What Willis Barnstone wants for Christmas: Some questions on the Virgin birth, the New Testament, and its translation
Albert Mohler is asking (and has answered for us) this week, “Must We Believe in the Virgin Birth?” Some time ago, Willis Barnstone was questioning who the “we believers” must be in order to ask such a question. Let’s look at what both men are are saying (in three excerpts each). At the end of the post, I’ll ask some questions and hope you will too.
Must one believe in the Virgin Birth to be a Christian? This is not a hard question to answer. It is conceivable that someone might come to Christ and trust Christ as Savior without yet learning that the Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. A new believer is not yet aware of the full structure of Christian truth. The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.
Even if the Virgin Birth was taught by only one biblical passage, that would be sufficient to obligate all Christians to the belief. We have no right to weigh the relative truthfulness of biblical teachings by their repetition in Scripture. We cannot claim to believe that the Bible is the Word of God and then turn around and cast suspicion on its teaching.
If Jesus was not born of a virgin, who was His father? There is no answer that will leave the Gospel intact. The Virgin Birth explains how Christ could be both God and man, how He was without sin, and that the entire work of salvation is God’s gracious act. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, He had a human father. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, the Bible teaches a lie.
The most notorious and successful means of deracinating the Jews from their own Bible has been to change the very name by which they are addressed there. They are called Hebrews (with reference to a language) or Israelites (with reference to a place). They are often referred to as “the ancient Hebrews” as we speak of ancient Greeks, thereby further distancing them, as a mythic, legendary, or symbolic people, from any real association with the Jews of the Christian Scriptures and thereafter. But the Jews of the Christian Scriptures are also presented as a deracinated people, separated from their biblical ancestors. They are never Jews, and certainly not “the ancient Jews,” which might identify the prophets and partiarchs more closely with them…. The Jews do not appear as Jews until the Christian Scriptures, when the word Jew uniformly means “unfriendly,” “unreformed,” “unrepentant,” and much worse. It is used to designate all the implicit enemies of the sect that is being born, which will later be called Christianity. Yet again through magical transformation, the participants in these first moments of the foundation are themselves exempt from their heritage. They are just there, with no designation of race or religion (later they wil anachronistically be called the first Christians), and Jesus, his family, and his entourage are not Jews, ancient Jews, or even Hebrews or Israelites (which might at least link them to worthy ancestors), but simply unaffiliated people.
Yet let us dream. Imagine if the Christian scriptures were retranslated today , and instead of encountering Jesus and James; Mary, Peter, and Paul, we found Joshua and Jacob; Miryam, Kepha, and Saul. Or better, if the New Testament were redacted without tribal references to Jews as distinct from Jesus’ tribe. Imagine if the criticism there were Jewish self-criticism, as in the writings of the prophetic books, rather than Christian antisemitism. Given these miracles, the deracination of Joshua the Messiah, his followers, and his believers, would end. The presentation of Jesus and the Virgin Mary as Gentiles among alien Jews (the parabolic equivalent of Socrates and Plato as non-Greeks among Greek judges) would, after two millennia, be ineffective. (pages 79-80)
Given the revolutionary importance of the gospel story, the absence of significant reference to them in the letters [of the New Testament] is overwhelming evidence that the apostles had no knowledge of Jesus’ life…. There are no words about the narrative of Mary and the virgin birth of Jesus…. In short, the epistlers had [communicated] knowledge of no key figure or event in the gospels other than the fact of the crucifixion…. (page 98). Of those narratives, Paul [seems to have] lacked all knowledge, though he was born less than a decade after Jesus’ 4 B.C.E. birth date, which the gospels coincide with the year of Herod the Great’s death. Curiously, Paul knew nothing about the man Jesus other than that he was the messiah foretold in Isaiah…. What we do know is that in Paul of the letters, no living voice of Jesus the Christ is heard. Paul utters [and pens] no word about a virgin birth… (page 623).
So my questions:
Is it important that Paul be Saul, a Jew mainly working toward Jewish self-criticism by his letters?
Or if Paul is no longer to be considered a Jew but a Christian, then was he aware of the Bible’s teaching, of the essential (twice mentioned) Virgin Birth, and was his believing that doctrine what made him a Christian?
Has Barnstone by his Restored New Testament fulfilled the dream to re-present Yeshua and his mother Miryam as Jews among fellow Jews? Does this restorative translation (i.e., “to fulfill the word of God uttered through his prophet Yeshayahu, saying ‘Listen. A young woman will have a child in her womb / And give birth to a son, and his name will be Immanuel'”; and “In the sixth month the angel Gavriel was sent by God to a city in the Galil, called Natzeret, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Yosef, from the house of David, and the name of the virgin was Miryam”) require belief for membership among either Christians or Jews? Has the translation rendered ineffective the millennia of deracination and implication of Jews as enemies of the sect that was being born as Christianity? Has it brought any attention to antisemitism? Has Moehler yet acknowledged the importance of Miryam as a Jewish woman, or either as a Jew or as a woman, when he asserts, “Even if the Virgin Birth was taught by only one biblical passage, that would be sufficient to obligate all Christians to the belief”?