we revisited the birth of Jesus and revised it to reflect our 21st Century understanding of biology and medical technology. There is no biological reason why Jesus could not have DNA from two fathers (God and Joseph) or from God alone. There is no biological reason why Mary’s egg could not have contributed the DNA attributes God wanted in a son. God could have created Mary’s egg, or Joseph’s seed, or both sources of DNA. Medical science has rendered the early church’s concern, and constant argument, about the creation and lineage of Jesus obsolete. Jesus was (and is) God’s son and divine by God’s will. The lineage of Joseph’s seed can be traced back to King David. It’s in the DNA.

Ron