Author Topic: Digging Deeper  (Read 13807 times)

Steven Tibbetts

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Digging Deeper
« on: November 09, 2010, 06:47:58 PM »
And yes, just go to the ELCA website, search for "virgin birth" and read what it says.  Arius would be proud.

Hmm, interesting.  I went to pull up the link in order to post it here, only to find that it has been removed, under their "dig deeper" section.  anyone interested, email me and I'll give you a copy of what USED to be up there as late as last week.

Ah, courtesy Google's cache, complete with typographical errors:

Virgin Birth

Perhaps a more accurate title for this essay would be "Virginal Conception." From about A.D. 80 to the present, most Christian faith groups, including Lutherans, have taught that Jesus was conceived by his mother, Mary, while she was still a virgin. This is believed to have happened through the action of the Holy Spirit without an act of sexual intercourse.

The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and all other Lutherans, also state:

          Our churches also teach that the Word -- that is, the Son of God -- took on man's nature
          in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary. So there are two natures, divine and human,
          inseparably conjoined in the unity of his person, one Christ, true God and true man....
          (The Book of Concord, Augsburg Confession III -- The Son of God)

This statement, written in the 16th Century, supports the Western Church's traditional understanding of the doctrine referred to as The Virgin Birth. While it remains official and normative for the Evangelical Lutheran Church today, it has not closed the doctrinal debate over Jesus' conception for many Lutherans, and by inference that includes ELCA members. It is a doctrine debated by many other Protestant Christians, scholars and those who inquire about the Christian faith and its tenets.

Origins of the doctrine
The doctrine arises principally from two gospel references - the birth stories of Matthew (1:23) and Luke (1:26-35). The Matthew reference cites Jesus' conception as fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. Luke's account tells of the angel addressing Mary with the news of her impregnation by the Holy Spirit.

Neither the gospels of Mark nor John mention Jesus' birth, yet in spite of those ancient text omissions, suffice it to say, most of Christendom, for most of the Christian era, has adhered to the doctrine that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Furthermore, that includes a clear conviction that Mary, as the chosen vessel of God's revelation, had not had sexual intercourse at the time of Jesus' conception.* This understanding of Mary's virginity at Jesus' conception seems borne out by all three historic Christian creeds -- Nicene (325), Athanasian (c. 450), and Apostles' (probably 4th Century) -- which define the historic, orthodox Christian faith.

Ancient and modern detractors
Critics note that the manner of Jesus' birth is not prominent in the letters of St. Paul, perhaps the earliest and certainly the most prolific chronicler of Christianity. In Galatians 4:4 Paul notes that Jesus was "born of a woman, born under the law...," and in Romans 1:1-3, he refers to Jesus being "descended from David according to the flesh." These seem to imply that St. Paul viewed Jesus' conception as a very normal human conception and, accordingly, follows St. Matthew's genealogical tracing of Jesus' ancestry through St. Joseph.

Furthermore, not all early theologians espoused the doctrine. Even as popular Christian theology after A.D. 80 apparently embraced it, there were detractors. Marcion (later declared a heretic), attempting to form a canonical list of scripture in 140, includes Luke as the only Gospel, but without Luke's birth stories. In general, however, Christian theologians in the early church regarded rejecting the virgin birth as unacceptable. Origen (185-254) considered the rejection of Mary's virginity to be "madness," St. Ambrose (339-397) said it was "sacrilege" and St. Augustine (354-430) deemed it "heresy." **

Modern detractors, while noting the absence of this doctrine in St. Paul and other Christian writers prior to 805, pose additional questions by observing, among other things:

  • Matthew 1:23 follows the Greek (LXX) translation of Hebrew Scripture. That version erroneously translates the Isaiah 7:14 Hebrew word almah to read virgin. All other times almah is translated as "young woman," whereas the word betulah is used over 300 times in the Old Testament to designate a virgin. The James Moffett Revised Standard and New Revised Standard Versions of the Bible have corrected this mistranslation and follow the Hebrew translations of the passage. They have revised the Matthew 1:23 Isaiah quotation accordingly to read "young woman." Additionally, Christian and Hebrew scholars generally agree that Isaiah's prophecy - a sign from God that the siege on Jerusalem would be lifted, and here borrowed by Matthew to assert Jesus' claim as the promised Messiah - seems to have been fulfilled 700 years before.
     
  • Late First Century Mediterranean history tells us that many mythological figures were said to have been born of human virgin mothers impregnated by gods. A number of these stories mirror other elements of the Matthew and Luke birth stories: heavenly music and celestial displays at the birth, attempts on the heroes' lives as infants, visitations by "wise men," their violent deaths, etc. virgin birth stories (without the mythological god impregnations) are also attributed to the founders of major religions Buddha and Zoroaster. Thus, say the doctrine's critics, a virgin conception was an important claim to establish Jesus' divinity to gain adherents to Christianity.***

  • The doctrine may have been inspired by Old Testament accounts of the unusual births of such heroes as Ishmael, Isaac, Samson and Samuel, thus establishing Jesus' uniqueness "above and beyond" these heroic figures as Christians sought Jewish converts. Hence, there are those among Protestants today who find the doctrine doubtful or dubious, and they have had supporters throughout Christian history.
    Cart before horse theology

Where the cart gets before the horse, however, is when arguments for accepting or rejecting the doctrine are used to argue either for or against Christ's divinity.

ELCA Lutherans, including those who adhere to this doctrine which has been considered orthodox by Christians for 20 centuries, do not try to use a miraculous birth to "prove" Jesus' divinity. Rather, those who hold firmly to the doctrine do so on the basis of their belief in God's self revelation in Christ. It is the revelation that births the doctrine, not the doctrine which defines the revelation.

When we confess in the Apostles' Creed that Jesus was "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirt and born of the virgin Mary ...," and in the Nicene Creed that Jesus is "the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father ..." we are not making a gynecological assertion. We are saying that God entered into the world in Christ and, in him, is fully revealed to humankind. This is God's graceful act of reconciliation with creation and humankind's redemption.

What ELCA Lutherans believe in common is that Jesus was

  • born "by the power of the Holy Spirit"
  • declared God's "beloved son"
  • sent to the world to redeem God's creation

and that born of a woman, he

  • died at the hands of death's powers
  • overcame and defeated death
  • reigns as Lord over all -- together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever

Resurrection theology
It is resurrection theology which puts all doctrines, including that of the virgin birth, into proper perspective. In the final analysis, it matters little whether St. Paul knew of, or believed in, the doctrine of the virgin birth. What matters is what he wrote following the above cited passage in Romans 1: "(Jesus Christ) ... was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead ..." (Romans 1:4-5). ELCA Lutherans concur with Paul's proclamation of Christ crucified, buried and raised from the dead as the first fruits of God's intention for humankind (1 Corinthians 15:3-30). It is in this that we put our faith and, in that light, view, judge and debate all other doctrine.

= = = = = = =

* The Roman Catholic Church maintains that Mary's virginity was perpetual -- that is to say, she remained a virgin all of her life, and that Biblical references to Jesus' brothers are probably references to cousins or step-brothers who were sons of Joseph. Lutherans appeal to Scripture and tradition, which both refer to Jesus' brothers, believing they were the children of Mary and Joseph. The brief New Testament books of James and Jude were included in that canon by the early church in part based on the belief that they were written by Jesus' brothers.

** Citing the above Galatians and Romans passages, critics suggest that St. Paul's adherence to such a doctrine would have led him to write "born of a virgin" rather than "born of a woman." Included in other documents ignoring the doctrine is the so-called "Q" source which some scholars believe was a collection of Jesus' sayings and provided another source for Matthew's and Luke's gospels. Countering this view of Paul's theology, others would note that Luke, as Paul's traveling companion, would have included material consistent with Paul's beliefs/understanding. They point out that Luke provides a virginal conception account. (Raymond E. Brown, "The Birth of the Messiah," Doubleday, 1999) Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1993, pg. 704] notes: "Belief that Mary conceived as a virgin did not first come from reading what Matthew and Luke wrote; rather Matthew and Luke wrote their accounts to express a faith that they already had in the virgin conception." Mark, on the other hand, provides no birth account. His gospel has, from earliest times, been attributed to Peter's long time companion, John Mark. Most scholars believe that Mark preserves Peter's memory.

*** See Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance materials at www.religioustolerance.org. This web site examines the doctrine and attempts to handle it impartially, thus citing its history and both the support for it and questions raised about it currently and historically.
« Last Edit: November 09, 2010, 06:54:56 PM by The Rev. Steven P. Tibbetts, STS »
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Norsk

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2010, 06:55:53 PM »
Fascinating.  I was just checking those pages yesterday (to confirm what I had been told about them) and they were still live.  So they were taken down in the past 24 hours.  

In the former Virgin Birth page, this assertion seemed particularly interesting: "When we confess in the Apostlesí Creed that Jesus was "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirt and born of the virgin Mary ...," and in the Nicene Creed that Jesus is "the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father ..." we are not making a gynecological assertion."

The Google cache of the former Resurrection page (which as of yesterday contained this assertion: "All of this has led some scholars to write that the risen Jesus (and apparitions of the risen Jesus) is a supernatural reality which does not belong to this world and cannot be the object of historic investigation. Rather, Jesus' resurrection is an object of faith.  Accordingly, ELCA members believe that what history does is to demonstrate the disciplesí faith in the resurrection.") can be found here:
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:0ltVveZSTWYJ:www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/New-or-Returning-to-Church/Dig-Deeper/The-Resurrection.aspx+elca+dig+deeper+resurrection&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Ryan Schwarz


ptmccain

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2010, 07:55:16 PM »
The last thing the ELCA needs now is bad PR. I'm sure that the powers-that-be at ELCA headquarters monitor mentions of these pages, here, and elsewhere and realized that they were reflecting poorly and so, they were taken down and taken in to the shop for a major overhaul.

totaliter vivens

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2010, 09:54:23 PM »
More than anything, this seems an occasion of "TMI" (Too Much Information.) It seems to me that the primary focus of the ELCA website in this area should be on the importance of the doctrine of the Incarnation of which the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is a supporting pillar. So much could be said about finitum capax infiniti and the gracious condescension of God to redeem us from our sins and model for us righteous living. To my mind, the debate about the exact nature and limits of the virginity of the Mother of God is speculative and rather esoteric to be the focus in the ELCA's evangelical and apologetic web pages.

If someone asks, by all means discuss the matter. But too early a questioning of the tradition on a secondary matter could easily serve to cast doubt on the real Truth, that God is in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself.

FWIW,

SPS

Coach-Rev

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2010, 11:25:26 PM »
The last thing the ELCA needs now is bad PR. I'm sure that the powers-that-be at ELCA headquarters monitor mentions of these pages, here, and elsewhere and realized that they were reflecting poorly and so, they were taken down and taken in to the shop for a major overhaul.

Not to mention that they are loaded with heresies condemned, oh, by the first seven ecumenical councils of the church.

Coach-Rev

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2010, 11:45:47 PM »
It goes way beyond just this too.  The section on the "Bible" and the section on "the Universal Scope of Salvation in Christ" are fascinating reads as well.  I have those copied from the ELCA website too, prior to the entire section being removed.

As I think George Erdner pointed out in the previous thread where this branched from, one does not need to take down a site to revise it, one merely revises and uploads.  It makes me wonder if they've been receiving so much flak on it that it was time to pull it down?

typical ELCA pattern:  push as far and as hard as you can, until the backlash gets too great, and then back off a notch or two.  the Augsburg "Lutheran Study Bible" is another good example.  Several footnotes which state that "Jesus includes in salvation those who don't even know him" were pulled in subsequent editions because 'the public outcry against them was great.'  Does that make Higgins Road Sodom and Minneapolis Gomorrah?   ;D

Charles_Austin

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #6 on: November 10, 2010, 06:06:48 AM »
Someone writes (re the ELCA website):
Not to mention that they are loaded with heresies condemned, oh, by the first seven ecumenical councils of the church.

I comment:
"Loaded with heresies"? Care to provide specifics? Or an apology?

Coach-Rev

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #7 on: November 10, 2010, 07:10:46 AM »
Quote from: topic=3442.msg187867#msg187867 date=1289387208
Someone writes (re the ELCA website):
Not to mention that they are loaded with heresies condemned, oh, by the first seven ecumenical councils of the church.

Someone comments:
"Loaded with heresies"? Care to provide specifics? Or an apology?

Charles, did you read the post that began this thread?  DIRECTLY from the ELCA website?  What more do you need?  Your automatic nay-saying of whatever is said on this forum continues to stun me!

"This understanding of Mary's virginity at Jesus' conception seems borne out by all three historic Christian creeds...

When we confess in the Apostles' Creed that Jesus was "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirt and born of the virgin Mary ...," and in the Nicene Creed that Jesus is "the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father ..." we are not making a gynecological assertion. We are saying that God entered into the world in Christ and, in him, is fully revealed to humankind. This is God's graceful act of reconciliation with creation and humankind's redemption..."

the notion that it is more important that Jesus is "declared" to be God's Son, rather than the fulfillment of Isaiah the prophet in accordance with Matthew's declaration as such is HERESY.  Period. 

This contradicts 2000 years of church doctrine and belief, and parallels exactly what Arius said, later condemned as a heretic!

Unless I missed something, and you suddenly have all authority to undo the early church councils and nearly 2000 years of tradition, history, and orthodoxy??

Charles_Austin

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2010, 07:19:40 AM »
My concern, as always in this over-heated discussion board, sometimes awash in hysteria, was your phrase "loaded with heresies condemned, oh, by the first seven ecumenical councils of the church."

You now cite one phrasing which bothers you. That is hardly a "load."

And it has long-long-long been noted (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in seminary) that no damage is done to the doctrine of the virgin birth if we admit that Isaiah 7:14 may not be a direct prophecy concerning the birth of the messiah.

As always, I advocate simple, temperate language, supported by facts. I oppose shotgun blasts.

Someone writes:
Unless I missed something, and you suddenly have all authority to undo the early church councils and nearly 2000 years of tradition, history, and orthodoxy??
I comment:
I claim no such authority. But I do note that a famous person in history got a lot of credit for pointing out that councils can err. And I do not think that every iota of our faith or every phrasing is based upon "tradition" and "history," vague terms at best. As for "orthodoxy." I claim it. But so do people here who wouldn't pick up a worship folder in my congregation and take their happy place in a pew. So there you are. Messy, isn't it?

Someone writes:
Your automatic nay-saying of whatever is said on this forum continues to stun me!

I comment:
This is not true. I quite often affirm what Pastor Stoffregen writes, what Pastor Wolf posts, and occasionally the comments of Pastor Tibbetts. I also affirmed what Senior Chief wrote until he (I think) got disgusted and withdrew, as did another pastor whose comments I generally affirmed.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2010, 07:28:52 AM by Charles_Austin »

Coach-Rev

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2010, 07:35:18 AM »
Quote from: topic=3442.msg187870#msg187870 date=1289391580
Someone writes:
And it has long-long-long been noted (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in seminary) that no damage is done to the doctrine of the virgin birth if we admit that Isaiah 7:14 may not be a direct prophecy concerning the birth of the messiah.


Your argument implodes, however, upon one simple premise:  Matthew 1:22-23.  To have an entire doctrinal statement based upon the flawed and heretical view that Isaiah is not about the Messiah or that Matthew (and Luke) got it wrong, makes the entire statement heretical.  Not only that, but to assume a gnosis that supersedes the Biblical, historical and orthodox teachings just perfectly illustrated what Dr. Braaten has maintained and stated again in Columbus in August, that the ELCA is on a downward slide into Gnosticism.  So I guess I owe you a thanks for illustrating this once again.

Charles_Austin

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2010, 07:37:09 AM »
I think it is time for a "whatever."

Pr. Terry Culler

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2010, 08:16:19 AM »
Let me share a conversation I had with some prospective members at St. Paul's Free Lutheran.  They were members of an ELCA congregatioin where they had worshipped their entire adult lives.  During a period when they were calling a new pastor they spoke to their interim about some of the things that were troubling them about the ELCA (btw, homosexuality wasn't part of it).  Anyway, they asked this pastor about the virgin birth and were told, "it doesn't matter--we are a resurrection people."  When they asked what that meant--they were simply told again that "we are a resurrection people."  That and other doctrinal issues haave brought them out of the ELCA.  Now I see where that puzzling "we are a resurrection people" answer comes from.  It seems to me that the ELCA, if it wants to jettison 2000 years of Christian teaching, ought to do a better job of preparing its pastors for the inevitable questions from the pews.
Goodnewsforabadworld.wordpress.com

Charles_Austin

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #12 on: November 10, 2010, 08:25:50 AM »
As I noted the first time this "resurrection people" answer arose, it was a dumb answer and the pastor who gave it needs to do some serious thinking about how to handle questions. And so do pastors who can't handle certain other kinds of questions.

grabau

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #13 on: November 10, 2010, 09:08:41 AM »
The Word might have become flesh by other means than s virgin birth.  He didn't!  grabau

Coach-Rev

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Re: Digging Deeper
« Reply #14 on: November 10, 2010, 09:29:44 AM »
As I noted the first time this "resurrection people" answer arose, it was a dumb answer and the pastor who gave it needs to do some serious thinking about how to handle questions. And so do pastors who can't handle certain other kinds of questions.

So then, Charles, how would you answer the same question?  You seem to have already done so, by simply mimicking the ELCA's "dig deeper" section.