Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
Was the Virgin Birth Doctrine Part of the Original Gospels?
The gospels of Mark and John say absolutely NOTHING about the virgin birth of the Messiah, and throughout assume Yeshua to have been of normal human birth. It is only in the gospels of Matthew and Luke that the pagan fable of the virgin birth is introduced -- and ONLY in the first two chapters of these gospels. The evidence is overwhelming that the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke are later additions by pagan Greek priests who grafted the "Virgin-birth" and "son of God" myths onto the simple, original records of the human-born Messiah who descended from his ancestor David.
by Jocelyn Rhys and John D. Keyser
The Evidence from the New Testament
The Epistles make no mention of a Virgin Birth, and such comparatively few references as there are to the Messiah in these -- the earliest writings of our New Testament -- do not in any case support the doctrine of his Virgin Birth, and sometimes appear quite incompatible with any such doctrine.
Neither the Epistles, nor the Acts, nor the Revelation refer either explicitly or even implicitly to a Virgin Birth. Some of the references which are made to Yeshua in these books seem to be compatible with the Gnostic doctrines of a divine soul incarnate in an ordinary human body, such as --
"But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:4-5).
Here -- and in the following verses -- we are told that through the redemption, and by the spirit of one who was not begotten, but "sent forth" by YEHOVAH God, other men might also receive the "adoption of sons" and cry "Abba Father."
Others seem to set forth the doctrine of a preexisting divine being who has no taint of humanity:
"Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God" (Hebrews 7:3).
This, however, is a reference to Melchizedek who left no record of his father, mother, ancestry, birth or death. It DOES NOT mean that Melchizedek was some sort of divine "preexistent" being any more than Yeshua was. There are several other individuals in the Bible who are named without their parents or ancestry -- such as Abimelek. Historically we expect none of this for a figure who makes only a cameo appearance in the narrative. This is immaterial in that Paul is here only interested in the parallel with Melchizedek whereby the Messiah exercises his priesthood in heaven as a resurrected human being. Thus Yeshua's priesthood literally has no end -- just as no end is reported of Melchizedek's life. This contrasts with the repeated changes of ministry in the Aaronic priesthood due to the deaths of the high priests.
Another example of this is found in I Timothy in some translations --
"....our Lord Jesus Christ....who is the Blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of Lords; who alone has immortality and dwells in light inaccessible, whom no man has seen or can see..." (I Timothy 6:14-16, Authorized Catholic New Testament).
When correctly translated these verses read in whole as follows -- "I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this [Yeshua's appearing] will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign [YEHOVAH God], the King of kings and Lord of lords, who [YEHOVAH God] ALONE has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see" (RSV). See also Exodus 33:18-23, Deuteronomy 10:17 and John 1:18. YEHOVAH God the Father alone is the "King of kings and Lord of lords" -- NOT Yeshua the Messiah. No sign of a "preexistent" Messiah here!
Others seem to be compatible with the Gnostic "docetic" doctrine of a spiritual being clothed in the apparent likeness of man --
"God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3).
This, again, is not what it seems! YEHOVAH God did what his own teachings, instructions and commands could not, of themselves, do by "adopting" or choosing a HUMAN BEING with a nature just like our own sinful one to be His "Son" and representative on this earth. Although Yeshua was a normal human being, born of a human mother and father, with a truly human nature (Greek sarx, "flesh"), his "flesh" or "nature" was not like that of other human beings in that it was not sinful, and he did not sin. He encountered temptations just like we face every day of our lives, but he overcame them without sinning by the power of the holy spirit of YEHOVAH God. We, also, can overcome sin with the help of YEHOVAH's spirit.
Others again (and these the most numerous) teach the doctrine which -- apparently at an early period -- was held by all Christians, that Yeshua was a MAN who became the divine Messiah when YEHOVAH God raised him from the dead -- up until which time he had been entirely human:
"Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:3-4).
"Jesus Christ of the seed of David...." (II Timothy 2:8).
The divinity of Yeshua is even plainly denied and he is said, when he became "The Christ," to not yet have been wholly divine --
"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the MAN Christ Jesus" (I Timothy 2:5).
The most striking thing about these passages (and a great many others of a similar nature), that might be quoted from the Epistles, is that the Virgin Birth is never mentioned though they, above all others, lend themselves to an explicit statement of the fact if it was known to the writers. They are intended as explanations of the nature of the Messiah. Would it not have been simpler -- if the authors knew that such was the case -- to state that YEHOVAH God had actually begotten Yeshua the Messiah?
Moreover, no references can be found in the Epistles to Mary or to Joseph, or to any other details of the birth story, though we are in one passage warned "neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies," by a writer who may have heard rumors of some new teaching.
The Gospels, it is admitted by every one, were not yet in existence when these Epistles were written, and it is evident that the writers of the Epistles had either never heard of or did not believe in these stories of the birth and infancy of the Messiah.
The Acts of the Apostles, too, is written by an author who neither knows nor cares about the birth of Yeshua, and regards his life only as beginning with the baptism by John. This is distinctly stated in 1:22, in which the beginning is said to be "from the baptism of John"; and again in 10:37, in which it is stated that "the word" began "after the baptism which John preached."
If, as is generally admitted, the author of the Acts is identical with the author of Luke's Gospel, this is further proof of the lateness of the introduction of the birth story into the Gospel. All the emphasis laid upon the baptism and the descent of the holy spirit would be unnecessary if the incarnation was a fact; yet not only Mark and John -- but even Matthew and Luke -- so emphasize the miraculous nature of this baptism by John.
According to the Acts, it is not only Paul who preaches that Yeshua is descended from David -- "Of this man's [David's] seed hath God, according to his prophets, raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus" (Acts 13:23) -- but Peter, too, is described as teaching that the MAN Yeshua, the fruit of David's loins according to the flesh, became inspired by the holy spirit at his baptism. Notice Acts 10:38: "How God ANOINTED Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him." Also notice how Yeshua was not born, but EVENTUALLY MADE the Messiah: "God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). Since Mary was not of the line of David, all references to a descent from David must mean through Joseph.
Again, in "The Revelation" we find NOTHING about the Virgin Birth, but instead some texts that imply a natural descent through Joseph from David, as, for example, "I am the root and the offspring of David."
The Gospel of Mark
When we turn from the Epistles to the earliest of the Gospels, that "according to St. Mark," we still find no reference to the Virgin Birth, or even to the parentage or childhood of the Messiah.
This gospel is -- in all likelihood -- one of the original source documents upon which the other three gospel narratives were based. According to tradition Mark's gospel was said to have been based on the apostle Peter's verbal accounts of the Messiah's life and is sometimes referred to as "Peter's Memoirs." Writes the sub-Apostolic Father Papias (about 70-155 A.D.) --
He, the presbyter (John), said, Mark, being the interpreter of Peter, wrote exactly whatever he remembered; but he did not write in order the things which were spoken or done by Christ. For he was neither a hearer nor a follower of the Lord, but, as I said, afterward followed Peter, who made his discourses to suite what was required, without the view of giving a connected digest of the discourses of our Lord. Mark, therefore, made no mistakes when he wrote down circumstances as he recollected them; for he was very careful of one thing, to omit nothing of what he heard, and to say nothing false in what he related.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Mark is found COMPLETE in Matthew, with the exception of numerous slight omissions and the following pericopes...In all, 31 verses are omitted." Continuing, the Catholic Encyclopedia says that "parts peculiar to Matthew are numerous, as Matthew has 330 verses that are distinctly his own" (x, 60, 61).
According to the New Commentary (Pt. III, p. 127-128) -- "These 'MATTHEAN ADDITIONS,' as they are called,...seem to be authentic when they relate our Lord's words; but when they relate INCIDENTS, they are extremely questionable."
This bodily copying from Mark, with so many "omissions" and "additions," implies "a very free treatment of the text of Mark in Matthew and Luke (a freedom which reaches a climax in the treatment of Mk. 10:17f. in Mt. 19:16f.)....Just as the latter (Matthew) tampered more with the Markan order than St. Luke did" (New Commentary, Pt. III, 36, 40).
However, this textual tampering is well explained by the apologists for the Catholic Church: "Nor need such freedom surprise us. Mark, at the time when the others used it, had not attained anything like the status of Scripture, and an evangelist using it would feel free, or might indeed feel bound, to bring its contents into line with the traditions of the particular Church [read, Catholic] in which he lived and worked"! (Ibid., p. 36).
The story related by Mark begins with the appearance of Yeshua "from Nazareth of Galilee," to be baptized by John in the Jordan, and at that ceremony to receive the spirit of YEHOVAH God which distinguished him from other men.
Mark never mentions the name of Joseph, and refers to Yeshua himself as the carpenter in the passage corresponding to the one in which Matthew speaks of the carpenter's son -- and to the one in which Luke speaks of the son of Joseph. He appears to know nothing at all of the birth of Yeshua, either natural or supernatural. He is concerned only with explaining how Yeshua became imbued with the spirit of YEHOVAH God.
Matthew and Luke
After Mark the next Gospels in order of appearance were Matthew and Luke; but before we consider these we will refer to John, the latest of our Canonical Gospels. John too makes no reference to the Virgin Birth -- and has texts which preclude it. John recounts that others regarded Yeshua as the son of Joseph. Philip says (1:45): "We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." The Judahites say (6:42): "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?" On these sayings the evangelist passes no comment, such as might be expected if the Virgin Birth story was known to or believed in by him.
If we assume -- as the Churches most unwarrantably assumed -- that John ("the disciple whom Jesus loved") wrote the Gospel and the Epistles which bear his name, the silence of the evangelist is still more strange. He, above all others, would have been the disciple most intimately acquainted with the history of Yeshua; yet he says nothing about any supernatural birth -- an event most worthy of notice had he known of it, or even ever heard it mentioned.
According to John and to the other evangelists, all the disciples and followers of Yeshua looked upon Joseph as his father; and Yeshua himself makes no claim to a supernatural origin -- unless his reference to his metaphorical Father be strained to imply such a claim.
Thus neither the authors of the Epistles, which are the earliest of our New Testament books, nor the authors of the earliest and the latest of our four Canonical Gospels, make any mention of a Virgin Birth.
Notice what Philip Jenkins, in his book Jesus Wars, has to say about this --
"The idea of the virgin birth is unquestionably present in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but elsewhere in the New Testament the idea LEAVES NOT A TRACE. Among Paul's epistles, Galatians speaks of God sending his Son, 'born of a woman,' but neither here nor elsewhere does Paul suggest anything unusual about Jesus' conception or birth. Although Paul could have written explicitly 'of a virgin,' instead he uses the word FOR WOMAN, gyne/gynaikos. Two of the gospels, Mark and John, make no reference to a birth story for Jesus, and neither did the hypothetical lost gospel Q. Nor do early alternative gospels like Thomas. Even in Matthew and Luke, the virgin birth idea NEVER reappears after the initial chapters: it is not mentioned in Luke's sequel to his gospel, the book of Acts" (HarperCollins Publishers, New York. 2010, page 44).
Jenkins then goes on to say:
"And although some would argue that Revelation refers to Mary and her child, the text is open to debate, and in any case, it DOES NOT speak of a virgin birth, In the New Testament, at least, NO apostle or Christian preacher ever tries to convince an audience by stories of Jesus' miraculous conception or birth, or of a manger surrounded by angels or kings....the idea makes little impact on the so-called apostolic fathers, the Christian thinkers from the period between about 90 and 140" (ibid., pp. 44-45).
The Greek Gospels according to Matthew and Luke are our ONLY authorities for the story, and they were not written until about the middle of the first half of the second century.
Then, for the first time, more than a century after the date assigned to the birth of Yeshua (and nearly a century after the date assigned to his death) appears the first mention of the Virgin Birth -- a dogma which the Catholic Church subsequently made orthodox. This is a belief in which most "Christian" Churches to this day still insist on treating as a test of orthodoxy -- in spite of the fact that the bulk of educated modern opinion is against it. No man can take orders in the Established Church of England unless he avows his belief in this miracle, although many of the better-educated clergy have ceased to credit it, and although even the Bishop of one of the most important dioceses put forward an appeal that it should no longer be regarded as an essential part of the creed.
Even if a much earlier date be assigned to the publication of these two Gospels, the argument against the doctrine on the score of lateness is not impaired. No scholar, however orthodox, denies that the Epistles are the earliest Christian documents in our Canon, or that the Epistles contain no reference to the Virgin Birth story, or that the Gospels were not written until at least three-quarters of a century after the date assigned to the birth of Yeshua. So even the most conservative confess that the story first appears in two comparatively late documents, and that it is peculiar to these two out of all the other New Testament scriptures. Our "witnesses" are two. As we have already seen, neither of them is a firsthand witness. Let us, however, examine their evidence.
The accounts given of this event by Matthew and by Luke differ in almost every single detail, so it will be more convenient to consider each Gospel separately, except in so far as they have any correspondence. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Yeshua showing his descent -- the expected descent of the Messiah who would, according to the literal interpretation of the prophets, resuscitate the ancient glories of Israel as a conquering king -- through Solomon and David (by the wife of Uriah the Hittite), and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham.
This genealogy must have been in existence before the Virgin Birth story was thought of because, if the latter be true, the genealogy is worthless. Unless Joseph was the father of Yeshua the Messiah, there could be no object in tracing the pedigree of Joseph; and if Joseph was the father of Yeshua, the Virgin Birth story is not true!
The genealogy begins as "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ," and ends (in its present form) with the words: "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."
Now, if Joseph was only the husband of Mary and not the father of Yeshua, the genealogy has no value or meaning as an account of the generation of Yeshua; and Yeshua is not shown to be "the son of David," as is insisted upon throughout the Gospel. Verse sixteen has evidently been altered to suit the new doctrine of the Virgin Birth; and that this was the case is made all the more certain by the fact that in many old manuscript versions of Matthew it is actually stated that "Joseph begat Jesus."
In what is probably the oldest surviving manuscript version of "the Gospel according to St. Matthew," verse sixteen runs: "Jacob begat Joseph; and Joseph, to whom the Virgin Mary was betrothed, begat Jesus who is called the Christ" -- a version which makes the genealogy applicable to Yeshua, but which contradicts the virginity of Mary. Moreover, in this Sinaitic Syriac version the words, "to whom the Virgin Mary was betrothed," are undoubtedly an interpolation. The original must have been simply "Joseph begat Jesus" -- as in the other later manuscripts to which reference has already been made.
Evidently the original genealogy was written when the Virgin Birth story was unknown, and verse sixteen is an attempt to reconcile the older story of a descent from David with the later story of a Virgin Birth. Further evidence that this was the case will appear as we continue our study of the Gospel.
Two Genealogies Compared
Leaving this question aside for the moment, we will examine the genealogy itself and compare it with the genealogy given in Luke. Including YEHOVAH God, who is put down as the father of Adam, Luke specifies seventy-seven names whereas Matthew -- who omits the first twenty-one of these names -- specifies only forty-one. Thus the pedigree given by Matthew, even after making allowance for the omission of the pre-Abrahamite ancestors, is fifteen generations shorter than that of Luke.
Matthew, presumably in an attempt to obtain the symmetry of three groups of fourteen generations each (to which he refers in 1:17) misses out some of the names given in the corresponding genealogy in Chronicles, and mentions Rachab (Rahab) as the mother of Boaz -- thus erroneously connecting as mother and son persons who, according to the Old Testament, lived three hundred years apart from each other.
Still more important is the fact that after the name of David, whose pedigree is in both cases taken from the Old Testament, the two lists differ almost entirely. Between David and Joseph there are only two names common to both lists, Zorobabel and Salathiel; and these, which are taken from the Old Testament genealogies, come nine generations further back in Luke than in Matthew.
It would, indeed, be an extraordinary thing if the carpenter Joseph could trace an unbroken line of descent for about four thousand years back to Adam. However the authors of these two Gospels pretend that they could do so for him and as (ex hypothesi) they were inspired, both their genealogical trees are correct! How both can be correct and true, when they differ almost entirely in their versions from David downwards, the orthodox have never succeeded in explaining! Both seek to show that Yeshua, as the son of Joseph, descended from David as had been foretold; yet both subsequently or previously explained that Yeshua had no earthly father.
It is unnecessary to deal further with these genealogies because such incongruities as the different number of generations used by "Matthew" and "Luke" (in an attempt to make them fit with the chronology found in the Old Testament) renders these genealogies pure inventions and utterly incompatible with each other and the genealogies found in I Chronicles.
Isaiah's "Virgin Birth"
After supplying us with the genealogy of Joseph, Matthew gives an account of "the Annunciation." Here again the version of Matthew (1:18-21) differs entirely from the version of Luke (1:26-35).
In Matthew it is Joseph who is informed by an angel of the expected miracle, whereas in Luke it is Mary herself who is so informed. Matthew does not tell us how or when Mary heard the news and Luke is equally silent as regards Joseph -- who apparently accepts the situation described in chap. 2:5 without having ever received any explanation of it.
Matthew proceeds to explain that the event which is to take place is the fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah (7:14) regarding a "virgin" who would bring forth a son. This explanation is based upon a MISTRANSLATION. Matthew (or rather the pseudo-Matthew) is quoting from the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. In the original Hebrew the word "almah" is used, and this word means only a "young woman." In the Greek text the word "parthenos" (virgin) is used, but probably only in its metaphorical sense.
The original prophecy merely foretold that SOME young woman would give birth to a son from whom great things might be expected. The Hebrew word for "virgin" is frequently used in the Old Testament and would, presumably, have been used in this passage of Isaiah if a virgin had really been meant! But the word for "young woman" having actually been used, the misleading translation in the Septuagint cannot give the "prophecy" a new meaning.
Moreover, Isaiah is speaking to Ahaz, and is obviously referring to some event that will take place very shortly. Ahaz would hardly be comforted by an assurance that an event (however desirable) would take place about seven hundred and fifty years later. He wants to know whether there is any prospect of his present troubles coming to an end, and Isaiah foretells that a child will shortly be born and that before it grows up both Syria and Ephraim shall have fallen. The "prophecy" might be considered fulfilled when Ahaz or Isaiah himself had sons born to them -- events which took place soon after the interview between them that is recorded in this chapter of Isaiah.
The desire to point to Old Testament texts which could be looked upon as prophetic is noticeable throughout the New Testament and similar writings of the same period. This habit of quotation is nowhere more striking than in the stories of the Virgin Birth. Matthew is especially prone to quote "the scriptures" as evidence of the facts which he relates. These quotations are used as arguments for the facts stated, and the inconsequent nature of some of these arguments must now be apparent to every one.
It was different in early New Testament times. The Church Fathers -- in their arguments with those who did not believe in the Virgin Birth story -- did not adduce evidence from the facts, but used quotations from "the prophets" to determine what facts should, if the prophets competence was admitted, be expected. To Jews these "prophecies" were sacred and, by paralogism, proofs of any event which was said to be a fulfillment of them. When Justin's opponent, imaginary or real, is not convinced by his first arguments, he hurls a few more quotations at him. So too pseudo-Matthew. Because Isaiah had said "A virgin [?] shall conceive and bear a son," and because some Jews thought that this might refer to the birth of a future Messiah, and because he -- the author of the first two chapters of the book of Matthew -- is setting out to prove that Yeshua was that Messiah, therefore Yeshua must have been born of a virgin. That is his argument.
It would be not be right to ridicule those who accepted such quotations for arguments. Paralogisms are too often, even today, accepted for syllogisms. But it is necessary to point out that such fallacious substitutes for logic were, for many centuries, the chief stock-in-trade of theologians -- and even of those theologians who, in other respects, were astute and skillful dialecticians. With this in mind we should be able to understand how it was that the writers of the introductory chapters of Matthew and Luke told two entirely different stories about the same alleged event.
Their evidence, in both cases, consisted of "prophecies." So that what was written by some ancient author might be fulfilled, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Egypt had to play their respective parts in the story. Each editor had the same evidence -- the ancient Jewish scriptures of the last seven centuries or more -- and each used that evidence as he thought best.
The really remarkable thing about all this is that later generations should accept two entirely conflicting sets of evidences as both being correct!
Massacre of the Children
In chapter 2 Matthew goes on to relate how Herod the King sends for the chief priests and the scribes -- the very people who live in hopes of the advent of a Messiah who will deliver them from the rule of foreigners and of kings selected by foreigners -- and asks them where their deliverer (according to the prophets) is to be born. They, in their innocence of heart, tell him where his future rival ought to be found!!?
Luke knows nothing of all this, nor of the "slaughter of the innocents," which Matthew next tells of. Neither does Josephus -- the great Jewish historian who lived so soon after this time and who wrote at such great length about Herod's reign -- make any mention of this murder of all children of two years old and under. No historian appears ever to have heard of this wholesale massacre, though it would hardly have escaped notice if it really took place. There are numerous parallels to this story, and in a very large number of mythologies the divine hero narrowly escapes from such an attempt on the part of a king to destroy his predestined rival.
Matthew goes on to relate how the holy family fled to Egypt (a journey unknown to Luke) and how, when Herod the Great died, Joseph feared to return to Judea because Archelaus, a son of Herod the Great, was "king" of that country ("did reign in Judaea" in the Authorized Version).
Yet he went to Galilee which was ruled over by Antipas -- another of Herod's sons -- because the prophecy, "He shall be called a Nazarene," had to be fulfilled!
With this episode ends the second chapter of Matthew and all reference to a Virgin Birth. In chapter 3 the story STARTS AGAIN with an account like Mark's of Yeshua becoming the Messiah or anointed one by the inspiration of the holy spirit at his baptism. From this point forward we hear nothing of the miraculous birth but much, as we shall see later, that is quite irreconcilable with it. The first two chapters of Matthew are an addition to a story which would be complete without them, and which is inconsistent with them.
The Gospel of the Ebionites
Amongst the earliest followers of the Messiah were a group known as the Ebionites. The Ebionite movement was made up of mostly Jewish/Israelite followers of John the Baptist and, later, Yeshua the Messiah. They were concentrated in Palestine and surrounding areas and led by "James the Just" -- the oldest brother of the Messiah. They flourished between the years 31-80 A.D. They were zealous for the Torah and continued to walk in all the commandments (mitzvot) as enlarged upon by their Rabbi and Teacher, but also accepted non-Jews into their fellowship.
The term "Ebionite" derived from the Hebrew word Evyonim, meaning "Poor Ones," and was evidently taken from the teachings of Yeshua -- "Blessed are you Poor Ones, for yours is the Kingdom of God" based on Isaiah 66:2 and other related texts that address a remnant group of faithful ones.
Writes Alister McGrath --
"Most scholars consider that early second-century Ebionitism was characterized by a 'low Christianity' -- that is, an understanding of Jesus of Nazareth that interprets him as spiritually superior to ordinary human beings but not otherwise distinct. In this approach, Jesus of Nazareth was a human being who was singled out for divine favor by being possessed [poor word choice, YEHOVAH God DOES NOT 'possess' anyone -- JDK] by the Holy Spirit in a manner similar to, yet more intensive than, the calling of a Hebrew prophet" (Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. HarperCollins Publishers, New York. 2009, page 106).
By the late 2nd Century a split occurred amongst these mostly Jewish followers of the Messiah. The distinction the early Catholic writers make (and, remember, they universally despised these people and called them "Judaizers") is that the Ebionites rejected Simon Magus (whom the Catholic writers confused with the apostle Paul) and the doctrine of the Virgin Birth or "divinity" of Yeshua. They used only the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, and were thus more "extreme" in their Judaism.
They describe the Nazarene split-off more positively as those who accepted the teachings of Simon Magus (with caution) and believed in some aspect of the divinity of Yeshua (virgin born, etc.).
As far as the beliefs of the Ebionites are concerned the documents of the New Testament -- when critically evaluated -- are among our best sources. These are fragments and quotations surviving from their Hebrew Gospel tradition as well as the text of "Hebrew Matthew" preserved by Ibn Shaprut -- and now published in a critical edition by George Howard (The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, Mercer University Press, 1995). Based on what we can reliably put together from these and other sources we can say that the Ebionite movement can be distinguished by the following views --
1) The Ebionites did NOT believe that Yeshua the Messiah preexisted. The Ebionite Christians did not have the New Testament (with the exception of the book of Matthew) and everything they understood was based on the Old Testament and on those who personally heard the Messiah -- or his disciples -- preach. For them, Yeshua was the Son of God NOT because of his divine nature but because of his "adoption" by YEHOVAH God to be His son. This kind of understanding is, accordingly, often called "adoptionist."
2) The Ebionites did NOT believe in the virgin birth of the Messiah. They believed that Yeshua was a real flesh-and-blood human being like the rest of us -- born as the oldest son of the sexual union of his parents, Joseph and Mary.
"What set Jesus apart from all other people," writes Bart D. Ehrman, "was that he kept God's law perfectly and so was the most righteous man on earth. As such, God chose him to be his son and assigned to him a special mission, to sacrifice himself for the sake of others." Continues Ehrman, "Jesus then went to the cross, not as a punishment for his own sins but for the sins of the world, a perfect sacrifice in fulfillment of all God's promises to his people...As a sign of his acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice, God then raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to heaven" (Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 101).
3) Since the Ebionites believed that Yeshua was the perfect, ultimate and final sacrifice for sin, then there was no longer any need for the ritual sacrifice of animals in the Temple. These sacrifices, therefore, were understood by them to be a temporary and imperfect measure provided by YEHOVAH God to atone for humanity's sins until the perfect atoning sacrifice of the Messiah should take place. As a result, any Ebionites that lived prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. did NOT participate in the sacrificial practices of that Temple.
4) The Ebionites restricted activities on the weekly Sabbath and did NOT eat pork or any other of the forbidden foods of Leviticus 11.
5) The Ebionites insisted that there was only ONE true God and held to the laws of the Old Testament which they saw as the revelation of that ONE true God.
6) The Ebionites observed all the holy days of YEHOVAH God, such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana.
7) The Ebionites rejected the "doctrines and traditions" of men, which they believed had been added to the pure Torah of Moses -- including scribal alterations of the texts of the Bible (Jeremiah 8:8).
8) The Ebionites saw Simon Magus, with his teaching of justification by faith in the Messiah APART from the works of the law, as the arch heretic of the church.
9) The Ebionites strongly believed that Yeshua was a prophet like Moses who will rule in the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God as king and priest under YEHOVAH God Himself. Even in the New Testament there is abundant evidence that Yeshua had the status of a prophet. As a result, some of his disciples regarded him as the reincarnation of the prophet Elijah, with whom John the Baptist had also been identified. Yeshua combined the roles of prophet AND Messiah. This was not unprecedented, for his ancestors David and Solomon were also regarded in Jewish tradition as endowed with the holy spirit, which had enabled them to write inspired works.
Yeshua, however, was not an author of inspired writings, but he belonged to the ranks of the non-literary, wonder-working prophets such as Elijah and Elisha. "Such a prophet," writes Hyam Maccoby, "had never before combined his prophetic office with the position Messiah or King, but there was nothing heretical about the idea that the Messiah could be a prophet too. Such a possibility is envisaged in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, where the Messiah is described as an inspired person and as having miraculous powers like a prophet. This assumption of a prophet role distinguished Jesus from the more humdrum Messiah figures of his period such as Judas of Galilee or, later, Bar Kokhba" (The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity. New York: Harper & Row, 1987).
Therefore, the Ebionite belief that Yeshua the Messiah had the status of a prophet was not at all inconsistent with their belief that he was the king of Israel who would restore the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God to this earth on his return. To be both king and prophet (and priest -- see Hebrews) meant that Yeshua was not just an interim Messiah, like Bar Kokhba -- sent to deliver the Jews from another wave of Gentile oppression -- but the FINAL, culminating Messiah who would inaugurate the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God on Earth, as envisaged by the Old Testament prophets. This would be a time of world peace and justice, when the knowledge of YEHOVAH God would cover the Earth "as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).
10) The Ebionites accepted the original Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew -- without the first two chapters -- as their sole New Testament scripture, with the possibility of several other books such as their own Gospel of the Ebionites. Explains Bart Ehrman -- "Obviously they retained the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) as the Scripture par excellence. These people were Jews, or converts to Judaism, who understood that the ancient Jewish traditions revealed God's ongoing interaction with his people and his Law for their lives....The Ebionites did have other "Christian" texts as part of their canon, however. Not surprisingly, they appear to have accepted the Gospel of Matthew as their principal scriptural authority. Their own version of Matthew, however, may have been a translation of the text into Aramaic [or, the ORIGINAL Aramaic text BEFORE being translated into Greek? -- JDK]....It appears likely that this Aramaic Matthew was somewhat different from the Matthew now in the canon. In particular, the Matthew used by Ebionite Christians would have lacked the first two chapters, which narrate Jesus' birth to a virgin -- a notion that the Ebionite Christians rejected. There were doubtless other differences from our own version of Matthew's Gospel as well" (Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 101-102).
Writes Philip Jenkins --
"...the earliest church saw Jesus AS A MAN, and only later and retroactively was he promoted to Godhood. This elevation was associated especially with the Roman Empire's conversion to Christianity and events like the Council of Nicea in 325. Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code argues that Nicea was the moment at which Jesus became God, as a result of power plays in the empire and church: HE OWED HIS GODHOOD TO MAJORITY VOTE" (Jesus Wars, HarperCollins Publishers, New York. 2010, p. 50).
The Wonders of "Luke"
If we now turn to the Gospel according to Luke, we find a totally different story of the so-called Virgin Birth. Here Luke piles wonder upon wonder.
First the angel Gabriel (who usually stands in the presence of YEHOVAH God (verse 19)) appears to Zacharias and announces that his wife Elizabeth -- though, like Sarah, barren and now stricken in years -- will give birth to a son, and that Zacharias himself will be struck dumb for venturing to doubt that this wonder will come to pass. Then follows the Annunciation to Mary that she will give miraculous birth to a son, who will be given "the throne of his father David," and will "reign over the house of Jacob for ever."
Then the miraculous foreknowledge of Elizabeth (and of her unborn babe) about Mary's great destiny.
Then the beautiful Magnificat, certainly a remarkable literary production if really the words of Mary.
Then Zacharias' recovery of his voice and the miraculous naming of the child John (the Baptist) and another beautiful literary production, the Benedictus, curiously resembling in style the outpouring of Mary recorded a few verses earlier. Then the story of the census, the announcement to the shepherds, the angel, and the multitude of the heavenly host.
Then follows the miraculous recognition of "the Lord's Christ " by Simeon who -- again in the same literary style as Zacharias and Mary -- speaks the Nunc Dimittis, another beautiful little poem.
Finally another miraculous recognition, this time by the "prophetess Anna"; and then the anecdote about the child Yeshua's precocity in the temple.
After that chapter 3 begins, and the story makes a fresh start -- at the same moment in the life of Yeshua as that in Mark -- with John the Baptist's preaching in the wilderness and the baptism of the Messiah.
So in Luke, as in Matthew, it is the first two chapters alone which mention the Virgin Birth. But, since Luke's account of that event differs so widely from Matthew's both cannot be correct. Let us examine it more closely, in order to see whether it be the more or the less credible of the two. Some of Luke's statements have already been referred to while we were examining Matthew's account. Of the others the first which we need notice is verse 32 of chapter 1. The angel here states that Yeshua will be given "the throne of his father David.'' Now, it is only through Joseph that Yeshua is said to be descended from David, so this statement of the angel is inconsistent with the Virgin Birth story. Why, moreover, should the betrothed Mary ask the angel, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" ? Nothing has been said about any immediate birth: she has only been told that at some future date she will give birth to a son who will become a great personage.
The natural conclusion to which she would come would be that this son -- with the great destiny in store for him -- would be the fruit of her approaching union with Joseph. There is no apparent reason for her question. It seems to be introduced merely for the sake of the answer, and to give an opportunity to definitely state the virginity, and to infer that the physical process of generation was carried out by YEHOVAH God. Otherwise the overshadowing by the power of the Highest might be taken metaphorically, and the story thought to differ from that in Mark only in the fact that the holy spirit entered into Yeshua before, instead of after, his birth. This interpretation would be all the more likely, since the holy spirit was generally regarded as feminine. Luke is here emphasizing the doctrine that the divinity of Yeshua was obtained physically and not spiritually.
Luke in his third chapter (like Matthew in his) passes on to the baptism, which formed the starting-point of the original Gospel -- that of Mark. After this one episode in Jerusalem there is an absolute blank, and then the story begins again with an episode which fits in well with Mark's story (or with the remainder of Luke's own story) but which joins on very badly to the Virgin Birth story which precedes it.
At the baptism a voice from heaven proclaims, "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased"; thus paraphrasing the words of Psalm 2:7, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." The paraphrase, which is the work of some late editor, was necessitated by the Virgin Birth story. Originally this chapter of Luke taught, as Mark teaches, that Yeshua became the divine Son by the descent of the holy spirit into him. Eventually the text was altered in order to conform, as far as possible, with the Virgin Birth story. "This day have I begotten thee" became "In thee I am well pleased."
The original words are, however, still to be found in the Acts (13:33) and in the Epistles (Hebrews 1:5). In the former they are apparently connected with the Resurrection by which, according to many early Christians, Yeshua became the Christ or anointed one. In the latter they are used as an explanation of YEHOVAH's promise: "I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a son." The same words are again quoted by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in v, 5.
The idea of YEHOVAH God metaphorically begetting a son by inspiring a man at his baptism is, it is hardly necessary to add, totally distinct from the idea of YEHOVAH God physically begetting a son from a human mother. But the editors who attempted to bring the Gospel into conformity with its first two (new) chapters could not, it appears, harden their hearts sufficiently to eliminate the last sixteen verses of the third chapter. So we now come to Luke's genealogy, and find it preceded by the curious "being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph." Evidently the "as was supposed" is an interpolation, as the whole genealogy is without any bearing on the story unless it is that of Yeshua through his father Joseph!
The genealogy differs in several respects from that given in Matthew. Of the differences the most important is that by Luke the descent is traced through David's son Nathan -- instead of through his son Solomon, as it is by Matthew. Consequently, from that point downwards, the pedigrees differ in all the names but two -- Salathiel and Zorobabel -- which are (in such lists unaccountably) the same. The father of Joseph (and seventeen more of his predecessors before we reach Zorobabel) in Luke differ in name from the father of Joseph and the eight other predecessors before we reach Zorobabel in Matthew. Both authors agree that Salathiel was the father of Zorobabel, but they differ in the name given to the former's father and in the names given to all his ancestors until David is reached. From David to Abraham the lists agree. Then Matthew ceases. But Luke continues up to "Adam, which was the son of God," following with but one small slip the lists given in 1 Chronicles 1:1-4 and 24-27.
But the disagreement between Matthew and Luke about the names of the ancestors of the Messiah (noteworthy though it is as showing that these evangelists could not both have been inspired or even well informed) is not so important as the mere fact that the genealogy of Joseph is given in spite of the assertion in the first chapter that Joseph was not the father of the Messiah. We are evidently dealing with an earlier tradition, which the editor of the later Gospel is loath to part with, even when the Virgin Birth story has been added.
The Earliest Edition of Luke
That the earliest edition of Luke did NOT contain the Virgin Birth story is now admitted by most commentators. The Gospel according to Luke, which Marcion used, began -- like Mark's -- with the baptism of Yeshua. It did not contain anything about the birth of Yeshua. Irenaeus complains that Marcion "mutilated the Gospel according to Luke, taking away all that is recorded of the generation of the Lord, and many parts of his discourses in which he recognizes the Creator of the Universe as his Father." But Justin Martyr (though he made a fierce attack upon Marcion) does not refer to any such mutilations -- and seems to have himself been ignorant of any Gospel according to Luke.
Now, Marcion -- afterwards branded as a heretic -- was the leader, even on the admission of the "orthodox" Tertullian (150-220) himself, of a very large proportion of the Christians of his day. And for two hundred years more Marcionites were the closest rivals of the sect which was subsequently called Catholic.
Marcion and Justin Martyr were contemporaries. They flourishing in the first half of the second century, while Irenaeus lived in the second half of the second century. So it appears highly probable that the Gospel used by Marcion formed the foundation of the Gospel afterwards known as "according to St. Luke." Instead of Marcion taking away passages from Luke, it was the redactor of Luke who added passages to the Gospel used by Marcion. This is the conclusion at which many commentators have arrived, though others still dispute it.
We need not further consider the arguments regarding this, but need only to note that the Marcionites rejected the early chapters of Luke -- if indeed they had ever heard of them. And not only the Marcionites, but other sects of Christians -- afterwards to be classed as heretics -- had likewise never heard of this story of Luke's, or repudiated it as a fiction when they did, saying that it was full of errors and self-contradictions. And, similarly, many men, even in later days, who accepted the Gospel of Matthew as "Holy Scripture," repudiated the first two chapters, and believed that the MAN Yeshua became the Christ or anointed one by the inspiration of the holy spirit at his baptism.
The first two chapters were evidently regarded as late additions to the original text which began, as Mark also did, with the baptism of the Messiah. Epiphanius records that the Matthew Gospel used by the Ebionites did not contain the first two chapters. He also wrote about Cerinthus, a Christian author of the early second century, who had taught that "at the baptism God caused a real divine force which is named Christ to descend upon Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph and Mary."
Justin, in the middle of the second century (and other early Fathers of the Catholic Church) continually refer to those Christians who denied the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, who believed that Yeshua was a MAN and not a god, who used versions of Matthew which stated that "Joseph begat Jesus," and who repudiated the Virgin Birth story as an afterthought of the Gospel editors.
In connection with the genealogies given by Matthew and Luke, it is worth noting that Justin Martyr, who wrote (apparently in ignorance of our Canonical Gospels) in the middle of the second century also gives a pedigree of the Messiah -- but traces it through Mary and not through Joseph. He thereby makes his genealogy compatible with the story of the Virgin Birth, which, however, he relates differently from both the stories in our Gospels. Other Gospels, now classed as apocryphal, do the same.
We are therefore faced with the following choices --
1) of discarding the Canonical Gospels and accepting the apocryphal works which give a story that at any rate does not in this respect contradict itself, or
2) of accepting a self-contradictory story from the recognized Gospels, or
3) of discarding all the stories of the Virgin Birth and not believing that this stupendous miracle ever took place.
Evolution of the Virgin Birth Fable
The evolution of the Virgin Birth story from the earlier story of the inspiration of Yeshua by the spirit of YEHOVAH God at his baptism, may be traced in the now apocryphal, but then accepted, Gospels. At first we find the episode of the baptism by John much as it is described by Mark but instead of the voice from heaven saying "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," it says "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." That is to say that by the descent of the "Spirit like a dove" upon him he becomes the spiritual Son of YEHOVAH God; that he was not born the Son of YEHOVAH God, but only became so metaphorically on "this day" when the spirit of YEHOVAH God descended upon him.
The "this day I have begotten thee" is the older version -- to be found in "The Memoirs of the Apostles" and in various other works founded perhaps upon these "memoirs." It is of course a quotation from Psalm 2:7, and was therefore probably introduced into the narrative, like so much else, in order to show that a "prophecy" had been fulfilled. The birth stories are full of such episodes and sayings introduced for that purpose. Many of the Apocryphal Gospels state that the birth took place in a cave, as that would, the authors attempted to show, be a fulfillment of certain Old Testament prophecies. Every manner of permutation and combination of Nazareth and Bethlehem as Joseph's permanent home or temporary dwelling place is tried in different Gospels, in order to show that the Messianic prophecies had been fulfilled.
This necessity for proving that the prophecies had been fulfilled is naively confessed by Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho. The latter is supposed to ask why it was necessary, if Yeshua was already the Son of YEHOVAH God, that he should again receive the holy spirit at his baptism, to which Justin replies that it was only necessary because the prophecies must be fulfilled.
At the time when this dialogue was written -- about the middle of the second century -- the true Church of YEHOVAH God and other Christians were disputing the new theory of the divine birth, and maintaining that Yeshua was a MAN born like other men but imbued, at his baptism, with the divine spirit.
The next step was, apparently, to quote both versions of the words spoken from heaven, as is done in the Gospel according to the Hebrews; and finally the present canonical version of the episode was written and retained by the increasingly powerful sect which was afterwards to call itself CATHOLIC.
Thus the story has evolved. At first we find a story about a follower of John the Baptist who became a great teacher, imbued with religious genius; then an episode is added of a human voice which proceeded from YEHOVAH God announcing that this teacher is divinely endowed; then the complete story (in various versions) of a divine birth. As the (subsequently) Catholic sect became all-powerful, the older narratives were discarded and classed as apocryphal -- and the narratives which gave support to the "orthodox" doctrine were accepted as canonical. The former were, as far as possible, suppressed; the latter encouraged and copied and edited for the purpose of making the doctrine known to all Christians.
If we take the Canonical Gospels as a guide to the time when the Virgin Birth story was first introduced into the history of the Messiah (and the evidence of the "Fathers of the Church," who first mentioned them), we are justified in stating that the Virgin Birth doctrine was certainly unknown until the middle of the first half of the second century at the very earliest -- and probably until considerably later than that. As we have already seen, Marcion, the founder (according to the Catholics of later days) of the Marcionite heresy, the upholder (according to himself) of the pure primitive faith, rejected the Virgin Birth story, or had never even heard of it.
According to the Clementine Homilies (and Clement is regarded as a "Father"), Peter is said to have affirmed that Yeshua never claimed to be God, and to have argued that "the begotten cannot be compared with that which is unbegotten or self-begotten." This apparently is an expression of the point of view of the Ebionites -- one of the oldest sects (if not indeed actually the very oldest sect) of Christians -- that Yeshua was neither miraculously born nor a god -- and that this was another second-century "Christian" doctrine introduced by corrupt priests.
Justin Martyr, writing in the middle of the second century, about the same time as or just after our Canonical Gospels were first published, himself admits that many Christians did not believe in the supernatural birth of Yeshua. Although he himself believes in the divine birth, and although he classes as heretics many sects of Christians whose orthodoxy as regards "eating meats sacrificed to idols," insistence upon the observance of the law, and other kindred matters, is suspect, he does not so class those who believe in the normal and natural generation of Yeshua. Indeed, he was quite ready to compromise with those who regarded Yeshua as a MAN and not a god, and with those who regarded him as a spiritual being never clothed in flesh, and ready too to adapt his argument to Pagan ideas. In his Apologia he writes --
"But when we say that the Word (Logos), which is the first begetting of God, was begotten without intercourse -- Jesus Christ, our Master -- ....we bring forward no new thing beyond those known among you who are called sons of Zeus."
He then refers to Hermes, the Logos of the Gnostics, and to Asclepius the healer, both sons of the most high god, and proceeds as follows:
"But as to the Son of God called Jesus -- even though he were only a man born in the common way, yet because of his wisdom is he worthy to be called Son of God; for all writers call God "Father of men and gods." And if we say further that he was also in a special way, beyond his common birth, begotten of God as Word (Logos) of God, let us have this in common with you who call Hermes the Word (Logos) who brings tidings from God."
The doctrine of the Virgin Birth was evidently still an open question among even that sect of Christians which was afterwards called "orthodox." It certainly remained so up until at least the end of the second century, and even at the beginning of the fourth century it was, apparently, not considered seriously heretical to deny it.
Jewish Christians Reject Virgin Birth Heresy
It is hardly surprising that the Judahites, among whom the "primitive" form of Christianity arose, abjured the Catholic form of that religion, and either remained Gnostics or Ebionites until those faiths were suppressed as heresies, or reverted to Judaism. By the time when Christianity arose the better-educated Jews had arrived at a "higher" conception of the Supreme God than that portrayed in the anthropomorphic stories of the Old Testament -- and the idea of a physical generation by that spiritual being appeared to them not only blasphemous, but absurd. To the pagans of Asia Minor, on the other hand, the idea of the virgin birth of a man-god was familiar, plausible, and even necessary; and it was among these Gentile Christians of the unphilosophic classes that the doctrine, which was afterwards incorporated in Christianity, first arose.
As we have seen, the earliest and by far the largest of the Jewish sects of Christians was the Ebionites, and the Ebionites rejected the Virgin Birth story and laid great stress upon the descent of Yeshua from David through his father Joseph. They regarded Yeshua as a MAN, and only divine in so far as he was imbued with the holy spirit -- an emanation from YEHOVAH God.
The more closely we examine these two Gospels of Matthew and Luke the more surprising it appears, not that the Virgin Birth story was rejected by so many sects of early Christians, but that it was ever accepted by any of them! After the first two chapters in each of them, there is never a single word of reference to this proof of the divinity of Yeshua the Messiah -- and there are many passages which CANNOT possibly be reconciled with the birth story.
The Additional Chapters
The contradictions involved in a story that frequently refers to Joseph as the father of Yeshua, and yet begins by the Virgin Birth episode, can be accounted for only by assuming that the original Gospels did not contain the earlier chapters of our present Gospels, and that when these chapters were added the editors omitted to make all the alterations in the text of the original chapters that would be necessary to bring these into accordance with the new commencement. Some small modifications seem indeed to have been made, but much remains which is absolutely inconsistent with the Virgin Birth story.
According to Mark (chapter 3), Yeshua is believed by "his friends" to be mad -- "He is beside himself" (verse 21); and those friends, we learn from verse 31, included "his brethren and his mother." If he were regarded as a prophet or religious reformer, there would be nothing surprising about this, the usual fate of reformers. But his mother, if he were miraculously born, could hardly have believed him to be mad. Matthew, having introduced the Virgin Birth story, tones down the "He is beside himself," to "all the people were amazed" (12:23); and Luke, in our versions, altogether omits the incident.
Mark (6:4), "A prophet is not without honour but among his own kin," is also altered by Matthew (13:57), who quotes the same words with the omission of "among his own kin," and by Luke, who in our versions quotes only the first part of the saying. In these passages, therefore, the original Matthew and the original Luke may have been modified. In others the alterations are more certain still. In several old manuscript versions of Luke 2:5, we find the reading, "to be taxed with Mary his wife"; the word "espoused" being omitted.
The original form of the words given in our Authorized Version as "Joseph and his mother" (Luke 2:43) is "his parents." In verse 48 the words, "thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing," remain unaltered. These passages show that the chapter was written before the doctrine of the Virgin Birth had been added to the story. In the former case "his parents" is altered to "Joseph and his mother"; in the latter, Joseph is still referred to as the father of Yeshua. The editing was not efficiently done. Even the words "the parents" are retained in verse 27; and in verse 33 it is said that "Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him." Though the name "Joseph" has been substituted for "his father," the episode -- incompatible with the Virgin Birth story though it is -- has been retained.
When Yeshua, metaphorically or literally, claims to have been about his Father's business, Joseph and Mary "understood not the saying" (verses 49, 50). According to both Matthew and Luke, Mary the Virgin knows that her son Yeshua is a supernaturally-born god. It is not pretended that, in her innocence, she regarded parthenogenesis as normal. And, apart from that natural knowledge that the birth was miraculous, there was the Annunciation -- to Mary herself according to Luke, though to Joseph according to Matthew -- and other events so remarkable that "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."
Neither she nor Joseph could readily forget or minimize the miracle if it occurred as related; yet (according to both Matthew and Luke) Joseph and Mary regard Yeshua, after his birth, as an ordinary though very precocious child and treat him throughout his life as an ordinary man, and "marvel" whenever he in any way distinguishes himself above his fellows. The whole of the remainder of these Gospels is inconsistent, in this respect, with the stories of the Virgin Birth as related in their early chapters.
Matthew's and Luke's first chapters show how John the Baptist himself (and the respective mothers of John and of Yeshua) recognize from the beginning that the latter is the Messiah. Yet in Matthew 11:2, 3, and in the corresponding Luke 7:19-20, we read how John was still doubtful as to the divinity and Messiahship of Yeshua.
When Yeshua preaches "in his own country," and his listeners say "Is not this the carpenter's son?" neither his relatives nor his disciples deny the fact.
According to John (7:5) his immediate relatives did not believe in him. Is it credible that their mother Mary (who, according to Matthew and to Luke, must have known that he was divinely born) would bring up her other children in ignorance of the divine nature of their brother? Is it credible that she herself should forget all about these wonderful events and join a party who attempted to "lay hold on him" because they think that "he is beside himself"? Is it not clear that the Virgin Birth story was subsequently added to a story which had had no such beginning -- a story in which the divinity of Yeshua was not said to be suspected until after his death?
Even many of the orthodox critics acknowledge that the early chapters of the Gospel according to Luke must have been added long after the Gospel was first written. These, then, (if they still maintain the truth of the Virgin Birth story) must rely upon Matthew alone -- one solitary record of such a miraculous event out of all the writings in our New Testaments, and one, moreover, just as open to suspicion of being a late addition as Luke's itself.
Is it surprising that some of them reject both stories, and privately confess that there is no adequate reason for believing that this stupendous miracle ever occurred? We should do likewise!
Jerome (c. 340-420 A.D.), who made the celebrated Vulgate translation of the Bible from the Hebrew into Latin -- and intentionally clung to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth knowing FULL WELL that it was an egregious error -- was intensely criticized by those who knew better. So insistent was the criticism that he was driven to write an entire book on the subject in which he makes a very notable confession of the inherent impossibility of the holy spirit paternity fable --
For who at that time would have believed the Virgin's word that she had conceived of the Holy Ghost, and that the angel Gabriel had come and announced the purpose of God? and would not ALL have given their opinion against her as an adulteress, like Susanna? For at the present day, now that the whole world has embraced the [Catholic] faith, the Jews argue that when Isaiah says, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son," the Hebrew word denotes a young woman, NOT A VIRGIN, that is to say, the word is ALMAH, not BETHULAH (The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary, N & PNF. vi, 336).
So the Greek Father or priest who forged the false "Virgin Birth" interpolation into the manuscript of "Matthew," possibly in ignorance, drags in the false Septuagint translation of Isaiah 7:14 which the Catholic Father Jerome purposely perpetuated as a pious "lie to the glory of God"!
The dishonesty of the person responsible for adding the Virgin Birth fable to the book of Matthew, and the duplicity of the Catholic Church in retaining this falsity in their Bibles, has resulted in a bogus theology that permeates the so-called Christian churches to this very day. The Church, knowing full well the falsity of the doctrine, clings to the lie of the Virgin Birth and all its resultant consequences.
As American founding father Thomas Jefferson prophetically wrote:
The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter!
Anti-Semitism Rears Its Ugly Head
How was it that the Ebionites, and similar groups, seemingly disappeared from view by the time the third century came on the scene? The main concerns that led to the exclusion of the Ebionites is noted by Alister McGrath --
"The most important of these [concerns] was the perception that Ebionitism was a form of Jewish Christianity. The position of Jewish Christianity within an increasingly Gentile church became increasingly difficult with the passage of time, especially in relation to potentially contentious issues such as circumcision, food laws, and the observation of the Sabbath. Gentile Christians regarded themselves as liberated from these..." (Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. HarperCollins Publishers, New York. 2009, p. 109).
In other words, as the pagans flocked to the Gentile church in Rome -- bringing with them their pagan modes of worship -- the laws of YEHOVAH God were done away with and replaced by the mythology of the mystery religions. "Although some accounts of the development of Christianity suggest that these issues were essentially resolved in favor of the Gentiles by the end of the first century," writes McGrath, "there is evidence that they lingered on well into the second century. For example, Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho, which dates from around the year 150, explicitly refers to such tensions" (ibid., pp. 109-110).
The main problem that Gentile Christians had with the Ebionites was that they interpreted Yeshua the Messiah within a Jewish context -- thereby reinforcing the notion that Christianity was essentially a new form of Judaism. This did not sit at all well with the expanding universal church that had a deep hatred for anything Jewish. Explains Philip Jenkins --
"As tensions grew between Jews and Christians, the [Gentile] church condemned any views that seemed too close to Judaism. This Jewish issue would often resurface in later theological debates, as thinkers who over-emphasized Christ's human nature were charged with Jewish sympathies" (Jesus Wars, HarperCollins Publishers, New York. 2010, p. 43).
"Christian-Jewish conflict," continues Jenkins, "grew steadily during the fourth century, and by the 380s John Chrysostom denounced Jews and Judaizing Christians in terms that would have a long and wrenching afterlife. John used the charge of deicide, holding the Jews guilty of the death of Christ, and thus of God himself, a theme later developed by Pope Leo. Of course, this concept was also intimately linked to the ongoing debate over the nature and person of Christ: to talk about killing God made a powerful statement about who or what had died at Calvary" (ibid., p. 120).
When Nestorius arrived on the scene (died circa 451 A.D.) the 6th-century historian Evagrius saw him as the agent of a diabolical conspiracy to subvert the [universal, Catholic] church. Evagrius wrote that Nestorius must be a Judaizer since he represented the Messiah as a MAN who was a great prophet like Moses -- but one who fell short of true divine status. Therefore, in Evagrius' view, Nestorius was reviving the old "heresy" of the Ebionites -- the Jewish-Christians.
Writes McGrath --
"[Gentile] Christianity now saw itself as a new universal faith that acknowledged its origins within Judaism but also transcended its ethnic, cultural, and religious limitations....In the end, Ebionitism became heretical because it was a symbol of parochialism within a faith that was clear about its universal significance and calling. Although Ebionitism lingered, in various forms, it finally simply petered out" (Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. HarperCollins, New York. 2009, p. 110).
As the years rolled by so many groups were termed "heretical" by the growing Gentile church that the impression was created that the Gentile or universal church could have represented nothing but the orthodox Christianity of the apostolic age. All these so-called heresies OBSCURED the identity of original Christianity as represented by the Ebionites. Thus, as S. Gusten Olson observes, "the minds of many people were thus diverted from the values preserved in the collective testimony of ALL the Scriptures upon which the apostles [and the Ebionites] drew" (The Apostasy of the Lost Century, Nordica S F Ltd., Borough Green, Kent, U.K. 1986, p. 157).
In time the Ebionites and their successors found themselves in a difficult position -- caught between a rock and a hard place. They were pressured, on the one hand, by the growing popularity of the Gentile, Catholic Church. And, on the other hand, they were being shunned by an evolving Judaism. They became increasingly isolated from both communities. The Ebionites did, however, have one thing in common with Judaism -- they were both persecuted by the growing Catholic Church. The underlying reason for this is recognized by Barrie Wilson --
"Proto-Orthodox [Gentile, Catholic] church leaders recognized that they could not hide their escalating Christological beliefs about Jesus from the rabbis. The latter were well aware of the growing claims being made about Jesus as the Christ, that he was being spoken of in terms that befit divinity, and that he was worthy of worship. Early Christianity [Gentile, Catholic] had created a SUBSTITUTE, COUNTERFEIT RELIGION, one VASTLY DIFFERENT from that of its founder...-- from an original religion that was Torah-observant and that viewed Jesus as a teacher and Messiah claimant to one that REJECTED Torah observance and advanced strong claims about Christ as having a SPECIAL BIRTH and being a DIVINE HUMAN" (How Jesus Became Christian. St. Martin's Press, New York. 2008, p. 251).
In making this transition, the early Gentile church effectively killed off the historical Messiah. The Messiah of faith became the focal point -- in whom belief alone was sufficient for salvation. Gone was the covenant between YEHOVAH God and the Israelitish people, and "Christians" were beginning to talk in terms of an "old" versus a "new" covenant -- a distinction that clearly emerged in the writings of Irenaeus during the latter part of the 2nd. century. Adds Wilson:
"The Jews were the only ones around, other than Torah-observant Christians [the Ebionites], who recognized what had happened. For a successful crime to take place, witnesses have to be eliminated. Guilt at having killed off the historical Jewish Jesus in favor of a GENTILE GOD-HUMAN -- along with the recognition that the Jews [and true Christians] were the witnesses to this act -- accounts for the DEEP ROOTS of Christian [Catholic] anti-Semitism, whether directed against the Jewish people or the religion of Judaism [or true Christianity]. The Jews [and true Christians] are the only people whose persistence on the world stage exposes the Christification process for what it was: A COVER UP. They and they alone recognize the transformation early Christianity underwent, how it switched the divine Gentile Christ for the HUMAN Jewish Jesus. They're the only ones who could 'blow the cover' of this HISTORICAL MANIPULATION" (ibid., p. 251).
According to this thesis lashing out at the witnesses provides an explanation for the sustained attacks on YEHOVAH's Ecclesia and Judaism throughout "Christian" history. In other words, there was "a crime" (the transformation of true Christianity by the burgeoning Catholic Church) and there were "witnesses" -- YEHOVAH's true Ecclesia and the Jews. As a result there was a psychological need on the part of the Gentile, Catholic Church to ERADICATE AND SILENCE the witnesses so as to avoid detection.
"Christian anti-Semitism," writes Barrie Wilson, "was not a one-time event by isolated Christian [?] leaders. It represents A SUSTAINED ASSAULT in ancient, medieval, Reformation, and modern times -- from Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant forms of Christianity. The anti-Jewish [and anti- 'Jewish' Christianity] sentiment within Christianity is not just a matter of differentiation....The assault stems from a DEEPLY ROOTED inner feeling that manifests itself on an ongoing basis. The various contributing factors...are simply SYMPTOMS OF A PERVASIVE UNDERLYING GUILT" (ibid., p. 252).
The ROOT ISSUE is the Catholic (under the influence of Satan) supplanting of the Jewish Messiah -- the HUMAN teacher and first-born son of YEHOVAH God -- by a pagan, Gentile God-human, savior of humanity. And Satan has done a masterful job!
Hope of Israel Ministries -- Preparing the Way for the Return of YEHOVAH God and His Messiah!
Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.
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