Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Recycling Bad Objections To The Accounts Of Jesus' Birth

Valerie Tarico has written an article about Jesus' birth that repeats a lot of common objections without interacting with counterarguments that have been circulating for a long time. And, unsurprisingly, John Loftus linked it. We've covered most of this ground many times before, but I'll respond to several examples of Tarico's argumentation.

She writes:

Because the gospels were aimed at different audiences, the auspicious events differ from story to story. Matthew: A rising star is seen by astrologers who bring gifts that foreshadow the baby’s future. Luke: A chorus of angels singing to shepherds on the hills. Matthew: A jealous king murders baby boys to protect his throne but the family of the holy child, having been warned in a dream, escapes. Luke: A prophet and prophetess recognize the infant’s divine spark.

What's more relevant than "different audiences" is different timeframes. Matthew 2 is addressing a period of time when Jesus was close to two years old (2:16), which is a timeframe Luke doesn't cover. Expecting the events of Matthew 2 to be discussed by Luke doesn't make sense.

She continues:

Many people might find it surprising that these auspicious infancy stories are never referenced elsewhere in the New Testament, for example in the letters of Paul or in the other two gospels that made their way into the Christian Bible.

Since no other New Testament source is narrating the relevant timeframes, why are we supposed to expect them to mention the likes of the Slaughter of the Innocents and the census? Some aspects of the infancy narratives, like the virgin birth and the Bethlehem birthplace, are mentioned or alluded to elsewhere in the New Testament. See here.

She goes on:

Even in the book of Luke itself, by the time Jesus is a boy, it is almost as if even his parents have forgotten the extraordinary circumstances of his birth.

I address that argument in the opening posts of my series here. The idea that the events of Jesus' infancy should have prevented Joseph and Mary's later behavior is simplistic. The early enemies of Christianity often acknowledged that Jesus performed miracles, yet attributed those miracles to some source other than the Christian God. Paul and other early Christian authors often had to rebuke their Christian readers for unbelief and other sins, despite the readers' belief in Christian miracles. The same is true of modern Christians. The same sort of wavering we see with Joseph and Mary in Luke 2 is repeated throughout the remainder of Luke's gospel, Acts, Paul's letters, etc., as we see Peter, Judas, Mark, Demas, and other figures waver after experiencing miracles. Tarico's reading of Luke 2 is simplistic.

She writes:

But the Catholic councils that decided which texts would go into the New Testament didn’t know that.

She doesn't cite any source. The 27-book canon appears in Origen, Athanasius, and elsewhere before the councils of Hippo and Carthage, which usually are the earliest councils cited. And those councils were regional rather than universal, didn't "decide which texts would go into the New Testament" (there was continuing disagreement over the canon for centuries after those councils), and weren't Roman Catholic (Tarico's reference to "Catholic councils" suggests Roman Catholicism). When somebody speaks of the history of the canon the way Tarico does, she probably has a very deficient understanding of church history on multiple levels.

She also claims:

Read this way, one trend line is that the stories about Jesus become more magical over time. For example, John, the last gospel written, has Jesus making the boldest claims about his own deity.

The notion of "stories about Jesus becoming more magical over time" has been refuted many times. Isaiah 9:6-7, which predates John's gospel by hundreds of years even on a liberal dating, speaks of the Davidic Messiah with Divine titles. Paul, whose writings predate John's, repeatedly refers to Jesus as God (Romans 9:5, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Philippians 2:5-11).

Tarico tells us:

In another letter, Paul seems to imply that Jesus came into the world in the usual way. In Romans 1:1-3 he refers to . . . the gospel of God…concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” The phrase “seed of David” refers specifically to the genealogy of Joseph, the husband of Mary.

I've addressed the virgin birth in Paul and other early sources, including Romans 1, here. You have to explain the totality of the evidence, which includes all of the Pauline literature, the beliefs of Paul's associates, and what the early enemies of Christianity thought of the history of the doctrine. The idea that Paul and other early Christian leaders contradicted the virgin birth is highly problematic, for reasons I explain in my series linked above. Romans 1 is relevant, but so is a lot of other evidence Tarico isn't addressing.


  1. A response I wrote to Tarico at her blog is still awaiting moderation, even though other comments posted hours later have been allowed through. Since my post contains a link, that may be the reason why it hasn't been published. I don't know.

    Other posters are repeating some of Tarico's mistakes. One refers to the Council of Nicaea excluding books from the New Testament. Over at Debunking Christianity, Harry McCall is citing an alleged contradiction between Luke 1:41 and 7:18-20, apparently based on the same sort of simplistic reasoning Tarico applied to Luke 2.

    One of the posters at Tarico's site tells us that "even the story of Matthew joining the apostles is told in the third person, indicating that someone other than Matthew wrote the tale". He makes no effort to interact with the evidence for Matthew's authorship of the gospel, and he seems unaware that it's common practice for an author to refer to himself in the third person. The same poster refers to how the gospel authors "wrote entirely anonymously", "plagiarized" Mark, etc. without interacting with the counterarguments. Even if we set aside the gospel titles and the external evidence that the gospels weren't anonymous, for example, how do you overlook the many passages in Acts and John's gospel in which the authors identify themselves in ways that would exclude almost all of their contemporaries (e.g., the author of the fourth gospel identifying himself as a close disciple of Jesus, a close companion of Peter, a fisherman, etc.)? Is this poster at Tarico's blog familiar with the passages in question? Has he even read the gospels (and Acts)?

  2. I've linked some of my material on Matthew's authorship of the gospel attributed to him. Here's some of my material on Luke.

  3. One of the posters at Tarico's blog says that Luke "confused two distinct, common rituals – the purification of the mother and the redemption of the firstborn male". See here.

  4. Thanks for all your hard work, Jason!

    1. Yeah, thanks for dealing with issues that many other apologists don't address because it requires dealing with the details!