The Christmas Story:
An overview of views by conservative
and liberal Christians.
Most conservative theologians believe in the inspiration of the Bible authors and the inerrancy of the Bible itself. This leads them to regard the birth stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke to
be absolutely accurate in every detail. The Gospels of Mark and John, and the various
epistles by Paul and other authors do not refer to Jesus' birth as being unusual in any
way. But it is not necessary that most writers of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)
mention the virgin birth and other special events at Jesus birth. The fact that Matthew
and Luke did so is sufficient proof. One need only read the early chapters of these two
gospels to obtain an accurate account of the events surrounding Jesus' birth. We
won't provide a further analysis here, because the story in Matthew 1:1 to 2:12
and Luke 1:5 to 2:20 are easily accessible and easy to understand. More details.
"What Christmas is all about" as interpreted by CalamitiesOfNature.com:
Among many liberal theologians, many (if not most) components of the stories should be
regarded as myth. There are many elements in the Gospels relating to Jesus' birth which
they believe did not actually happen. Common beliefs among religious liberals are:
||Gospel of Q: The first part of this gospel was written circa 50 CE, before any of the books that became
the Christian Scirptures (New Testament). Although the text has been lost,
theologians have been able to reconstruct much of it. It does not mention Jesus'
birth as being in any way special. Some theoligians assume that the Christians at the time had not
yet developed a birth myth.
Writings of Paul: These were probably written within a decade or so after the
Gospel of Q, and pre-dated the four canonic gospels by up to 5 decades. He makes reference to
Jesus' birth in two passages. In both cases, the virgin birth and the miracles associated with the birth
were not mentioned. Jesus was presented as having a normal birth:
- Galatians 4:4: "But when the time had fully come, God sent
forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law."
- Romans 1:3: "...Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the
seed of David according to the flesh."
It is only in recent centuries that the role of both men and women in conception has been known. At the time that the Bible was written, the existence of the ovum as supplied by the woman was unknown. It was believed that male sperm contained a fully formed baby and that the woman's role was simply to allow it to grow in her womb. The whole process of pregnancy was believed to work exactly like the planting of a seed in the ground and waiting for the seed to sprout into a plant. That is why the Bible refers to the man's contribution as "seed." Paul's reference to "seed of David" would appear to imply that Paul believed that Joseph was the genetic father of Jesus.
||Mark: This gospel was written by an unknown author circa 70 CE. He
apparently knew nothing about miraculous events associated with Jesus' birth, and thus did
not record any in his writings. If he had been aware of them, it is almost certain that he would have
||Matthew: This was written by another unknown author, probably a Jew who
lived remote from Palestine. He wrote the Gospel circa 80 CE, presumably after some of the
early Christian movements had invented miraculous traditions associated with Jesus' birth.
Most of the elements associated with this myth appear to have never happened:
||Matthew 1:1: The author traces Jesus' genealogy from Abraham. He lists
Jacob as being Jesus' grandfather. This conflicts with Luke, who lists Eli. Jesus' line is
traced through Solomon, son of David. Luke traces the Messianic line through Nathan, son
of David. The author lists 28 generations between David and Jesus; Luke says it was 41.
||Matthew 1:18: Many liberal Christians regard the virgin conception of Jesus
by Mary is an obvious myth. The Gospel of Q does not mention it.
St. Paul not only does not mention it, but implies that Jesus' birth was normal. The growing Christian community probably invented the virgin birth so that the story of Jesus' could
compete with the magical conception of many heroes and gods in surrounding Pagan
religions: e.g. Horus (circa 1550 BCE), Zoroaster (1000 - 1500 BCE), Krishna (circa 1200
BCE), Indra (circa 750 BCE), Buddha (circa 600 BCE), Mithra (circa 500 BCE), Quirrnus
(circa 550 BCE), Attis (circa 200 BCE), and Adonis (born in Bethlehem many centuries before
||Matthew 1:22: The author cites a passage in an ancient Greek
translation of the book of Isaiah. That translation from the original Hebrew was an error: it substituted "virgin"
for "young woman." The authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke probably felt compelled to go along
with the expectation that Jesus' mother was a virgin when Jesus was conceived.
||Matthew 2:1: The story of the Magi coming to Palestine to give homage
to the King of the Jews appears to have been freely adapted from the story of Mithra's birth. He
was mythical Persian savior, also allegedly born of a virgin in a cave on DEC-25. Worship of Mithra started many centuries before Jesus' birth.
||Matthew 2:7: Herod inquired as to the exact time that the star
appeared. According to Matthew 2:16, this was to learn exactly when Jesus was born, so
that he could have all of the male children close to that age in the Bethlehem area
murdered. Since he later ordered all of the children under 2 years of age slaughtered,
Jesus must have been living with his parents in Bethlehem for many months by the time that
the Magi arrived -- perhaps at least a year. If Jesus had been just born, then Herod would
have ordered only newborn infants killed. This conflicts with Luke 2:39 which states that
when Mary was ritually purified 40 days after the birth, that the family returned to
Nazareth immediately afterwards. It also conflicts with the archeologial record which conclusively shows that nobody lived in Bethlehem during the 200 years between the beginning of the 1st century BCE and the end of the 1st century CE.
||Matthew 2:9: The story element which has the Magi following a star is
obvious mythical. Any star or super-nova or comet or alignment of planets would obviously
be more than hundreds of millions of miles away from earth. In order to serve as a marker
for the house in Bethlehem where Jesus was, it would have to be only a few hundred feet
above the town. Drawings of the event often show a ray of light from the star down to the stable, which is a phenomenon that is never seen.
||Matthew 2:11: The author presents Joseph and Mary as being residents of
Bethlehem, living in a house. This conflicts with Luke's account which describes Jesus'
parents as residents of Nazareth and only temporary visitors to Bethlehem.
||Matthew 2:13: The author describes the family fleeing to Egypt. No
record of this is seen in Luke. It was apparently added to the gospel in order to make
the prophecy in Hosea 11:1 come true: that the Messiah must come out of Egypt.
||Matthew 2:16: Herod's extermination order is certainly a myth, as
||Matthew 2:23: Joseph and Mary bypassed Judea and settled in Nazareth.
This is in the Galilee, north of Samaria and Judea. The prophecy that "He will be called a Nazarene" does not exist in the
||Luke: This gospel was written by an unknown author circa 90 CE. He was
probably the only writer in the Christian Scriptures who was not born a Jew. Originally,
it was believed that the author of both Luke and Acts was a physician. But recent analysis of
the text indicates that the author's medical knowledge was typical of an educated person of his
era. The Christmas story that we see portrayed in plays and pageants is most often taken
from this gospel. Matthew's mention of the Magi is then tacked onto the end. Some
suspicious elements from Luke's birth story are:
||Luke 3:38: As noted above, Luke's genealogy cannot be reconciled with
||Luke 1:26: The description of the virgin conception is, as described
above, an attempt to make a mistranslated prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures come true.
Alternatively the author might have incorporated a birth tradition invented by his religious
group in order to make Jesus appear to be a great hero or god, like those of the
surrounding Pagan religions in the Middle East.
||Luke 2:1: The census never happened. To have individuals return to their city of their ancestors would have been unnecessary and counter productive. The main purpose of a census would be to tax people. Recording people by their city of origin would not be useful; recording people by their current location was the practice.
||Luke 2:2: Even if a census did occur at the time of Jesus' birth, the
people would not have been required to return to their ancestral home. That would be a
totally impractical arrangement. If it happened this way, all work
throughout the Roman Empire would stop. Some people would have had to
travel for months to return to their ancestral home. The
transportation infrastructure could not possibly have handled the
flood of travelers.
||Luke 2:5: Joseph would not have taken Mary with him, even if he had to
go to Bethlehem to register. Only men were enumerated or taxed, so there was no necessity for her to
accompany Joseph. Mary's pregnancy was in its 9th month at the time. She would not have
been in a condition to travel.
||Luke 2:8: The author seems to have invented the shepherds; they
do not appear in Matthew.
||Luke 2:39: The author describes Joseph and Mary as being residents of
Nazareth. This is probably true, but conflicts with Matthew's story which has them living
in Bethlehem, and only deciding to go to Nazareth because it would be too dangerous to
remain in Judea.
||Luke 2:39: Luke describes them as going directly from Bethlehem to
Nazareth. This conflicts with Matthew's account which has them fleeing to Egypt and only
returning after Herod died. At least one of these accounts must be wrong.
||John: This gospel was written by one or more authors circa 100 CE. The
writers would have certainly been aware of the virgin birth stories of Matthew and Luke. But they
seem to have rejected the stories as myths, and not worthy of being incorporated into
After removing all of the fantasy and myth from the birth stories, we are left with the
following probable facts: "After a normal conception, Jeshua was born to Mary and Joseph, in Nazareth in the
fall circa 4 BCE." But it would be a mistake to reject all of the other events
associated with the Christmas season, just because they never happened. We can still enjoy
the stories as beautiful myths and legends, which have inspired Christians for centuries.
Related essay: Another liberal analysis.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Tony Piro, "What Christmas is all about," Calamities of Nature, 2010-DEC-22, atL http://www.calamitiesofnature.com/ Used by permission. The positive comments of readers are well worth reading. So are the rest of his comic strips.
- A.N. Wilson, "Jesus", Sinclair-Stevenson, London, UK (1992), Pages
can read reviews of this book or order it safely from Amazon.com
- J.S. Spong, "Resurrection: Myth or Reality?", Harper Collins, San
Francisco CA (1994), Page 8-9. Review/order
- J.S. Spong, "Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus",
Harper San Francisco, CA, (1992), P. 74-79. Review/order
- Kenneth E. Nahigian, "A Virgin-Birth Prophecy?" at: http://www.mantis.co.uk/sceptical/2virgi93.html
- B.G. Walker, "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets," Harper
& Row, (1983) Review/order
- Hilke Dokter, "The Messiah's True birth date" at: http://www.members.shaw.ca/hdokters
- A countdown of the months, days, hours, minutes and seconds remaining until Christmas is
- Kenneth E. Nahigian, "A Virgin-Birth Prophecy?" at: http://www.mantis.co.uk/sceptical/2virgi93.html
- Robin L. Fox, "The Unauthorized Version: Truth and fiction in the Bible,"
Knopf, New York, NY (1992) Review/order
- W. Keller, "The Bible as History," Morrow, New York NY (1981) Review/order
- Anon, "Does the Bible Indicated that Christ was Born on December 25?,"
The World Ahead, 1997- OCT/NOV
- M. J. Borg, Ed., "Jesus at 2000," Westview Press, (1997), Page 2. Review/order
Article, less the cartoon, copyright © 1997 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on
Last updated 2015-DEC-07
Author: B.A. Robinson