Further Dialog about Me on Spong
I want to have a dialog with myself about what Iíve written on Spongís book.† Iím going to pose questions to myself over the piece and then answer them.
Donít you think this review might cause some to lose their faith?
I was not really writing this piece to the convinced. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have written it. I wrote it because I know some who have become unconvinced of late. With those who have faith, I shoot for the whole thing. For those who don't, I shoot for enough faith to save.
There is no historical evidence that Christ was married. You say that it would not affect any doctrine of the church or the inerrancy of Scripture if he were. Wouldnít God have told us an important fact like this one about Christ?
I want to be clear up front--I doubt very seriously that Jesus was married. I'm just not sure why it would be a problem if he was.
It is true that 2000 years of church tradition has insisted that he wasn't. However, I suspect that a good deal of that tradition had such strong feelings about it because of a negative evaluation of sex that I believe itself is unscriptural. I wonder if the reason people are so averse to the idea is ultimately similar to why priests are celibate in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions--an inappropriate sense that not to have sex (even within marriage) somehow makes someone purer or better than to have it (again, within marriage).
Would God keep us ignorant about such facts regarding the life of Christ? Maybe He wouldn't. But I think we would make the same argument if we didn't know that Peter was married. And we know almost nothing about Jesus' first thirty years. I just don't think the biblical priorities were the same as ours.
Some argue that Acts had to have been written where it ends or else Luke would have told us what happened? Why? The original audience would have known what happened. It wasn't written to us even if it is for us. Our ignorance of something doesn't mean it wasn't shared information back then.
If it turned out that Jesus was married, might that not make many doubt that Scripture is true, cause them to fall away into heresy or apathy if they were to find it out?
Isn't this a circular argument? If we doubt something that Scripture doesn't comment on, then how are we doubting Scripture? It simply reinforces my belief that a good deal of what people equate with the Bible is actually Christian tradition and not really the Bible.
It's like the New Testament position papers I get that unthinkingly take a Christian position on an issue but don't actually quote any Scripture at all. My comment is always the same: ďThis paper confuses a legitimate Christian position on an issue with a biblical position.Ē The Bible has no position on an issue it doesn't take a position on.
Much of what people call the Bible and get most angry about is often stuff the Bible doesn't even address. Slapping a Bible reference is little better if the verse is only put there as a proof text without any sense of what the verse was originally addressing. By pointing these things out I don't see myself as undermining either Scripture or true faith, although it may be help a personís faith to mature and become better founded.
An argument from silence (i.e., the Bible does not say Christ was married) creates a situation in which to believe Scripture, the documents must deny something which was not true. But does a student have to tell you they did not cheat on an exam for you to assume they did not cheat?† If they are silent, must you presume that they did cheat?† That would of course be absurd!
I again think that this is a circular argument. Look at this example... it presumes that we are talking about something negative. But this is exactly what we are debating--would it be a negative if Jesus had been married? If I believed that a married Jesus would in some way contradict Christian faith, then I would by faith assert not just my hunch but my complete affirmation that he was not married.
But lacking any theological problem with it and not finding any clue from Scripture on the subject, I think it unlikely, but I would not be troubled if he had been. By the way, notice that Psalm 45, a royal wedding psalm, is applied to Jesus in Hebrews 1?
Greco-Roman culture has
numerous examples of gods who had intercourse with human women. Jewish
Christians or converts from paganism would have been sensitive on this issue.
Jesus was the God-man and to marry and have sexual relations would have been
offensive to those raised in that culture. This could cause men and women in
the ancient world to equate Jesus with a great rabbi, or look at him as if he
were a god similar to those who lived on
I think that this background is a strong argument that Jesus' virgin birth is not made up mythology, which Spong suggests. It is a strong argument that these birth stories were not created by early Christians. I didnít say that in my piece. These are not stories that a Jew would likely make up because they look too similar to pagan mythology.
On the other hand, it doesnít really work with regard to Jesus having sex.† Did Jesus not marry to avoid misunderstandings about him being a demi-god?† If so, then he should have especially avoided the virgin conception itself, because it really is prone to misunderstanding along these demi-god lines!
We believe as Christians
that Jesus was fully human as well as
fully divine.† Would Jesus have not married
because of an objection arising from a potential misunderstanding of his true identity that might arise later?† Jesus didnít seem to operate that way when he
was on earth.† He proclaimed and lived in
a way that could easily have misled in so many ways.† Why didnít he come more obviously as God or the
Messiah?† Why did he choose to grow up in
I find Jesusí divinity in Scripture a fairly complex teaching that relates to a large degree to his cosmic royalty.† The church only ironed out what this might mean in terms of Jesusí nature in the centuries that followed.† When Mark constantly shows Jesus hiding even his identity as Messiah, Iím not sure that a concern of this sort was anywhere on the agenda.
The fact that there are two accounts of the virgin conception shows us it was important. It was a pointer to the fact that Christ was different.† It points to his special place in the movement toward salvation from the very beginning. It is also a very important belief for Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxyóeven for John Wesley.
Yes, I believe in the virgin birth. I'm trying to woo back to faith some who have not only lost faith in it, but in much more.
Arguing that this doctrine was irrelevant might cause Christians to fall away.
I hope no one thinks I am treating the virgin birth as "irrelevant." That is not my intended tone. It is of immense importance for me and us as Christians. It is in all the creeds of the ages. I am, however, arguing (with some doubters in mind) that even more important doctrines like the divinity of Christ and his sinlessness are not at stake. Even N. T. Wright suggests that perhaps its greatest significance is as a statement of God's gift to humanity (Who Was Jesus?). In other words, he does not seem to think Christ's divinity is at stake either.