Saturday, 15 June 2013

Born of a woman

One small phrase from the bible has been the source of rumblings among scholars for nearly two milliennia.  Galatians 4:4, which refers to the birth of Jesus, is the problem.

"... born of woman, born under the Law"

Which phrase bothers you most?  Being born under the law doesn't have an immediately obvious meaning.  Apparently it means that Jesus was a Jew, but theologians get into all sorts of tangles about that.  Who can tell what the implications might be - and few of us would care anyway.  Theologians make their living by arguing about these things.

For me the first phrase was the interesting one.  Why would anyone bother to tell us how someone was born?  The involvement of his mother (when her virginity is not the point of interest) could hardly be a subject that anyone would ever wonder about. 

Or could it?

Perhaps this is a sign that some others believed that he had not been born in the usual way.  You might doubt this, but there is a potential culprit available in the person of Marcion.  (See Who was the Marcion that Hitch referred to so often)  Marcion taught that Jesus did not get born like the rest of us but that he was sent down from heaven.  Jesus still became human flesh, but he had nothing to do with the God of the Old Testament.  Given the unbelievability of the rest of the Jesus story I find that a perfectly consistent point of view, for what that is worth.

Marcionite thinking sheds a lot of light on the text of the bible (see Christianity's Albatross), as early Christians had to spend a lot of effort and time suppressing that particular heresy (along with all the others). 

The world would be very different if they had failed.

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