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Some Additional Problems His Messianic Calling
Some Additional Problems
His Messianic Calling
When did Jesus of Nazareth get chosen by God to be the Messiah? New Testament writers answer that question in various ways. The oldest Christology is found in Paul and the speeches Luke inserts in Acts; for example: Romans 1:4, Acts 2:32, 36; 5:31; 13:32-33 and Phil. 2:11-9. As Romans records, Jesus was declared Son of God by a mighty act in that he rose from the dead (1:4). Mark, however, seems to locate the beginning of Jesus' messianic consciousness with the baptism. With the descent of the Holy Spirit, Jesus became the only-begotten Son of God (Mk. 1: 10- 11). Matthew and Luke push the idea further back: Jesus is the Son of the Most High because the Holy Spirit was responsible for Mary's pregnancy (Lk. 1:32, 34-35). As for the Fourth Gospel, it assumes that Jesus is an incarnation of the pre-existent Logos which was with God at the beginning of creation (Jn. 1:1-3). 19
According to Unification theology, Jesus must have possessed a growing awareness of his true calling prior to baptism. There must have been for him some direct encounter with God, some specific experience of being chosen. But the New Testament gives no information in this regard. As a deeply religious child and very sensitive youth, Jesus thought a great deal about how the dreams of his people could be realized. He also pondered how he could serve God in bringing about the messianic age. Probably that is what Luke meant by saying that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man (2:52).
What then was the significance of the baptism by John? Not that Jesus felt the need to have his sins washed away. Rather, he wanted to identify publicly with this new movement for national repentance and re-consecration. Jesus felt that John's work could be the first step in the establishment of God's kingdom. With John's help, Jesus' own messianic vocation had a chance to be realized.
More significantly, the baptism of Jesus depicts the passing of the Old Testament dispensation and the birth of the New Testament Age. In Jesus' eyes, John was the last of the prophets and the culmination of the chosen people's preparation for the Day of the Lord. The Baptist's function was to proclaim the arrival of the Last Days. Therefore, through the symbolic rite of baptism. Jesus inherited the Old Testament dispensation as a foundation for his own new and greater mission.
Genealogies of Jesus
Unification theology agrees with Matthew and Mark that Jesus' messianic role is intimately connected with his ancestral heritage. Both of these Synoptic writers, though in very different ways 20 insist that God prepared for the Messiah's advent over many centuries prior to Jesus' birth. The two New Testament genealogies reveal how carefully God laid a spiritual foundation for Jesus' messianic mission.
Unfortunately many Biblical critics are blind to the central message of the Gospel genealogies. They either wonder about the historical reliability of the two tables or they concentrate upon the doctrinal and apologetic aims of the texts. But what was the chief purpose of including a family tree in the Gospel? Matthew and Luke were interested in legitimizing the messianic claims made for Jesus. Hence, Matthew traces the Messiah's ancestry back to King David and the patriarch Abraham, while Luke goes even further back to Adam, the 21 first son of God.
Nevertheless, an equally important purpose behind genealogies is to show how all Hebrew history and even the whole history of mankind since Adam and Eve aimed at the realization of God's kingdom on earth. By using mystic symbolism based upon the number seven (Luke) 22 or fourteen (Matthew), the evangelists were suggesting that the secret clue to history is to be found in the messianic hope. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, Luke tells us, God has been planning the restoration of mankind. Or as Matthew puts it, the whole aim of Jewish history is to produce a messianic redeemer.
Unlike Luke, Matthew includes the names of four women among Jesus' ancestors: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Ordinarily only males are mentioned in a family tree when the society is as rigidly patriarchal as that of ancient Israel. Why then did the evangelist think it useful to mention these particular women? To answer that question one must figure out what they had in common. First of all, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba achieved some notoriety because of their sexual immorality. Tamar pretended to be a prostitute in order to get pregnant (Gen. 38:26). Rahab was a harlot in Jericho who helped the Israelites conquer her city (Josh. 2: 1-11). Ruth invited Boaz to lay with her (Ruth 3:6-9) and Bathsheba committed adultery with King David (II Sam. 11:4). Does this not imply that there would also be some sexual irregularity connected with Jesus birth? 23 Secondly, all four women were Gentiles rather than Jews: Rahab and probably Tamar were Canaanites; Ruth was a Moabite, and Bathsheba was presumably a Hittite. Hence, Luther felt that Matthew included the names of these women to show that Jesus was the savior of all mankind and not only a Messiah for Jews. In the third place, all four were rather extraordinary instruments of God's providence: Tamar had dared to scorn the social proprieties in order to perpetuate the family line of her deceased husband. Rahab enabled the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. Ruth had taken the initiative in a marital union which ultimately produced King David. And Bathsheba's adultery led to the birth of Solomon. Consequently in post-Biblical Jewish piety these four women were praised as illustrations of how God can use unexpected and unconventional means in order to carry out His providence. 24
The Virgin Birth
Both the Lukan and Matthew genealogies trace the family line of Joseph. Almost no modern scholar tries to solve the differences between them by conjecturing that one belonged to Mary. 25 However, if Jesus was not the actual son of Joseph, what value would there be in tracing Joseph's lineage back to David, Abraham or Adam? This provokes the question, how important is the virgin-birth concept for the messianic work of Jesus? Is it an essential dogma of Christian faith to believe that Jesus had no physical father? What theological value is attached to the Virgin Mary? 26
All of the ancient creeds affirm the virginity of Mary. However, this unanimity does not apply to the New Testament. Matthew and Luke alone give infancy stories about Jesus. Mark, John, and Paul ignore completely the idea that Mary gave birth to her son without uniting with a man. Paul makes two very vague references to Jesus' birth. In Galatians he writes that "God sent forth His Son, born of a woman" (4:4-5) and in Romans he speaks of Jesus "born of the seed of David" (1:3). These texts give no support to the virgin-birth doctrine. As for Mark and John, those Gospels express so little interest in the nativity of Jesus that Mark does not mention the name of Joseph and John does not tell us Jesus' mother's name. Because of this awkward silence about Mary's virginity in most of the New Testament, a contemporary Catholic Biblical scholar doubts that the story of the virginal conception was handed down by the family of Jesus to the apostles. 27 Aside from the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, the virgin birth is completely ignored in the accounts of Jesus' mature life, ministry, death and resurrection. 28
Next, the notion of Mary's virginity may have something to do with a mistranslation of a messianic text taken from Isaiah. The Hebrew version of Isaiah 7:14 states that a "young girl" will give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel. However, the Greek Septuagint translation states that "a virgin will be with child whom they will call Emmanuel." Because Matthew believed that Jesus was the Messiah whose coming was predicted exactly in Scripture, he concluded that Jesus must have been born of a virgin. 29
Some scholars insist that infancy stories originated in a Palestinian environment, and that prior to the ministry of Jesus Hellenistic Jews believed that the Messiah must be born from a virgin. 30 Others maintain that the virgin birth doctrine was a product of Gentile Christianity. In the Hellenistic world, it was common practice to assert that a famous man was the son of a god: e.g., Plato, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar.
Aside from the questionable historicity of the virgin birth, the doctrine has had profound theological implications. First, because a virgin birth would be the only way for Christ to be free of original sin. To redeem mankind, Jesus Christ simply had to possess an "unfallen" human nature. Because he was born from the Virgin Mary, his flesh was immaculate so that he could serve as our redeemer.
Such a view, however, is widely questioned these days. In the ancient world, it was believed that the male alone produces the child and the female merely serves as a vessel in which the baby is carried. Modern science has proved that both parents determine the physical and psychological constitution of their child. Since both the father and mother would transmit any biological effects of original sin, it would not make Jesus sinless to deprive him of a human father. Most importantly, Christians today would question the notion that sexual 31 intercourse is intrinsically sinful.
A second theological justification for the virgin birth was advocated by Barth. The virgin birth shows that God reconciles us all by Himself. Our salvation comes wholly from God. Redemption is His work alone. We are not in any way partners with Him.
But this defense of the virgin birth suffers from grave defects. The Biblical concept of salvation rests on a covenantal relationship between God and man. Salvation requires a process of mutual give and take, to use Divine Principle language. As Brunner repeatedly tried to tell Barth, reconciliation can never be one-sided. God's initiative must be matched by an appropriate human response.
William Barclay states that Christians need not take the virgin birth story literally. 33 The infancy stories may be lovely, poetical ways of saying that even if Jesus had a human father, the Holy Spirit of God was operative in his birth in a special way. As the ancient Jews used to teach, to produce a child it is necessary to have three partners-the 34 father, mother and God.
Was Joseph then the father of Jesus? If so, why was it necessary to concoct a virgin-birth legend? Judaism did not expect a virgin-born Messiah, according to the Strack-Billerbeck Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash. 35 That hypothesis represents an "absolute novelty" for Jewish thought. However, Father Brown points out that with the exception of the Ebionites, Christians generally agreed that Joseph was in no way implicated in the conception of Jesus. Thus, one can only assume that someone else was responsible. From rather early times, Jewish critics of Christianity claimed that Mary had 36 an illicit affair with a Roman soldier named Pandera. Suchallegations seem to have been devised long after the New Testament narratives in order to refute what Christians were teaching.
19 Cf. H. Ming, On Being a Christian (1976), pp. 384-389.
20 Father Brown notes several of the "enormous" differences. Between Abraham and Jesus, Luke's genealogy contains 56 names but Matthew's only 41. In the 400-year monarchial period, the two lists disagree on everyone except David. As for the post-monarchial age, the chronologies give only the same first two names and same last two. Perhaps most troublesome, Luke does not trace Jesus' lineage through Bathsheba's son Solomon but through Nathan. Of course, Luke does not refer to the four women whom Matthew thinks are so important.
21 For a careful analysis of the historical problems and doctrinal purposes of the genealogies, cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (1977), pp. 57-95.
22 Quite significantly, Father Brown refers to "the magic number" fourteen, pp. 78-84.
21 Cf. J. A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (1973), pp. 59-63. Bishop Robinson maintains that one cannot dismiss the possibility that Mary, like Hosea's wife, may have exemplified "the scandal of the divine love" which defies our conventional moral standards. What the Jews condemned as the sin of adultery, Christians may have viewed as a divine act of providential significance. See E. Stauffer, Jesus and His Story (1960), p. 25, for a similar suggestion.
24 Brown, op. cit., pp. 73-74. According to Jewish Midrash, God promised each of these women that she would play an important role in the preparation for the messianic age, as Rabbi Josef Hausner indicates in his paper "Matthew's Genealogical List" (1969).
25 Luke 3:23 speaks of Joseph, son of Heli; Matthew refers to Jacob, the father of Joseph (1:16).
26 For background material, see T Boslooper, The Virgin Birth (1962), an excellent study of historical, exegetical and theological aspects of the doctrine. Also, The Virgin Birth in the Theology of the Ancient Church (1964) by the Heidelberg church historian Hans von Campenhausen.
27 Brown. op. cit., p. 521.
28 The body of these Gospels shows that the people among whom Jesus was reared knew nothing about his extraordinary infancy (Matt. 13:53-58; Lk. 4:31-37), Brown, Ibid., p. 33.
29 A. Harnack, History of Dogma explained the virgin-birth idea as a misunderstanding of Old Testament scripture.
30 Cf. E. Schillebeeckx, Jesus (1979), p. 729, footnote 9.
31 The idea that sex per se is wicked is often traced back to the pagan Greek contrast between flesh and spirit. There are also Hebrew grounds for a similar view. Childbirth makes one impure, according to Mosaic Law and Ps. 51:5 reads, "In sin did my mother conceive me."
32 K. Barth, "The Miracle of Christmas" in Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, pt. 2, 15:3, pp. 172-202. For a somewhat different defense of the symbolic value of the virgin birth doctrine, cf. J. Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (1977), pp. 280-282.
33 New Testament scholars who doubt the historicity of the virgin-birth stories include J. Weiss, Hamack, Bornkamm, Enslin, Kummel, Conzelmann, von Campenhausen, Boslooper, Dibelius, Goguel, Goodspeed, Lake, Bacon, Knox, Bultmann, Guignebert, Loisy, Perrin. Theologians who deny that the virgin birth is an essential part of Christian doctrine include Tillich, Brunner, Schubert Ogden, Pannenberg, Nels F. S.Ferre, Bultmann and J. A. I. Robinson. Prominent preachers and church leaders who hold a similar opinion include Harry Emerson Fosdick, Leslie Weatherhead, and Bishop James Pike. Some of the above-like Boslooper-insist that the virgin birth as a symbol has great value for contemporary Christians.
34 W. Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (1956), p. 7.
35 Strack-Billerbeck, vol. 1, pp. 49 ff., cf. Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition (1972), p. 291.
36 See Origen, Against Celsus 1: 28-33 and R. E. Brown, "The Charge of Illegitimacy," Birth of the Messiah, pp. 534-542.
37 P. E. Weatherhead, The Christian Agnostic (1965), pp. 102-105.
38 L. E. Weatherhead, The Christian Agnostic, pp. 102-105. The major weakness in this speculation, as Weatherhead admits, is the questionable use of very ancient ritual practices to explain something which occurred in first-century Palestine. Weatherhead suggests that even though the Sadducees and Pharisees of the Jerusalem temple would be opposed to such obsolete sex rites, this need not have been true of beliefs and practices in the Palestinian hill country. Possibly a better case could be made by pointing out that Mary quite naturally felt that the angel's message meant that she should unite with a respected "holy man" in order to produce the Messiah.