St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
Session Six: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions
By Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright
Sunday, February 15, 2004
The general consensus of part six, entitled “The Birth of Jesus,” was that Wright did not have very strong agreements nor much substance behind some of his arguments, whereas, Borg was much clearer on the issues. The birth narratives contained in Matthew and Luke are wonderful stories and explore the depths of theology. However, they may have been an afterthought as Luke, for example, could easily have started at the third chapter. The early Gospels and scriptures written by Paul and Mark had no reference to Jesus’ birth. It was noted that both Matthew and Luke being written in a later time period, might have been trying to explain why some of the events in Jesus’ life made some of the people of his time question his legitimacy. Thus, the writings of Matthew and Luke could have been written in attempts to provide and answer to some of these questions.
It was also noted, that the birth stories written in Matthew and Luke were also contradictory. The story in Matthew is written more from Joseph’s perspective, while the one in Luke more from Mary’s point of view. In Matthew’s story, Jesus is born in Joseph’s house in Bethlehem, but everyone knows he is “Jesus of Nazareth,” so the author must find a means of getting Jesus there. In Luke’s version, Jesus’ family is in Nazareth, so they have to find a way to get to Bethlehem. Thus, the story dealing with the taxation of the firstborns, and the family moving there when Mary is pregnant. The narratives a quite beautiful and contain much imagery, but when you think about it (or try it for yourself), it is difficult to imagine that someone could be led to a specific building by following a heavenly star. Matthew also used numbers to convey special meanings such as three time fourteen (DVD in Hebrew translates to 4-6-4, which in turn adds up to fourteen). Jesus was also portrayed as Moses inasmuch as he survived Herod much like Moses survived Pharaoh. There is also mention of a few women in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus’ family who had some very “irregular” type of relationships.
Another area to consider is that of the virgin birth. In those days, it was thought that the man planted his “seed” inside the woman who became in a sense, a human garden. Thus, Mary was considered to be carrying God’s seed. There were also different definitions of virginity that were implied as well as different means of both conception and the actual birth. (For example, did Jesus have a normal human birth or did God make him miraculously appear?) The other question raised was is it really possibly, by definition, to have a virgin birth? In any case, the birth of Jesus is typically told as a combined story using passages from both Matthew and Luke. It has also been implied that there were three Magi who came, largely based upon the fact that three gifts were mentioned. There is however, no mention in the Bible of just how many there actually were. It could have ranged from two to twenty for example. There are also a number of stories that try to explain the presence of the bright star ranging from super novas to Halley’s comet. Finally, it was noted that there is virtually nothing written in the Bible about Jesus’ childhood, but there are other later writing which claim to have information about his youth.