The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Birth

I have always been hesitant about the books, authors or speakers who use the words, what the Bible teaches about anything. Like they are the only ones who have figured out what the Bible teaches, yet that is what Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan say about their lastest book, The First Christmas.

What first made me hesitant about this book was where the authors stand theologically, but because I believe you should read more than the authors you agree with, I picked it up. Crossan is one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar which says, “The seminar’s reconstruction of Jesus portrays him as an itinerant wise man who did not die as a substitute for sinners or rise from the dead, but preached a “social gospel” in startling parables and aphorisms. He often turned common-sense ideas upside down, confounding the expectations of his audience. He preached of “Heaven’s imperial rule” (traditionally translated as “Kingdom of God”), which was already present but unseen. He depicts God as a loving father. He fraternizes with outsiders and criticizes insiders.” If you know anything about the gospel, you know this is not true at all.

The book was an interesting read and it was one of the books that I read for our Vintage Jesus series that we are in the middle of right now. However, because of the theological leaps that it makes, I wouldn’t recommend it.

One of the things the authors base the book on is that the Christmas narratives found in Matthew & Luke should be seen as parables instead of factual stories that actually happened. They say that since the stories found in Matthew & Luke are different (in Matthew Joseph plays a major role, but is almost non-existant in Luke & women play a major role in Luke, but do not in Matthew). They say, because of this, they should be seen as parables because how can 2 stories that are so different be true and be the same.

What has to be taken into account is who the gospels were written to and for. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience, which saw women as lower than men. While Luke wrote to a Gentile audience who had a different view of women. Matthew also emphasizes the magi, while Luke does not mention them. This is important because Matthew is trying to show Jews that Jesus is the king of the Jews, so other kings are visiting him. He is trying to show his royalty. The people Matthew wrote to were asking different questions and seeking different answer than Luke’s audience.

These are just a few examples of where I think Borg and Crossan are off in their argument. From the outside, this seems like a smart thing, to look at the narratives as parables because as they say, “You don’t have to prove them factual, you don’t have to prove the virgin birth.” Which helps them, because neither one of them believe in the virgin birth, but without the virgin birth, Jesus is not God and would be open to original sin (which they also point out, but skirt around).