Biblical Problems*: Jesus’ Birth

*Title changed to appease Mung 😉

I’ve not had any refutation / substantive critique from Christians and Sophisticated Theists(c) so I’ll put this here. Are they using ancient words wrong? Is the birth of Jesus story figurative? Does it matter to Christianity if it is not actually true? (I suspect its nearly as important as the resurrection)

196 thoughts on “Biblical Problems*: Jesus’ Birth

  1. Mung:

    When do you suggest that the magi visited the baby?

    After Jesus was born, obviously.

    Oh, Mung, that kind of non-responsive response is why people despair of you.

    Yes, I partially left an opening for your worthless answer by not asking explicitly, specifically, what timeframe you suggest, in days/weeks, not simply any time in his whole lifetime after birth.

    But it’s not as if my meaning were unclear in context.

    You are invited to invent a timeline following Jesus’ birth which does not contradict any of the stated events in Matthew and Luke and which includes reasonable travel times, locations, etc in accordance with our general knowledge of real-world geography, law, and history of that era.

    Or not, as you choose.

    I think both Matthew and Luke are full of nonsense, and reconciling the apparent contradiction in their dates in history, plus their putative sequences of events, is just reconciling two different kinds of nonsense. If it suits you to claim that your fellow christians should not view the magi as having arrived while the newborn was still in the manger, fine. If it suits you to tell them to take down their nativity scenes, fine. If that’s how you resolve the apparent contradiction to your personal satisfaction, fine.

    But why would you bother in the first place to believe that any of it really happened? You’re the one who asks – in the other thread – what exactly would it prove if Luke and Matthew are each wrong (at least in some details). Why pick one version? Why pick the other? Why pick and choose some details from one or the other version to believe? Since it proves nothing either way, why do you expend any effort to mention the house in Matthew and note that it might not happen to be in Bethlehem? Why are you bothering to point out an actual “difference” and to claim or imply that it’s not an actual “contradiction”?

    Christianity is not therefore false, so why do you care?

  2. Geez. Mung is still harping on about ‘contriductuons’ which u have changed in the title?

    What about the historically refuted and logistically asinine census, Mung?

  3. There are actual contradictions in the bible. Real contradictions, not imaginary ones. But the anti-Christians here really seem to be struggling to find them. Must be the youtube culture.

    So what with me being the NewMung and all I thought I’d offer some help.

    1. Look for passages where the authors are actually talking about the same subject. If one author mentions shepherds tending their sheep in the local hills and the other mentions wise men from some far off land they are probably not talking about the same thing.

    2. Look in the old testament.

    So there you have it. I admit there are actual contradictions. I’ve known this for years. It’s one reason I don’t think the bible we have today is infallible and totally without errors. It’s not something anyone here needs to convince me of. In fact, you all might just be able to learn a thing or two from me.

    The keiths approach of trying to get me to defend THE HOLY BIBLE based on some subjective belief he has about what I ought to believe is pathetically misguided.

  4. And yet you still won’t tell us why you accept Matthew’s goofy mass resurrection story but reject the Trumpian healing story.

    Or answer hotshoe’s question about the magi.

    Or Rich’s question about the census.

    Why the fear, Mung?

  5. Mung,

    It’s one reason I don’t think the bible we have today is infallible and totally without errors.

    [Emphasis added]

    Do you think the autographs were “infallible and totally without errors”?

  6. hotshoe_, you’re the critic.

    Please don’t ask me to invent a timeline to resolve a perceived contradiction that you have. Do people here think that Christians actually bear the burden of proof in such matters?

    We don’t know when the star appeared to the wise men. At best we can make an inference that it coincided with the birth.

    We don’t know how long it took the wise men to get to Jerusalem.

    We don’t know where the wise men found Joseph and Mary and the child. At best we know it was in a house and not in a manger indicating that at least something had changed since the actual birth.

    Luke uses one Greek word for the newborn baby, and Matthew uses a different Greek word for the child that the wise men saw. I hesitate to make much of that without further study of Matthew’s use, but it raises the possibility that there was more than a few days differences in the development of the child.

    Herod questioned the wise men about when the start first appeared. The narrative claims he ordered the killing of any infant of 2 years and under. This allows for an additional inference that the child was not still a new born baby only days old. Actually, I think more than an inference is warranted as Matthew explicitly states that Herod’s choice of ages was based on Herod’s questioning of the wise men.

    Based on the above, it seems rather obvious to me that Herod at least believed the appearance of the star has some correlation with the birth of Jesus, so it’s not a wild leap for me to do likewise. Even if we granted for the sake of argument that the star could have first appeared at the conception of the baby, that still leaves up to 15 months after birth to get to a two year old child. You’re arguing over 8 and 40 days.

    So I don’t think there’s anything at all unreasonable about my position that there simply is no disagreement here between the events in Luke and the events in Matthew. I have give what I think to be good reasons defending my position.

    You can always take the position that you don’t find my arguments compelling. Frankly, that’s better than someone who asserts I fail to offer any defense at all. But then you’re off into your own subjective beliefs and what it takes for you to find an argument compelling, and absent any contrary argument from you, one that calls into question the validity my own reasoning, there really is no obligation on my part to say anything more.

    If that’s how you resolve the apparent contradiction to your personal satisfaction, fine.

    There’s not even an apparent contradiction here. Shouldn’t I expect better from you?

    But why would you bother in the first place to believe that any of it really happened?

    Could you be a little more precise please? Are you asking me to stop believing that Jesus ever existed? That he was never born?

    Are you asking me to accept that he actually existed, while also asking me to believe that the accounts of his life were all made up? Pure fiction? Just the birth accounts? Just the crucifixion accounts?

    And I should do this because you are a non-believer?

  7. keiths, I probably don’t believe in whatever view of scripture you think I ought to have.

    What you ought to do is go find yourself an argument and present it. Let me help you:

    A contradicts B because A says X about Z and B says Y about Z.

    Therefore, Christianity is false.

    Hey, look at me. I am helping you become a better skeptic!

    There is a God.

  8. Mung,

    keiths, I probably don’t believe in whatever view of scripture you think I ought to have.

    Be brave and tell us what you believe about scripture, Mung.

  9. Let’s start with the autographs. Do you think they were “infallible and totally without errors”?

  10. Mung: Do people here think that Christians actually bear the burden of proof in such matters?

    Most of us have not attempted to refute Christianity. We have only said that we find the evidence weak. You could have accepted that we find the evidence weak. You chose to argue with that. I think that gives you the burden of proof.

  11. petrushka:

    No hiding your light.

    petrushka’s reference, for the non-biblical:

    Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

    Matthew 5;15-16, NIV

    Sometimes Christians need to be reminded of what the Bible says.

  12. This is a good time to mention what Jesus says in the very next chapter of Matthew:

    Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

    Matthew 6:1, NIV

    I love the Bible. 🙂

    Of course the apologists try to spin this, but not very convincingly.

  13. Neil Rickert: Most of us have not attempted to refute Christianity. We have only said that we find the evidence weak. You could have accepted that we find the evidence weak.You chose to argue with that. I think that gives you the burden of proof.

    Pay attention Neil. This is important.

    The claim was put forth that the infancy accounts of Matthew and Luke contradict each another. That is far different from a claim that the evidence for Christianity is weak.

    In fact, here you are, weighing in:

    Back when I was a Christian (roughly my teenage years), I was aware of those contradictions though not in as much detail as the video presents.

    If you [and richardthughes, and keiths, and others] had actually “only said that we find the evidence weak” I would probably have merely yawned.

    As it is, your assertion that “we have only said that we find the evidence weak” is directly contradicted by the actual evidence.

  14. keiths, I probably don’t believe in whatever view of scripture you think I ought to have.

    What you ought to do is go find yourself an argument and present it. Let me help you:

    A contradicts B because A says X about Z and B says Y about Z.

    Therefore, Christianity is false.

    Hey, look at me. I am helping you become a better skeptic!

    There is a God.

  15. Mung: Pay attention Neil. This is important.

    You are missing the point.

    I was a Christian back then. So obviously, I didn’t find the differences to be of particular concern. I did not take the gospels to be logic propositions. Rather, I saw them as somewhat casual descriptions. So one does not expect identical accounts.

    The point, though, is that this does make them only casual descriptions and thus the evidence is weak.

  16. Neil Rickert: You are missing the point.

    Your claim was false. But I am the one missing the point.

    You said:

    We have only said that we find the evidence weak.

    That claim is demonstrably false. I won’t accuse you of lying because I actually do believe you thought it was true when you posted it. But now you ought to know better.

    Not only is it false with respect to what others have said, it’s also false with respect to what you yourself wrote. You specifically stated that the video provided greater detail to the contradictions you were already aware of. Contradictions you were aware of since you were a teen.

    You’re the one missing the point. The point is not whether you were concerned about the contradictions back then. The point is your validation of the video as having provided support for and greater detail of these alleged contradictions.

    Which brings up an interesting point. Given that these were not actual contradictions, it’s pretty simple to understand why they didn’t concern you back then.

    These “contradictions” which do not actually exist don’t concern me either.

    How is it that I have the burden of proof?

  17. Richardthughes:
    Focus Mung:

    Focus Richardthughes. Why am I still being asked to fight a battle I already won?

    Why don’t you gather your little coterie of “skeptics” together and come up with a coherent strategy? One that doesn’t involve you contradicting each other.

    Is there any point at which you still think Matthew and Luke contradict each other or disagree with each other when it comes to the infancy narratives?

    Do you still maintain that you have “not had any refutation / substantive critique from Christians”?

  18. keiths: Mung, Why are you afraid to tell us what you believe about scripture?

    keiths, why are you afraid to tell us what you believe about scripture?

  19. “Focus Richardthughes. Why am I still being asked to fight a battle I already won?”

    not even in your tiny mind. Christian honesty on exhibit, folks. Please provide the answer to the question if I’ve missed it.

  20. Mung:
    hotshoe_, you’re the critic.

    Please don’t ask me to invent a timeline to resolve a perceived contradiction that you have. Do people here think that Christians actually bear the burden of proof in such matters?

    You cannot make a timeline, even hypothetically, to resolve where they went in which specific days/weeks/years without running into a sequence which is irrational or outright impossible given what we know of human nature, law, geography of the area, and specific details as they are in the two infancy gospels. But of course you’re not obligated to try, and as long as you never try and fail, you can always reassure yourself and your fellow christians that there are only “differences” but no real problems. Fine for you.

    I wasn’t wrong to infer, from your posting behavior, that you care to defend every tiny detail no matter how insignificant by identifying some way it might be remotely-possibly true (and strangely enough, even if that way contradicts what almost all christians believe — must be nice to be the one who knows best!) – but if you don’t care to attempt a plausible timeline which connects every one of the tiny details together, not just taking one by one in isolation, that’s okay by me. Not my story; I’m not the person who wants anyone else to think it might be plausible.

    We don’t know when the star appeared to the wise men. At best we can make an inference that it coincided with the birth.

    There was no star which “appeared to the wise men”. That’s a detail which was thrown in to make the story seem more important, ooh, spooky wise-men following a star The star is totally irrelevant stage dressing to the narrative that Jesus was born in Bethlehem under Herod’s reign, the magi visited (somewhere, some time) then the family fled to Egypt, returning only after Herod died but settling in Nazareth instead of returning to Joseph’s hometown.

    We don’t know how long it took the wise men to get to Jerusalem.

    You mean, when they went there and met up with Herod? Irrelevant. What’s important is where and when they met up with baby Jesus — which your fellow christians all believe, based on reading their bibles and listening to their preachers, was in Bethlehem when he was newborn.

    We don’t know where the wise men found Joseph and Mary and the child. At best we know it was in a house and not in a manger indicating that at least something had changed since the actual birth.

    Now who is assuming things? There is no reason to assume “something had changed”. It was Luke who narrated the manger story – but this is one of the parts where there genuinely is no contradiction since we know that people of that era lived closely with their livestock; there is no reason to assume the manger was any place other than in the yard of that house. It doesn’t even say the magi saw the child inside the house just that they went into the house and then saw the child.

    Luke uses one Greek word for the newborn baby, and Matthew uses a different Greek word for the child that the wise men saw. I hesitate to make much of that without further study of Matthew’s use, but it raises the possibility that there was more than a few days differences in the development of the child.

    Yes, supportive of an inference that the magi didn’t catch up with the family until some time after the family outing to the temple in Jerusalem, which was 40 days after birth. But 1) all your fellow christians show that they believe the magi met them in Bethlehem when he was still a new baby and 2) Herod wouldn’t be stupid enough to kill all the boys in Bethlehem if Jesus had already been presented to the temple in Jerusalem, Herod’s own stomping grounds. Luke tells us that witnesses kicked up a big fuss when Jesus was presented there. Herod would have chosen to kill boys in Jerusalem, or in Nazareth if any of his spies heard they had gone (and we know Joseph did not go back to Bethlehem).

    Herod questioned the wise men about when the start first appeared. The narrative claims he ordered the killing of any infant of 2 years and under. This allows for an additional inference that the child was not still a new born baby only days old. Actually, I think more than an inference is warranted as Matthew explicitly states that Herod’s choice of ages was based on Herod’s questioning of the wise men.

    Based on the above, it seems rather obvious to me that Herod at least believed the appearance of the star has some correlation with the birth of Jesus, so it’s not a wild leap for me to do likewise. Even if we granted for the sake of argument that the star could have first appeared at the conception of the baby, that still leaves up to 15 months after birth to get to a two year old child. You’re arguing over 8 and 40 days.

    Well, leaving aside that it’s irrational for you to believe in the appearance of the star to begin with … you’re setting up the possibility that the magi didn’t catch up to the family until Jesus was a bouncing toddler maybe as old as two years. And there’s a whole decade-long gap in Luke after the temple outing where the magi and the sojourn in Egypt could fit. But, we still have the problem of Herod being stupid enough to kill the boys in Bethlehem months or years after the family had already moved to Nazareth (and as noted, after the witnesses in the temple kicked up a fuss about Jesus there, which would have caught Herod’s attention) – and if Herod were still stupidly focused on Bethlehem then there was no reason whatsoever for the family to flee Nazareth, which is where they were living after the temple outing. Why would the angel who supposedly warned them to flee make such a rookie mistake? Or is Luke wrong again, and Joseph took them back to Bethlehem (not yet having been warned of the danger) rather than to Nazareth after the temple as Luke says?

    So I don’t think there’s anything at all unreasonable about my position that there simply is no disagreement here between the events in Luke and the events in Matthew. I have give what I think to be good reasons defending my position.

    You haven’t given your position whatsoever — all you’ve done is poke at individual details and said, each separately “could have happened” if one ignores how each doesn’t fit with all the other details and with all the other knowledge we have about the area at the time.

    You can always take the position that you don’t find my arguments compelling. Frankly, that’s better than someone who asserts I fail to offer any defense at all. But then you’re off into your own subjective beliefs and what it takes for you to find an argument compelling, and absent any contrary argument from you, one that calls into question the validity my own reasoning, there really is no obligation on my part to say anything more.

    There is never an obligation to say anything more. Whatever gave you that idea? But if you have some wish that people should believe your position is rational rather than merely faith-based, you probably want to lay out what you actually think happened, where, when, and what supporting evidence if any you have to suggest such things were likely rather than the barest minimum of “not impossible”.

    There’s not even an apparent contradiction here. Shouldn’t I expect better from you?

    Hmm. There have been apparent contradictions which I’ve pointed out all along, which may or may not be resolved by your re-writing the timeline and rearranging the sequence of events from the most straightforward reading into something which meets the bare minimum standard of “not impossible” while not directly contradicting either Matthew or Luke. Too bad it means you’re disagreeing with your fellow christians in order to do so, but they’re idiots anyways, so who cares. As long as you come out the winner!

    But why would you bother in the first place to believe that any of it really happened?

    Could you be a little more precise please? Are you asking me to stop believing that Jesus ever existed? That he was never born?

    Are you asking me to accept that he actually existed, while also asking me to believe that the accounts of his life were all made up? Pure fiction? Just the birth accounts? Just the crucifixion accounts?

    I’m not asking you to do anything. I’m asking you why you choose to believe anything whatsoever from either of the birth tales.

    If we accept that there was a living man named Yeshua ben Yosef, later to become known as Jesus Christ, then we have to accept that he got born some where at some time. But that’ literally all we know. We have reason to think that both versions in the gospels were made up out of thin air to match previous prophecies and to make god’s supposedly special son look even more imposing. We have no reason to think that any of the specific details are true.

    What would be so difficult in saying “We don’t know anything about Jesus’ childhood. We don’t know where he was born, nor exactly when.” What would be so difficult in saying “Cute baby stories, bro, but let’s move on to the important stuff: what Jesus preached”

    And I should do this because you are a non-believer?

    Of course not. You know better than to think that I would ask you to do anything for such a reason.

    If you re-examine your bible beliefs, you should do it solely because you wish to focus on the spiritual teachings of Jesus, not on the storybook narratives that have been adopted and told by church elders who had congregations full of myth-loving folk to keep happy.

  21. Mung: Is there any point at which you still think Matthew and Luke contradict each other or disagree with each other when it comes to the infancy narratives?

    Of course there’s a point where Matthew and Luke contradict each other, not in the fashion which you demand, where one author says “X” and the other says “Opposite of X’. But where they cannot possibly both be true in the real world. Matthew says “in the reign of Herod”, which means it must have been 4 BC or earlier. Luke says “while Quirinius was governor”, which means it must have been 6CE (or possibly later, but not earlier). Luke doesn’t come out and say directly that Matthew was wrong. Luke doesn’t specifically deny that it was in the time of Herod, so according to your narrow definition, that might not count as a “contradiction”. But it’s a bloody big contradiction in the real world – it’s a gap of a decade or more in the baby’s birth date between the two tales.

    Now, almost all reputable scholars, including christians, have concluded that Luke was mistaken about the census. (Which doesn’t automatically mean that Matthew was right about “in Herod’s reign”) So that’s one way to resolve the bloody big contradiction, simply agree that one version was wrong all along.

    And that’s okay. Since none of us are biblical literalists, it’s okay for the so-called facts to be mistakes. God wasn’t dictating to Luke letter-by-letter, and Luke got at least one fact wrong. But christianity is not therefore false.

    So there’s no rationale for fighting so hard about the actual contradiction in the two timeframes of the infancy tales. Acknowledge it and move on …

  22. Mung: keiths, why are you afraid to tell us what you believe about scripture?

    What are you, 5 years old?

    Oh, wait, sorry…

  23. Mung: These “contradictions” which do not actually exist don’t concern me either.

    In ordinary speech, people call these kinds of things “contradictions”, even though it might be possible to explain them away.

  24. hotshoe,

    So there’s no rationale for fighting so hard about the actual contradiction in the two timeframes of the infancy tales. Acknowledge it and move on …

    Jesus had an opinion on that, according to the gospel of John:

    I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

    John 3:12, NIV

    I agree, and I sympathize with the inerrantists for that reason. If they admit that the Bible gets the mundane things wrong, it becomes that much harder to argue that its bizarre and unevidenced spiritual claims are credible.

  25. Mung,

    A reminder of the questions you’re dodging, so that you can bring glory to God by continuing to dodge them.

    And yet you still won’t tell us why you accept Matthew’s goofy mass resurrection story but reject the Trumpian healing story.

    Or answer hotshoe’s question about the magi.

    Or Rich’s question about the census.

    Why the fear, Mung?

    And:

    Mung,

    Why are you afraid to tell us what you believe about scripture?

    And:

    Mung,

    It’s one reason I don’t think the bible we have today is infallible and totally without errors.

    [Emphasis added]

    Do you think the autographs were “infallible and totally without errors”?

  26. The death and burial of John F. Kennedy is one of the most reliably documented events in all of human history.

    And as a result, everyone agrees as to exactly what happened.

  27. petrushka:
    The death and burial of John F. Kennedy is one of the most reliably documented events in all of human history.

    And as a result, everyone agrees as to exactly what happened.

    Yes, but with JFK’s assassination you only have hundreds of living eyewitnesses along with a film and hundreds of still photos.

    For Jesus’ death and resurrection you have reports of eyewitnesses from ancient anonymous sources.

    And still, somehow the “skeptics” think that the former has the better documentation.

    Glen Davidson

  28. Bonus:

    (anthropic)

    “Obviously, the historicity of the Resurrection was being compared to other events around the same time period. As such, it is extraordinarily well-documented, with multiple contemporaneous accounts from eyewitnesses.”…

    Decades later, by other people.

  29. If all you “skeptical” types had learned to behave yourselves you could be there yourselves participating in person. But no.

    Oh, the rules:
    Do not use turn this site into as a peanut gallery for observing the antics on other boards.

  30. Oh behave Mung. The content there is relevant to this post and as you’re the only one brave enough to post here and Jesus enough to post there (thanks Banny Arrogant) it’ll be interesting how you defend this monumentally supported event.

  31. Mung,

    Oh, the rules:
    Do not use turn this site into as a peanut gallery for observing the antics on other boards.

    You left out this one: Park your priors by the door.

  32. Patrick: You left out this one: Park your priors by the door.

    I park them. Open the door. Then bring them in with me.

    By the way, it’s not that I disagree with that rule. It’s not meant to be taken literally. If we took it literally, it would be literally absurd.

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