JOHN PEARRELL: Critics should examine the facts before discounting the birth of Jesus

At the heart of the story of Christmas is the birth of a baby. For centuries, scholars, skeptics and people of faith have questioned the identity of this baby.

Was he a mere man born out of wedlock who became a religious sage whom his followers turned into a legend? Or was he, as the early eyewitnesses claim, the Son of God?

Modern thinkers love to question the narratives of the eyewitnesses.

They want to date and late-date these early manuscripts, claiming that they had to have borrowed from each other and that as they did, and the dates got later and later (a claim not sustainable in light of the historical facts), fiction was added to the facts, turning an innocent baby into something he was not.

Critics of the Bible like to point to the fact that neither Mark nor John have anything to say about the birth. They then make their own leap of faith claiming that the reason these two writers didn't say anything about his birth was because they wanted to avoid embarrassment by not drawing attention to the fact that he was conceived out of wedlock.

In doing this, they totally miss the obvious which is Mark and John begin their narratives with the adult Jesus and fail to mention the birth because it doesn't add to their accounts.

These critics then mention Matthew's account in passing, but attack Luke's account with a vehemence that leaves one wondering "What is their hidden agenda?"

Of course, the answer to that question is obvious: they want to strip Jesus of His deity. The assumption that fuels their argument is miracles don't happen, so this record by Luke must be religious myth.

Maybe you agree with the critics. Maybe you are one of those who don't believe in miracles, and therefore you certainly don't believe in a virgin birth. You'd rather choose to believe that there is something nefarious about this birth.

Let's look at some facts.

First, we need to understand that of the four gospels, only Matthew and John are actually disciples (in the sense of the 12).

Mark was most likely a disciple in the larger sense of the disciples. That is, we know that there were at least three major groups of followers of this man Jesus: The 12 (that we normally recognize as disciples), then there is a larger group of 72, and then still a larger contingency of 120.

Mark is most likely in one of these two larger groups of followers, based on his comment in Mark 14:51 which tradition holds was Mark himself.

Luke is unique among the gospel writers in that he was not in the group of disciples and, as far as we know, he is the only non-Jewish writer included in the Bible.

So who is this guy? By vocation, Luke was a medical doctor. By avocation he was a careful and thorough investigative reporter.

Critics of the Bible have often enjoyed taking Luke to task for what they claimed to be glaring errors in his narratives (Luke and Acts).

However, archeology has vindicated Luke to the point where Italian scholars believe Luke to be the best source of information we have for the first century. That's understandable, since Luke, as a physician, would have understood the necessity of being thorough and accurate in his work.

Second, I find it interesting that it is this medical doctor who lays claim to a supernatural birth. Matthew also references it, but it is Luke who puts so much detail into the account.

Let me conclude this colum by stating something that should be obvious: If Luke is so accurate as an investigative reporter/historian, it is highly unlikely that he would salt his work with fiction mixed into the facts. More next week.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. Visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.