The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth Part VI

In Memoriam
E.P. (Ted) Wixted
17 May 2001

The Gospel of Luke Part III 

Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum...

As demonstrated in the Gospel of Luke Part I, in ancient Greek usage, a "parthenos" was just an unmarried woman, whether she be a physical virgin or not.

If proponents of the Virgin Birth doctrine insist that "parthenos" means physical virginity then they are still confronted with an insurmountable problem because at the time of the angel's visit there had, as yet, been no conception. That Jesus was not conceived until some time after the angel's departure is confirmed in 2:21.

"When eight days were fulfilled for circumcising him, his name was called Jesus, which was so called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb."

Luke 1:38

"Mary said, 'Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; let it happen to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her."

Luke used the Greek word γένοιτό (genoito) in the aorist tense "let it happen." If Luke had wished to signify that conception happened at the word of the angel then he would not have used the word γένοιτό (genoito).

As one of the most renowned and respected exegetes of New Testament Greek, Frederick Godet, points out:

"The evangelist shows his tact in the choice of the aorist γένοιτό. The present [tense] would have signified, "Let it happen to me this very instant?" The aorist [tense] leaves the choice of the time to God." 1

You will see that Godet's statement is correct if you look at the other sixteen New Testament occurrences of γένοιτο, none of which refer to something to happen/not happen instantly but at some indeterminate time in the future.

Luke tells us that after the angel's departure, Mary left "with haste" to travel to Elizabeth's house, a journey of four or five days [1:39] and that by the time Mary reached Elizabeth's house, she knew that she was pregnant, knew that the angel's promise of a son entitled to sit on the throne of David was already in the process of being fulfilled, enabling her to exclaim "he that is mighty has done to me great things." [1:49] If it were a miraculous conception, the only way Mary could possibly know any of the above would be by the continued absence of menstruation. We know that only a few days had passed between the angel's visit and her arrival at Elizabeth's house - not enough time for pregnancy to be confirmed by these means.

Mary's state of knowledge could only be the result of an encounter which took place on the journey to Elizabeth's house, and which led to Mary's conviction that she had already become pregnant.
Briefly and bluntly put, Luke tells us that conception took place by normal means, after the angel's visit but before Mary arrived at Elizabeth's house, through an encounter with a descendant of David who could father a son entitled to sit upon David's throne, and who Luke names in 3:23. All of the angel's promises to Mary and to Israel have been fulfilled - that is the whole point of the story.

Luke's gospel is a private letter and, as such, contains private and confidential information.  We are indeed fortunate that this letter has been preserved. Some may find offensive what I am about to reveal here but Luke found it necessary to reveal the same information to Theophilus because he considered it more important to stress that God keeps his salvation promises regardless of the means employed to do so, or whether man agrees with those means or not.

Matthew of course tell us precisely the same. Even though Matthew does not name the biological father of Jesus, he also found it necessary to stress that God's salvation plan for Israel has often been achieved through strange and unusual circumstances. If you refer back to the stories of the four women mentioned in Matthew's genealogy - Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba - you will find that all of them took decisive steps vital to the fulfillment of God's purposes for Israel, regardless of whether their actions had contravened normal social relationships or whether they were "outsiders" - non-Israelites. For Israelites, the names of these women would have evoked memories of the inscrutable yet saving purposes of God, which have never been constrained by biology, social norms, or ethnicity. (See Ruth 4:17.)

The Translation Games

Translators have played games with Luke 3:23 which begins the genealogy of Jesus.

A Selection of English Translations -

"And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli..." [KJV]

"Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli..."[ESV]

"Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli..."[NIV]

In these English versions, translators have destroyed the meaning of the verse by inserting parenthesis and commas in sincorrect place and by also inserting words which do not appear in the Greek texts - "which was the son" or "the son" immediately preceding "of Heli..."

It was very surprising and disturbing to me to discover that scholars of the Catholic Church have actually known and recorded the truthful translation of Luke 3:23.

The Roman Catholic Encyclopaedia article entitled 'Genealogy' 2 has the following to say:

"St. Matthew's genealogy is that of St. Joseph; St. Luke's, that of the Blessed Virgin. This contention implies that St. Luke's genealogy only seemingly includes the name of Joseph. It is based on the received Greek text, on (os enomizeto ouios Ioseph) tou Heli, "being the son (as it was supposed, of Joseph, but really) of Heli.

This parenthesis really eliminates the name of Joseph from St. Luke's genealogy, and makes Christ, by means of the Blessed Virgin, directly a son of Heli."

So, the Encyclopaedia's translation of 3:23 is:

"And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years old, being the son (as it was supposed of Joseph, but really) of Heli."

In his Commentary on the Gospel of Luke,3 renowned exegete and scholar of Biblical Greek, Frédéric Louis Godet, inserts dashes in the text and says:

"The text, therefore, to express the author's meaning clearly, should be written thus: "being a son - as was thought, of Joseph - of Heli, of Matthat..."

So Godet's translation of 3:23 is:

"And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years old, "being a son - as was thought, of Joseph - of Heli, of Matthat..."

Although Frédéric Godet [and the RCE] assert that Luke's genealogy is that of Mary, i.e. Jesus, [Mary], Heli, Matthat, etc. to maintain the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, Godet's arguments as to the original geneaological information provided by Luke and the correct translation of the passage remain overwhelmingly convincing.

The one issue upon which these scholars are united is that the name of Joseph does not belong in the original genealogy.

Jesus is the biological son of Heli, a direct descendant of King David and, therefore, entitled by birth to the title "Messiah." God's promises to David have been fulfilled.

Without any evidence whatsoever, and despite the fact that Luke has clearly identified Mary as a Levite, some translators, scholars and ecclesiastics continue to claim that Luke is tracing Mary's descent from David. This assertion is quite ludicrous and totally ignores ancient Hebrew culture where tribal affiliation and family genealogy could only be traced through the patrilineal line. It is a clumsy attempt to conceal the stark reality of the very point that Luke is making and conflicts with every other New Testament statement about the birth of Jesus.

As Longnecker 4 quite rightly observes:

"It need not be supposed that the church's ascription of messiahship to Jesus made him a descendant of David in their eyes when in fact he was not. Neither the acclaim of Jesus as "son of David" on the part of the people not the Evangelists' recording of that fact are plausible 'had it been believed that he did not satisfy the genealogical conditions implied by the name. And, as Dalman has further pointed out:

"As the scribes held to the opinion that the Messiah must be a descendant of David, it is certain that the opponents of Jesus would make the most of any knowledge they could procure, showing that Jesus certainly did not, or probably did not, fulfil this condition. And there can be no doubt that Paul, as a persecutor of the Christians, would be well instructed in regard to this point. As he, after mingling freely with members of the Holy Family in Jerusalem, shows that he entertained no sort of doubt on this point, it must be assumed that no objection to it was known to him. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a single trace of conscious refutation of Jewish attacks, based on the idea that the derivation of Jesus from David was defective."

As we can now see, the endlessly-discussed 'conflict' between the two genealogies of Matthew and Luke is simply an illusion necessitated by adherence to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.

This manufactured 'conflict' has been used by many who seek to destroy the veracity of the gospels. Its negative impact, therefore, can hardly be overestimated.

It is time for us, in this 21st century, to enquire without fear into the explanation about the biological father of Jesus that Luke has provided for us. God moves in mysterious ways and it is not our function to question God. God is a god of truth. Commitment to truth is the hallmark of those who would be followers of Jesus. When Jesus was questioned by Pilate, he said:

"For this reason was I born,
And for this purpose came I into the world,
That I should bear witness to the truth,
Those that are of the truth shall hear my voice." (John 18:38)

Long ago I had to accept this truth even though, at the time, it conflicted with my personal feelings, everything I had hitherto been taught, and meant permanent estrangement from the Church in which I had been raised. I had to empty my mind of all the doctrinally imposed images of the Messiah and instead bow my head in humility and simply marvel at God’s purposes to search hearts and minds.

To illustrate, I recall that many moons ago I pointed out to a member of the Christadelphian religion that Luke names the biological father of Jesus. His response rings in my ears to this day:

"God would not have a bastard as his Messiah."

This display of breathtaking self-righteous arrogance is precisely how God searches the human heart and mind. This Christadelphian judged himself out of his own mouth. As well as confirming that he himself would discriminate against a child because of the parents' marital status he also presumed to know the mind of God. A similar self-righteous arrogance has been the hallmark of the Church from time immemorial.

The crucially important fact that Mary was of the tribe of Levi has been completely overlooked by theologians intent on promulgating the doctrine of Virgin Birth. These theologians, knowing that the New Testament states many times that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and of the "seed of David", and knowing that Joseph is not the father of Jesus, erroneously assert that it is through Mary that Jesus can claim Davidic sonship.

NOTES: The ESV is based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983), and on the Greek text in the 1993 editions of the Greek New Testament (4th corrected ed.), published by the United Bible Societies (UBS), and Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.), edited by Nestle and Aland.

FOOTNOTES:
[1] Frédéric Louis Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 1889, page 95.
[2] Catholic Encyclopaedia article Genealogy [The article goes on to provide the Greek text which, it says, most textual critics prefer but, as Godet uses the same 'preferred' Greek text, the intent of the verse remains the same.]
[3] Professor Frédéric Louis Godet's 1889 classic Commentary on the Gospel of Luke [pages 195-204]. Godet's commentary is frequently referenced to this day as a reliable source for the study of Luke's Gospel. It is one of the most significant studies of Luke from the 19th century and is respected for its exegetical style and ability to address the authenticity and origins of Luke's Gospel with precision..
[4] Richard N Longnecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity, Regent College Publishing, 1994, pp 110-111.