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So I've been attending a course for the past two years, at the Focus Institute - a small set of courses run by a local church. They've been very interesting, and have radically changed my thinking. Previously, I would have described myself as an Evangelical who was fed up with not getting meaningful answers. Now... I'm a Liberal with Evangelical tinges (or something like that).
The creeds - the Nicene creed in particular - seem to have been written largely in response to heresies: Denial of the divinity of Christ, denial of the trinity, denial of the humanity of Christ, and so on. It occurred to me that makes them inward-looking and outdated.
Not outdated in the sense that they're no longer true or full expressions of the faith they're trying to describe, but because the phrases they use to deny the heresies are no longer easily related: The Arian heresy is supposedly similar to the Jehovah's Witnesses' belief, but most Christians just 'know the JWs are wrong', without being able to express what particular points the orthodox Church disagrees with them on.
The creeds are, however, very inward-looking: They assume an understanding that often doesn't even exist within the church, except for those who've been to theological college, and even then, not all of those.
(Before I launch into the following: I'm not trying to convince anyone of this stuff, merely explaining what I believe. If you're interested in discussing it, you're welcome to write, but if I'm inundated, I may not feel able to reply. Sorry about that.)
Note: I'm quoting from the KJV because it's what I have handy in electronic form and I like the archaic language, not because I'm particularly comitted to it.
... in the Virgin Birth. This is about the only bit of the Nicene creed I have problems with.
(Before I launch into the following, I'll repeat: I'm not trying to convince anyone of this stuff, merely explaining what I believe. If you're interested in discussing it, you're welcome to write, but if I'm inundated, I may not feel able to reply. Sorry about that.)
The original prophecy involved here is Isaiah 7:14
|Isa 7:14 "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."|
So if you look at this prophecy in context, in the Old Testament, you'll see that it relates to a woman written about in the next chapter:
|Isaiah 8:3 "And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz."|
Now here's a child who if we're to believe the 'virgin' interpretation, has no father except God, in just the same way we're asked to believe that Jesus had no father except God. That's two virgin births. Two Christs?
Well, you'll notice God's changed His mind: the prophecy says 'Immanuel', and the event results in a name that would have the poor child given a swirlie by even the nicest of schoolmates. I don't have a good answer to that, but it's clear from context that the prophecy relates to alphabet boy. (Apparently this name is yet another prophecy.)
Anyway, the word used here is 'Parthenos', Greek for 'Virgin' - a word also used for the Greek goddess of wisdom 'Athena': The Parthenon is her temple on the Acropolis in Greece.
But wait! Parthenon? Greek? Surely the Old Testament was written in Hebrew! Sadly, this 'Virgin' is taken from what's called the 'Septuagint' - a translation of the Old Testament into Greek, undertaken during the 'Maccabean' period between the Old and New Testaments, about 300-200BC, by some 70 Jewish scholars when Greek was becoming the dominant language.
The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. The Hebrew version is called the 'Masoretic' text. In the Hebrew, the word is actually 'almah', meaning 'young woman'. The Greek for 'young woman' is 'gune' (as in Gynaecology). The Hebrew for 'virgin' is 'bethulah', and they didn't use that, did they?
When St Paul writes about Jesus, he says
|Gal4:4 'But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman[=gune], made under the law'.|
Now my copy of the Spirit Filled Bible (NKJV) has a commentary on Isaiah 8:4 which says that 'almah' was used in a dual sense - sometimes as 'young woman' and sometimes as 'virgin' - and that God used the translation of the Septuagint for some sly revisionism. I'm afraid that doesn't wash with me. (Pure speculation, but I find it easier to believe that they chose 'Parthenon' to curry favour with the Greeks, since that prophecy was long fulfilled and buried; or perhaps 'parthenos' didn't usually mean 'virgin' when they used it, but had come to mean that by 80-100AD when Matthew was written; or perhaps Athena wasn't always a virgin.)
The Virgin Birth story only exists in Matthew (80-100AD) and Luke (80-130AD). Although Matthew appears first in the New Testament, it's actually older than (and borrows heavily from) Mark (65-80AD), which in turn is older than the letters of the Apostle Paul (50-60AD). Neither Mark, nor Paul, nor the Gospel of John (90-120AD) know anything about the Virgin Birth.
If you look at the Gospel of Matthew, and find the genealogy, you'll notice five women carefully mentioned in it:
This is a rather bland reference to the story of Judah having offspring by his daugher in law.
|Genesis 38:24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.|
|Leviticus 20:12 And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them.|
|1 Chronicles 2:4 And Tamar his daughter in law bore him Pharez and Zerah. All the sons of Judah were five.|
Oops. Good thing for them Genesis comes before Leviticus.
Rahab - the prostitute. You know about her.
|Joshua 6:25 And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.|
|Ruth 4:21 And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed,|
Ruth has a book all to herself. It's a lovely story, but some phrases seem a little suggestive:
|3:4 And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie [when he goes to sleep], and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.|
They're careful though:
|3:14 And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another. And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor.|
so that's all right then - virtue intact.
|Ruth 4:12 And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give thee of this young woman.|
Um... oops, 'let thy house be like Pharez, whom Tamar bore unto Judah'. Perhaps virtue not quite so intact, then.
'Her' would be Bathsheba, the woman whose husband King David murdered before marrying her in 2 Samuel 11. Good one, David.
Luke is careful to add 'so it was supposed'.
(It's called the 'Septuagint' because it was supposedly undertaken by 70-72 Jewish scholars, who all did it in secret, apart from each other, and when they all came back together, they'd all written the same thing. Uh... right.)
Armageddon is/was a real place: Megiddo, a walled city in the north of Israel.
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|This page last changed Sat Jan 21 23:12:09 2006|