Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Snopes Debunking The Bethlehem Birthplace

They just reposted an article from The Conversation that casts doubt on Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and other aspects of the infancy narratives. And here's the original version of the article they reposted. I've posted in the comments section of that original thread. We'll see how many other Christians post there and how substantive their comments are. Typically, Christians don't do much in this sort of context. That's one of the reasons why our culture is in the condition it's in.

Keep in mind that when a source like Snopes or The Conversation produces anti-Christian material like this recent article, it influences people who won't tell you they were influenced by it. When your spouse, children, or coworkers come across such material, whether they were searching for it or not, they typically won't say much, if anything, about it to other people. But it does affect them. It affects how they think, their confidence, who and what they're willing to associate with, what they say to other people about relevant subjects, etc. Material like what Snopes and The Conversation are producing is more influential than Christians suggest.

You can't just make dismissive comments about the media, liberals, atheists, and so on. You need to interact with what's being said. You need to participate in the discussions. And I'd estimate that only a tiny fraction of one percent of Christians in a place like modern America are sufficiently prepared to discuss the relevant New Testament data, non-Christian sources, patristic evidence, etc. The vast majority of Christians in a context like the United States will respond to material like what Snopes and The Conversation have produced in a highly inadequate way. They're too occupied with family get-togethers, cooking, joking around, following sports, watching movies, etc. When that tiny fraction of one percent of Christians do the relevant work to respond to sources like Snopes, the typical response from other Christians is apathy or contempt. That needs to change. When you see something like that Snopes article, what are you doing about it? How many of these conversations have you been participating in over the years? And what's the quality of your participation?


  1. Yes, I believe you are right. All these apostates who come liberal seminaries or divinity schools can't think at all critically about what they have been taught.
    Speaking of which, I saw the author is from Fuller. I wonder how it and other liberal enclaves are doing during this pandemic. Bad, I hope, in the same way that many mainlines have not met since March and are going down the tubes financially. Hopefully, less wolves in sheep's clothing are churned out.

  2. All the replies to Jason quote from solely liberal sources, Bart Ehrman, for ex. So many of these people live in bubbles and rarely, if ever, interact with more conservative scholarship. It really is a scourge and a problem for our culture at the moment (cf. with the absolutely corrupt media establishment and their coverage of news stories).

    1. Not much "conservative scholarship" to interact with unless you're referring to apologists, but that's not the same thing.
      You don't have to listen to Ehrman to know the Gospel accounts aren't consistent and that they struggle mightily with his origin in Nazareth. He is, after all, Jesus of Nazareth not Jesus of Bethlehem. It curious you have to define scholarship in terms of ideology, sluffing off what you don't like as "liberal"Jesus was from Nazareth. The evangelists knew this. So, does that make them liberal, corrupt or both?

    2. sp1ke0kill3r wrote:

      "Not much 'conservative scholarship' to interact with unless you're referring to apologists, but that's not the same thing."

      Every scholar is an apologist for his own belief system, much as you're an apologist for yours. It turns out that you're bad at apologetics, and your belief system happens to be false, but you are an apologist.

      You wrote:

      "You don't have to listen to Ehrman to know the Gospel accounts aren't consistent and that they struggle mightily with his origin in Nazareth. He is, after all, Jesus of Nazareth not Jesus of Bethlehem."

      People are sometimes identified by a city other than their birth city (e.g., Irenaeus of Lyons, Rufinus of Aquileia). You have to take the larger context into account when judging the most likely explanation for why an individual was associated with a particular city. Jesus apparently lived in three locations: Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Capernaum. He spent the large majority of his life in Nazareth, so referring to him as Jesus of Nazareth makes sense accordingly.

      The same documents that refer to Jesus' birth in Bethlehem also refer to him as Jesus of Nazareth, and they do so in contexts in which they could easily have avoided making reference to Nazareth (e.g., Matthew 21:11, 26:71, Luke 18:37, 24:19, John 1:45, 18:5). If you're going to claim that Jesus was born in Nazareth and that his being referred to as Jesus of Nazareth is evidence that such an association with the city was too well known to be denied, then you're acknowledging that there was information on his childhood that was accurately preserved and couldn't be denied. That undermines the common skeptical suggestion that information on Jesus' childhood wouldn't have been accurately preserved and that the early Christians were free to make up whatever they wanted to make up.

      And if Jesus' alleged birth in Nazareth was as well known as you claim, how do you explain the widespread affirmation of a Bethlehem birthplace among the early Christian, heretical, Jewish, and pagan sources who directly addressed the subject (as discussed here and here)? If the sources who directly addressed the issue named Bethlehem as Jesus' birthplace, whereas you have to go to references to "Jesus of Nazareth" in contexts that aren't focused on his birthplace, often in documents that affirm the Bethlehem birthplace elsewhere, that tells us something about the weakness of your position.

      And you should explain how acknowledging that Jesus' later places of residence lined up with Isaiah 9:1 (Nazareth in Zebulun and Capernaum in Naphtali) is much of a substitute for acknowledging his fulfillment of Micah 5:2. Since Jesus' residence in Nazareth and residence in Capernaum also fulfill prophecy, all that you're doing is denying one fulfillment while affirming another. You're making the same mistake Jesus' opponents made in John 7:41-52.

    3. He and his parents (according to Matthew) went to settle in Nazareth when he was a baby. His ministry was about thirty years later. It's entirely natural that Nazareth would then be known as his home town and that he would be known as Jesus of Nazareth as an adult. My husband was born in New York, his parents moved to Pennsylvania when he was a baby, and almost anyone who knew him even as a young adult would know him as being from that town in Pennsylvania and living there as long as they remembered. In fact, I met him when we were both teenagers, we got married when I was only twenty and he was only twenty-one, and I don't even remember when I found out that he was born in the state of New York! I myself might have easily assumed that he was born in the town where I first knew him. So this is not "struggling mightily" but rather a perfectly natural result of his growing up in Nazareth from very early childhood. Moreover, Luke shows no awareness of the Micah 5:2 prophecy. Maybe he knew it; maybe he didn't. Prima facie he reports Jesus' birth in Bethlehem because that was what he believed historically.

    4. I'm speaking of "conservative" in terms of the theological spectrum. Read commentaries from William Lane or Joel B. Green, for example. That you would immediately conclude that I was thinking of "apologetics" tells me of the circles in which you traffic, which is quite narrow. The rest of your reply has been aptly refuted by Jason and Dr. McGrew.

  3. For example, I quote:

    In my opinion, those narratives include the most difficult and profound differences in the Gospels....Here I must acknowledge that I don't know what's going on and have no detailed explanations for these differences. I think one can provide some plausible solutions. But I admit they are speculative.....However — even though, as I say, I don't know what's going on here to cause the differences — let's just speculate for a moment and consider the following scenario. Matthew and Luke both agree that a Jewish virgin named Mary who was engaged to a Jewish man named Joseph gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. The early Christians all knew this much. However, little else was remembered about this event. So, Matthew and Luke added details to their account to create a more interesting narrative of Jesus's birth, a type of midrash. I'm not saying this is what Matthew and Luke did. I don't know what's going on with the infancy narratives. However, if this occurred, we would have to take the matter of genre — midrash — into consideration and recognize that the historicity of the details outside of the story's core would be questionable, while the core itself could stand. After all, with such differences between the accounts in Matthew and Luke, one could reasonably argue that the core is attested by multiple independent sources.

  4. It's hard to admit that in a sense we "lost" a long time ago, chiefly through the loss of the seminaries. Now people believe that someone like Raymond Brown (who has a lot to answer for in the devaluation of the birth narratives) represents what "even Christian scholars" are saying, and they quote him accordingly. In fact, I realize that the ghost of Raymond Brown haunts a lot of the other discussions I've seen on this topic, both in skeptical and Christian circles. He's taken for an authority, by too many Christians as well.

    At the risk of sounding obsessive, I'd say that if any sort of victory is still left to be won on these things, it needs to come in the form of saving the remaining conservative seminaries, and *that* needs to happen by warning the conservative seminaries, pastors, and laymen against the allegedly "conservative" scholars who are doing things like, e.g., devaluaing the historicity of the birth narratives. Usually (I suspect) because they're listening to the likes of Raymond Brown as representing "real scholarship." Those people are still likely to listen and be shocked. As long as we keep maintaining the myth that this is principally a matter where all the people with evangelical names that you've heard of as respected are "on our side" in staunchly defending the historicity of these events, and that it's "us conservatives" against Snopes or the liberals or Fuller Seminary, or whatever, people will be unwarned and unprepared to hear pretty much *exactly* the same nonsense from the "evangelicals" whom they invite to speak in their churches that you get in this post on Snopes. And then they'll be shaken by it. And then their next pastor will teach it, because that's what he learned at his Baptist seminary. ("You know, perhaps the Gospel infancy narratives are midrash," etc., etc.) We can still possibly hold back that result, but we're going to have to be willing to make ourselves unpopular somewhere other than in the comboxes at a liberal blog site.

  5. The previous two comments were meant to be in the opposite order, btw.

  6. So, do you have recommendations on a personal level? The 10 books that serve as a good foundation (I have a list of books from Steve/you on a document, but it's 40 pages long), what place to take classes from, do you take copious notes to remember information when someone brings up a subject? I'm wondering if I should take courses remotely, because just reading stuff (there are a lot of grey links when you post with 30+ links to other posts) isn't enough for me, as my mind seems to be a sieve with really big holes. Most things go right through it.

    1. There's a lot that can be said here, so I have to be highly selective. We've provided some recommendations over the years about how to approach different aspects of life. Here's something I wrote about how to mature as a Christian. And here's something I wrote on intellectual maturity, especially with regard to apologetics. Steve Hays put together a bibliography for the Old and New Testaments, which provides a lot of good resources for studying the Bible. He also wrote about raising children, with a contribution from Lydia McGrew. I wrote something on how to study the church fathers. Regarding taking notes, here's something I wrote in a discussion we had earlier this year on the subject. And there are other such posts in our archives.

      I'll focus on Christmas issues here, since that's the context of this thread. My annual Christmas Resources post includes some recommendations about how to study the relevant issues, and you can find relevant books, articles, and other sources by looking at particular posts on particular topics. I arranged my Christmas Resources post this year (the one linked above) so that it starts out with links to two foundational posts. Those provide a good place to start. You could move on to something like an article by Stephen Carlson on the opening verses of Luke 2 or a presentation by Richard Bauckham on Luke's infancy material. If you want something more foundational, explaining why you should be interested in Christmas issues to begin with, see here.

    2. If what you're most concerned about is that sort of more foundational material, then you could start here (a repeat of the first link above). Develop a high view of God, and develop the high view of life that follows from that view of God. I provide further details in the post I just linked.

      Don't just take in information like what I've written in this post and what we've written in the other posts linked above. Take action to live out what that information suggests you should be doing. Get active, and stay active. If you keep taking in information (in theology, apologetics, ethics, or whatever other context), but you don't do much to act on it, then that information is going to be harder to remember and won't be used as efficiently when it does get used. The more often you're discussing issues with people, such as Christmas issues, the more you'll remember over time, the more you'll mature in your understanding of the issues, the more persuasive you'll become to other people, and so on. One of the problems with the inactivity of so many Christians, in contexts like the one discussed in the original post in this thread, is that their inaction atrophies them, in addition to making things worse for other people. If you spend years watching somebody like Steve Hays do something like theological or apologetic work, and you keep taking in what he's saying, but you don't make much of an effort to do work like his, there are going to be some atrophying effects in your own life, and the people you didn't influence the way you should have are going to be worse off.

      In the thread I linked in the original post in this thread, the one at The Conversation, one of the commenters said something about getting some popcorn and watching the discussion. That's a common sentiment, intended to be humorous, but it reflects a major problem in our culture and in modern Evangelicalism. I'd estimate that only a low single-digit percentage of people at most even want to watch discussions like the one about Jesus' birthplace. And only a small percentage of that low single-digit percentage are willing to do more than watch. That needs to change.

    3. Well, just used my gift card from my company to get all the books in the textual criticism category. I added those to my document and then just left them. Easy to do you have a list of books that becomes longer than some books.

      So I didn't take note earlier on taking notes. Well I feel silly.