The Uniqueness of Jesus' Birth
By Darrell Bock
One thing we can always trust about the Christmas season is that there will be a report in the press that challenges traditional Christianity. This year's effort comes from Newsweek magazine with their endorsement of gay marriage. Newsweek goes from a news magazine to an advocate in these pieces. They call for a careful response. I am responding a claim at a time on my blog at blog.bible.org/bock. But that is not the point of this entry.
No effort to undercut the season can stop us from appreciating the uniqueness of Jesus, even the uniqueness of his birth. Many who love comparative religion try to compare the birth of Jesus with its divine conception to the birth accounts of Alexander the Great or Augustus. The best answer to such a challenge is to read those accounts.
Try Plutarch's Life of Alexander 2.2-4. Here we see a conception tied to a dream in which a peal of thunder opens the womb of Alexander's mother the night before she was married. His father, Philip also had a dream of placing a seal on his wife's womb, but was told not to do so because of a vision where Olympias, the mother, was seen sleeping by a serpent. This kept the king away so Alexander was said to be born as a result of a special kind of birth.
The story involving Augustus is similar. In fact, most think it was designed to imitate the story tied to Alexander. Here Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars 94.4 speaks of a snake impregnating Atia as she slept overnight at the temple of Apollo.
Just reading these accounts shows a difference in how Jesus' unique birth is portrayed. There are no snakes or visions detailing how God moved. There is the mere declaration that God through the Holy Spirit would bring this birth to pass. There is beauty in this simplicity, and truth as well. This baby Jesus is a figure we tend to focus on in this season. This emphasis is especially common in our culture that perhaps wishes Jesus remain either a babe, an example, or, at most, a prophet.
Yet this baby Jesus was God incarnate. Here was God taking on human frailty, The Word transformed into flesh, becoming both our representative and example. He is distinct from the world and its style of ruling, not conveying a rule of power like that Alexander and Augustus, requiring the slithering presence of a god to bring forth life. No, all that was needed was the intention and utterance of the Word of His will. Here is a babe in a manger representing God by entering the human stage, not through much fanfare in a capital city, but in an animal trough bearing all the humility his life mission would bear as He dealt with sin through suffering. He was born through a pious Galilean teenaged girl into the family headed by a carpenter. This was God's way to build a kingdom from the ground floor up, not through a palace gate. No wonder God understands us as His creatures; He never ceased identifying with His creation, even at its most basic level.
Here is a lesson for the season, even in the face of cultural challenges like recent ones that challenge the way we should live: God does not contend for things like the world does; He simply establishes His presence amongst us in the simplest of ways. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will recognize His presence.
Merry Christmas to all
Dr. Darrell Bock is Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He also is Professor for Spiritual Development and Culture there. He is an Editor at Large for Christianity Today and is a Past President of the Evangelical Theological Society (2000-2001). He is the author of over twenty books and is a New York Times Best Selling author.
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