It had to happen after a couple of weeks drinking strange water, eating unpeeled fruit and local salad: I've got verbal diarrhoea. The other entries to date were written more or less straight off. Today's has been edited and rearranged and is still the size of a small novel. It never ends. So I've scraped the lot and will try again. Here goes...
If I don't believe in the virgin birth does that mean I can't claim to believe in the Bible?
As I'm in Nazareth lets take as an example the virgin birth. This doctrine has its roots in First Testament prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) where the Hebrew word for "young woman" has traditionally been translated as "virgin". It had been translated this way since the very first Greek translation was made several hundred years before Jesus was born, and the idea stuck. Well, does it matter? Does Jesus have to be born in this special way for him to be God incarnate? I can't think of a single reason why.
But there to be a good reason. Have you ever wondered why it is traditional in most cultures to give a child their fathers name? It's generally because their mothers identity is obvious, but their fathers less so. That's reflected in Judaism where a persons qualification to be a Jew by birth depends on their maternal line and not the paternal. But, and it's a big "but", Adams sin is passed on through the father, not the mother. Until not that long ago it was thought that the father gave life in the form of a seed and that the mother was merely the seedbed. Hence a woman who could not have children was called infertile, like poor soil. Whereas if the man couldn't have children, well it was his wife's fault for being infertile, not his. So, if sin comes from the father and not the mother, and heritage comes from the mother and not the father, then for Jesus to be God incarnate and the fulfilment of prophecy he needs a good Jewish mother and no earthly father at all. Hence, virgin birth. Ta ra!
So, if you believe in a desperately outdated understanding of childbirth then the doctrine of the virgin birth will be essential. Otherwise not. Dropping belief in this doctrine does not then change who Jesus was and is. It does however make belief in him that bit more plausible for those who would like to believe but find too many stumbling blocks in the way. Of course, you can't do that with all doctrines, but is worth considering what actually counts, what makes a difference; not to how comfortable I feel in my faith, but to the truth of the identity of Jesus, because surely that's what really matters.
The purpose of scripture is not to introduce us to doctrine but to introduce us to God, to show us something of the nature of God and to help us understand how God might be known. It's God's story, and also our story. So, there's also a lot in there about how people have misunderstood God and how God has tried to work with that.
As an aside, I love the bit in 1 Samuel 8 when the fledgling nation of israel looks at all the strong nations around them and decides that what they need to be strong is a king, just like all the others. So they ask Samuel to ask God if they can have a king. God repeatedly tells them what a bad idea kings are; how they impose heavy taxes, take the young men away to war, enslave the people, etc, but the Israelites will have none of it, they want a king. So God reluctantly gives in and provides a king who turns out to be just as God warned. However, over time, God works with this foolish desire to be ruled by kings, and even blesses a few of the subsequent ones. But God never renagues on his initial statement that kings are basically a bad idea. Go on, preach on that on Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee...
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